The Simply Luxurious Life®: Why Not . . . Build a Capsule Wardrobe on A Budget?  

September 26, 2012

Why Not . . . Build a Capsule Wardrobe on A Budget?

Thankfully, many people assume wrongly that one must have endless cash on hand to build a spectacular classically chic wardrobe. Why is this good news? Because when we feel confident about how we look, our mood is elevated, and when our mood improves, so does the environment around us.

The key to creating a chic capsule wardrobe on a budget, however, it to have a plan, and a little bit of patience. Yes, I know, having patience isn’t pleasurable in the short term, but trust me, over time, your wardrobe will be full of exactly what you want and need to wear no matter what the occasion, and it will last for more than one season which in the long run saves you money. 

I don’t know what everyone’s budget looks like, so I’ll use myself as an example. During the first 5-7 years of taking home a teacher’s salary, I was lucky to have $100 to spend on clothing. While my budget has increased a bit (not drastically), those early years have trained me to spend my money wisely, and I am forever thankful for the lesson (even though it wasn’t fun at the time – see things do happen for a reason!)

Here are some key tips to follow to create a quality capsule wardrobe on a budget.

1. Mind Shift – What Does a Great Closet Look Like?

While yes, Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and all of the celebrities that allow us to glimpse into their walk-in closets that could house some of our own apartments are brimming with hangers full of clothing and shoes appear initially to be a dream, they have unfortunately created an image in our minds of what we mistakenly believe good style requires. Pop the champagne now, because . . . you do not need such extravagance and endless options to ensure you a quality wardrobe!

More does not mean better when it comes to living simply luxuriously and that includes your closet. And as researchers have demonstrated, when we have too many choices, we become nearly numb and our decision-making skills are decreased. So, what does that mean? That we must become clear about the wardrobe and style we want to exhibit, create a plan and be resolute in sticking to it, so that what we do have in our closet is regularly worn, looks outstanding and lasts.

2. Make a List

Now that we’ve cleansed our minds of the unnecessary hype of overstuffed closets, it’s time to get busy making a list. During this past summer I shared with you my capsule wardrobe for the seasons of fall/winter and spring/summer (click here to view), and what it entailed was ,me being honest about the lifestyle I lived (job, responsibilities, etc), the image I wanted to project to the world, and my personality. It is also imperative to understand what looks best on your body. Remember to choose styles that flatter your assets, but always keep style basics in mind (1-dress in thirds, never in half, 2 - revel in your feminine figure – full, slender, boyish, etc, and 3 - know your skin tone so that you choose colors that are flattering).

Once you are clear on what makes your body and life unique, choose items that can easily be mixed and matched – skirts, blouses, bottoms, sweaters, dresses, etc). Choose a handful of colors that work for your skin tone and stick to them. For example, I am a navy lover, so I have a handful of navy items (skirts, dresses, scarves, sweaters, blouses, etc) that makes it easy to mix and match with the same bottoms/tops throughout the week with a different skirt or blouse. Keep it simple. Always include neutral colors that work well with others (black, white, ivory, camel, grey, brown, navy, etc) and then selectively add one or two “pop” colors that work for you.

Remember a capsule wardrobe does not include: accessories, coats, evening/special occasion dresses, camisoles, lingerie, shoes, workout clothes, etc).

What it DOES include: day-to-day uniform pieces – tops, bottoms, day/work dresses.

Do your best to keep your capsule wardrobe list to ten to fifteen items per season. And always keep a second list of necessary items to complete your look – scarves, sunglasses, handbags, fabulous dresses, lingerie, sleepwear, jewelry, belts, hats, jackets/coats, etc

3. One at a Time

One of the first lessons that took a while for me to learn on my limited budget was that buying more doesn’t mean I’m creating a better wardrobe. I may be able to purchase three tops with $100 and have three different options for a month, but usually the quality doesn’t hold up, it doesn’t make it through the wash/dry cycle successfully, and my $100 is gone. Once you have your list, slowly start shopping through it. Most likely, if you’re shopping for quality items (which you should be if you want a wardrobe to last), you’ll only be able to afford one item on $100, so investigate the item, try it on, feel the fabric, and then take extra care of it at home. In one year’s time (excluding fantastic end-of-season sales), you’ll have 12 quality items. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me, you’ll be thankful you were patient.

