Am I getting cold feet about my capsule wardrobe? A big question for a Monday afternoon.
When I first discovered the concept of a capsule wardrobe, it felt like a lightbulb switched on in my head. Back in 2016, I was struggling with my style, and specifically… working out what my style even was. I’d spent years floating about, admiring bloggers and emulating my friends’ wardrobes but never quite finding my style niche. I kept buying frankly quite random items in the hope that an outfit would magically create itself in its presence. Unsurprisingly, the magic wasn’t happening.
The final straw was a pink, shaggy-haired faux fur coat, which I walked past in Zara and instantly fell in love with. I thought it was so cool, and couldn’t wait to wear it. Once I got home, however, and tried it on with a couple of things, I realised it didn’t. go. with. anything. Despite owning a wardrobe full of clothes, I could make just one outfit. In that moment, every feeling I’d been having about feeling out of touch with myself came to a head. It’s like the clothes were a metaphor for the distance I felt from my identity. And so, like many of my 2016 videos illustrated, (I had a bad year,) an internal crisis began.
When I discovered the capsule wardrobe concept a couple of weeks later, I decided to take the plunge. After the initial wardrobe purge, I was left with around 36 items. However, there were many missing pieces. I decided to approach this slowly, making a long list of items I wanted and gradually picking them up over the course of the next two years. While this was happening, I was refining my style visually, making boards on Pinterest and collections on Instagram, and finding more and more bloggers who’s styles resonated with me.
Once I’d converted to the capsule method, a lot of its other benefits became evident. I was spending less on clothing I didn’t need, and I was creating less waste and giving the planet a much-needed break. It felt not only internally good, but like I was creating some external good too. I’ve always cared about doing what I can, where I can, and keeping a capsule wardrobe seemed like an obvious way I could do my bit whilst fitting ecological changes neatly into my lifestyle.
Over the past year in particular, I’ve really started to find my style. But with the growing concern about sustainability, that priority my capsule wardrobe once had on identity has shifted to prioritising the planet, and that good feeling has gradually mangled itself into a perpetual guilt. And I’ll be honest, I feel like I’ve started to fear my wardrobe a little. I’m unhappy with it, but I’m afraid to update it. I made a Mango order last week – the first time I’ve ordered non-necessary clothes in two months – and I felt so… embarrassed. I bought four items, and yet that weighs on my conscience because it feels like my capsule wardrobe is beginning to leak into “just a wardrobe” and I don’t know what that means for myself, my ethics and my job. Will I be left a hoard of passive-aggressive comments when I share these purchases online and be called a hypocrite? Am I a bad person for buying fast fashion? Just how much can you keep under your bed for different seasons before it starts to get silly? Should you donate some of the stuff under your bed and risk it ending up in landfill?
I still care about the planet; in fact I care more and more as time goes by. I also still care about my personal style and reaching a point in a couple of years where I really feel I know myself. However over the past week or two, doubts are beginning to creep in about whether a capsule wardrobe is the right approach for tackling these issues. Incredible creators such as Wear I Live document their style and how it plays into sustainability but don’t give the size of their wardrobes numerical parameters. Maybe that’s my way forward?
And also, what even is a capsule wardrobe now? When I first started, the blog posts I was reading generally had a consensus that it was around 40 items. But as consumerism continues to get more ridiculous and fashion gets faster, perhaps just fitting everything into one single wardrobe is enough? I sweat a lot under my jumpers (tmi), I can’t imagine having less than fourteen tops without incurring unnecessary laundry, which also costs the planet in terms of energy and water. Sure, if I lived in LA where there is a consistent temperature I could attempt to get back to forty items, but here in London we go between heavy-duty coats and boots through to sandals and shorts. I see how much backlash my friend Anna gets for having more items in her capsule than most blogs would recommend, but I feel that she has a realistic number and rarely needs to add to it. I need to find a good middle-ground that works for me, and I’m not sure that the capsule wardrobe purists will approve of where I’m at in that journey.
And finally, a note on quality. I feel like I’m in a mental catch-22 about this; I really want to be one of those people who buys infrequent, high-quality items that people say will last for years. And sometimes, that’s what I do. However, over time I’ve found that only certain items are worth the investment. Outerwear is a great investment piece, as are shoes, scarves and bags. Some of the other items, however, I’ve found to be less worth it. I’ve never had a t-shirt that didn’t go loose at the neck and start to pit-stain within a year of wear, and sometimes the cheaper items have lasted the longest. No matter which socks you buy, some will get holes in the heels and toes. Regularly-worn clothes that sit close to the body are rarely designed to last for the frequency with which they will be worn in a capsule wardrobe.
On a more selfish note; part of my income also comes from affiliate links, which I share when I find an item I love, and if someone buys something using one, I get a small commission. Most of my audience are students or graduates with salaries that reflect this – perhaps they work part time, have a graduate job, or they have moved home to save money like I did during my third year of university. It feels a bit out of touch to constantly recommend items that are well above their price point, and it also compromises a part of my income that while not huge, does enable me to be less dependent on other less reliable streams of revenue. There are ways around this, like recommending similar items to the second-hand ones I have picked up or investment pieces, and focusing my content around the basics that I’ve worn for years and are easy to shop, however it’s still important for me to think not only about my life choices but also how they affect my my audience and my income.
I feel very sentimental about my capsule wardrobe; it’s been a real journey and I’ll do whatever I can to make it continue and keep working for me. But these questions have been playing on my mind recently and it feels disingenuous to ignore them. I started documenting my transition to a capsule wardrobe because I wanted you to come with me on the journey, so I’d also like to share the wobbles with you too if that’s alright? It’s important to me to be honest in my journey to finding my style and negotiating that process with sustainability, ethics and everything in between. I’m not planning on dropping the capsule and doubling the size of my wardrobe any time soon, but style is a process and finding what fits is necessary both in terms of the clothing itself and your lifestyle.