Capsule Wardrobes: What Are They and Do You Need One?

So I've been thinking a lot lately about capsule wardrobes. There's a personal reason for this: I'm planning a trip to Italy for 2 weeks in the Fall. This will be a long-dreamed-of, trip of lifetime for my husband and me. We haven't been to Europe since our 10th wedding anniversary (we just celebrated #36). Planning a trip like this is exciting, but also stressful. On the advice of my financial planner (!) - who is also going to Italy this fall (along with half the US population) - I made the questionable decision to join several Facebook groups that consist of online communities offering tips, advice and experiences regarding itineraries, tours, accommodations, and - of course - fashion. I'm really not sure if this was a wise move or not. Inasmuch as I'm getting some really great information, I'm also getting overwhelmed and confused. About everything.

But this is a fashion blog so let's get down to the heart of the matter: what to pack.

As this is a dream trip, and I am a fashion girl, of course I want to take every favorite item I possess. I'm a maximalist, not a minimalist. Obviously this is impractical for several reasons. One, luggage limits. Two, lugging said luggage around between the multiple destinations we'll be visiting (hmm I wonder if that's how the word luggage was invented). Three, cobblestone streets (alas, my beloved kitten heels will not be accompanying me). And four, refer back to #1.

Side note: You won't believe the strange things I've discovered as a member of the Travel Fashion Girls group on Facebook. For instance, apparently lots of people are scheduling professional photo shoots in their destinations. Say what?? We're talking about ordinary people, not movie stars or newlyweds. There's even a dress called the "flying dress" -- meaning it has some sort of voluminous skirt that flies out in the breeze and looks dramatic in a photo. Oftentimes said dress is red. Clearly the Instagram monster has created hordes of wannabe influencers who are creating their own personal fantasy lives. I think people have lost their minds. But hey, whatever floats your boat I guess. 

Another thing I discovered is the phenomenon of the tulle skirt. It's like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. You've probably seen this. It pops up on Facebook like a weed. If by chance you haven't seen it, it's reminiscent of a ballerina's skirt, midi length, made out of tulle, and usually embellished with appliqued flowers. Well, somehow this skirt has captured the romantic fantasies of hundreds of middle-aged women in this group and caught on like wildfire. I am not aware of anywhere else where this style flourishes. I find it equal parts wonderful and puzzling. Wonderful because it clearly makes so many women feel good about themselves, like princesses, and I'm all for that. Puzzling because who wants to look like everyone else, plus it's not an easy look to pull off successfully. But again, to each her own.

But I digress. Let's get back to the matter at hand, capsule wardrobes. First of all, what IS a capsule wardrobe? According to Wikipedia, a capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothes that can be put together in different ways and includes everything one would normally need to wear. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without owning excessive items of clothing. This is usually achieved by buying what are considered to be "key" or "staple" items in coordinating colors, which can then be augmented by adding seasonal or trendier pieces.

So, do you need a capsule wardrobe? I would say that within one's overall wardrobe, it's a good practice to create "mini" capsules that are very handy for travel and vacation, across the seasons. Using a very elementary example, you would never have the same wardrobe capsule for a beach vacation as for, say, a city trip. If ever there was a case for creating a capsule wardrobe, traveling is it. This is when you really need to curate your wardrobe for optimal functionality and versatility. Each item needs to be able work with others to expand your options. "Excessive" does not work. But I will tell you this right now: For me, a capsule wardrobe is only an option for travel. But in real, everyday life? I just don't see it for myself. My fashion loves are too immense and varied to limit myself to staples plus a few seasonal pieces. Plus, we live in a locale that has all 4 weather seasons. 

Let's pause for a moment and give credit to the people who subscribe wholeheartedly to the capsule wardrobe for their everyday lives. Kudos to them! They believe that it simplifies their lives by eliminating what I call "profusion confusion" - that feeling that you have nothing to wear despite the fact that your closet is brimming with choices. Sometimes it's too much, too confusing, too overwhelming. We can become paralyzed by indecision. And I get it. Having a capsule wardrobe should - in theory - help you avoid that dilemma. Me? I have to admit, I'd just become bored. Hey, I'm being honest!

But I am embracing the capsule wardrobe for travel purposes. I mean, who has time to stand in front of the closet (or suitcase) and figure out what to wear each day of vacation? Having set choices frees you up to concentrate on having fun rather than figuring out what to wear. 

What your capsule wardrobe (and mine) should consist of is very much a matter of individual preference - preference of style, fit, comfort and color. Since I can't tell you what to pack for yourselves, I'll tell you what I'm planning to pack and hope you can use this as a guide of some sort. For reference I am going for 2 weeks in the early Fall; the weather should still be warm with cooler nights. Note that I have a black tie-optional wedding and a cocktail-attire party to attend. 

  • Foundational color: Black
  • Accent colors: Saffron, Ginger, Tan, Ivory, Denim
  • 3 pairs of black pants - a slim ankle pant, a silky cropped pant, and a  comfy knit jogger. These I'll be able to use for everything from travel days to dinners out to touring.
  • 1 pair denim jeans
  • 1 silk skirt in my accent colors
  • 1 pair saffron wide leg cropped pants
  • 3 dressier tops to wear to dinners - 2 solids and 2 prints 
  • 3 casual tops to wear during days of touring
  • 4 tees - 2 solids and 2 graphics
  • 3 dressy dresses (2 for the wedding festivities and 1 just because I like it)
  • 3 day-to-night midi dresses
  • 2 short day dresses (I do not wear shorts, at least not in public)
  • 4 jackets - a blazer, a black leather moto jacket, a jean jacket and a rain anorak  
  • 1 lightweight hoodie that can be worn under jackets
  • 1 black lightweight cashmere poncho
  • 1 Crossbody bag
  • 1 Evening bag
  • 1 pair gold metallic sandals (with chunky heels, because cobblestones)
  • 1 pair Teva sandals ( I can walk miles in these)
  • 1 pair "nice" flat sandals (deciding between black or gold)
  • 1 pair "workhorse" sneakers
  • 1 swimsuit (instead of taking a coverup I'll pop on one of the day dresses)
  • 2 scarves (1 solid, 1 print)
  • 1 Ballcap
  • 1 Sun hat
  • 1 tiny umbrella

OK. I know this is a long list. For you mathematicians out there, that's 42 items.  I'm actually proud of myself that I culled it down to this! In my defense, I do have a formal wedding plus I'm going at the change of seasons. I'm sure I would not need a leather jacket or blazer, or the scarves, if I were going in high summer. Nor would I need the 2 evening dresses or the heels if I weren't attending a wedding. I would really like to bring a pair of boots, but they take up too much room and plus my feet get hot. See? This is hard! Please cut me some slack.

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to get all of this into one medium checked bag and one carryon tote. Wish me luck.