Monday, 31 December 2012

10 Item Capsule Wardrobe

For my New Years resolution, I've decided to create a blog for plus sized Canadian women, in large part because I've been struggling to pare down to a capsule, or 10 piece basic wardrobe in order to simplify my life.

Definition of a 10 Item Capsule Wardrobe

The point of the 10 Item Wardrobe is to free yourself from a jam packed closet full of ill fitting, underused or poor quality clothing. Your goal is to create a wardrobe that you love, and to create a space for your clothes to breathe, where there is no clutter.

Your wardrobe should roughly consist of 10 items (give or take- probably give), but those 10 items do not include outerwear, accessories (scarves, gloves, hats, wraps), shoes and what I call under shirts- mainly t shirts, tank tops or chemises that you wear as layers or underneath a sweater or blazer. (I found it necessary to have several of these to avoid having to do laundry every other day and to prolong the wear on things like cashmere sweaters).

Also the 10 item wardrobe is assessed each season and items are interchanged accordingly. For example, if you do this experiment in the summer, you will not have 3 cashmere sweaters as part of your 10 items. Those can go in storage and in turn you can usher in 3 summer dresses to replace the sweaters (or whatever suits your lifestyle).

Clear out the wardrobe clutter

Before you finalize your 10 items, clear the clutter from your closet. It is very important to physically clean out your wardrobe and only have your 10 items (plus extras discussed above) hanging. It is very easy to think you’ll just wear your 10 items during the month but still keep your 50+ items jammed in the wardrobe ‘just in case’ or out of sheer laziness or lack of anywhere else to put your clothes. But the physical act of taking all of your excess clothing and getting rid of it or storing it elsewhere is very powerful and prevents you from ‘cheating’.

During the process of clearing my closet clutter I took the plunge and got rid of 70% of my wardrobe. This, for me, was a tremendous accomplishment. Giving my clothes away was so much easier this time and I attribute this to the physical act of taking it all out and assessing. When my excess clothing was all thrown on my bed and one by one I assessed each garment, I asked myself a few key questions that helped me to let go.

Wardrobe Assessment Questions:

“Do I still like this?”- in so many instances I was holding on to something because I paid a lot of money for it- not because I actually still liked it.

“Do I ever wear this?”- I had so many clothes that I simply did not wear- some I hadn’t worn in years, and I knew I would likely never wear again, but for some reason I couldn’t let go.

“Does it still fit/ look good on me?”- Anything that doesn't make you feel good when you wear it has got to go. The goal is to only have the clothes you love in your closet, that flatter you and fit beautifully.

“Does this article of clothing still speak of who I am?”- This is a very powerful question and in most instances the answer was a resounding NO. I was holding on to blouses and skirts that I purchased in my early 40's . A lot has changed since then. I am now 54 years old, and living on a fixed income, but my tastes are still more refined and sophisticated. Those business clothes were not right for the new me, but a pared down wardrobe of classic beauties will be the perfect thing for me now.

Getting rid of your excess clothing is definitely a process and I realise you might not be ready to purge everything the first time around. It can be overwhelming to begin with. That's OK. I suggest clearing out one closet at a time, asking yourself those questions, and weeding out the items you no longer want. You can do a purge once a month, and each time you do, you'll find it easier to give up the things you were hanging on to. There is nothing as gratifying to me, as seeing empty space in my closet!

I live in a condo now, and don't have the storage space that I had in my house, so off season items have to stay in my closet all year long.  I got tired of not having room in my drawers and closets to put things in.  When I do my laundry, I have a hard time finding the space to put my clean clothes in, because I have so many different sizes of clothing!  I've got everything from a medium to 3X, and I've been hanging on to things because a) I paid a lot of money for them, or b) I still might lose weight and be able to wear them again.  I'm currently a size 20-22.

It takes a while to pare down to a capsule wardrobe, but once you do, you really can't go back. It makes your life so much simpler and it encourages you to use your 'best' on a daily basis.  I believe that plus sized women need to always look put together. This is a concept that may seem obvious to many people, but too many women just give up and resort to sweat pants and baggy t-shirts for their everyday wear.

Looking great on a daily basis may initially seem like a shallow and superficial concept, but really it is about so much more than appearances. It's about having respect for yourself and others. It's about tradition. It's about honouring formalities that seem to be going by the wayside.

We've all seen people at the airport walking around in their pajamas. Or worse yet we've seen people wearing jeans and tennis shoes (or worse) to dressy events. I was appalled at the clothes that some people wore to my nieces wedding last July.  When I see these things I am always reminded of my favourite film stars from the 30's and 40's like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. What on earth would they think? They lived in a time when people used to dress beautifully for everything from airplane travel to running an errand at the corner store. 

