Refining My Approach to Curating My Capsule Wardrobe
Wednesday January 24, 2024

Thank you for reading TSLL. The first two posts are complimentary. You have 1 free post view remaining this month.

Become a Member for as little as $4/mo and enjoy unlimited reading of TSLL blog.

Buy well. Buy once.

Embracing this ethos as it pertains to both clothing and décor has proven its veracity time and time again. Even when it comes to travel, whether with accommodations or long-haul flights, I continue to be reassured my choice of investing is an investment in comfort and peace of mind and ultimately a more enjoyable experience from beginning to end of the itinerary.

However, when we begin the journey of investing well in any arena mentioned above as well as others depending upon our lifestyle and preferences, investing well must be within our means; yet again, skrimping and saving to welcome that one absolute investment item we adore and know we will have and still love decades later is rarely a bad idea. Why? Because we have done our homework. We know why it works for us, we know how well the item was made and we know the level of quality it will bring to our life when it is part of our life and in use.

Keeping this balance of awareness in mind, after reading the article shared a couple of weeks ago in WSJ’s Off Duty section discussing whether or not clothing was made better than it is now, key points caught my attention.

Become a More Knowledgeable Shopper

The reality of options being far more limited “back then” (whichever decade you wish to choose in the 20th century) underscores an important point that makes it a bit difficult to know where to find the quality we seek due to the sheer volume of brands and options. Contributors interviewed for the article, such as Gauthier Borsarello, a vintage collector in Paris and creative director of menswear brand Fursac, reassures that indeed the quality we seek in the styles we are looking for are available, but there is also far more distracting items of lesser quality that make it difficult to find and know what will go the distance in both craftsmanship and timelessness. Which is to say, we have to be savvier, more discerning and more knowledgeable of the brands that do produce what we are looking for and then be willing to invest.

Nearly every clothing brand that sells outerwear for the stylish shopper knows that a camel wool trench will always be popular when the fall and winter season rolls around; however, Max Mara’s iconic Manuela camel hair coat continues to be the coat you buy once and wear forever. Why? They know how to cut the coat to fit you well, and if you are buying that coat, you will want to likely do so in person so you get the precise correct fit for your frame. But yet again, you are only ever going to buy this coat once. How many attempts have many of us made to purchase a faux version of this coat and been unhappy with the small investment we made? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have made the mistake before, and while I wasn’t able to purchase the coat that would go the distance (Max Mara’s), I wasted money by thinking I could skirt around it and save some money. Thankfully, I only did this once, and now I am saving up.

This is not to say that some designers don’t have a quality coat that looks and fits similar to what we desire and will be far less of a reduction of our wallet, but it will just take time to find that designer.

Allot A Larger Percentage of Your Annual Budget to Clothing (but buy less)

“Decades ago, folks spent much more on clothes yet bought fewer things.” —Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

Jamie Waters who wrote the recent article “Were Clothes Better Back Then?” in The Wall Street Journal shares that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “in 1950 American households allocated 11.5% of their annual expenditure to appear. In 2022? Less than 3%.” Of course, each of our budgets will be unique to us, BUT if dressing well year after year for the life we love living is a priority (maybe not the top priority in our life, but we understand the value it contributes to our life to dress well and suitably for the life we live), then adjusting our budgets is a serious change to consider.

Taking a look at my own journey with clothes, each quality investment I have made in capsule wardrobe items has largely been worth it. For example, the knit dress I purchased from Self-Portrait in 2021 is well made, exemplifies my style and preferred cut for my stature, and because I purchased two (in two different colors that complement my skin tone), I wear them in fall and winter for special occasions or filming and they continue to look brand new. At the time of purchase I was hesitant to pay the $495 price tag, but not once have I regretted it. Similarly for my Burberry trench, an item I saved up for and gifted myself with during my first solo trip to London wanting to make sure what I purchased fit well and complemented my skin and hair, I welcomed help from the staff at their flagship store in London to ease my mind about my purchase (read about my journey of purchasing and selecting it here).

There are a handful or so more items purchased over the past eight to ten years, and all of these items continue to be in top shape and are worn each year. Each one fit my lifestyle, but were not rushed or rash purchases as they were investment items. With that said, I have continued to be reminded, thankfully less and less, that welcoming lesser quality items to fill investment item gaps simply because they fit the budget is usually not a decision I want to make again. Granted, there are items that need not be an investment – tees, workout wear, some layers, etc..

