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Five Lessons From Those Who Have Lived a Capsule-Wardrobe Life

They are gonna ask you to do the same thing twice — and three times, and four times, and...

It can be tempting to look at the people who wear the same combination of clothes every day — I’m looking at you Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Elizabeth Holmes — and conclude that they’re out of their minds. 

But a capsule wardrobe — “a wardrobe that’s designed to minimize the number of clothes you wear while simultaneously maximizing the number of outfits you can wear with them,” per a subscriber of the Male Fashion Advice subreddit (MFA) — doesn’t have to be robotic. If anything — and if you know what you’re doing — it can be liberating. And it’s definitely what you make of it. You’re in charge, and you set the rules. It can consist of five pieces or 50. It can be forever, or just for a trip abroad or as you’re attempting to figure out a new style. 

For real-world capsule-wardrobe tips — read: not the stylings of tech tycoons — I turned to a group of very normal men for lessons on how they made such a limited collection of clothing work for them.

Surrender to the Fact That Social Gatherings Can Be Difficult

If you choose to keep your capsule wardrobe uber minimalistic — around 10 pieces including shoes — you will inevitably feel overdressed for some occasions, and underdressed for others. “One problem with having extremely versatile clothes is that, while I felt like I fit in everywhere, I never felt like I was ideally dressed,” an MFA commenter (and former capsule-wardrobe adherent) writes. “There were plenty of times where I would have preferred to be wearing jeans instead of chinos, and the same went for more formal events where I wished I had a blazer to wear.” 

Lay a (Color) Base

The first thing to do when crafting a capsule wardrobe is to determine the base color scheme, which influences everything you decide to include in it. “The longer you plan to use the capsule wardrobe, the more conservative the base colors need to be,” another MFAer tells me. Essentially, a lime-green or neon color scheme isn’t gonna provide enough flexibility.

Furthermore, the MFAer adds, “Don’t worry if you end up picking a conservative color scheme. You aren’t doomed to be boring.” For maximum usage, he recommends sticking with the most common conservative colors: navy, tan, gray, black or white. “I recommend choosing two of these five colors as they’re easy to find at mid-tier and higher stores, which is where most of your long-lasting clothes begin to appear,” he continues. 

Double Down on Pants

If you’re gonna go heavy on any part of your capsule wardrobe, make it pants. It can really make life easier. An MFAer who recently put together a winter capsule for a three-month stint in Italy writes that, looking back, an emphasis on pants “definitely helped to keep things interesting, while also not requiring much in the weight/volume department re: luggage!”

In terms of the exact types, his capsule included olive green khakis for versatility, wool sweatpants for “sports luxe” fits and black velvet corduroy trousers. “These were the workhorse pants that replaced jeans for me,” he explains. 

All Hail the Henley 

As for shirts, a different MFA subscriber thought long and hard about whether to go with henleys or V-necks. Ultimately, he tells me, “I decided that Henleys were more versatile, but only if they were long-sleeved, thicker than an undershirt (not see-through) and cut correctly (not all Henleys are created equally).” 

Not only did he find that the henley could be used with his polo shirts, button-downs and cardigans, but “the henleys I found were thick enough to be stand-alone pieces (no layering needed),” he adds. That said, they also worked under his polos and cardigans, and over his button-downs to create an array of textures. 

The Big Picture with a Little Wardrobe 

Interestingly, for the MFAer above, less options actually expanded his sartorial mind. “My style changed from a prep/workwear look to liking casual streetwear without ever changing my clothes,” he explains. Little by little, he started making more considered purchases to accentuate (and build upon) this look. And so, after his capsule year was complete, he had an entirely new wardrobe awaiting him — his closet with totally new, if smaller, limits.