Must Have Wardrobe Staples

I've done my research into creating a basic wardrobe.  I've cleared out 50 pieces on hangers, 4 handbags, and 2 pair of shoes so far.  A few still have the tags on them.  All of these items will be going to a consignment shop, and hopefully I'll get enough money from the sale of them to buy what I need to complete my basic wardrobe.

I have a very casual lifestyle, and don't need a lot of dressy clothes for my day to day wear.  I decided on a black & white theme, with some khaki or tan pieces to mix and match.  When I cleared out my closet I had about 20 pieces in black already.  Some are more for evening wear, so they won't count towards my 10 piece basics. 

There are some items that you absolutely need ready and waiting in your closet. These make up the basis of your wardrobe; they’re the must haves, no matter what your style — the wardrobe essentials. To be considered a wardrobe essential, an article of clothing has to have several important attributes:
  • It must be versatile. This is the most important quality of an essential piece of clothing. One key factor in versatility is colour. Because wardrobe essentials have to go with lots of other clothing, they tend to be monochromatic and neutral in colour. They also must work with different outfits. A blazer that you can pair with a skirt, pants, or a pair of jeans is a good example.
  • It has to be of good, perhaps even exceptional, quality. A wardrobe essential makes a statement, and anyone looking should be able to tell that it’s top shelf. High quality also means that it wears well — very important for a garment that you’ll rely on again and again.
  • It should be in a classic style. You don’t want your wardrobe essentials to ever really go out of fashion.
  • It must be a 10. These garments, like everything in your closet, should have all the qualities of a 10, and because they form the basis of your stylish wardrobe, it’s okay to spend a little more for these than you would other, less essential, items.
A lot of wardrobe must-have items are black. Black garments offer many pluses: No one knows how often you wear them. Stains are difficult, if not impossible, to see. The colour is flattering on every person and every body type. And with a black basic, you’re free to add colour in other areas of your outfit and have fun with prints or great accessories.

Most of the research I've done shows the same basic items.  The 10 basic pieces that I need for maximum flexibility is as follows:

1.  Dark wash or black jeans.  Spend the extra money on a pair that fit perfectly, and flatter your figure, as they will likely get more wear than any other piece of your clothing.  If you are only investing in one pair of jeans, go with dark denim in a boot cut or straight leg. They are more slimming and more versatile. You can wear them totally casual during the day, and you can dress them up for night.

2.  A crisp white shirt.  I love cotton shirts, because they can be worn with a suit, dressy skirt, or jeans, but a blouse or t-shirt can be equally flexible. Wear it out, tucked in, or open over a tank or T-shirt. It's OK to have multiples of this wardrobe staple, when you find one that fits you beautifully.

3.  A cardigan or twin set.  Cardigans can change the whole look of an outfit, and the tank can be worn alone with everything from jeans to dress pants and skirts.  Buy a twin set in your basic colours, and they'll go with everything else in your closet.  You can add different coloured cardigans later, after you've built your capsule wardrobe.

4.  A little black dress.  Every woman needs this must-have item.  Buy one that flatters your figure, and can be accessorised with a scarf, pearls, a long necklace, or dramatic earrings.  I can wear my black suit jacket with this dress for a very formal look, a white cardigan set and pearls, or a great statement necklace to make it more casual.

5.  A skirt.  I have a pencil skirt in a comfortable knit, which looks great with a t-shirt, my crisp white shirt, my cardi, or a denim or leather jacket.  Buy whatever style best suits your figure type.

6.  A day dress.  Buy a pretty dress in cotton or linen for comfort, and mix and match it with a cardi, a jacket, a scarf, a belt, or a great necklace.

7.  Khaki pants.  I love cargo pants (although they're really too casual for my capsule wardrobe) that have zip off legs, so I have pants and shorts in one piece.  I also love all the pockets, to hold money, cell phone, keys, and a lip gloss, when I don't want to carry a purse.  A pair of flat front khakis in a cotton blend gives a dressier appearance, and can be worn with all of your tops and jackets.

8.  Long sleeved t-shirts in one or both of your basic colours.  It's OK to have multiples of these items, so you don't have to do laundry as often.

9.  A classic trench coat in khaki or black.  Goes with jeans, casual wear, or that little black dress for a night on the town.  They never go out of style, so buy a good quality one, and you'll have it for years.

10. A black suit.  The black jacket is key in your wardrobe. Because it’s black, it goes with virtually everything. You can change the look just by changing the accessories. Although it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive or high-end, the blazer does need to fit you perfectly and work with your body type. If you want to appear taller or longer, choose a blazer that’s longer. If you want to accentuate your beautiful waistline, make sure it’s fitted in the waist area. Also make sure it’s current. Avoid one that looks like something from the 80s — over sized with enormous shoulder pads.
You can wear a single-breasted blazer comfortably and fashionably either open or closed, and you have the option of wearing it over dresses or skirts, as well as pants. Don’t be afraid to make the blazer your own: Add a favourite pin to the lapel if you want to jazz it up when the occasion calls for it. A black blazer doesn’t have to be boring. Again, it’s a basic that you can build your outfit around.

