What is the perfect number of capsule clothing pieces? Is it 33? Is it 10?
How do you know how many capsule clothing items to include?
I love rules. I love to follow rules. I love to invent rules. And then when I know the rules and exactly how to follow them and why, my very most favorite thing to do is BREAK THE RULES. Because no one else is the boss of me.
Whenever I try a recipe for the first time, I follow it exactly to see how the author intended it to turn out. After that I start experimenting. I add a little of this, I completely eliminate that, and when it’s all over, I make that recipe my own.
When I first started exploring capsule wardrobes, I wanted ALL THE RULES. I followed them to the letter. I chose EXACTLY 33 capsule clothing items for my summer capsule, and put it at the front of my closet. I mixed, I matched, I utilized; I liked it. And after a season or two of that I started to wonder why 33 pieces was the magic number? According to whom?
So what is a capsule wardrobe?
Originally coined by London boutique owner, Susie Faux, in the 1970s, a capsule wardrobe is a curated collection of classic clothing items that don’t go out of fashion, and is augmented with seasonal pieces. The desire was to have a closet complete with items that are stylish, fit perfectly, and are easily assembled into outfits. She didn’t define a number of items for a capsule wardrobe. She gave parameters, not rules.
Nothing about 33 pieces. Or 10. Or 76. So I started to spread my wings and experiment with what felt like the perfect number of items for me. What is a capsule wardrobe – and what it isn’t – and is it right for you? Let’s find out.
What's the perfect number of capsule clothing items?
Everyone says that less is more… but just how much less are we talking? *clutches her shoe collection tightly*
A capsule wardrobe is a limited, curated collection of clothing. It’s meant to be smaller than you’re used to, and it’s bound to feel a little strict at first. But it’s also so liberating because you can always find all your favorite items! Why would you keep something that’s not your favorite? And why did through the stuff you don’t love to get to what you do?
It doesn’t mean you’re going to have to wear the same outfit every single day. While there are so many opinions out there about how to do a capsule wardrobe perfectly (and some people tend to get a little extreme and very passionate!) I do believe it’s possible to find your own capsule wardrobe sweet spot — that magic number of items.
I think a perfectly sized capsule wardrobe is small enough to add simplicity to your life and capture your own personal style, yet large enough to still give you enough creative freedom and wiggle room to express yourself from day to day. That means the size of your capsule wardrobe will be different from somebody else’s. And that’s okay. Here’s how you can figure out how many pieces you need for your ideal capsule wardrobe.
First off -- What counts & what doesn’t?
If you start counting underwear, jewelry, and socks as clothing items toward your capsule clothing, your number of pieces is going to go up pretty quickly! So don’t worry — most agree that basic items don’t have to count as capsule wardrobe items. Those usually include underwear, socks, bags, jewelry, accessories, special occasion wear, pajamas, coats, and exercise clothes (as in, clothes you actually exercise in — if you usually wear your leggings outside the gym, you’ll have to count those!).
Everything else counts, including jackets (like blazers), pants, shirts, dresses, skirts, shorts, and shoes.
Of course, you can be as strict or as lenient as you’d like when deciding what counts. Maybe you don’t want to count shoes in your total. Or if you tend to buy way more jewelry than you really need and you want to narrow your selection down to your favorites, feel free to include jewelry in with your overall total as well, or create a jewelry capsule. If your handbag collection doesn’t get enough rotation, choose just one or two you want to wear this season and love on them for a few months, then switch the next season.
Is there a formula?
Some people recommend getting a strict number for each category — five shirts, four pairs of pants, three pairs of shoes, and so on. A formula can be really helpful when you are starting out, and I use a formula for my own travel capsule wardrobe, but you don’t have to stick to someone else’s formula. If you tend to be pretty basic in your bottoms, and variety in your tops, then have more tops.
My advice is not to get too hung up on those exact category numbers and focus more on the overall number and your own unique needs. If you wear jeans nearly every day and don’t dress up very often, don’t include many skirts or dresses, or leave those in the special occasion wear category. If you know you’re going to have to wear a coat every single day, consider including more than one coat in your wardrobe. Basically, you do you.
So what’s the magic number?
From my own experience, the magic number is fluid. I try to aim for 30-40 for the Stunning Style Wardrobe Guides. Last summer’s Guide had 46 pieces, and the Winter guide had 32. From those items I create 100 outfits, but I stop when the wardrobe feels complete, not when I hit a number. The Guides aren’t meant to limit you. They are meant to be a template. You can use it to better utilize your existing wardrobe, give you direction in how you shop, help you curate your wardrobe, and hone your style.
