Why Not . . . Build a Capsule Wardrobe on A Budget?
Wednesday September 26, 2012

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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 $175, 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. (The positive reviews are much deservd as I have and use regularly for going on 10 years this exact model.)

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:

~10 Essential Shoes Every Woman Should Have (Updated)~

~Why Not . . . Create Your Own Style Commandments?~

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

*Nina Garcia’s Lookbook: What To Wear For Every Occasion

*Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange

*The Style Strategy: A Less-is-More Approach to Staying Chic and Shopping Smart

Image: exclusively commissioned for TSLL blog by Inslee

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