What is a Capsule Wardrobe And How to Build One

The staples you need in your closet for timeless mix-and-match outfits

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How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

Byrdie / Brian Kopinski

“I hate it all” is a not-so-unusual proclamation that comes after ripping open your closet door and surveying the offerings. Finding that perfectly-tailored tee or jeans that fit just right is encumbered when you can barely shuffle through everything on your rack. Paring things down (read: building a capsule wardrobe) can help you to minimize waste and connect more thoughtfully with what you wear. By eliminating the noise and instead narrowing down your needs to a set of interchangeable staples can be liberating and inspiring.   

While a capsule wardrobe is a highly personal choice — suited to your personal style, climate, and shopping goals — there are certain wardrobe staples to consider investing in as a base. Pieces should be able to easily mix and match with each other, and should also be items that you’re excited to wear. For those choosing to pare back their wardrobe in an effort to be more sustainable, consider buying items second hand first. Then, within your budget, consider the quality: can you afford to spend a little more on a an item that will last you years versus one that falls apart in the wash after a single season. How to do that and suggestions for the items are ahead.

Best Everyday Tank

Everlane The Supima Micro-Rib Racerback Tank

Everlane The Supima Micro-Rib Racerback Tank


Building a wardrobe of easy-to-style basics begins with simple layering pieces like a classic tank top. It can be worn solo or serve as the base of an ensemble as you add shirts, sweaters, and jackets on top. Everlane’s take is made of breathable Supima cotton and comes in a range of colors so you can find one that best fits your style. 

Price at time of publish: $40

Size Range: XS-XL | Color: Black, White, Cocoa Brown, and 4 others

Best Classic Button-Down

Alex Mill Wyatt Shirt

Alex Mill Wyatt Shirt

Alex Mill

Don’t underestimate the styling potential of a classic button-down shirt. It’s a long-time favorite as part of a workwear wardrobe, but it's an ideal styling piece for more casual looks too. Wear it over a tank with jeans or shorts, or use it as a swim cover up during summer. Alex Mill’s take is made of 100 percent cotton and comes in two takes on classic stripes.

Price at time of publish: $125

Size Range: XS-XL | Color: French Blue, Navy

Best Sneakers

Nike Daybreak Sneaker

Nike Daybreak


A simple everyday sneaker silhouette is a must when building an easy to style wardrobe. Nike’s lace-up style has a retro feel to it, while still being sleek and modern. The low-top silhouette can just as easily be worn with a skirt or dress as jeans. A color blocked style is a fun addition to a neutral wardrobe, too.

Price at time of publish: $90-110

Size Range: 5-12 | Color: Seafoam, Black, White, Multi

Best Casual Jacket

Still Here Chore Jacket

Still Here Chore Jacket

Still Here

Consider each piece carefully when starting on your capsule wardrobe journey. A chore jacket is a timeless style that can be worn both as a jacket or a shirt. The boxy silhouette is casual, comfortable, and great for layering — plus, since it's made of 100% cotton it will remain durably soft through many wears.  

Price at time of publish: $325

Size Range: XS-XL | Color: Yves Blue, Khaki, Washed Black

Best Trouser

Abercrombie & Fitch Sloane Tailored Pants

Abercrombie & Fitch Sloane Tailored Pants

Abercrombie & Fitch 

If you’re in need of a pair of versatile work pants that are easy to dress up or down, look no further than Abercrombie & Fitch’s Sloane Pant. This tailored pant has an ultra high rise and a wide leg, making it not only polished, but comfortable. Since it's made of polyester, viscose, and elastane, an added bonus is that this trouser is machine washable — meaning you can save big on that dry cleaning budget. 

Price at the time of publish: $90

Size Range: 23-37  | Color: Brown, navy, dark pink, and more

Best Flats

Birdies The Starling Flats

Birdies The Starling Flats


A pair of flat shoes is a wardrobe staple for casual or professional occasions. The Birdies flats—we prefer the Starling style—is a great pick (and was named one of our best flats for work and most comfortable shoes) because of its range of fabrics (suede, velvet, raffia) and colors. There are also options for wide feet. The layers of padding and no-slip sole make for all day comfort. 

Price at time of publish: $130

Size Range: 5-12 (medium and wide) | Color: Beige, black, cheetah, and more

Best Sweater

Quince Mongolian Cashmere Fisherman Crewneck Sweater

Quince Mongolian Cashmere Fisherman Crewneck Sweater


A simple, textured sweater in a neutral tone is an easy choice for styling a multitude of ways. The thick rib on this fisherman crew style can easily be worn with Cuyana’s silk skirt for fancy occasions, a pair of trousers for work, or dressed down with Boyish’s jeans. This 100 percent cotton pick is lightweight enough for multiple seasons, layering, and is also machine-washable. 

