Flat lay of jeans, sweater, boots and mug

Are you looking to build a new spring wardrobe? Why not try a minimalist capsule wardrobe? With 12 essential pieces, you can mix and match your way to dozens of amazing outfits. This capsule wardrobe checklist will get you off to a great start. 

The newness of spring always invites me to consider how I can shed the superfluous to stay more focused on the significant. A theme I continue to return to is building a capsule wardrobe. As a mother, manager, and former merchant, my wardrobe has high standards. Conservative but tasteful, flattering but professional—these seemingly straightforward requests of my closet often evade me, leaving me standing in front of racks full of clothing muttering the cliché, “I have nothing to wear!”

The idea of building a capsule wardrobe is incredibly enticing. All the saved time and energy from not shopping, avoiding the daily struggle of selecting an outfit, developing a habit of sustainable practices, and stewarding my resources well—what’s not to love?

Yet, the many times I have painstakingly attempted to build a capsule wardrobe, I have failed. 

Whether it’s because I don’t know where to start, I opt to purchase a trendy—and oh-so-gorgeous—blouse as opposed to a classic—but incredibly boring—sweater, or because I have neither the energy nor the budget to find and purchase an entire wardrobe at once; my closet often feels eclectic and harried rather than a harmonious palette of outfits waiting to fall together.

Nonetheless, in this season of balancing professionalism with comfort, I have found there are certain pieces in my closet I return to repeatedly. If I could build my closet from scratch, the below dozen items would be deemed my essentials—the perfect line for the shifting seasons of life.

TOPS

1. Striped Cotton Shirt

Once, when asked whether stripes were ‘in’ by a friend, my roommate (then employed at Tory Burch) and I (then employed at Club Monaco) responded in unison, “stripes are always in.” 

Suffice it to say, you need at least one classic striped option in your closet. I suggest long sleeved and a looser fit for a flattering look. Either a black or dark navy stripe will work well. Personally, I prefer a crew neck for a classic look.

2. Navy Crew Neck Sweater

Go for 100% merino wool if possible, as it is inexpensive, the perfect weight, and not itchy. In terms of fit, look for a slim fitting sweater—but size up. This will ensure it’s flattering and easily pairs under jackets, but you can also throw it on over a t-shirt when it’s cool.

3. Black Turtleneck Sweater

I’d suggest looking for a composition that has some viscose in it. This will provide a slight sheen, which will ensure the sweater is dressy enough for work (pair with glasses and a grey blazer) or dinner (ditch the glasses and blazer in favor of loud earrings and lipstick), and lasts many seasons. 

If you prefer a slimmer fit, look for a small ribbing which will help the sweater stay in top condition longer. If you prefer a looser look, a tunic is always a good option and goes well with leggings and tall boots.

 

4. Classic White Blouse

Don’t overinvest in these as they’re ticking time bombs for stains and you’ll need to purchase a fresh one every few seasons. But, a crisp white shirt is a timeless staple that will serve you well. Cotton poplin, voile, or linen are all great options here (though remember to have an iron or steamer handy—each of these textiles wrinkle). Pair with white jeans in summer, a cardigan in winter, and gold hoops year-round.

5. Army Green Cargo Jacket

There are very few outfits of mine that aren’t materially improved by my green cargo jacket. Army green pairs well with almost all colors, pockets are always a good idea, and the weight of most cargo jackets is the perfect transitional topper to take you through the seasons. 

I pair my cargo jacket with an all-black ensemble and dark red lipstick to feel effortlessly pulled together when I don’t know what else to wear.

6. Heavy Turtleneck Sweater

For a sweater that lasts, avoid cashmere and look for a piece that has some type of stitch design on the front (preferably cable or diamond—avoid honeycomb), which will help minimize pilling. 

Also remember to never, ever hang your sweaters and, if you can afford it, dry-clean them. To store, keep in an airtight box with plenty of cedar to deter the moths. I’d suggest picking a light neutral (camel, light grey, even a subtle blush pink) that pairs well with black (cue the leggings). 

