How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe and Simplify Your Life

Diane von Furstenberg Spring 2013How do celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Stone look impossibly chic and put together for weeks on end on press tours around the world? Well, they're impossibly chic and put together. But they also probably have a capsule wardrobe. Emma, for one, has been really open about being a bit style challenged, so you can be pretty sure she either had a stylist with her or had a detailed spreadsheet of what to wear for each event. Possibly both.

You may not be able to have a stylist on hand, and a spreadsheet may seem like overkill, but having a capsule wardrobe at the ready can be helpful and time-saving in a variety of situations. If you travel for business, go on an annual vacation, or just like to have a seasonal uniform so you don't have to scramble for what to wear in the morning, a capsule wardrobe is the answer.

Choose a theme or color palette

The first step is to choose a theme or color palette. It's best to stick to classic color combinations like black and white, or things you have a lot of in your closet. If purple is your favorite color, you might want to choose a black, gray, and purple color palette for a capsule wardrobe for business trips. Keep an eye towards these colors and the items you need to round out your capsule wardrobe when shopping.

For instance, I have a nautical capsule wardrobe for annual trips to the lake and the beach. It also works for pretty much any tropical or beach-related vacation I take. I started with red, white, and blue basics like white jeans, cropped blue jeans, Gap Favorite tees, beachy dresses that can go straight to cocktails, a cardgan that goes with everything, and a white trench. I mix and match items like a plaid wrap top, madras mini, and a striped halter in the same color palette. The same accessories go with every look — either a striped canvas and leather purse with a matching wristlet that can double as a clutch, or my blue and white sailcloth beach tote. Blue gingham espadrilles, red flats, and flip flops go with nearly every outfit. Sure, this wardrobe took some time to put together, but I did it once years ago and it's been ready to pack at a moment's notice ever since. Preppy basics aren't my usual style, so the pieces last a long time and I'm never tired of wearing them.

Choose your basics and use statement items purposefully

Once you have a theme or color palette, you want to think of the items you wear most. Pull your basics first. Items that can match two or three other items in the wardrobe. That should be a rule. No matter how much you love that peplum top, if it doesn't work with two or three bottoms, it's not going to work. For a business capsule wardrobe you could easily choose a black sheath, pencil skirt, pants and blazer. Then a white button down, and maybe a few colored shells or sweaters. It's easy to see how you can make more than six outfits from those items. Black is obviously the easiest base color to work with, but if you prefer something bolder it's easy to make that work too. Just stick to your palette and use statement items purposefully. Only bring those perfect green croc pumps if they'll go with most of your looks. Use jewelry (small, easy to pack or grab of a tray in the morning) to create variety and dress things up or down.

Allowances can be made for black tie events — you don't have to find a way to wear your cocktail dress three times. But bonus points if you can figure out a way to style your black sheath for cocktails so you don't need a separate formalwear outfit!

You're basically going to think of every day, or every event if there will be a change of clothes, and plan out what you'll wear to each. For a seasonal wardrobe you'll just want to think of your weekly schedule. Fabsugar did a fashion week wardrobe planner that would work for any other week-long trip that I use all the time. This can be time consuming in advance, but you only have to do it once and you'll know the outfits that work and how to throw it all together for years.

images: IMAXtree