An intimate tour of my capsule wardrobe

This is what I wanted in my capsule wardrobe

But that’s not how I wanted to feel. I had just entered into my early thirties at the time and I wanted to look it. I wanted to wear beautiful, cashmere sweaters with classic black trousers. I wanted to wear patent leather shoes with Italian leather handbags. I wanted to wear gold jewelry and to be known for a signature perfume. In short, I wanted to feel classic, elegant, and feminine. Every single day.

This is what I didn’t want in my capsule wardrobe

Now that I knew what I did want in my capsule wardrobe, I had to make some decisions about what I didn’t. At the time I had a lot of clothing, and most of it didn’t match my newly discovered style. As I started the arduous process of getting rid of 99% of my clothing, I found myself justifying why I might need each individual piece. This is my music festival dress, I rationed. Or, these are my camping pants.

Based on those guidelines, I designed my dream capsule wardrobe (here’s a tour)

Tanks

Tees

  • 3 cashmere tees by Theory — I have them in grey, burgundy, and black.
  • 1 crop top by Tibi — this is one of those pieces that didn’t really fit into any category, but I love it and it goes with everything else I own. I especially love wearing this piece with my high-waisted trousers to work, or with my skirts to parties.

Buttondowns

  • 1 short sleeved buttondown by Madewell.
  • 1 short sleeved buttondown from a boutique.
  • 1 short sleeved buttondown by Vince in blue. For a while, the space between the buttons on this one kept opening, revealing my skin through the shirt holes. Then I took it to a tailor and had invisible snaps placed between the buttons. Problem solved!

Sweaters

  • 3 turtleneck sweaters (in red, navy, and black).

Jeans

Trousers

Skirts

  • 1 pencil skirt — I have a classic black pencil skirt by BCBG.

Dresses

Outerwear

Activewear

  • 4 pairs leggings — I have three pairs of Lululemon Wunder Unders in black (two in regular-rise, and one in highrise) and one pair in blush.
  • 3 crop tops — I have three crop tops by Goop’s G. Sport label, this one, this one, and this one. They’re perfect with my high-waisted leggings for ballet.
  • 3 sweaters — I have three blush sweaters to wear over my crop tops at the beginning of ballet. All by Lululemon.
  • 2 pair shorts — I have two pairs of Lululemon athletic shorts one in black and one in floral.
  • 2 tanks — I have two Lululemon tanks, both black, to wear for all other activities.
  • 2 baselayers — I have one short-sleeved fitted baselayer, and one long-sleeved fitted baselayer for outdoor sports.
  • 1 sweatshirt — I have one Tory Burch sweatshirt to layer over for all activities.
  • 1 hiking dress — I know this is weird, but I prefer to hike and backpack in a dress. It’s just so much more comfortable. I have a black tank dress by Lululemon that I wear for this purpose.
  • Biking gear — I have one pair of padded bike shorts for biking with my husband as well as a pair of biking gloves.
  • Ski wear — I have one pair of ski pants, and a pair of waterproof ski pants for Nordic, backcountry, and downhill skiing as well as a pair of snow gloves.

Accessories

Shoes

  • 8 heels — I have eight pairs of heels (three in black, one classic nude, one blush, two in red velvet, one in gold).
  • 2 flats — I have one pair of Madewell loafers in black and one pair of smoking slippers in red velvet.
  • 1 sandals — I have one pair of Tory Burch’s Miller sandals. These are my go-to summer shoes and I re-purchase them every couple of seasons once they have worn out.
  • 1 sneaker — I have one pair of Vince’s white slip-ons.
  • 4 active shoes — I have one pair of hiking boots, one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of Nike Free’s, and one pair of custom designed Chaco sandals for the outdoors in the summer.
  • 2 casual shoes — I have one pair of black Uggs for the winter, and one pair of flip flops for the summer for going to and from ballet.

Lingerie

A few things I learned the hard way

Quality doesn’t come cheap

You’ll notice that none of the items in my wardrobe come cheap. In fact, though I only have around 40 pieces of clothing, my wardrobe is the most expensive thing that I own. But there’s a reason for this: I decided to invest in quality clothing knowing that it would be all I ever needed in the years to come. The only reason I would ever need to purchase anything else would be if I actually wore something out. Which is unlikely because everything can be mended.

Don’t buy cashmere

At first, I tried to go all cashmere with my sweater wardrobe, but I quickly learned that they just don’t last (every single cashmere piece I have ever owned got holes within the first six months of wear), and they just aren’t versatile enough (they’re really only good for daywear).

Don’t go shopping

The thing about creating this kind of wardrobe is that It’s not fun to shop for. And shopping is what got me into the whole “hating everything I own” thing to begin with. Because when you’re walking around Nordstrom, a solid white tee just isn’t that enticing. Instead, we gravitate towards a floral print top (so hot right now) or millennial pink leggings. In the store, they’re simply the prettier option.

If it’s not perfect, wait

There were a couple of times that I needed something time sensitive and so I made a rash decision. For example, last summer I tried to find the perfect hat, and I wanted to find that perfect hat before my girlfriends and I went to France. Rashly, I bought a hat. But it wasn’t the perfect hat. When I came back I regretted that I had bought it and wished I had waited to find the perfect one. Which took me another two years to find. Rather than buying something temporary and then replacing it, I wish that I had waited and just bought the perfect thing when I found it.

Only buy from Nordstrom

Sometimes I find the perfect thing only to discover that it’s actually not the perfect thing after I’ve worn it for a few months (for example, Vince leggings that I bought that stretched out horribly after a few months of use or an impulse buy at a boutique that doesn’t accept returns). Because of this I now have a rule that all of my purchases have to be made from Nordstrom.

Get everything tailored

I once read that the secret to Jennifer Aniston’s classic style is that she gets everything tailored. Even t-shirts. After I read that I’ve realized that more often than not, the reason why a particular item isn’t 100% perfect, is because it just doesn’t fit quite like I’d like it to. For this reason, I get almost everything tailored so that it has that perfect fit.

Try on different silhouettes to see how they actually look on you

One of the items I originally pinned a lot was a classic panama hat. I searched for it forever before realizing that panamas just don’t look as good on my particular face. It took me dozens of returned hat ordered to discover fedora, and wide fedoras were better suited to my stature. If I had it all to do over again I would go to Nordstrom and try on all of the various silhouettes I pinned to my inspiration board to see which would work best for me.

Think through the details

Thinking through the details is especially important when packing. Once, my sister and I went to Vancouver to run the Lululemon half-marathon and I thought I had packed everything I needed. Turns out I forgot my running shoes. This led to me purchasing a pair of $120 shoes that I didn’t even like just so I could run the race. I did this exact same thing when I drove up to Tahoe for a ski weekend only to discover that I didn’t have my ski pants. I bought a pair I didn’t like just so I could ski for the day. I ended up with those ugly shoes and that ugly pair of ski pants for years before I finally replaced them with something I actually liked. And I felt extremely guilty getting rid of something that was still wearable (the exact opposite of my goal).

What’s next for my wardrobe?

I now have seventy pieces of clothing, that cover all seasons and activities. That being said, I know that my closet is a living breathing thing. Over time I may retire some pieces and add some new ones (though I hope that I’ve kept my closet as timeless as possible so as to avoid doing so excessively). And I know that sometimes I will have a shoe that cannot be repaired (like a pair of Frye boots that completely fell apart on me) that I will need to get rid of.

Author of a newsletter about writing (and other things) called The Novelleist. About to release my novel via Substack. Subscribe at ellegriffin.substack.com.

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