When we shop less often, as we have shared many times before here on TSLL, we reduce stress, free up time and enjoy our days more.

And when we know what we are waiting for, when we are able to both purchase it and find it, it is a moment we celebrate and don’t regret.

Fewer Decisions, More Delight

While walking into a closet brimming full of shoes, and oodles of clothing options may look appealing to the eye, I have come to find that this scenario exhausts my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate beauty, I LOVE to dress well and my eye is drawn to others who dress well as I appreciate an outfit that while looking effortless, likely took an abundance of forethought and decision-making, but keeping it simple by way of fewer choices in my closet, yet stunning, even if I am wearing the same outfit over and over again is the approach I welcome. Which means! Permitting myself to shop well when I do find what I have had my eye on , BUT not nearly as often.

The closing anecdote in the aforementioned article describes a famous actor who walked into Borsarello’s office wearing a timeless everyday winter outfit and who then told Borsarello that “he owns ‘a very small amount of clothes’ and wears each item all of the time, for years.” Style goals. Because the few items he has are well-made with quality fabric, perhaps some took time to find, they last for years and fit his lifestyle (which granted, is an actor, so clearly not similar to many of us, but you get the idea).

And the beauty of shopping less is we can weather economic fluctuations in the market whether it is inflation or wait until a sale is announced or know exactly where to find what we need when we do eventually have to replace an item. Our knowledge of the brands that work, our budget in tact because we haven’t expended it on items that don’t fulfill what we need, each create a calm confidence that we have what we need having purchased steadily, but slowly over time, and because we know what we need to look our best, we just repeat, investing each time, one at a time and rest assured that our budget is in tact as well as our style quotient.

So what does this all mean when it comes to shopping?

1. Make a dream shopping list of investment items

First, let’s breathe easy. Likely you have shopped well for some time, and have come to learn and know details about what flatters you best. Carry that knowledge with you, and then, knowing your lifestyle, your seasonal wardrobe needs, what would work the absolute best?

Write those items down. If you know the brand, write that brand down too. If you don’t know the brand you would go to find that item when you can afford to purchase it, that is each of our homework assignment.

The easiest season to begin making a list for is likely the one you find yourself in at the moment – winter or summer depending upon which hemisphere you call home. What would like to see in your closet and easily grab without hesitation knowing you would look smashing and feel your best? Write those items down.

2. Assess what you have and what you wear and love

Even if the items on your dream list have faux replicas or similar pieces in your current wardrobe, take note that you wear these items often and are they made well so they will last a long time? If you know they will be wearing out soon, then note that on your dream list that yep, you have it, but still need to keep an eye out for the best item – your dream item.

Don’t necessarily de-clutter your closet – especially if you, like me, assess semi-annually with the major seasons – fall and spring. Likely, you are keeping items that may not be dream items, but finish other outfits well, are well constructed and fill the gaps you need.

The practice of assessment at this point is to be very honest with yourself: what would make me feel at ease knowing I had it in my closet. What would I reach for again and again and again during the season it is designed to be worn?

3. Start your homework of finding the brands that source what you love

This is something I do my best to share here on TSLL whether in the Style Inspiration posts each month or in the weekly This & That and especially in the seasonal shopping guides in September and March, sharing quality brands worth exploring and worth your hard-earned money being exchanged for what they offer.

As I have shared often in the past, when I pull together an Outfit of the Month I am not expecting readers to purchase all of the items, but rather I am showcasing items worth purchasing should that gap need to be filled, resting assured that the item will last. More often these outfits are for inspiration of how to pull an ensemble together with pieces you already have in your closet, but may be wondering how to finish it.

Be patient with yourself, but once you find these brands and the item, save/bookmark them on your browser or in an email folder or written list in a journal.

4. Note the budget needed

Since you will have found the item and brand at this point, you have a clear idea of the retail price of the time if new and not on sale. Take note of this mentally, but remember, you are willing to pay full price if you are able because it will last for years, but you can absolutely, and it is a fun treasure hunting practice to do so, shop consignment. A few places I recommend shopping online are Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal. I also have had quite a bit of luck with designer brands when shopping seasonally at The Outnet.

When I do find what I want, but either don’t want to pay full price or am willing to wait to see if it will drop in price in the coming months, I save it to KarmaNow which will notify me when/if the price drops.