4. Purchase Quality Basics

Very few times have the quality basics I’ve splurged on disappointed me or caused me to regret spending the money I handed over. For example, DVF’s Maja two dress in periwinkle, J.Crew’s telegraph pencil skirt (I like them 27” instead of the standard 23”), Laundry’s white eyelet dress for summer, J.Brand jeans or Eric Bompard’s classic navy cashmere v-neck sweater. If you are willing to wait and save so that you can purchase items that are not trendy, but timeless, you’ll be excited to open your closet for the new season because you’ll be able to wear pieces that you love and that you don’t have to purchase again and again and again.

5. Become a Savvy Shopper

Last September I shared why it was a good idea to pick up your favorite fashion magazine’s September issue, and none of it had to do with knowing where to buy the new season of Tom Ford. Those who can adhere strictly to a top designer diet are few and far between, and, in my opinion, missing out. A savvy shopper, no matter what her budget mixes and matches and often doesn’t buy much (if any top designer items because they are lofty in price). But what reading these magazines and perusing fashion blogs does is inform us all of what styles will be in stores, as well as how to bring items together to create stunning outfits that we may never have thought possible.

On a different note, a savvy shopper is also someone who makes a list and then, choosing to stick to her monthly budget, waits until end-of-season sales (December/January, and June/July) to scroll through or look through racks upon racks until she finds those black leather knee-high boots she’s had her eye one since August, saving oodles of money which adds even more to the final purchase. Extra cash for a macaroon or blowout for the evening perhaps?

Lastly, once you know what styles look best on your body and how to pull together outfits, take the time to shop your local consignment, vintage or second-hand store. A savvy shopper is one who can mix and match the high and the low without anyone realizing your skirt was only $15 that is paired with a chic $100 silk blouse.

6. Purchase a Garment Steamer

Now that you’ve begun to purchase quality basics, and you’ve thinned out your closet to only include items you love that will last and/or mix and match well with other items in your closet, you need to take care of your clothing to make it last even longer without showing wear and tear. My advice . . . ditch the iron and purchase a quality garment steamer. For $150, it will make back the money that was spent (and then lost) for that new silk blouse that was ruined or that sweater that suffered from severe pilling. Here is one from Amazon that has received wonderful reviews.

One of the wonderful side benefits of creating a quality, but simplified capsule wardrobe is that you won’t feel as though you have to be out shopping every weekend. Instead, you can waltz into your closet, knowing you have something that will work perfectly for whatever your day is going to bring and enjoy the occasion without fretting about your outfit.

~Other Style Posts you might enjoy:

~Extra Resources on creating a quality budget, while keeping it simple~

Images: (1) (2) (3)  (4) (5) (6) 

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At September 26, 2012 at 5:20 AM , Blogger Laura said...

First of all, thank you for enabling us to pin the images on Pinterest!
Second-terrific post and advice.

At September 26, 2012 at 5:50 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! I really needed this good advice right now-am purging my closet this afternoon!!
Cathy W.

At September 26, 2012 at 8:08 AM , Blogger Mrs. Jenner said...

What a great post! Classic and quality are key. All of the J Crew wool pencil skirts that I have purchased over the years keep working for me and I have only need to buy a few new shirts and replacement sweaters for Fall and Winter. I buy all of my "designer" jeans in consignment stores and I find the selection is better than at Nordstrom. I also tailor everything that way I know it fits perfectly.

At September 26, 2012 at 9:21 AM , Blogger Lauren said...

Great style advice! I get caught up in the trends sometimes, but I've learned that buying those pieces at fairly cheap stores or with coupons is better since I'll only wear it a short time. Plus it looks 10x better paired with a classic pair of trousers or a quality trench.

At September 26, 2012 at 9:52 AM , Blogger Kylie Cooper said...

I've been needing to purge my closet for awhile now and this gave me the initiative to do it! Being a college girl doesn't help financially but I love finding great clothing for good prices.

At September 26, 2012 at 11:53 AM , Anonymous Stephanie said...