Price at the time of publish: $40

Size Range: XS-XL  | Color: Ivory, navy, black, charcoal, camel

Best Bodysuit

SKIMS Fits Everybody Square Neck Bodysuit

SKIMS Fits Everybody Square Neck Bodysuit


A bodysuit is another great foundational piece to build outfits on top of and Skims Fits Everybody topped our list of the best bodysuits. The square neck iteration is the most versatile—top with a sweater and a silk skirt for a nice dinner or the Still Here Chore Jacket and jeans for a running errands look. The expansive size range and neutral colors make it a staple for almost everyone. Plus, the fun seasonal colors can provide more creativity for your combinations. 

Skims also has t-shirt, long sleeve, and high neck versions as you build out your capsule and decide what styles are right for yours. 

Price at time of publish: $58

Size Range: XXS-4X | Color: Beiges, brown, black, and more

Best Silk Skirt

Cuyana Silk Belted Midi Skirt

Cuyana Silk Belted Midi Skirt


A simple silk skirt is a year-round staple that can serve as the anchor of dressier ensembles. Style with a blouse or sweater for more formal get togethers, or simply pair it with a tee and sneakers for casual occasions. Cuyana’s iteration is a simple A-line silhouette made of 100% silk, which ensures its longevity.

Price at time of publish: $268

Size Range: XS-XL | Color: Black, Olive

Best Dressy Jacket or Blazer

TOVE Rhea tie-detailed stretch-crepe jacket

TOVE Rhea tie-detailed stretch-crepe jacket


A dressy jacket or blazer is a must if you’re building a wardrobe that needs to work in an office setting. Paired back to dressy pieces like a midi skirt or trousers, a tailored jacket is a fit for formal meetings, but you can also use it to dress up more casual styles like jeans or a cotton dress. The criss-cross stylings on this one add visual interest to your closet as a whole, but the black color is classic and timeless. 

Price at time of publish: $1,180

Size Range: FR 34-42 | Color: Black

Best Work Pants

The Row Gala Crepe Pants

The Row Gala Crepe Pants


As an alternative to traditional trousers, these crepe wide-leg pants have an elastic waistband that will adjust with your body over time. The fabric and black color are appropriate for more formal occasions but the wide-leg silhouette can be dressed down too.

Price at time of publish: $1090

Size Range: XS-XL | Color: Black, Navy

Best Timeless Bag

Loewe Puzzle Hobo Leather Shoulder Bag

Loewe Puzzle Hobo Leather Shoulder Bag


An everyday bag with a touch of irreverence, Loewe’s classic puzzle silhouette in a slightly slouchy hobo shape is a transitional bag that works for work and play. The style first debuted in 2014, but its fabrication and color make it a timeless addition to your wardrobe.

Price at time of publish: $2,500

Size Range: One Size | Color: Tan, Black, Dark Green

Best Cool Jeans

Boyish Ziggy Carpenter Jeans



Another favorite of Whayeb’s, Boyish offers jeans that are timeless yet interesting. These carpenter jeans have a relaxed, loose fit that works well for casual dressing, but can be easily styled with a heeled boot or sandal for nights out and dressy occasions. The straight leg, slightly oversized fit will also look on trend even as jean styles shift—a straight leg was still available and accepted in the skinny jean era, as well as the flare jean resurgence. 

Price at time of publish: $188

Size Range: 22-32 | Color: Krush Groove

Best Neutral Midi Dress

Ninety Percent Midi Dress

Ninety Percent Midi Dress


A favorite of Besma Whayeb of Curiously Conscious, Ninety Percent is a label that distributes 90 percent of profits to charitable causes. It also prioritizes sustainable materials and this simple everyday dress is made using a comfortable lyocell fabric. Style it with sneakers for a picnic or lunch date, or swap for boots when the occasion calls for something dressier.

Price at time of publish: $175

Size Range: XXS-XL | Color: Brown

Best Heeled Boot

Khaite Hooper Boot

Khaite Hooper Boot

Neiman Marcus

When building a collection of essential footwear, opt for boots that can serve a multitude of purposes. A slight heel and sleek pointed-toe silhouette are adaptable and will remain an outfit anchor for years to come.

