Guide to a Capsule Wardrobe

Capsule Wardrobe Guide for Men

You may or may not be familiar with the term “capsule wardrobe,” but a lot of recent blog chatter and news coverage has been dedicated to it. Today, we will explore what a capsule wardrobe is, why you might consider having one, and how to put one together. 

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothing that is put together with the purpose of maximizing the number of outfit combinations that can be created with those items and then wearing only that collection of clothing items for an entire season. Each shirt should match each pair of pants, and so forth, and the range of possible combinations should cover the complete wardrobe needs of the person it was created for. This collection of clothing then forms the owner’s exclusive wardrobe for three months. All other clothing items in that person’s closet are stored for the next season, or donated.

Sven Raphael Schneider's jackets

Too many choices can make you unhappy with all the options

The main purpose of a capsule wardrobe is to reduce the dissatisfaction of owning too many clothing items by curating a highly intentional, versatile clothing collection of a specific size. This collection consists only of everyday clothing items such as shirts, pants, jackets and shoes while excluding accessories and specialty clothing such as underwear, accessories, and workout clothes. It’s a minimalist approach to dressing, and it’s a perfect way to refocus on quality over quantity.

The concept of a capsule wardrobe has been around since the 1970’s when a London boutique owner coined the phrase. A few years later, the designer Donna Karan released a collection of women’s workwear that was supposed to simplify a woman’s wardrobe while getting the most out of it. Even though capsule wardrobes have come in gone in terms of popularity, they have been covered more regularly recently and whole blogs have popped up that exclusively cover the concept. Most guides to capsule wardrobes out there are for women, but this one will be specifically for men.

Small but organized closet

All this, and still nothing to wear?

Why a Capsule Wardrobe Might Make Sense For You

Do any of these describe you?

  • You own a closet full of clothes but frequently feel you have nothing to wear
  • You spend more time choosing what you will wear than you want or need to
  • You rarely feel satisfied with the selection of clothes in your closet
  • You wear the same things over and over again, despite having many to choose from
  • A large portion of your wardrobe goes unworn for months at a time (not counting seasonal clothing)
  • You own multiple similar pieces, such as 2 navy blazers or 6 pairs of jeans, but none are “just right”
Color, texture and hats at Pitti Uomo 88 - photo by Pitti Uomo

Bold and unusual clothes may be fun in certain circumstances, but if you don’t wear them they tie up money in your closet

If any of these points describe how you feel about your wardrobe, then a capsule wardrobe may be a good exercise for you. One of the main tenants of having a capsule wardrobe is that many of us feel less satisfied when we have too many choices. To compound that, because having too many choices is the norm, we subconsciously make buying decisions that make things worse. For example, we buy things because they are on sale, for a single-use purpose, or to replace another not-so-perfect item but not throwing the original away.  A capsule wardrobe changes the purpose of one’s wardrobe to focus on versatility and satisfaction with each element within it. If you can only choose from 30-odd garments for 3 months, you will be very careful about what you select to include in it.

You May Not Know It, But You’ve Already Made A Capsule Wardrobe

You may think I’m wrong, but hear me out. Unless you never travel by air, you have in fact created a capsule wardrobe before. Each time you pull out your suitcase to pack for a trip, you are forced to consider the weather and the particular needs of your trip to put a “capsule” wardrobe together for the duration of your trip. A skilled packer will minimize the number of items he brings while maximizing the number of possible combinations.

Raphael Navy DB Suit Fort Belvedere Bow tie, pocket square and boutonniere

A double-breasted navy suit worn by Sven Raphael Schneider as part of his 2015 travel capsule wardrobe

You may think you love clothes too much to bother with a capsule wardrobe, but even a dedicated clotheshorse can benefit from it. In 2015, GG Founder Sven Raphael Schneider spent 15 weeks in Europe during the late summer and fall, and he packed for the entire trip in one large checked bag, a rolling carry-on and a briefcase. His core pieces included only one double-breasted navy suit, two jackets, a quilted jacket, 6 pairs of pants, and 4 pairs of shoes for 105 days, in addition to some other items. Even with such a limited base wardrobe, Raphael felt prepared for every occasion, and with plenty of ties, pocket squares, and cufflinks to choose from, he didn’t get bored.

Accessories can be used to created endless outfit combinations

Accessories, like ties, can be used to created endless outfit combinations but don’t “count” as pieces of a capsule wardrobe. Bonus = they cost less!

Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe

  • You choose to buy an item in advance of looking for it, rather than stumbling across it
  • Each wardrobe piece has a purpose within your wardrobe
  • You take clothing purchases more seriously
  • You may not spend less money on a capsule wardrobe, but you are likelier to be happy with your choices
  • You bring down the cost per wear of key pieces, helping you get the most out of your investments
  • You stop settling for clothing items that are just “ok”
  • You learn how to better use less expensive accessories to create different looks
  • You need significantly less closet space
Vests help to change the look of your existing wardrobe

Vests help to create more combinations with your existing wardrobe

Two 37-Item Capsule Wardrobe Outlines

Capsule wardrobes don’t have a universal set of rules, but we’ve taken some cues from some other prominent Capsule Wardrobe bloggers (thanks, Unfancy) as to the best size. Since the point is to minimize the number of pieces, it’s better to choose a number and stick with it. In this case, we went with 37 individual pieces for day-to-day wear. These pieces should cover 99% of your wardrobe needs if possible, but if you happen to have a black tie event, don’t fret about going outside the allotted 37 pieces by wearing your tuxedo. Here are a couple suggested capsule wardrobes for both warm and cool seasons.

Allen Edmonds chukka boots in sand paired with houndstooth flannel 3-piece suit

Allen Edmonds chukka boots in sand paired with houndstooth flannel 3-piece suit

For the dapper gent in winter: (37)

  • 2 3-piece suits
    • Gray Flannel suit
    • Gray-brown houndstooth suit
  • 3 2-piece suits
    • Navy worsted suit
    • Brown striped or needlehead suit
    • Mid Gray or Blue Prince of Wales Check suit
  • 2 odd jackets
    • Herringbone Tweed jacket
    • Navy blue flannel blazer with patch pockets
  • 3 odd vests
    • Burgundy Moleskin or tweed
    • Camel Doeskin
    • Bottle Green Sweater vest
  • 2 overcoats
    • Charcoal Paletot with velvet collar
    • Heavy Wool Peacoat
  • 8 shirts
    • White dress shirt in a fine herringbone twill or poplin with french cuffs
    • White Oxford shirt with barrel cuffs
    • Light blue button down Oxford shirt with barrel cuffs
    • Blue end-on-end shirt with double cuffs
    • Ecru or off-white shirt with double cuffs
    • Striped shirt in red and white
    • Small checked shirt with barrel cuff
    • Twill shirt in pastel color such as green, yellow, purple, pink etc.
  • 3 pairs of pants
    • Corduroys in green, camel, brown or navy
    • Gray flannel pleated pants (unless you have the suit, then go for something in brown instead)
    • A pair of chinos
  • 2 sweaters
    • V-neck *if you wear ties) or Crew Neck (if you don’t) cable knit sweater in green, gray or burgundy
    • Cardigan sweater in a different color
  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • 2 pairs of boots
Summer Coats need a bold pattern

Odd jackets in bold, summery patterns are perfect for looking dapper in warm weather

For the dapper gent in summer: (37)

  • 3 2-piece suits (2 jackets + 2 matching pants)
  • 5 odd jackets – single breasted
    • Soft checked cotton blazer – blue or green
    • Linen sport coat in mottled light blue color
    • Silk Linen Blend sport coat in caramel
    • Glencheck worsted sport coat with red and blue or gray
    • Green Panama weave sport coat
  • 1 lightweight jacket
  • 1 summer weight sweater
    • Thin red cotton V-neck in for ties, Crew neck without ties
  • 8 dress shirts
    • White open weave barrel cuff
    • white linen withbarrel cuff
    • light blue end-on-end with barrel cuff
    • linen-cotton blend in pastel color
    • very fine bold stripes shirt in white with blue, green, red or yellow
    • lightweight checked shirt in light summer color such as orange, light blue…
    • yellow dress shirt
    • Printed pattern shirt
  • 5 polo shirts
    • with shirt collar style, 4 short sleeves + 1 long sleeve
    • Royal blue
    • White
    • Red
    • Yellow
    • Green
  • 5 pairs of pants
    • Mid Blue Linen pants
    • Beige seersucker pants
    • Chinos
    • Tropical Worsted dress pants in navy
    • Nantucket red cotton slacks
  • 3 shorts
    • Madras shorts
    • Needlehead cotton shorts in light blue
    • dark checked shorts
  • 3 pairs of dress shoes
    • Mid-brown full brogue derby
    • Oxblood cordovan derby
    • Tan loafer
  • 2 pairs of casual shoes
Wax jacket with turtleneck and off white sweater with white pants - a bit more contrast in the pants would have been better

