When Does A Capsule Wardrobe Stop Being A Capsule?

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.

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18 Comments

  1. February 18, 2019 / 7:58 pm

    I’m glad you shared this chapter of your capsule wardrobe journey with us. I think we all struggle with consuming ethically and sustainably, but bloggers and youtube personalities more than anyone put themselves out in the world more than anyone, and though it helps many of us, the backlash for struggling must be intense and overwhelming. In light of everything this blog post said, I think everyone has problems creating a comprehensive yet fully sustainable solution, especially in the eyes of others – while thrifting is great, it’s not always accessible to people; while purchasing rarely is wonderful, the prices go higher and often land out of range for most. If we all shopped for ‘sustainable’ expensive items constantly, we would be putting to waste funds that can be used for better purposes – maybe for buying children’s gifts at Christmas or contributing to a research fund for rare, uncurable illnesses. There is always going to be a ‘but’ to your actions and sometimes it will make sense, but ultimately it is your lifestyle and we, as your audience, do not have all the information or reasons pertaining to it. We would be irrational to judge all your decisions, to lash back against the smallest shift away from sustainability your life might experience, because for you, in the long term, it probably makes sense. We know you’re trying – and that’s what makes the capsule wardrobe and the ethics you relate to it truly matter in my eyes. (or maybe i’m just overinterpreting everything, idk lol)

  2. Rosie
    February 18, 2019 / 9:06 pm

    This is such an interesting post – I really like the videos where you talk about your capsule wardrobe but the balance of minimal clothes buying whilst living in a changeable weather environment and also being someone in your position who has to attend countless events and gets gifted new clothes is always something I am curious about. I also wanted to say how lovely the pictures are (on the whole of your blog not just this post)! The jeans in the pictures above look right up my street; where did you get them from?

  3. George Iris
    February 18, 2019 / 9:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this struggle with us. Just don’t forget, and I know that this is something very hard when everyone allows themselves to judge every little thing that you make, that you need to do what’s good for at your own level. In a magical world, we will all be able to do the things the way we want to do them. But life’s not that easy unfortunately, and you don’t have to feel ashamed to live with your time. You do good even with little steps.

    excuse my english, this is not the language I use on a daily base (I’m French).

    Cheers!

    M.

  4. susie
    February 18, 2019 / 9:35 pm

    I feel like you never did the capsule wardrobe as well as you could have. It frustrated me to see you buying into trends (animal print) or see you buy things similar to items you already had (similar thick coats, 2nd pair of docs). I think you put a lot of emphasis on the hauls and the buying (what you wanted to buy next) which I think is completely missing the point.

    Capsule wardrobe is a method of resisting consumerism. You’re trying to appreciate what you already have and focus on having a timeless, functional wardrobe. Its about recognising that fashion and style and trends are all methods of keeping us consuming. It’s not about cutting your wardrobe but about not buying in a way that you need to cut.

    I’m a student and I can’t shop sustainably. I try to work out whether I actually need something. I will try to think about whether I could have seen myself wearing it 5 years ago and whether I could see myself wearing it in 5 years time. I will see if I have something similar in my wardrobe. If not, I go on depop and look for it. Lastly, I will go and buy it. In the last 3 months all I’ve bought is a denim skirt, a second hand pair of heels and a long sleeve running top. I try to take pride in wearing the same outfits every week and it’s funny how one month I’ll hate a jumper and the next month I’ll find a new way to wear it that makes me love it again.

    Influencer haul/affiliate link/fashion culture is so problematic and even if it’s a sustainable brand it’s still encouraging consumerism and not encouraging people to appreciate what they have. Lex Croucher, Leena, Ingrid Neilson and Sarah Z have really good videos about shopping and fashion and the problem with style influencer culture.

    I think we put too much of our identity in what we wear and not in our words or our art.

    I also don’t think it’s about denying alL of our wants but it’s about really trying to recognise the illusory nature of our desire before buying.