5. Go about your life and live

Mentally, you are aware of what you will invest in when you are able or have the opportunity, but you also know you have what you need to get through your days. If you don’t have some essentials for the current season, find a way to purchase one item a month until you have a foundational wardrobe, but again, invest, and if the item isn’t available, don’t force something to work that won’t.

Instead of remaining hyper focused on how we are dressed, when we channel that now freed up energy to invest in ourself with regards to our dreams, our skill set, our life experiences, we discover our life become richer and full of more depth and quality connections and experiences. While yes, we want to look our best, as someone who took my clothing choices seriously throughout my entire teaching career, I also know more money spent on books and French language classes in my case, or saving up for a trip abroad in my twenties, would have been more enjoyed and beneficial, but shopping required less patience (let’s just be honest). However (and thankfully), I learned that lesson and haven’t been making the same errant priority arrangement since. Once I became savvier and understood the concept of cost per wear and quality over quantity (beginning in my late 20s), I have always tried to purchase the best quality I could afford, and over time, as I share in my 2nd book – Living The Simply Luxurious Life, that has given me a wardrobe that has what I need, just not an abundance of choices, but rather options that look well on me even as I wear them again and again.

Currently in my own life, the next six months have me channeling my energies on completing the project that I have held in my mind for a couple of years now – the Contentment Master Class, as well as reaching a personal goal I have had for many years since moving to Bend and am determined to finally bring to completion in six months’ time.

For this temporary moment in my life, my priorities have put wardrobe building on the back burner, but not because I don’t care about how I look. In fact, my sartorial choices leading up to where I am now have enabled me to rest easy knowing I have what I need, and when I am able to peruse the items on my dream list and gradually pick up one or two every other month or so, I don’t have to feel I am missing out when the new collections are presented. But you can bet, when the Fall 2024 collections walk down the runway in February, I am keeping note of items that catch my eye and brands I want to return to (and share here on TSLL) because having a wardrobe that when worn supports our best self and deepens our confidence is a worthwhile investment, and a powerful one at that.

Here’s to buying well, buying once and savoring our lives each and every day knowing we are dressed well for the life we love living.

Explore January’s Outfits of the Month (3), 2024 – Bits & Bobs for Snuggling in and Dressing Up during the Winter Months


17 thoughts on “Refining My Approach to Curating My Capsule Wardrobe

  1. Good morning Shannon and very well said, buy once, love forever. When we buy quality, investment prices there is more incentive to care for these knowing the investment made. I spent time yesterday steaming and de-pilling cashmere jumpers and a wool jacket that I have been wearing for years and which still look great and also have leather boots I have had for years which get taken to the cobbler to be heeled and soled before putting them away at the end of the season, I’ve never regretted the money spent , knowing that I have items in my closet which I can rely on.

    1. Sue,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with this approach and how well it has served you. 🙂 There is a sustainability aspect of it as well, something I know is of great importance to you, that gives us peace of mind also. While it takes time to find what we will love, as you said, we appreciate it all the more. Thank you very much for your comment today. 🙂

  2. I love this Shannon, and it’s something I put into practice in my own life! I started noticing, in my twenties, that the items I spent more money on were the ones that I truly loved and kept through many rounds of decluttering. as a result, I stopped shopping at stores whose clothes were regularly decluttered. Yes, I spent more, but I still have, love, and wear several items that are older than my 11 year old son! A few years ago I started investing in my shoes, and now I exclusively wear Sarah Flint. I get pairs resoled and touched up as needed, and I don’t look elsewhere when I’m in the market for something new. Easy peasy, as you pointed out above. There is something so freeing about knowing the skin care that works for me, the brands that fit me best, and the makeup I actually use. I guess being 45 is good for something ; )

    1. Marina,

      Thank you for sharing your experience and one of the brand that you invest in! Our experiences in our ignorant youth definitely provide the wisdom we gain should we choose to acquire it and 45 is a wonderful place to be. I wouldn’t want to be any younger – much more peaceful and contented now than ever before. 🙂

    2. I love Sarah Flint as well. Such good quality shoes. I keep asking them to bring back the Perfect Sneaker style. 🙂

  3. I am reading a book right now that I think you might enjoy, somewhat related to this: Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski (2014). You’ve shared so many wonderful books with me over the years – please, allow me 🙂

  4. This was special, thank you! Over the years I have sometimes winnowed my wardrobe down to just the essence of a beautiful quality uniform, yet also had overly-excited years when my closet suffered from a fearful feeling that “it isn’t enough until it’s too much” with items purchased and barely worn. But, no regrets! It all led to this lovely moment in time. Thank you Shannon for holding the compass of your work at a steady true north to feeling wonderful…I love your wardrobe essays.