Price at time of publish: $1,350

Size Range: 6-11.5 | Color: Black

Best Cashmere Sweater

Extreme Cashmere No.188 Happy Roll-Neck Stretch-Cashmere Sweater

EXTREME CASHMERE No.188 Happy roll-neck stretch-cashmere sweater


A comfy wool or cashmere sweater is a must in Jessica Harumi, sustainable fashion blogger and YouTuber’s, everyday wardrobe. It's a great layering piece that can help you transition your wardrobe through Fall, Winter, and Spring, and can be worn solo, with a jacket, or around the neck as a scarf. The wide range of shades allows you to add color to your wardrobe of neutrals. While expensive, cashmere can be a durable and long lasting fabric when cared for well. This is a piece that you will have for years and years to come. 

Price at time of publish: $645

Size Range: One Size | Color: Gray, Fuschia, Black, and more

Final Verdict

If you’re interested in trying a capsule wardrobe, but aren’t sure where to start, begin by taking assessment of what you already own. While it doesn’t make sense to rid yourself of everything and start from scratch, taking stock of what you currently have allows you to shuffle out little-used items and begin to think about how to wear your favorite pieces more creatively. Good-quality basics like Everlane’s cotton tank or Boyish jeans will be essentials that you can then build around. A capsule wardrobe is meant to be built slowly and purposefully, so take your time in figuring out what works for you currently, and where there may be gaps in your closet.

Meet the Expert

We spoke to Besma Whayeb of Curiously Conscious and sustainable fashion blogger and YouTuber Jessica Harumi to learn more about how to build a capsule wardrobe and get their product recommendations. 

What To Look For In A Capsule Wardrobe


“The first thing I consider [when buying something new] is how I’ll style the item with the rest of my wardrobe,” says Whayeb. “I wear a limited color palette, and I know the shapes I feel comfortable in.” While neutrals can be an easy choice when building a capsule wardrobe, if colors or prints better fit your personal style, don’t be afraid to shop for them — but think pragmatically about how you’ll wear new and old pieces together. Investment pieces, like the Tove Rhea Jacket, you may want to get in a neutral like black, whereas a shoe, like Birdies Starling Flats are a good opportunity to bring in a color or print. Foundational pieces, such as trousers and bodysuits—we like the Abercrombie Sloane Tailored Pants and Skims Always Fit Square Neck bodysuit—can be layered and styled in endless ways.


“Capsule wardrobes and sustainable fashion go hand in hand. Investing in high quality pieces is what makes a smaller wardrobe work long term,” says Harumi. Invest in items made of natural materials like silk (Cuyana Silk Belted Midi Skirt), cotton (Quince Mongolian Cashmere Fisherman Crewneck Sweater), and wool that will hold up over time. Also consider shopping pieces second-hand as another layer of sustainability that also may make traditionally higher-priced items more affordable. 


“Capsule wardrobes allow us the opportunity to address our relationship with shopping and really unlearn some of our bad habits around overconsumption and trend-led fashion,” says Harumi. To ensure the long-term use of items, consider utilizing local tailors and cobblers to make any adjustments or repairs to make it a customized fit to your body. Beyond the quality of pieces, also think about if a piece will still be attractive to you in a year or two (or more). Simple, classic silhouettes are often featured in capsule collections because they’ll never go out of style and can be mixed with more trendier items to get a fresh update. 

  • What is a capsule wardrobe?

    Approaching your personal style and shopping habits via a capsule wardrobe simply means taking the function of each piece of your wardrobe into account, and buying new pieces with the awareness of how they will fill a gap that your current wardrobe is missing. “A capsule wardrobe should be unique to your personal style and your lifestyle,” says Harumi. “There is no one-size-fits-all formula, so the number and types of pieces are less important to me. I think a capsule wardrobe should be functional and versatile, so you can maximize the wearability of your entire wardrobe, but it should also clearly reflect your personality.” 

  • How many items should be in a capsule wardrobe?

    There is no set number of items, but building a capsule wardrobe often means doing more with less — opting for fewer items that feel as though they each serve a distinct purpose. These items can also be swapped or updated based on season—eventually leading to a summer and winter capsule wardrobe, for example. 

  • What items don't count in a capsule wardrobe?

    Any item has the potential to be part of a capsule wardrobe, but anything you incorporate should feel true to your style and needs. If an item feels superfluous or is not something you find joy or function in wearing, then you should consider removing from your collection. If your intention is to focus on a capsule for sustainability, Whayeb suggests avoiding overly trendy pieces that may not hold up — quality or trend-wise — over time. “Personally, I will avoid over-worked garments [like] t-shirts with shoulder pads, or shirts with giant collars, because I know these will age quickly.” 

Why Trust Byrdie

Aemilia Madden is a writer and editor who has spent the last decade covering the latest trends and advancements in the fashion space. She is an editor and brand consultant and her latest work can be found in Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel, Fashionista, Vogue, and more.

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