For my basic accessories I chose the following:

A good leather bag
A black leather bag is a perfect everywhere bag, a bag you can wear to work, to lunch, to dinner, and even shopping on the weekend. It goes with everything, and you’ll feel comfortable using it with whatever colour or prints you may be wearing. It should be medium-sized: large enough to hold whatever you need during the day but not so large that it looks awkward if you find yourself running straight out to dinner with it.

Pair of black pumps
Black pumps go with everything, they won’t get too dirty, and they can also go from day to night. If you can afford only one pair of black pumps, go with a dressier pair; shoes are generally easier to dress down than to dress up.
When buying shoes, make sure they’re comfortable! Don’t expect them to “break in.” You’re going to spend some money on them because shoes tend to cost a bit more, so make sure they fit right.
Pair of ballet flats.
Instead of wearing athletic shoes, invest in a great pair of flat shoes in a neutral colour.  Black works for me, but I'll be adding some with colour, as well as trying to find the perfect pair in leopard print.

A set of pearls can be a beautiful accent to any outfit. They’re perfect for the office and for a formal affair. Obviously, real pearls are expensive, so if you can borrow from Grandma — lucky you! If not, you can buy fakes. Just play around with them. Pearls aren’t just for those who prefer classic styles. There are many ways to wear them, and a long strand can be worn with a funkier outfit.

Diamond or Cubic Zirconia stud or leverback earrings
You definitely don’t want to leave your ears bare, and diamond earrings go perfectly with everything. If you are heading to work in a suit and then out at night in jeans and a blouse, studs are the perfect complement. They’re classy, and you can throw them on without worrying whether they go with what you’re wearing because diamonds go with everything!
Don’t have the money for genuine diamonds studs? Don’t worry. Buy cubic zirconia instead; just keep them small.



  1. Sounds like a great plan for a capsule wardrobe Nancy - how is it working a year on?

  2. It's a long process! I have to wait for each season to change before I can sell those items at the consignment store. I've cleared out about 50 items from my closets so far, and have one section in my bedroom closet where I only hang the things I wear frequently. It's that 80/20 rule. You only wear 20% of your clothing, 80% of the time. The rest gets pushed to one side. This way, the next time I purge, I'll know that I didn't wear those things for the past season, so I might as well get rid of them. It's still hard because I think about how much I paid for something, but my lifestyle is very different now than it was when I was working, so most of my business clothes have gone. The only thing I kept was a beautiful black suit, which everybody needs. Thanks for the email!

    1. Why are the shoulders always so wide?

  3. Hi. I have decided to also do a 10 item capsule I am also in Canada do you have favorite stores you like to shop. Thanks

    1. Hi Sarah: I shop consignment or resale shops, The Shopping Channel has some really nice things in plus sizes now, and of course Addition-elle. I recently gained weight after quitting smoking, and now my capsule wardrobe no longer fits :( I'm also getting married in May, so have been too busy with selling my place, moving, and wedding plans. I haven't had a lot of time to go shopping for myself. What about you? Where in Canada are you, and where do you like to shop? What prompted you to try the capsule wardrobe? Kindest Regards, Nancy

  4. Hi Nancy Thanks for your reply I live in Vancouver and I am currently considering a move to Japan so living in a smaller space combined with not being able to buy plus size clothes in Japan has made me look at this. I have tried thrift and consignment but they are not that good here unlike in Ontario. Addition Elle is OK but now looking at having my capsule items made as I also sew myself. Any further thoughts would be great also my capsule needs to be a little bit more structured as I run my own business. Thanks again Sarah

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  6. I really like your blog. All the clothes you wrote down are very essential to have in your wardrobe as it makes you sure that you will be ready for any occasion that might occur. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. I've now got a wonderful wardrobe of 10's for winter and summer! Everything is hanging in my closet, and it's easy to grab a tunic dress, leggings, and boots and I'm done! I have a couple of outfits like that, and it makes getting dressed SO much easier. I change them to a different closet in the summer, and have a few easy outfits to exchange them for. I recently went on a trip to Italy with ONE suitcase for 12 days! It was great. 3 pairs of neutral pants, 4 coordinating tops, two pair of shoes, and a jacket. I took two pairs of silver earrings, and two necklaces that coordinated with all of my outfits. It was wonderful to not be lugging a carry-on and my travel bag, along with a huge suitcase. I purchased a Lug brand travel bag with lots of pockets in it, and on the outside as well, and put my little cross body bag inside of that, so I only had one shoulder bag and my suitcase. It's a wonderful feeling traveling so light!