Style + Building a Wardrobe, + How To Wear It

27 Easy Pieces: A Capsule Collection

For years, I was fastidious about my wardrobe.  Pieces were chosen; outfits were planned.  My closet was edited and tailored.  But since finishing law school, things have gone a bit awry.

I’ve gained and lost weight, going up and down two-to-three sizes.  Sometimes I have an office to go to and a dress code to follow, sometimes I work from home and wear athleisure all day.  All of this has made me less diligent about purging unworn items from my closet because I might need them for the next job or after the next weight fluctuation.

As fall begins, and I prepare to head back to office life, it’s time to think about rebuilding my wardrobe from the ground up.  So I created a capsule collection built on pieces that are both neutral and lively, and reflect my professional style as it has evolved through my thirties.

Obviously, I don’t plan to buy all of these items.  I chose pieces that are basic enough that you and I might already own something similar.  Because the best capsule wardrobe starts with what you already own and wear regularly.

Sweaters. I wanted pieces that could be worn in both casual and professional environments.  A black silk-cashmere crewneck.  An ivory cable knit.  A drapey, neutral cardigan.  These sweaters look just as at home with jeans as they do with trousers or pencil skirts.

Sample Outfit // Black sweater + white blazer + flare jeans + sneakers.

Blouses & Shirts. When I have a closet full of nothing to wear, it is usually because I can’t find the right top.  These blouses and shirts are foundational pieces that can be worn with almost any outfit.  A black wrap blouse.  An ivory tie-neck.  A relaxed top with an impactful print.

Sample Outfit // Black wrap blouse + black skirt + black flats + long necklace.

Blazers. The right jacket can brush up any outfit.  A white t-shirt and jeans gets a lift from a structured blazer, so does the sheath dress that you’ve worn too many times to count.  A classic black one-button.  A slick white blazer.  A navy wool blazer to add an easy chic to work or weekend attire.

Sample Outfit // Black blazer + printed blouse + white skinny jeans + black flats + hoop earrings.

Skirts. I don’t wear trousers frequently, so I chose to focus on skirts.  A basic black pencil.  An ivory a-line skirt.  A slightly edgy leather skirt (or its more affordable cousin).

Sample Outfit // Leather Skirt + ivory sweater + tortoise heels + pearl earrings.

Accessories. For this, I wanted pieces that were unique enough to stand on their own, but paired well together.  My preferred metal is gold-tone, so I started there.  Simple huggie hoops.  A pair of modern pearls.  A lightweight ivory scarf.  A long pendant necklace.  An open cuff.  A pearl bracelet.  A tortoise bangle.

Shoes & Boots. I like cool shoes.  Basics are nice, but over the years, I’ve come to value the ability to show off some personality through footwear.  So I chose a tortoise heel, a simple black flat, a gold-accented sneaker, and dramatic leopard boots.

Dresses. Typically, I would choose more dresses, but we’re talking about essentials.  I need a basic black sheath with a flattering neckline, and a beautifully-hued wrap dress that can go from day-to-night.

Sample Outfit // Burgundy Wrap Dress + neutral sweater + tortoise heels + gold bracelet.

Jeans. I own five or six pairs of jeans in different styles.  But if I need to choose just the pairs that I wear most often, I would select flare legs and white skinnies.

Sample Outfit // White jeans + ivory sweater + pearl earrings + leopard boots.

I discovered through this process that sometimes you don’t need more clothing when you feel like you have nothing to wear, you need less.   I look forward to simplifying and rebuilding.  It feels a bit liberating.  Have you experimented with a capsule wardrobe?

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  1. Clara says:

    What’s your new job?

    September 18, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I’m interviewing for a job I really want right now, and I want to be set up wardrobe wise. Consulting on campaigns has been great, since it provided a lot of flexibility in the wedding run up and let me be in Montana more, but working at the legislature reminded me how much I love being in an office and how much better it is for my mental health. I’m hoping to have something firm to announce in the next few weeks.

      September 18, 2019/Reply
      • Jessica C says:

        Good luck! Echoing the other comment – great posts this week!

        September 18, 2019/Reply
        • Belle says:

          Thanks, ladies!

          September 18, 2019/Reply
  2. kk says:

    abra- you’re absolutely killing it with the posts this week!

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  3. Carrie says:

    This post is excellent! And came at the perfect time!

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  4. Jules says:

    I don’t own a lot of clothes, but definitely more than a capsule.
    My problem is I love COLORS!! and PATTERNS!! and more COLOR!!!! so I end up owning more blouses and dresses and skirts than I ‘need’ because it gets hard to match 🙂

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  5. Ginny says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am in the same position as you, after many weight fluctuations I have a closet bursting with things I don’t wear. It’s so haphazard now that I always feel like I have nothing to wear. This is a very helpful jumping off point. Great post!

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  6. Kelly says:

    I’m not sure I’ll go all-in on a capsule wardrobe (I’m not into beating myself up over having an extra cardigan), but this post has given me some ideas for my much-needed and upcoming closet edit. I went from a super formal to super casual dress code and told myself I could donate some suiting pieces after I make it through a year (or year-ish) where I’m at.

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  7. Elle says:

    Great post! I’ve been toying with the idea of a capsule wardrobe and this is a great start point. Good luck with your job search!

    September 18, 2019/Reply
  8. SHannon says:

    Weight fluctuations are incredibly challenging, In my case, seesawing between fertility treatments and migraine meds meant I could wear size small, medium, and large in a three month period, It was like being Alice in Wonderland. I wound up with a closet overflowing with cheap placeholder crap.

    Now things are stabilizing, and I’m staying home with a baby. I’m finding a capsule wardrobe/uniform is the way to go. Daily Ritual ponte stretch slacks, a fitted tee, some kicks, and I can layer a Lark & Ro cashmere sweater if needed.Easy and machine washable.

    The challenge is always tees. Any petite ladies find good v-necks that aren’t halfway down to the navel, with armholes that don’t show sideboob? I’m 5’1.

    September 19, 2019/Reply
    • Janine says:

      I’m petite, and my go-to for v-neck (and other) tees is Talbot’s. They hold up really well, look nice for work or casual wear, and are proportioned well for petites. I’m also a fan of the Lands’ End petite scoop neck tees – I just purchased a few on sale, so I don’t know how well they hold up yet, but so far, so good, and Lands’ End quality is usually great.

      September 19, 2019/Reply
      • Shannon says:

        Thanks! I have a few things from Talbot’s, but had always thought of it as more of a store for dressier things. I’ll also have to check out Lands End.

        September 19, 2019/Reply
    • B says:

      I’m by no means petite, but I find that Loft tees are often all up in my armpits, even when they are loose elsewhere. It’s annoying for me but might work well for you!

      September 19, 2019/Reply
  9. Samantha says:

    This post is exactly what I needed! I’m doing a closet clean out/refresh for this fall and this will be so helpful.

    September 19, 2019/Reply
  10. Michelle says:

    For those who follow a capsule collection do you have a separate winter/summer one?

    I love the idea of a capsule collection, but I almost only exclusively wear my cashmere sweaters and dresses for winter and I have separate clothes for summer.

    September 23, 2019/Reply
  11. JAV says:

    Great post, I’d love to see capsule wardrobes for working at home and vacationing (spring through fall).

    January 5, 2020/Reply