How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe That Will Last a Lifetime

Not so long ago, the fashion world was buzzing about the concept of a capsule wardrobe—the kind of compact closet that only held the minimum number of pieces that matched each other with great ease and that allowed for much time saved in the mornings. Perhaps because the economic downturn hit at the same time that a furious decade of fast fashion was taking a toll on our closets, the capsule wardrobe appeared to be the solution to everyone's fashion woes. Social media was (and remains) also to blame.

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(Image credit: @brittanybathgate)

As users took to Instagram wearing brand-new outfits for each post, many found it difficult to keep up with the endless fast-fashion hauls and OOTDs being presented to them. Overconsumption was rife, but then, things started to turn. As a community, fashion lovers banded together to call for more sustainable shopping habits and championed getting sufficient wear out of the clothes they owned rather than replacing them when a new trend or aesthetic came around.

Still, creating a capsule wardrobe is a very personal endeavour—one that takes time, perseverance, and a lot of analysis. What works for one person's capsule wardrobe won't for another, so there's no hard and fast rule to assembling one. Realising this, I decided to ask some fashion experts who have gone on their own capsule-wardrobe journeys to share their experiences, as well as favourite staples. What I learnt from their insight was that times change, trends move on and so do tidy solutions. And it turns out we might have taken the capsule wardrobe approach too literally.

1. Tracey Lea Sayer

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(Image credit: @trayslounge)

One of the most experienced fashion editors in the industry, style expert Tracey Lea Sayer knows how to assemble a capsule wardrobe.

"I am a maximalist minimalist! 'What the heck does she mean by that?' I hear you ask. I have a minimal wardrobe that I can respin, rework and revamp each year to get maximum looks with minimal purchases. Six years ago, I started taking daily outfit pics and discovered that I am very much a repeat shopper. I am drawn to the same style of items each season at the same time of year. Knowing this really helps me focus on what my wardrobe needs rather than what my eye is drawn to in the shops. What is the point of buying another trench when I already have a great one that can be updated with a new scarf? Also, by getting to know what suits me by taking a mirror selfie, I discovered what my style DNA is. I can now easily walk away from trends that don't work for me. Even the word 'trend' now doesn't sit quite right. Fashion, after all, changes, but style endures. Well said, Coco!"

2. Nana Acheampong

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(Image credit: @styledbynana)

Celebrity stylist, editor and TV presenter Nana Acheampong's considered wares prove that capsule wardrobes don't have to be boring.

"No wardrobe is ever complete without the basics—the basics being staples that you can wear again and again and mix and match with items that you already own or new pieces. It's so important to have these pieces so that you don't unnecessarily buy items that won't make it past one season. In an age where we're trying to be more sustainable and conscious of our shopping habits, make sure your wardrobe staples are on point. For me, it’s all about the items that suit my figure and style—the dress, miniskirt, shorts, vest and leather or denim jacket, for example."

3. Anna Cascarina 

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(Image credit: @annacascarina)

Fashion-editor-turned-influencer Anna Cascarina inspires her loyal following with her versatile wardrobe and expert styling tips.

"I think the biggest assumption that people make about a capsule wardrobe is that it has to be minimal and neutral. When we think of a capsule wardrobe, we tend to think of a white shirt, black blazer, jeans, neutral T-shirts, etc. But a capsule wardrobe can absolutely include lots of colour and prints. It needs to work for you, and if you're a colour lover, then your wardrobe needs to reflect that! Just ensure that your clothing can be mixed and matched and not too trend-led. A good way of tying everything together is to include a few good basics so that you can enjoy over and over again without getting overwhelmed by all the print and colour."

4. Bianca Foley

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(Image credit: @biancaffoley)

Slow-fashion advocate and influencer Bianca Foley shares her experiences renting and downsizing her wardrobe on the regular.

"I started my journey with ethical consumption about eight years ago. Back then, it was the norm for everyone to post their daily #OOTD and wear what, to me, seemed like brand-new looks every day. My small wardrobe and even smaller bank account just couldn't keep up, so I started to look for more inspiration in the form of slower-fashion influencers and capsule-wardrobe enthusiasts—people who knew their style and weren't afraid to show that they wore items in their wardrobe more than once. I've been dressing from my own capsule ever since. You should always dress for your lifestyle, as that dictates what you will need in your perfect capsule. For example, when I worked in the city, I wore more corporate clothing as it was what I wore most of the time. If you buy things that don't fit your lifestyle, you'll never get the wear out of them."

5. Jessica Skye

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(Image credit: @_jessicaskye)

If there's one person who has perfected the art of the capsule wardrobe, it's influencer, Who What Wear UK contributor and fashion industry alumna Jessica Skye, who has carved herself a beautifully curated corner of the internet with her versatile, interchangeable, and minimalistic wardrobe.