  5. Delamuria
    February 19, 2019 / 12:03 am

    I really appreciate your honesty in this post. So please allow me to express my honest opinion on it !
    Please know that if I took the time to write that as English isn’t my first language it’s because I really like you and I’m in no way trying to hate on you. Really. I’m sure I’m going to pass as one of those passive-agressive comments you talk about in your post … it breaks my heart but I really have to get all of this out.
    I’m sorry Lucy but you can’t pretend to care deeply about the environment when you do next to nothing to be more sustainable. You buy clothes from fast fashion brands like Zara, you keep buying more and more clothes every seasons, you make a lot of random purchases on an impulse and you don’t do nearly enough research to be a reliable source on sustainable shopping.
    You clearly like fashion and enjoy buying new clothes, you’ve recently become a real fashion and beauty blogger which is totally okay but know that you can’t really have the best of both world (like Hannah Montana). To become environment-friendly you have to make sacrifices (like giving up leather and Zara) and I’m not sure you’re ready for that.
    Feeling guilt isn’t nice but it’s unfortunately necessary to force ourselves to change our ways !
    I get that you’re taking it slow and learning step by step how to become better but to me it feels like this blog post is more about how you feel like the environment is important but not actually doing anything to help. Unfortunately the world is degrading way too rapidly for us to be this slow at learning how to be better. Nobody is perfect it’s alright ! You’re not a bad person for buying fast fashion you’re just normal like all of us. We need to look out for some good role models on the matter.
    The viewers can then go back to you to watch a nice chill aesthetically pleasing GRWM !

    Also please know that you don’t need to have a perfect wardrobe to know yourself and have a strong identity.

    PS : I feel like sustainability is more about keeping the same clothes for a long time rather than having a really small wardrobe. I have way more than 40 items but I’m the same age as you and some of my clothes I’ve been wearing since my first year of high school ( most of my jeans and jumpers). And these items weren’t even from pricey brands, I just took care of them. pricey doesn’t equal quality or sustainability

    • Amy
      February 19, 2019 / 12:30 am

      I agree with your PS so much! I have what is very much NOT a capsule wardrobe but I’ve had most of the items five years or more. I have had some for fifteen! I am baffled by how little time many people keep items in their wardrobe for. If I really love a piece it’s with me til it wears out!

      Maybe Lucy could try seeing a stylist to help her narrow down her taste and work out what her real classic pieces are – I’d love to watch that.

      • Delamuria
        February 19, 2019 / 1:11 pm

        I’d love to watch that too !!

  6. Anastasia
    February 19, 2019 / 1:18 am

    I see your point and I am facing similar issues with having a capsule wardrobe. I am studying abroad and I get to travel a lot in between Scotland and Greece. I have minimised the items that I have seasonally and have maintained a few « standard/ basic » pieces for throughout the year. It’s more practical this way and it makes sense. You interchange between clothes during the different seasons so it is (or at least I hope) more sustainable and environmentally conscious. Another issue is that a lot of the sustainable companies are not that affordable which makes it really difficult.

  7. Oli
    February 19, 2019 / 1:53 am

    I always did think that what you were working with was a bit too much for a capsule wardrobe, but that’s fine. I’ve been trying to donate old stuff, and limit the clothes I’ve been buying to only necessary things, but that’s a really hard mindset to get into. About the sustainability thing, of course it’s difficult, that’s why so many people don’t do it. I think the point of he sustainability movement is to raise awareness of the exact effects our excessive shopping is causing. Sustainable fashion is important, but also expensive, and sadly, we still need food,water,medicine and other such human ‘nonsence’ to survive. So it’s okay to buy other, non-sustainable pieces of clothing, as long as you keep pushing yourself to be less and less dependable on buying because something is trendy.
    I think it’s great that you shared your honest opinion on this. I hope you receive some honest comments as well!

  8. Paula
    February 19, 2019 / 12:06 pm

    I love the honesty here. Sometimes as a social media consumer it seems that the influencers I follow do everything effortlessly and that’s just unrealistic, specially in this area. I guess in a way I also have a capsule wardrobe? I never made that decision, but I’ve been trying to have a small and cohesive wardrobe for a while. I have definitely taken inspiration from you, I love that kind of aesthetic, kinda minimal but also some very cool pieces here and there.

    As someone who’s just finding her feet economically, it’s hard for me to invest in more expensive pieces. I do get a few moments when I wish I didn’t care and could just buy a random cheap dress that I know I don’t need because it looks cute. And sometimes I cave and feel guilty. But hey, we’re all doing our best here!

    I know that every time someone shares their experience trying to be more sustainable people love to criticise and say “you’re just not doing well enough”. And that’s fucking discouraging, isn’t it?

