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Beyond Trends: How a Capsule Wardrobe Can Set You Free

In a more is more world, can we be satisfied with less is more in a capsule wardrobe?

I have been reading the book, The Molecule of More, by Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long, where they break down in detail this little chemical that drives us to desire and want more: dopamine. Dopamine explains why what we anticipate is better than what is. Where new and fresh is better than old and comfortable. Where we dream of possibilities instead of facing reality.

And while this chemical can be harnessed for good, it can also be dangerous, as they write in this excerpt:

“Desire dopamine overpowers the more rational parts of the brain. We make choices that we know are not in our best interest, but we feel powerless to resist. It’s as if our free will has been compromised by an overwhelming urge for immediate pleasure; perhaps it’s a bag of potato chips when we’re on a diet, or splurging on an expensive night out that we can’t really afford. [… ] The feeling of wanting becomes overwhelming and utterly detached from whether the object of desire is anything we really care for, is good for us, or might kill us.”

When I look in my inbox and social feeds, the power of dopamine is at work. Idyllic photos of vacations that are most certainly better than the family vacation I took last year. The smiling happy family that always seems to get along and kids that never throw tantrums. The happily married couple that enjoy every moment they spend together with no fights. The perfectly curated bodies, makeup and outfits that could shame anything I could dream to create.

And it’s no wonder that we so easily open up our wallets to chase after what we see around us. It’s our dopamine taking over. And without awareness of what’s happening, we can easily succumb.

Being in a constant state of lust for something better is one of the reasons why I see women so bored and frustrated with their closets. When we are being barraged with the “latest drop” of clothes on a monthly basis, when sales tempt us to buy now or miss out, and style influencers are telling us these new booties are “life changing,” it’s hard to shut off this dopamine rush.

How could we ever learn to love what’s already in our closets?

The Misconception of More

It’s been said that women wear 20% of their closet 80% of the time. While I can’t verify this stat with a direct source, I can tell you it’s true for most women I meet, and certainly my clients. Yet, we are conditioned to believe through marketing and our culture that having more in our closets will lead to more options. I’d be lying if I didn’t believe this lie a time or two in my life.

But tell me: Has owning more clothes in your closet ever solved your “I don’t know what to wear?” problem?

No, not once. In fact, I believe it makes it worse.

It’s been said we make roughly 35,000 decisions in a day. So walking into a closet with endless options actually makes it harder to make a selection, not easier. Not to mention you probably can’t see half of the items in there to begin with.

If you’re like me, walking into an overstuffed, highly unorganized and chaotic space makes it nearly impossible to function, let alone make any decisions! I can’t even work in my office if it’s a mess.

Are you the same?

Understanding a Capsule Wardrobe Approach

So if more is not really more, then you could argue that less is more. And nothing amplifies the less is more concept more than a Capsule Wardrobe approach. Most women I talk to are excited about simplifying their closet. AND, they are also a bit leary about how it could actually work.

"Won’t I crave more things in my closet?"

"I'll get bored after a week or two!"

First, remember that right now, you probably aren’t wearing more than 20% of what’s in your closet anyway. So, even if it seems like you’re losing a lot by simplifying, you probably aren’t losing that much.

And to the point of boredom: A big reason why women get bored is that they tend to wear their clothes in the same way over and over again. The same blouse with the same pants and shoes. The same dress for going out. The same pants suit to present at a big meeting. Put that one a 2 week repeat and it's no wonder we get bored easily!

The reality is that we can get more use out of our clothes.

All we need to do is apply a little creativity, and broaden our horizons about when and how we wear our clothes.

The idea of a capsule wardrobe is to pick a limited number of pieces (around 25-30 per season) that can be mixed and matched in endless ways. (P.S. I don’t include accessories and shoes in that count, by the way, as those are the pieces that help add variety and interest to your outfits.) A capsule requires that all pieces “go” together, and can be worn in different ways. That means we have to lose the separation that normally exists in closets between “work” and “casual” and “going out” clothes.

This reminds me of a kids clothing brand that I bought when my kids were little, called Garanimals. The the concept of this children's brand is that every top matches every bottom, giving kids confidence to express themselves and independence to pick out their outfits knowing it will look good, while easing parents’ concerns about their kids looking like a hot mess.

A capsule is much the same way. It should give you the flexibility to express your unique style, while being easy to mix and match in endless combinations that never bore you.

No One Size Fits All

I heard Diane von Furstenberg speak on a podcast recently about wardrobe staples. She was asked by host, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, what one piece every woman should have in her closet, like a white blouse or something. Her reply?

DVF: "I don't even think I own a white blouse! (laughs) No really... Be true to yourself. The staple should be what you are comfortable in. And something that represents you in the best way, and allows you to be yourself."