Sweaters should be a go-to wardrobe piece for the casual-cool gent

For the casual-cool gent in winter: (37)

  • 1 Suit (1 jacket + 1 matching pant)
  • 2 odd jackets
  • 9 shirts
  • 1 peacoat
  • 5 sweaters
  • 4 vests
  • 8 pairs of pants
  • 5 pairs of shoes
Single Breasted Seersucker Suit

Seersucker is the perfect material for looking good while staying cool in warm weather

For the casual-cool gent in summer: (37)

  • 1 2-piece suits (1 jacket + 1 pair of matching pants)
  • 4 odd jackets
  • 2 lightweight jackets
  • 1 summer weight sweater
  • 8 dress shirts
  • 6 polo shirts
  • 5 pairs of pants
  • 4 shorts
  • 3 pairs of dress shoes
  • 2 pairs of casual shoes

Ground Rules for a Capsule Wardrobe

Now that you’ve chosen which outline to follow, here are the ground rules for getting the most out of the capsule wardrobe experiment:

  • Choose a 3 month period in which to wear your capsule, and dedicate the two weeks prior to planning and shopping.
  • Alter the capsule plan to suit your needs and preferences
  • Use as many items as you can from your existing wardrobe to fill your capsule before shopping for the missing items
  • Store or donate any clothing that isn’t part of your capsule, that way you won’t be tempted to wear it. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Don’t wear anything outside your capsule for 3 months, except for the aforementioned exclusions
  • Remember that accessories – ties, bow ties, pocket squares, cufflinks, scarves, gloves, etc – aren’t part of your capsule, so you can use them to dramatically increase the number of possible combinations
Sven Raphael Schneider in Three Piece Suit with double breasted waistcoat

Sven Raphael Schneider in Three Piece Suit with double breasted waistcoat

How to Start Choosing the Pieces for Your Capsule

Not sure how to get started with your capsule? Check out these articles and videos that will help you choose the most versatile pieces for your collection.

Conclusion

First, congrats, you decided to give something new a try! Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but the experience is likely to be revealing about your approach to clothes.

 

Summary
Capsule Wardrobe Guide for Men
Article Name
Capsule Wardrobe Guide for Men
Description
A comprehensive guide to what a capsule wardrobe is, its advantages and suggestions on how to put one together.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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16 replies
  1. Niclas says:

    I’m dissappointed how the casual-cool-section isn’t as thoroughly specified as the dapper-gentleman-section. Doesn’t quite live up to the usually high level of the Gazette. I’d wish you’d dig a bit more into the casual-cool point of view in general.

    Reply
  2. Nigel Hyatt says:

    However, it is still a very well written and informative article. I’ve been asking myself what kind of jackets and in what colors/fabrics/weaves etc. I should choose for a hot climate, and this article has certainly pointed me in the right direction.

    Reply
  3. W. ADAM MANDELBAUM says:

    You know, Sven, one of the joys of this site of yours, is how you will take 30’s classic basics, and go slightly out of the box with shoes or accessories. It is noticeable, but never obvious. Therein lies sartorial innovation and creativity. Bravo!

    Reply
  4. Alexander_F says:

    The capsule presented here is still quite a big one ( at least taking into account I make do right now with a total of three pants), but the thought behind is still a right one, namely that economy is also applicable and that a small wardrobe can still be a dapper one.

    Reply
  5. Attila Karpati says:

    I like it. But I won’t have enough clothes for a capsule wardrobe. I have no idea, how would you call my wardrobe.
    I like, that you choose classic style instead of casual.

    Reply
  6. Attila Karpati says:

    My writing disappeared. It isn’t problem for me, but I don’t understand. I didn’t write any debating.

    Reply
  7. Michael says:

    This is fantastic!
    I’ve been meaning to completely start over with my wardrobe.
    I intend to donate all of my existing clothes and buy a whole new wardrobe from scratch.
    This capsule idea will make this process much easier!
    Thank you!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] I was able to sort of whittle it down to like my, what I call it is lean wardrobe. So what my core capsule wardrobe is that makes sense for me […]

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