"If there's one thing I've learnt whilst shopping over the years, it's to question whether or not I'll get more than one to two wears out of a certain item. That's why I now tend to opt for minimalistic pieces that can be mixed and matched with almost anything in my wardrobe. Invest in a good quality white T-shirt that you know will last season after season, and opt for not-so-trend-led pieces that stand the test of time such as a trench coat, a good pair of jeans and a white shirt. Creating a capsule wardrobe takes time and perseverance, but it's so worth it in the end."

How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe: The Main Takeaways

1. Invest in solid basics

Your wardrobe doesn't have to centre around them, but a well-assembled edit of clothing staples will anchor your outfits and maximise the versatility and wearability of more characterful pieces. Of course, if you subscribe to the minimalist aesthetic, you'll likely already have a sound edit of basics on hand.

2. Create a capsule for the life you live

Perhaps you used to get dressed up and go out dancing every weekend, but if that's no longer on your radar, then perhaps you don't need that new pair of heels or that sparkly dress. Instead, if you're now more likely to step out in jeans and loafers, why not consider investing in a more premium pair than you ordinarily would that will last longer and that you'll get a considerable amount of wear out of?

But don't feel the need to sit them out entirely. If a trend speaks to you and feels intrinsic to your personal style, then by all means embrace it. If you can see yourself still loving and wearing this particular trend or item in two years' time, then it might be a good fit.

How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe: The Process

1. Begin with a simple clear-out

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(Image credit: @_livmadeline)

Initially, limiting your wardrobe to a specific number of pieces might help you. But after a while, it might not serve you anymore. Give yourself the freedom to evolve over time as you learn.

2. Take a time-out before refilling your wardrobe

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(Image credit: @biancaffoley)

Instead of buying new clothes right away, give yourself some breathing room and live with your wardrobe as it is for a week, a month or however long you like. Just see what it feels like to live with less or limited clothing.

3. Don't worry about making it perfect

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(Image credit: @ANOUKYVE)

Trying to curate the perfect capsule wardrobe too quickly might mean you end up buying more than you actually need. Let it be imperfect, and understand that there will likely always be gaps in your wardrobe. It's okay not to have everything right away—or ever, for that matter.

4. Do a trial run if you're scared to commit

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(Image credit: @SYLVIEMUS_)

Want to test a capsule without really committing? Try a 10-day remix challenge. Pick 10 pieces out of your wardrobe and wear only those pieces for the next 10 days. See how it goes!

5. Remember you can always rent one-off pieces

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(Image credit: @andreacheong_)

The rental market has grown exponentially over the last few years and presents a more considered way to wear new clothes—well, clothes that are new to you. In your capsule wardrobe, you should have more than enough to assemble lots of outfits, but if you're looking for something for a special occasion, say a wedding, then renting can allow you to try something new without the need for frivolous and unnecessary spending. It might, in turn, help you identify a gap in your capsule you can look to filling.

Ready to get your capsule collection together? Go through the gallery below to see the kind of classic pieces that will hold anyone's wardrobe together.

Shop a Capsule Wardrobe:

1. A forever biker jacket

2. Tailored trousers

3. An easy sweatshirt

4. A smart skirt

5. A laid-back jumper

6. Black ankle boots

7. Relaxed true-blue jeans

8. A versatile scarf

9. A white shirt

10. Fancy flat shoes

11. A chic, wear-everywhere dress

12. A sleek carry-all bag

13. A slick coat 

14. Mid-height heels

15. A traditional trouser suit

16. A simple crossbody

17. A basic belt

Maxine Eggenberger
Deputy Editor

Maxine Eggenberger is Who What Wear UK’s deputy editor and has over thirteen years of experience in fashion journalism. She been creating engaging and elevated style content specifically for Who What Wear UK since 2018, covering runway reports, emerging trends, long-form features, self-styled shopping stories and columns, including her edit of the best new-in buys. She ensures the highest editorial standards are met across the site, leads the editorial team in their SEO strategy and keyword planning, works closely with the beauty team on content initiatives, represents the brand at industry events, and regularly contributes to social media, including her own Who What Wear UK TikTok franchise, French Style Fridays. Previously, Maxine appeared on ITV's This Morning in her own fashion segment and has interviewed countless celebrities—everyone from Victoria Beckham to Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.

Prior to Who What Wear UK, Maxine’s career began when, after completing her first-ever internship at Look magazine, she was offered a position on the brand's fashion desk. She accepted, leaving university a year early in the process. Her passion and natural talent for writing and styling meant she swiftly rose through the ranks to become the title's fashion news and commercial content editor, with a stint as InStyle.co.uk’s fashion and beauty writer along the way. She later served as Look’s acting Editor in Chief, overseeing both print and digital, before embarking on a successful freelance career, working with Grazia, The Pool, and Marie Claire amongst others.

Maxine is based remotely from her countryside home near Edinburgh where she spends her downtime renovating her house, walking her dogs, hosting friends and trying to master the art of making Old Fashioned cocktails.