On February 1, 2016, I turned in the first draft of English Lessons to my publisher. A couple of days later, I found myself frantically cleaning out my closet. I mean, cleaning it out. Everything.
I had been reading about the concept of a capsule wardrobe—the idea of applying the principles of minimalism to your clothes, wearing only a few pieces each season and shopping sparingly and intentionally.
This was an incredibly novel idea for me since I had always shopped spontaneously, picking up a t-shirt while shopping for candles at Target, hitting up whatever store I had a gift card to not because I was in need of a certain item but just because I could, shopping with my mom and sisters when we were together just for fun.
I was wary of the idea of a capsule, and I was even more wary of my ability to follow through with it, but something about turning in my first book and the way it made me feel terrified, out of control and at the mercy of my editor, but relieved and celebratory all at once—like if I could turn in a book, I could do anything—made this whole capsule wardrobe thing suddenly feel feasible, and needed.
Hence, my big closet clean out. That is, after all, the first step of building a capsule, according to Caroline Joy Rector’s method, which is the method I followed and still loosely do.
I divided all of my clothes into three piles, as she instructed:
I had a lot of clothes.
I had a lot of shoes.
I mean, a lot of shoes.
And I’ve never even considered myself a “shoe person.”
What you see in these photos are years and years of clothing purchases and my neglect to be honest about what I actually wore. I gave clothes away pretty regularly, but I clearly still held on to way more than I needed.
The second step was picking out my items for that season, which was spring (March, April, May). Caroline recommended choosing around 37 items per season. This does not include lounge wear, athletic wear, underwear or accessories like scarves and bags.
My first season went ok. Picking out my items was fun and entering my closet, so suddenly strikingly clean, was no longer anxiety inducing. It was an enjoyable place to be. A place where I could actually think about what I wanted to wear instead of a place that I was trying to escape as quickly as possible. (P.S. My closet in my house in Austin is a fraction of this size, and my seasonal wardrobe still easily fits.)
Not far into the season, I realized I had chosen some pieces I didn’t love and so I did a lot of going back and forth to the mall, returning things I’d bought and ordered online, like that polka dot t-shirt. I was paring down my style, figuring out what I liked and didn’t and really thinking about this for the first time. This was also a season in which I was investing in getting my eyebrowns waxed and tinted. I should start doing that again.
This has been the best part about doing a capsule wardrobe over these last couple of years, discovering my personal style. Caroline said this would happen, and it did. I owned so many clothes I didn’t actually like, but I didn’t know I didn’t like them. Now that I was only shopping for specific seasons and wearing my clothes so often, I was discovering very quickly what I actually wanted to wear on a daily basis.
I’m now in my ninth season of a capsule wardrobe. This is kind of amazing because I tend to start things strong and then completely abandon them. (Which is why it’s also kind of amazing that I finished a book.) And I should clarify, I don’t buy all new items for each season. I roll over 80% of what I wear and shop for four or five (ok sometimes six or seven) new things per season. I do get sick of my clothes more quickly because I wear them so often and I’m tempted to give something away and replace it with something new, but I’m learning if I can retire a piece for a season or two, I’m usually ready to wear it again later in the year.
I realize this type of blog post is a bit of a departure from my normal repertoire of spirituality, faith and writing topics, but I like to write about lessons I’ve learned and where I’ve learned them. The capsule wardrobe is yet another life teacher for me.
Here are some of the reasons I’ve stuck with doing the capsule for as long as I have and what it’s taught me:
I have a style, and I am very picky about it.
I already touched on this above, but I am so picky about clothes now. If I don’t love it and want to wear it all the time, it goes back to the store. Sometimes it takes me a few wears to figure this out and by then, returning isn’t an option, but this is happening less and less, which makes me think my style is becoming more and more clear.
Some things I’ve learned about my style that I didn’t know:
You’ll notice a lot of repetition and overlap in my latest capsules. You may even spy a couple of items from that very first capsule that I’m still wearing! You also might notice that I’m blonder now and I tried bangs (RIP).
I use shopping as a coping mechanism.
This is something Caroline wrote about that I thought didn’t apply to me. Then, when I suddenly couldn’t shop whenever I wanted, I realized I do it too. When I’m sad, lonely, bored, anxious, I want to spend money, and I usually want to spend it on clothes I don’t need. Now I occasionally catch myself online shopping at West Elm or buying too many candles at Target. I’m still trying to cope through shopping, but the capsule has at least made me aware of it.
I am drawn toward minimalism in other areas of my life.
I think the capsule wardrobe philosophy has started to bleed into other areas of my life. Before I moved to Austin in early 2017, I had a big living room sale. I sold as much as I could wanting to take as little with me as possible. I would not have considered doing this before. I would have just packed everything up. But now that I knew I could live with a fraction of my wardrobe, I thought I could probably do that with my other stuff too.
I sold, or gave away, furniture, artwork, home décor, dishes, clothes, shoes, rugs. And I haven’t missed any of it.
Fashion is art.
I already believed this, but intentionally shopping and thinking more carefully about my outfits each day has confirmed my thoughts on art and clothes and the amazing creative expression they can be. See Instagram rant below:
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Playing with layering denim. (Jacket is @topshop shirt is @amourvert.) This Capsule has been more fun than most. Transition seasons are so tricky but I’m trying to embrace layering rather than resist it and it’s actually been fun. This reminds me about a recent experience I had listening to one of my favorite podcasts. The hosts (three men, one woman) were talking about body image and they got on the topic of clothing and fashion. The general consensus was that thinking about what you wear every day is a waste of time and only something you do because society and fashion magazines have told you to. There is no value in fashion aside from making all of us feel like we’re not good enough and need to buy more stuff. I wanted to jump through my phone and shake each one of them. Fashion is art. It is creative expression. Choosing what kind of shoes look good with wide legged pants? That’s composition! I’ve liked clothes and fashion ever since I can remember and it’s not because I feel pressure to or feel shamed into it. In fact, as someone who has experienced her fair share of body image issues, clothes have almost been a reprieve for me. Something on my body that I can be proud of because I picked it out, I like the cut and the color and the feel. Fashion is a way for me—someone who can’t paint or craft or even write legibly—to partake in visual art. It’s an expression, a challenge, a creative outlet. No, it is not everybody’s creative outlet, and that’s ok. But that’s what it is for me, and always has been. And if you don’t agree that fashion is art, go watch Meryl Streep’s cerulean monologue from Devil Wears Prada. It’s 🔥. Ok, rant over. #capsulewardrobe #springcapsule
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Now that I’m more in the rhythm of things, I’m starting to think about not only what clothes I’m buying, but where I’m buying them from. Caroline inspired this shift in me too. I’ve discovered a couple of ethical clothing brands that I really like and hope to discover even more.
As you can tell, I am a proponent for the capsule wardrobe lifestyle. I am a proponent for anything that teaches us more about ourselves, helps us find freedom in areas we didn’t even know we needed it, and is an avenue for creative expression. It’s not for everyone, but it certainly is for me. If you haven’t gotten around to spring-cleaning yet, this summer could be a great time to try out the capsule. Do a little closet clean out. Pick out a wardrobe you could enjoy all summer. See how you feel. See what you learn about your style. See what you learn about yourself. It might surprise you.