The Value of the Capsule Wardrobe

fashion, style, wardrobe

Entering the workforce or changing career tracks can be an exciting life event, but each has its own challenges and stressors.  In a culture where first impressions are key, what we wear can make a statement about us as individuals and dressing appropriately for professional situations can give an edge. Entering the workforce or changing from a business casual office to one that requires professional attire can create a whole new phase in wardrobe planning, and charting that unfamiliar territory can cause some anxious moments.  Capsule wardrobes can help to ease that anxiety by providing a plan.

A capsule wardrobe, in its simplest concept, is a collection of clothing that consists of items that can be mixed and matched for a wider number of outfits from a minimal number of items.  This is especially useful for those starting a new venture and having to make an investment before paychecks begin.

The first step is to pick your base color: black, brown, or navy. Next, choose neutrally colored items that complement your base color.  Think black, gray, white, cream, beige, camel, and chambray. The key to creating a basic wardrobe is to pick neutral items for the base.  Now, choose two accent colors. These should be colors that mix well with your chosen base color and flatter your skin tone.

Once colors are chosen, you can begin to focus on clothing items. Choose three to five bottoms.  Suggested bottoms for women would be a pair of black pencil or ankle pants, a pair of gray slacks, a pair of black slacks, and a black skirt.  Another base item for women is a black dress. This does not have to be a “little” black dress, pick whatever works for your style and body type, but choose something with which you can easily mix layers and accessories.  For men, bottoms could be black slacks, chinos/khakis, or gray slacks. If your office allows jeans, a dark wash is the most sophisticated option.

When choosing tops, think about their ability to layer.  While cotton t-shirts are often too casual for office wear, silk or polyester blend t-shirts in white, gray, or black are a good base option for women.  In addition, a white button down, chambray (if this is too casual, a pale blue shirt is a smart substitution), striped or pin-striped, a dark shirt, and a shirt in an accent color gives a solid foundation for anyone.  Classic patterns that mix well are plaid or gingham. In addition, a solid colored sweater in gray, and another in camel or an accent color can be worn on their own or layered.

Think about layers, which are similar in both men and women’s styles.  A structured black or dark gray jacket is a must, but in a more casual or creative atmosphere, a less structured jacket or one with casual fabrics could be utilized.  Cardigans are perfect for layering and are suitable in business casual offices, but may not work in corporate offices. In that case, an additional jacket may be needed.  A gray cardigan is a good first, but this is also an opportunity to bring in those accent colors again.

Shoes can be kept at a minimum when starting a business wardrobe and expanded as your budget allows.  Keeping in mind that black is our base color, good shoes for both men and women are black or gray boots and black loafers.  For women, black flats in a rounded or pointed toe and a pair of heels will add flexibility. When choosing heels, keep in mind that you have to function in them all day, so a moderate heel is often the more comfortable option.  

Accessories are an area where accent colors and patterns can provide a pop of color and personality.  They are also easy to change out seasonally and are often less expensive than other wardrobe items. Belts should match shoes and a single one is usually sufficient to start with.  A black and white scarf is a great neutral piece and an additional scarf in an accent color provides even more options. Similarly, a solid color tie and a patterned tie are good starting points for men.

If this sounds like a big shopping list, don’t panic.  Begin by shopping your own closet. With your list of work wardrobe choices, go through the clothes you already have and find what can be repurposed for your new wardrobe.  If the list is still long and budget is an issue, hit resale shops and sales to fill gaps. A good rule of thumb for deciding if something is acceptable is to think of three things in your current wardrobe that it can be paired with. Ideally, every top in your wardrobe should be able to be paired with every bottom.  With layering items and accessories thrown in, that number is multiplied yet again, making your capsule wardrobe a stress-free solution to the problem of how to dress for success.