  5. Thank you for this encouragement. I have transitioned out of one job which involved a uniform (a tire shop) and now work for a Title company. So I am trying to transition to quality pieces. How do you purchase items on sale if you purchase online? Do you normally buy full price first to see how the brand fits? I want to invest but also would like to wait for sales. However, shopping online feels overwhelming since I can not try it on. Thank you for your encouraging words you bring through these posts.

    1. Kiersten,

      First of all, congratulations on your career change! To answer your question, most sale items, unless they say Final Sale, are items you can return. Always check the return policy, but once you are clear that you can return with a certain window, then purchase with confidence that if it doesn’t fit, you will be able to return it for full reimbursement.

      Most of the clothing and brands I shop are done online as we have no clothing shops here in Bend where I frequent (primarily all shops are outdoors clothing focused, except a few). So it will take some time, BUT always check the measurements provided for the brand as even if they say S, M, L, all S, M, Ls are not the same. I will wear a L in one brand for a dress and a M in another due to the measurements provided on the site. So always click through and look at those. Then, as a backup, sometimes I will go to another online shop that is selling the same brand or item and double check their measurements. Now, with most brands, I am fairly confident in what their sizes mean, but it does take time, and online companies know this, so most have a full return policy and will even pay the shipping. The only items you will not be able to return are Final Sale items.

      I hope that helps and thank you for stopping by. 🙂

  6. Yes that helps tremendously. I for some reason always thought they were final. I am in the same spot you are in. I live in a small town in Montana with the same situation. So either traveling four hours to Spokane or eight hours to Seattle for shopping as my only other option. Thank you so much for your suggestions.

  7. Ah Shannon, thank you for so easily putting into words (and a plan) the exact ethos I have been trying to cultivate for my wardrobe in the last couple of years.
    I still have a way to go but I think I shall find some time to sit down with your steps and reevaluate my wardrobe and the “dream pieces” I want to add.
    I agree an over stuffed wardrobe completely overwhelms me. I like to see a selection of clothing I love hanging in easy view to select the days outfit from.
    Now I am no longer expecting, I am so eager to wear the clothes I love again. Dressing a larger frame wasn’t easy for me and so I stuck to various dresses that stretched and felt comfortable over my bump, though actually I am not someone who often wears dresses, preferring my ankle crop jeans, shirts and soft tailoring day to day. So woohoo I get to enjoy that side of life again.
    Thank you for a great post,

    1. Sarah it’ must feel great to know that you can wear normal clothes again. Didn’t know you were expecting. Congratulations. Have fun with your styling. Kameela xx

  8. Shannon great tip about the sizing. Some of the information on the company’s website will say whether the sizing is regular comes up large or small and advise to go up or down. We owe it to the environment to be shopping mindfully. Long before the phrase”less is more” became popular my mother and grandmother had a few outfits made to measure when they needed to and they would last them a long time. Of course there wasn’t ‘fast fashion’ then so they chose sensibly. I’m sure that was the same for most women of that era. I didn’t have access to a seamstress but saved up and bought good quality clothes which I’m still wearing many years down the line. Accessorising is great to change up a look and it’s fun. Sometimes I like the challenge to shop my wardrobe. I like to have a good look at what I already own and see if I can style them differently. Kameela

  9. Hi Shannon – catching up on your posts today. Thank you for this article. I’m trying to spend less time on wardrobe and shopping – it’s hard, but as you say, once you start to invest things start to fall into place. A question for you – I live in Colorado, in a town that sounds similar to Bend (lots of outdoor time and outdoor stores). I often work from home and then go out for a hike, ski, etc., and then am running an errand or two. Any advice for dressing when the day is filled with professional zoom meetings, workout time, and an errand in a very causal town? I want to look pulled together, but also prioritize my health and getting outside. I remember years ago when you moved to Bend you shared a great post on outdoor clothing and I really appreciated it. xx Christina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

From TSLL Archives
Updated British Week 1.jpg
Updated French Week 2.jpg