  9. Delamuria
    February 19, 2019 / 1:34 pm

    So you just posted part of my comment on your IG and cut the part where I say that it’s normal to make mistakes and that nobody’s perfect.. It makes me sound like a complete arsehole and kind of changed the meaning of my comment.. but alright…
    “a flavor of the comments on my new blog post”, I don’t see any hateful comment here and I don’t think I’ve been disrespectful to you.
    I think a lot of my points were fair and I wish you would have answered me instead of putting my comment on blast without even trying to explain yourself. I wish you would use that blog to communicate a bit more with us.. I really wanted to hear you thoughts on the link between identity and clothing.
    As I was trying to say in my original comment .. I don’t think it’s possible to stay trendy (fashion) and to be environment-friendly. But I’m young and I might be wrong, and I wish you would have tried to prove me wrong.
    What I’m trying to say is… me telling you my opinion on a subject doesn’t mean I’m condemning you.. I just want to open a discussion on some subject that matter to me deeply.
    Allez salut !

    • Oli
      February 21, 2019 / 12:29 am

      yeah, i saw her story on insta as well, and i came here to see what kind of comments she had and… most of the comments were either really supportive and agreeing with Lucy, or in the cases when the person didn’t agree, they wrote their arguments in a nice way. I thought the same about your comment as well, because for as much as you didn’t agree with her, you were kind, respectful and understanding. I think it’s fine for Lucy to feel a little rejected when people don’t agree with her, we all do sometimes. I really liked the way you expressed your opinions, and I really don’t think Lucy meant to hurt anyone with her comments.. but she should be more thoughtful in the future

  10. Krakenaken
    February 19, 2019 / 6:58 pm

    “A flavour of the comments of my new post”, way to be disrespectful of your audience and trying to direct traffic here when basically all the comments are sincere, honest, caring and not at all hating on you. I have been following you for years and by no means I am trying to send you any hate, but that IG story with an edited comment trying to make it seem like you are receiving oh so much hate is insulting to the people who really have to deal with hate comments day in and day out. The people HERE are YOUR audience, you have really demonstrated something today.

  11. February 19, 2019 / 9:23 pm

    I think the problem lies with thinking that a capsule wardrobe removes the desire to shop. Marketing, capitalism and consumerism all operate to make that almost impossible, if not for clothes then for shoes or books or having brunch at every hip new restaurant. I’d assume a capsule wardrobe is supposed to remove the NEED to shop, so that even when you feel the desire to shop, you know there’s nothing you actually need to buy. In terms of reducing/removing your desire to shop, that’s on all of us to work on internally. No amount of stuff gets you to a place where you think ‘huh, I have everything that I need. I guess I won’t buy any more!’ I mean, that’s basically the whole point of consumerism!

  12. Aoife
    February 20, 2019 / 1:39 am

    Please please write a blog on your favourite blogs, trying to discover new and interesting people to follow and if they’re anything like you I’ll be happy x

  13. Doreen
    February 20, 2019 / 8:59 pm

    Okay I really emjoyed this post but on another note where is the jacket you’re wearing in those pictures from? It is so beautiful and I am still looking for a good winter jacket!!

  14. Canio
    February 21, 2019 / 11:55 am

    I feel like, as an influencer, your experiences with a capsule wardrobe will be very different to people working say, a 9 – 5 or in retail where you have a “uniform”. As an influencer, escpecially as a fashion/beauty one there is an expectation to provide a different look in every post, expected to be different whether in clothing or makeup in everything posted online. But so long as your wardrobe works for you, and you are getting wear out of everything you have, I honestly don’t think a capsule wardrobe is necessary. For me, a capsule wardrobe works for what I do as a uni student and someone working in retail, but it isn’t going to work for everyone, and honestly that’s okay. Find what works for you and makes you happy and stick to it.

  15. CREATTALENT
    July 5, 2019 / 10:21 am

    Hej there;
    This is such a nice blog post to read! I like to read and hear about your thoughts on minimalism and sustainability as someone who is still figuring things out, since I am at a similar spot with my own journey and just reading the opinions of people who seem to have it all figured out leaves me feeling alienated.
    Just like you, I care deeply about the environment, but I also know that the only way that I will be sticking to better choices is if they also work aesthetically and with my current life situation.
    I really hate it, when people make it seem like it is always easy to be vegan or ‘zero waste’ no matter where one lives and how much money one has. Yes there are always ways to make some better choices, but life is just really complicated and there are factors outside of us that influence the realistic choices we have for how we dress, travel and eat, just to name a few…
    Anyway please don’t stop sharing thoughts like this, I am really proud of you!

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