A month-long capsule wardrobe challenge - what we learnt

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December 2021 News

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Capsule Wardrobe challenge May 2021

This was a fun challenge that some of my clients and I decided to do for the whole of May 2021. Working from a restricted number of clothes is not the way that I normally manage my clothes - I like a wider choice of items to create my outfits!! Still, it was an interesting exercise, and we gained a lot of insight both into our characters and clothes choices.

So – what did we learn?

What on earth is a capsule wardrobe?!

The simplest definition of a capsule wardrobe is: the minimum amount of items of clothing needed in order to make the maximum number of outfits. If you choose wisely, you can turn 20 items into 100 outfits just by wearing a top with a different bottom, or by changing your accessories.

Creating outfits during the challenge

During May, we limited ourselves to wearing only 31 items of clothing (far more than in the above example). This limit included shoes and coats, and on top we added 10 accessories (belts, bags, scarves, jewellery). At the start this seemed quite a generous number - one for each of the 31 days in May – especially as the weather is (usually!) warmer and drier at this time of year. However, the cooler, wetter weather scuppered our intentions – read on...

The group  decided to treat the challenge as though each of us was packing to go on holiday for a full month, rather than the normal two weeks’ summer vacation. The added twist to make it harder, was not to replicate any outfit, but instead, from what we had available, to create a totally new look each day.

Preparing a one-month capsule wardrobe 

What was important in preparing our wardrobes?

Step  1 - Plan ahead, check commitments and activities already in our diaries to make sure that our clothing worked for them all.

Step 2 - Review the long-range weather forecast to plan for both cold and warm weather days. (In our case it was cold, wet, windy and below average temperatures for this time of year).

Who struggled with the idea of the capsule  wardrobe challenge?

Some people like to pick and choose and be inspired in the moment. Planning a whole month in advance was difficult for them – and explains why there was a lower take-up for the challenge than expected.

Some people didn’t even make it over the starting line, as they didn’t have 41 items in their wardrobes. They already have a very minimalist approach.

Others (those who like to organise their activities, or work, each day, knowing exactly which outfit to wear and when) found this a great way to save both time and stress. Their choices were greatly simplified, being reduced to only a limited number of items from which to plan.

Others felt that a month was too long because they lose concentration and creativity. (By the end of the month I was agreeing with this viewpoint myself!).

Still others couldn’t see the wood for the trees among the disparate colours and styles hanging up in their wardrobes, so choosing a selection from which to mix and match was too much like hard work. These people would need a wardrobe clear out session first before they could get started.

The negative side of a minimalist wardrobe

The boredom factor hit a few of us because, despite the generous allowance, we didn’t feel that we had enough choice. A lot of this was largely down to the restriction on accessories.

Using the same number of items but with more discretion over how to split them up, would have livened up our outfits. An increased number of accessories would have given those pops of colour which make outfits more interesting.

Insufficient planning affected those who chose their clothes based on what they like to wear, instead of practicality. When it came to activities such as gardening, walking or exercise there was a mismatch which scuppered their outfits. One person who likes to dress up, found that she ended up with little choice when she needed to relax or was in a more casual setting.

The big downside was the bad weather!

We shouldn’t have been surprised, given what we know about British summers AND the fact that we had checked the forecast in advance! Yet we hadn’t really reckoned with how much it would rain, nor how cold it would be.

Consequently, we were all forced to wear our thicker clothes, to add layers, cardigans and sweaters every day, which impacted on the flexibility and number of outfits. It’s hard to make a different outfit when you are wearing the same sweater over and over!

All in all, we realised that choosing warmer clothes for bad weather is tricky and required careful planning.

This is a key piece of learning – and not just for those involved in the challenge.  It’s not just about getting the number of items right; it’s more about getting the right items of clothing for mix-and-match to work well.

The positive aspects of a small wardrobe

To be fair, there were lots of them:

1.            A minimal number of clothes makes morning choices and dressing decisions easy and quick.

2.            You are spurred you on to be more creative in order to make each day different, interesting, fun and creative. It certainly stretched my powers of imagination.

3.            Some members were inspired to create a series of smaller capsule wardrobes for the future. They see how this approach streamlines their lives and leaves more time for other things.

4.            It was great to try out completely new combos, and to take inspiration from others in the group. We kept each other accountable and took ideas from each other’s styling choices… both great learning and motivation.

5.            At the end of the month we all had 31 photos in our capsule wardrobe challenge album. They are great to look back on and see all the outfits in one place – the good, bad and indifferent!

My personal take from this

Well…. I knew at the outset that I don’t like to restrict my choices, and thus would find it hard. What I hadn’t bargained for was how quickly I got bored!

It was good to understand why I don’t like to have my choices limited but equally how, when I do, I am spurred on to greater creativity.

I struggled to plan both work activities (where I need to be groomed, well-dressed and demonstrate interest and colour to my clients), and very relaxed activities, like hiking, into this limited wardrobe and to do it well. It is easier to do this when I am on holiday, as it is only for two weeks while I am relaxing - plus, I usually take plenty of accessories, particularly scarves, with me.

 I also discovered that I am more objective when I see myself in a photo than in a mirror, which helps me to be clearer about what suits me. That was a particularly valuable piece of personal learning.

All in all, although I learnt a lot by being minimalist, I’m still going to allow myself the luxury of greater choice!