For ultimate comfort, look for a longer sweater to pair with your favorite leggings. For a fresh look, pair a boxy, cropped turtleneck with flared jeans and hoops for a nod to the seventies.

PANTS & DRESSES

7. Casual Navy Pants

I love my high-waisted, kick crop pants as they’re flattering but understated, but your personal preference is most important, so go with what’s most comfortable for you. I love pairing these pants with my navy crew neck for a classic all-navy slimming look; with my striped shirt, baseball cap, and sneakers for errands on Saturday; or with a classic white shirt and gold hoops when I want to feel casual but polished. Dark jeans can also sub in here.

8. High-waisted Black Trousers

With dress pants, it is absolutely critical that you can tuck blouses into them but still feel like a million bucks, which is why I suggest high-waisted. Even if you plan to only wear them with longer blouses as opposed to highlighting your waist—a higher rise is still more flattering and comfortable. 

Be practical and get slightly cropped pants so you can wear heels or flats with them and not be concerned about the pants dragging on the floor. Ponte (a thicker synthetic fabric) or something with a little spandex is nice.

9. Simple Dress

Look for a sleeveless, colored dress, preferably in some type of silk. A sleeveless dress will be wearable in the summer, or in the shoulder seasons paired with a jacket—and no sleeves mean you’ll likely have to dry clean it less frequently. 

I suggest avoiding white so you can wear it to a casual wedding or bridal shower. Personally, I favor a high neckline so there are no concerns about cleavage in photos of any angle and a slightly textured silk as it will better avoid wrinkles.

SHOES

10. Camel Sandals

Camel is the perfect color for all accessories. It pairs well with any color—black, brown, navy, white, red, you name it—so you only need one pair, and there are beautiful camel sandals at all price points. I’m a fan of flat sandals as they’re more practical and can be dressed up or down.

11. Black Flats, Closed Toe

I’d go with a black classic loafer, smoking slipper, or pointy-toe flats (rather than ballet flats, which can come across a little young). Find a shoe that is respectable in the boardroom, comfortable enough to commute in, and chic enough to wear to dinner out with the girls. 

These shoes may last you 10 years, and they’re worth their weight in gold if they spare you having to lug a second pair to work (a pair to commute in and a pair to actually work in), so it’s okay to invest here. No need for work shoes? Swap these for an everyday sneaker that works with jeans—I love my white canvas supergas.

JUST FOR FUN

12. Your X Factor

The rest of your wardrobe is now the perfect canvas for that one frivolous, emotional thing that your mother probably asked you, “But where will you wear it?” a dozen times before you purchased it. Whether it’s your leopard skirt, silver flats, or bright pashmina, it’s your thing and your wardrobe wouldn’t be yours without it. “Everywhere, mother—I will wear it everywhere.”

***

The above pieces have made my quarantine experience significantly easier, partially by necessity (in the early days of COVID we relocated ‘temporarily’ from New York to Texas with not much other than our 2-week-old daughter and a small suitcase), but that’s a story for another day.

Each of these items are pieces I already had in my closet. In all my years of reading capsule wardrobe articles, I’ve never found a list that fit me just right—so rather than searching for hours for the perfect cargo jacket or agonizing over which pair of black flats to buy, I encourage you to start with what you already have. Piece your own personal capsule wardrobe together and on the days when your closet fails you, just wear black.

We would love to hear what items you have (or would have) in your capsule wardrobe. Share with us in the comments!

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4 comments
  1. Oh!!! I simply adore this idea! I was a lover of capsule wardrobes long before they were named so.
    It makes your morning, then your day, so much simpler by eliminating too many options!

    So much like life, right?

    Thank you, Haley!

  2. I love my capsule wardrobe! I think it is essential to add a good pair of jeans (not trendy and a little on the darker side) in your favorite fit. They can easily be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Pair it with the striped t and black flats for a casual look or heels, white blouse and blazer for dress up.

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