Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Building a capsule wardrobe: using neutrals

You've taken the decision to start building a capsule wardrobe, possibly swayed by all the bloggers (including yours truly!) telling you how much easier life is with a capsule and how you will immediately look super-stylish. You've chosen your neutrals and accent colours, identified your body shape and worked out your personal style, and now you are eager to start shopping. Before you leave your house though, or browse one of the numerous on-line stores, start by looking in your existing wardrobe. Yes I know that it's far from perfect - which is why you want to build a capsule wardrobe - but you may already have some of the basics you need for your capsule. It's also a good time to clear out anything that doesn't fit, doesn't flatter you and that you don't love, leaving more room for any new purchases.

Common sense suggests that the first items in your capsule wardrobe should be neutrals and preferably dark neutrals if only because they won't show the dirt as much. Do you have a pair of black trousers, or maybe a simple navy skirt that you can mix and match with other basics? If your lifestyle is very casual, you could pull out your best pair of indigo jeans as your first piece. What about that dark grey jacket that you bought in the sales and hardly wear - will it go with the black trousers, navy skirt or indigo jeans? Depending on your lifestyle, the first pieces in your capsule should be two tops, two bottoms and one outer layer or a variation on that theme.

Looking through my own wardrobe, I have a pair of dark brown jeggings that will be one of the foundation pieces in my capsule wardrobe. Dark brown is going to be my first neutral, however your choice could be different. You can see my chocolate lace top on the right in the photos below, my long cardigan is on the left and the brown jeggings are on the right, below the top. In the middle of the top row is a second top, which I don't own at the moment, however I plan to purchase something similar to add to the capsule. The other two pieces are alternatives that I'm considering to complete the first step. I suspect that I will buy another pair of trousers, however I'm not ruling out a skirt if I find one that fits well and flatters my body.

What pieces will you start with? You may prefer two skirts instead of trousers or perhaps you look better in dresses than you do in separates. I'm showing you my choices, but unlike many people who write about capsule wardrobes I don't want to be prescriptive. If you really want a classic black jacket, dressy black trousers, pencil skirt, button-down white shirt and cashmere sweater, then go ahead and buy them, but not just because fashion bloggers tell you they are must-haves.

We're now going to start looking at jackets - but please don't stop reading if you don't like jackets. I'm talking about an outer layer here, so cardigans, ponchos, blanket scarves and other alternatives can be included if you're not a jacket person. After all, I'm using a long cardigan instead of a jacket in my own capsule.

Look at the options below, which range from a tailored, double-breasted black jacket to a casual loose cardigan. Forget about the colours for a moment, just ask yourself if any of the styles would suit you. Once you've chosen a style that suits your personality and your body shape, then find an outer layer in your dark neutral colour.

I've lost count of the number of fashion articles or style books I've read that dictate a black jacket as an essential for any chic woman's wardrobe. Why not grey, navy, brown or tan? Maybe a black cardigan like the zipped one on the right in the top row if you look good in black? Perhaps a black and grey poncho would suit your style more than a structured jacket?

Having suggested that you build your capsule around neutral pieces, please don't think that this means it will be dull and monotonous.  Remember that I mentioned accent colours in the previous post? The picture below shows what I might add to my capsule to make it more colourful.
I hope this will inspire you to start building your own capsule wardrobe. When choosing your basic neutral pieces, whether they are some of your existing clothes or new purchases, go for the best quality you can afford so they will last for a long time. On the other hand accent colours can be trendy pieces if you wish, however don't spend as much money on them. The accents don't have to be limited to accessories of course. I already have a soft teal top and a coral one, which will look good with my dark brown neutrals as well as the neutrals that I will show you in my next post.


  1. Great advice! And I have dark brown as one of my neutrals, too.

    1. Thanks Jeanine. Please let me know if you find some great dark brown items!

    2. I know what you mean ~ they can be scarce, especially during the cold months. I find them everywhere during the fall, though!

  2. I asked my adult daughters about my best outfits, and they both said dresses, and one also said jeans with a coloured top. One named a dress, and added, it has enough colour, good shaping and the skirt is the right length. They think a skirt just above the knee is OK, but one 2 inches below the knee is too long.
    I think all my outfits should have enough colour, good shaping and be the right length.

    I made up a capsule wardrobe from the clothes I had using the 4X4 as a template. I had black and gray as my neutrals and bright blue and medium clear pink as the accents.

    My conclusions:

    This template would be really good for people who were starting a working wardrobe.
    All grays cannot be worn together. I have several pairs of gray pants, but none of them would go with the the gray jacket, or the black and white jacket I had substituted for gray. If using gray, 3 or 4 items need to be in the same material and bought at the same time.
    I have very few items that are a mixture of black and gray. I need a lot more colour in my outfits.
    Doing this exercise meant I put items together that I had not tried before and were pleased with some of the results.

    I have too many black tops, enough dresses and cardigans and smart jackets. My casual jackets are too baggy and long.

    As the weather gets cooler, I need at least one casual jacket, as comfortable to wear as a cardigan, which is well shaped and the right length. Two or three more coloured tops.

    1. You make some very good points Laura. As you say, ideally you should buy neutral items at the same time in the same material to make sure they go well together. It sometimes works if you buy them in completely different fabrics e.g. a grey silk blouse with a grey tweed skirt. A lot of fashion bloggers recommend finding a good tailor/seamstress locally who can alter your clothes to fit. If any of your casual jackets are in colours that suit you and were too expensive for you to discard, that may be an option for you to consider.

  3. I have enjoyed reading your blog. You have shared some great information.

    A few years back, I started building on basics from my own closet. Working with my dressy clothing, previously I would purchase a colored top to go with a printed skirt. 2 pieces for 1 outfit. After reading Vivienne's File (and a few other blogs) I decided to purchase a navy skirt to mix with the tops I already owned. Overnight, I doubled the number of outfits I could wear. Wow!

    It's been a fun journey and I am still learning. I look forward to your discussion on capsule wardrobes.

    1. Thanks LeNora. As well as The Vivienne Files, I find Imogen's Inside Out Style blog and Sylvia's 40 Plus Style blog particularly helpful. I love the way buying one navy skirt doubled the number of outfits you can wear!

  4. Thanks for your suggestion that a third layer doesn't need to be a jacket nor cardigan. I seldom wear either but hadn't even considered a poncho or wrap. I find both of these garments comfortable and all I need in our climate. Looking forward to your next real world capsule advice.

    1. Thanks, Judy. I hope you find a poncho or wrap that goes well with your existing wardrobe. Where do you live? At the moment, even though I live in Spain, I'm wearing my thickest jackets most days.

  5. Retired women should dump the dresses and skirts. Several dress pants in navy, darker gray or black is all you need for church or funerals. All my bottoms are either khaki, denim (capris) and grays and navy pants. Joggers are gray knit. Tops in your best colors mine is blues and greens in right tone for my coloring. Navy and gray blazers with neutral sleeveless top, and black low heel shoes for dress. Otherwise athletic shoes.