Narrow your wardrobe down to less than 25, and it gets pretty strict & hard to maintain for some, but it’s liberating to others. I have a friend who is an extreme minimalist, and she narrowed her wardrobe down to 3 tops, 3 bottoms, and 2 pairs of shoes. That simplified her life and made her very happy. It would have the opposite effect for me.
If you’re thinking about starting a more dedicated, seasonal capsule wardrobe, narrowing your wardrobe down to only 10-20 pieces and wearing only those for a week or so can be a really great exercise and less overwhelming. It’ll get you used to putting outfits together creatively and looking at your clothes differently. Packing for a trip is the perfect time to do this. I always pack in a carry on, and that’s the range of pieces I take.
What else do I need?
After that look at what is missing. More color? More neutrals? More tops? More shoes? What do you have too much of? What didn’t you reach for?
Once you get above 50 items, you’re in danger of not really getting all the benefits of a capsule wardrobe. You’re still left with more choices than you need, and chances are you’ll still have a few items that don’t really fit in with the rest of your pieces. Keeping more than 50 pieces for the season isn’t so much a capsule wardrobe as it is an intentional wardrobe.
An intentional wardrobe is still curated, but it’s not as refined, and it could be the perfect method for you if a capsule feels too limiting, but you want a more cohesive wardrobe.
How can I know how many items are right for my capsule wardrobe?
So why do people need a magic number? Because as humans we feel more comfortable with parameters when we start something new. We have to start somewhere, and choosing a number as a guideline gives you a baseline to start experimenting, just like that new recipe. But once we feel comfortable with the concept, it’s time to start shifting around and finding that sweet spot for your own closet. It could be less, it could be more.
The 33 items gave me somewhere to start. And to be honest, without it, I would have justified keeping a lot of things I didn’t love or wear. I needed that number. And now I don’t.
Once you’ve figured out your personal style and how you want your capsule wardrobe to look, shop your closet! Get everything out, and keep only the things you love and make you look and feel fantastic.
Do your best to only include items that:
- Fit a cohesive color palette
- Fit you well
- Express your personal style
- Make you happy
For more advice on what items you should look for, check out my Capsule Wardrobe Guides!
If you’re trying to talk yourself into anything you don’t genuinely love to wear, just put it away. Let go of the shoulds (I should like this because…), the guilt (that was so expensive, it was a gift, I got it on sale!), and any other voices in your head. Focus on pieces you’ll be happy to wear often.
If you’ve done this right, you likely won’t be left with a ton of items. To figure out what else you’d need, try wearing only those items for the next week. Pay attention to what additional pieces you wish you had, and what you don’t grab.
Don’t agonize too much over individual decisions. Let yourself be flexible with your wardrobe at first. If you were a little overzealous in the beginning and thought you’d be fine with just one pair of shoes, give yourself the grace to change your mind. If wearing only 25 pieces is driving you crazy, go through your things again and try adding a few items. I promise, you’re not going to get in trouble with the Capsule Wardrobe Police if you add an item or five, and it can really open up your options.
The mindset that will help it fall into place
The key word is curated. A curated collection is limited because you are being selective of only the best. The best for you. If you come into it with a mindset of limitation, that someone (even yourself) is taking something from you, you will feel robbed. If you have a mindset of quality and refining and getting the best your wardrobe has to offer, you will feel pampered and spoiled.
As you’re putting together your capsule wardrobe, think about WHY you’re doing it.
Do you want to simplify your morning routine?
Do you want to better express your fabulously unique style?
Do you want to spend less money on clothes you don’t need?
Are you aiming for quality over quantity and want to save your money for bigger ticket items?
If you begin with the end in mind, it will be much easier to create your capsule wardrobe and to know once you’ve found that magic number.
Let the rules guide you, but not control you, and always know when to break them.
Looking for help to build your capsule wardrobe from the ground up or curating what you already own? My detailed seasonal Wardrobe Guides feature a curated capsule collection of 30+ pieces (with shopping links!) and 100 outfit combinations catered to your Style Twist (take the quiz below to find out your Twists) and a bold pure hues color palette, along with outfit ideas for every single day of the week. Starting a capsule wardrobe has never been so easy!
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
If you’ve been nodding along with this article, you’re a woman with classic style. Check out these posts to find more style inspiration. Or take our Classic Style Twist quiz here, and then read about the different Twists here to learn how to bring your own personality type through while still embracing classic style.
Have you joined my FREE Facebook group? Classic Capsule Conversations is the perfect place to discuss capsule wardrobes and classic clothing style with a community of like-minded women!