By Lo Samantha
I am a self-diagnosed shopaholic who finds joy in exploring and purchasing new clothing items. Opening the &Other Stories sales section on my laptop while I sip a cup of hot chocolate on my bed is the perfect way to unwind after a stressful day of studying. However, I realised this behaviour of mine, under the excuse of ‘retail therapy’ is unsustainable, not only for the environment but also for my wallet. Having a capsule wardrobe was one of those well-being exercises like meditation that I know will be beneficial for me, but that also seemed difficult to achieve.
Looking at the two-digit number on my bank account, I thought, what better time to try it out for a month during the holiday season when I have time to contemplate and re-set my consumption and dressing habits?
The capsule wardrobe is no novel concept. It dates to the 1970s when Susie Faux, a boutique owner in London, defined the term as a collection of staple pieces that are coordinated, can be worn interchangeably and are suitable for different occasions. Today, social media has provided countless pieces of advice on how to curate the best capsule wardrobe: on different budgets, inspired by different celebrities and tailored to a variety of lifestyle needs. It is almost synonymous with the idea of slow fashion, a countermovement to fast fashion which emphasises timeless styles rather than trendy designs that get replaced every season.
Everyone’s idea of staple pieces is different, some live in their Levi’s, while for others it’s them and their favourite pair of trousers against the world. My version of the capsule wardrobe contains 10 articles of clothing that I already own, excluding thermal undergarments, accessories, and shoes. For bottoms, I have chosen two pairs of jeans, one light blue and one dark blue, and a wool skirt for more formal occasions. I knew the beige cardigan and navy merino wool sweater were my top candidates for the tops section, and a chocolate-brown sweater, a grey sweatshirt and a thrifted purple top also made it to the list. As for outerwear, my trusty puffer jacket is not going anywhere, accompanied by a wool ‘shacket’ to keep me looking cosy and stylish.
Due to most of my pieces belonging to the neutral colour palette, I was able to mix and match them almost brainlessly. The cardigan I wear the most can be teamed up perfectly with both pairs of jeans and the skirt. On days when I need a bit of oomph to lift my spirits, I reach for the frill-neck scallop-detailed purple top for a pop of colour. Since my version of a capsule wardrobe does not include accessories, I have opened the door for myself to easily change up a look by adding a belt, wearing a scarf, and switching up my jewellery. Letting the subtle white lace pattern on my thermal top peek through under a V-neck sweater adds a feminine touch, while styling my basic grey sweatshirt with a pair of dangly silver earrings makes the look instantly more elevated. I also played around with different styles of belts, matching them to my shoes to create a streamlined, put-together look.
A big advantage of having a capsule wardrobe is the elimination of decision fatigue that one experiences in the morning from having to pick an outfit for the day. Before starting this challenge, I was subject to the loop of overthinking an outfit. Is this too formal for a catch up in Pret? Is this too casual for a first date? Will this top look better with another skirt? Having a limited number of pieces to choose from prevented me from feeling overwhelmed with choice. It feels comforting to know that even when every other facet of life is chaotic and unpredictable, I have a set of reliable, try-and-tested outfits that I can face those challenges in. Gradually, I also developed a healthier relationship with shopping. Knowing that I won’t be able to wear those new pieces sitting on my cart before the challenge ends, I was more cautious about whether I wanted to add those pieces to my wardrobe, or if I just enjoyed the thrill of owning something new.
On occasion, though, I did feel frustrated by the limitations posed by the capsule wardrobe. When I had plans to see the same friend two or three days in a row, I did not want to outfit-repeat but was left with no choice since my other pieces were due for laundry. An itch to purchase something new to reward myself after sticking with the challenge for a month also kicked in, for which fortunately, my rational mind beat my inner devil. However, that led me to reflect on the dangers of having a capsule wardrobe for someone who cares about their style – the risk of rebound. Just like how one might tend to binge-eat after completing a diet cycle, it might also be tempting to revert to a maximalist lifestyle after living an extremely minimalistic one for a prolonged period.
The fashion world has displayed two extreme ends of dressing and purchasing clothing items – on the one hand we see influencers showing off their different #ootd like they have a limitless supply of pieces, and one scroll away we witness minimalist advocates teaching us how to choose the perfect white shirt for our capsule wardrobe. The truth is, either end is hard to maintain for most due to budget concerns and the human propensity to own something we like. Instead, we need to achieve a sweet spot that allows one to enjoy the benefits of a capsule wardrobe while retaining the level of excitement for their clothing. This challenge has illuminated for me a new method of organising my wardrobe. I will keep my current capsule wardrobe but double the size to around 20 pieces, allowing for more room to manoeuvre. For the rest of my clothes, I will keep them in another cupboard and allow myself to wear them occasionally if I wish.
Getting dressed is a learning journey, we evolve as people and so do our wardrobes. My biggest takeaway from this challenge is that the key to a healthy relationship with fashion is constant trial and error, reflection, and the implementation of new ideas.
Illustrated by Francesca Corno