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Wardrobe Building: The Case for a Capsule Wardrobe

The term capsule wardrobe was coined in the 1970’s by a London boutique owner to describe a collection of a few essential clothing items that have a timeless style.  It became popularized in the US in the mid-80’s when Donna Karan released a seven-piece work wardrobe collection.  Most recently, the term capsule became reinvigorated with the launch of Project 333, a fashion challenge that invites people to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months.

Capsule Wardrobe: Donna Karan 7 Easy Pieces
Donna Karan’s 7 Easy Pieces

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Wardrobe Building: Knowing Your Style

Whether working with a stylist or outfit planning for yourself, it can be very helpful to know three things prior to creating an outfit.

  1. The style you seek.
    • Classic – the workhorse foundation pieces of any wardrobe
    • Minimalist – harder to pull off than you’d think
    • Edgy – popular choice to keep classic from being to basic
    • Bohemian – an easy-going, modern hippie look
    • Romantic – the girly-girl look
  2. How far you want to take that style.
    • 1: a hint of the look
    • 2: moderate
    • 3: full-on version
  3. The environment for which you are dressing.
    • Casual
    • Professional/Corporate
    • Evening/Dressy

Most people have some trouble defining their style so the list below highlights traits, common stores/brands and style icons for several popular fashion styles.  I love to work from a primarily classic wardrobe and then adapt looks to a level 1 or 2 of a different style by using either one clothing piece OR a couple accessories (for level one) or a clothing piece AND a couple of accessories (for level two).  Using this formula keeps me from getting bored but allows to me to maintain a wardrobe that consists of primarily good quality, classic pieces.  Level 3 looks require a bit more commitment to the style as your signature.


  • Quality fabrics: wool, silk, cashmere
  • Neutral colors but can go into more saturated brights
  • Stripes, herringbone, tweed
  • Tailored, non-exaggerated shapes
  • Kate Middleton
  • Jenna Lyons


  • Neutral colors
  • No patterns
  • Simple lines with dramatic or exaggerated shapes
  • Tilda Swinton
  • Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy


  • Leather
  • Heavy use of black
  • Hard details like spikes, studs, chain
  • Kristen Stewart
  • Elizabeth Hurley


  • Natural fabrics and accents (cotton, leather, stone, wood)
  • Floral or ethnic patterns
  • Flared trousers, flowing skirts, wedge shoes
  • Fringe, woven or embroidery details
  • Olsen Twins
  • Siena Miller


  • Floral prints, lace
  • Pastels, whites, creams
  • Flowy silhouettes, flared skirts
  • Feminine accents like ruffles and bows
  • Lauren Conrad
  • Florence Welch

Wardrobe Building: Suiting

One of the most important building blocks in any woman’s wardrobe is a suit.  While it’s easy to think of this as a piece only relevant to bankers, lawyers or hospital administrators, a suit is an indispensable item for all women and can be broken apart into many flexible looks
The J. Crew Super 120s Collection is my go-to low/moderate brand and can be a steal when they are running a sale, while BOSS and Theory are two top picks for moderate/high investment suiting.

My recommendation is to invest in the best jacket-pant-skirt combo that your budget can handle in black, navy or a dark grey.  Look for quality stretch wool fabric.  One-button or two-button jackets will work better than 3+ or double-breasted as will a classic shaped trouser (not too skinny, too flared).  A pencil is the most versatile skirt shape.  Tailor for an impeccable fit!

Now have fun styling your new versatile look!  For work try the trouser with a print blouse and accent-color cardigan; for day try jeans with a simple tee, blazer, bold statement necklace and platform slides or the pencil skirt paired with a chambray button-down tied at the waist, sunnies and a pair of lace-up ballet flats; for date night pair the trouser with an embellished silk tank and metallic sandals.  And rest easy you’ll never have to worry again about what to wear to that unexpected interview, that funeral, that after-hours work function of your husband’s, etc. 

J. Crew Super 120s

J. Crew Super 120’s Collection – Skirts from $128, Trousers from $138, Jackets from $248; a variety of fits are available in each category so you can find something that fits your style and best suits your body type. 

Theory Gabe Blazer
Theory Testra Trouser
Theory Lanai Blazer

 Theory Suiting Separates – Prices range from about $215-515 depending on item. 

BOSS Jabina Blazer
BOSS Tulea Trousers

 Boss Suiting Separates – Range from $180-625. Discover goods from the shop at KonMari