Good answer, DVF… good answer. 😉

DVF states so clearly why I never put out generic closet staples lists or capsule wardrobes that are meant to fit all. It’s impossible to fit all women in one capsule wardrobe. I can’t think of one capsule I’ve created that would satisfy two of my clients, not to mention all of them at the same time!

A good capsule wardrobe is tailored specifically to what makes a woman feel alive, joyful and empowered. It is customized to reflect what they are doing in their daily lives, what they need to get dressed for, and what feels authentic to their personal style. Not to mention the colors that are best for their skin, shapes that are suited for their bodies, and a budget that works for them financially.

While many think of capsule wardrobes as relying heavily on neutrals, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have many clients who love color and their capsules are incredibly vibrant! While others love a minimalistic, neutral approach. A great capsule has room for all personal styles, and should be tailored to what you love most.

Where are your gaping holes?

Most of us aren’t taught to shop with intention. Instead, we are taught to buy on a whim, and be swept up in the moment. Most of my shopping habits were built around shopping sales only, so I am not immune to this kind of conditioning. While you can certainly obtain some great wardrobe pieces this way, shopping without a strategy will most likely lead to holes in your wardrobe.

I find most women tend to buy a lot of the same pieces. We are creatures of habit, after all... we buy what we like! My weakness is most definitely blazers, sundresses, fancy things I don't really have a need for, and shoes. If I’m not careful, that’s all I would buy! For other women, they tend to repeatedly buy the basic tee in every imaginable color and black leggings. Whatever it is for you, I can promise your buying habits leave big gaping holes in your wardrobe. This is another sneaky reason why we feel like we have nothing to wear. (Hint, we just don’t have the right pieces in place!)

The idea of a capsule wardrobe is to pause and think about what pieces you actually need for the life you are living now, as well as finding balance between basics and fun pieces. While it may not be as exciting to buy basics, they are a necessary building block to any great outfit. On the flip side, having some fun, unique pieces brings interest to outfits, so they are equally important in creating a balanced wardrobe.

Is a capsule approach for me?

By now you may be intrigued by the capsule approach, but still wondering if it’s a possibility for you. Beyond making your closet much simpler and a joy to walk into, here’s a few other reasons you may want to consider it:

  1. Time-saving: With fewer items in your closet, it will be easier to pull outfits together as opposed to sorting through a sea of options. (Bonus, if you work with me to create a capsule, getting dressed will be even faster, as I create endless head-to-toe outfits for my clients so they never have to think about what to wear again... all on their very own style site.)

  2. Cost-effective: With a capsule, you buy less. Even if you invest more money into fewer quality pieces, you’ll still be saving yourself some serious coin. All those $30 or $40 items you buy now don’t seem like a big deal, but they add up over time. (See this blog post for a cost comparison of buying cheap jeans vs. quality denim!)

  3. Environmentally friendly: If you’ve heard about “sustainable” fashion, you may think you have to buy expensive sustainable brands, or shop in thrift stores. Not necessarily. The act of buying pieces you actually love and will wear for years to come also helps the environment, as you are throwing out less (For those thinking, "I donate all my clothes, so how can that be bad?" While in theory that's a great idea, the truth is that most of the donated clothing eventually ends up in a landfill somewhere.)

  4. A Confidence-booster: A highly curated and customized closet to your own personal style is empowering and freeing. Those things we never really wanted or don't wear, but feel obligated to hang onto, carry more weight than you realize. Most of my clients tell me after making the switch to a capsule wardrobe that they enjoy getting dressed again, and look forward to it. Imagine that!

While having less in your closet may go against everything we've been taught to want in our super-sized, more-is-more world, I'm convinced it may be the secret to a happier and more peaceful life. As Amy Collins says,

“Opening up your closet should be like arriving at a really good party where everyone you see is someone you like.”

So let's create a party scene in our closets that we actually enjoy going to, shall we? It is an absolute joy to help women define a personal style that feels authentic to them, obtain pieces they adore and want to own for years, and then show them how to get creative every time they walk into their closets!

If you'd love to learn more about my highly customized capsule wardrobes, I invite you to schedule a free discovery call with me. You can also read about the process here.

Tell me: Do you think you could embrace a capsule approach in your wardrobe? Drop a comment below... I'd love to hear from you!

About Me

Hi, I'm Ellie! I'm an Expert Stylist and Personal Brand Coach, and owner of Style Decoded, based in Omaha, NE. I'm a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help professional women show up with more authenticity and alignment at work and in their businesses through their style, and feel 100% confident in their own skin every day. Styling is my passion but it hasn't always been my job. I spent 20 years of my career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social strategies for my clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brands online. To say I know a thing or two about marketing and branding is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.

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