I feel as though I'm still learning these lessons! While I keep them all in the back of my mind, there have been moments like for example, new spring shopping in May this year - when I was overwhelmed by choice and bought a number of items, failing to really think about what was best for my body type. Now, as we reach fall, I've kept about 1/2 the items. I wish I was more discerning at the time, since after all, seasons DO pass by relatively quickly! I think I did well on this with accessories this year - every few months, I bought something new that I really needed as a quality item - wallet, sunglasses, shoes, lingerie, workout jacket, etc. I don't regret a penny because at the end of the year, I have a lovely collection of those items that I know I will wear for years. Now I need to just remember it for clothing!

I also like the point about remembering colours. Sometimes I forget this - I see all kinds of beautiful colours and then my closet is too much of a rainbow. I need to work on ensuring my things can mix and match a little bit more. Great advice!

At September 26, 2012 at 2:53 PM , Anonymous Lisa said...

Your Capsule Wardrobe posts are always a joy (and pain) to go through Shannon. You always provide useful and real information, and it comes at the perfect time (that's the reason I feel pain) when most of us are thinking of a total wardrobe makeover, getting away all old stuff and buying new items, claiming we are building a capsule wardrobe this year. It is hard to not let yourself obey to online shopping, when you are used to get more than one thing at once for less than 100 $, but I will try to stay firm :) Recently I came up with a little helpful tip that I would only buy a new item that I don't have in my closet, only if it can be paired with 3 pieces I already have and love wearing. You can have a look here if you like :

At September 28, 2012 at 5:46 AM , Blogger Kay said...

Lisa, I love your tip! Shannon, I go thru my closet quarterly, literally drawing a small inventory, using my colored pencils, and map out my existing wardrobe (which is highly curated and very limited by design). This year, I invested in several of J.Crew's longer (Telegraph) pencil skirts, as I know they're always in style and suit my style. Here's a blog post I wrote about the successful wearing of the pencil skirt--I hope you enjoy it! Great job, as always, Karen

At September 29, 2012 at 8:21 PM , Blogger Prêt à Porter P said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At September 29, 2012 at 8:39 PM , Blogger Prêt à Porter P said...

I second the steamer! Re: Jiffy's, they're sturdy and retail stores use them, but I would find them cumbersome for home use. The water tank is built into the device and there is a 20 minute wait to heat up.

I think of myself as a savvy shopper. I get the most compliments on my cheap bling-bling stuff, while my expensive things are understated and discreet.

At September 30, 2012 at 7:11 PM , Blogger ladykatza said...

I'm glad I know how to sew! That said, this really applies to when making a wardrobe. Go for quality over quantity, take my time and make sure it fits right.

The other thing I have to remind myself and others of is that its OK to repeat outfits. We don't have to have a new outfit every day of the year.

At October 3, 2012 at 5:12 AM , Blogger barefoot duchess said...

great advice, such a helpful post =)

At November 20, 2012 at 2:22 PM , Anonymous Jacqui said...

Thank you!!! Just starting out on my capsule wardrobe. Your article was very helpful.

At March 13, 2013 at 8:16 PM , Blogger Diva In Training said...

This is great post for those of us who want to look good on a very limited budget. I was a teacher as well and now I am back in school full time so my budget is even smaller than before.

I love how your tips are simple and easy to follow for even the basic users and allow us to build up a great wardrobe slowly!!!

At August 11, 2013 at 9:49 PM , Anonymous Dressing said...

Money doesn't even matter when we want to build our wardrobe to be a very beautiful part of our house. Thanks for their wonderful ideas which you gave to make it true.

At September 2, 2013 at 8:41 AM , Blogger Julia A said...

cam some one explain to me the rule of "dressing in thirds, not halfs"?

At September 2, 2013 at 1:01 PM , Blogger The Simply Luxurious Life said...

Absolutely! As you look at your body in a mirror, image where it would be cut halfway - usually it is around your hips or a bit lower depending upon the length of your upper body. Rather than letting any blouse, sweater or coat hit you at the midway point, always have it fall either right at your waist or below your knees (again, this depends on your body height and proportion). Women with long legs for example, look great when a short jacket hits them at their waist because their legs are 2/3 of their body. Women with longer bodies and shorter legs might want to look at empire waists or coats that go to their knees but cinch in the waist. Tim Gunn swears by this rule and it is mentioned in his books often.


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