We’ve all wondered how to build a capsule wardrobe: that ideal state where your overtly materialistic tendencies are replaced by Zen-like peace of mind; you dress how you want every day, you own only what you wear, and you are one with the Force. Nobody lives this way, but it’s a nice goal. In this two-part article, I’ll elaborate a bit on the thought processes you can take to work towards it. In part 1, we’ll focus on who you are, and what you’d like to wear.
Appraise your current wardrobe and where you are in your menswear journey.
Are you a newbie who’s just getting into clothing? That is, you’ve just come across Styleforum and are realizing that everything you know is wrong? Or have you already amassed a large wardrobe of clothing, but still find it difficult to decide what to wear?
In either case, you have much to learn, and I’m not just talking about the “rules.” I mean about yourself—your style; the version of yourself you want to project through your clothing that is most sensible for your lifestyle and life’s circumstances. If you’re just starting out, resist the urge to buy any and every awesome piece of clothing you see on B&S/eBay/deep discount. You will do yourself a great favor by just making do with your current wardrobe while you figure things out. How do you “figure things out?” You observe and participate in discussions here, and find the “Coherent Combinations for Beginners” cached Internet Archive thread from Voxsartoria.
If you’ve got an already-large wardrobe, pay attention to what you come back to time and again. Pare your closet down to what you actually wear. I alway put my most recently worn shirt to the furthest right in my closet. I almost never get more than 8-10 shirts deep before I’ve washed them and start over again with those same shirts. All the shirts to the left of that are either: 1- Seasonal shirts (madras or linen or Oxford), or 2- Shirts I don’t wear. You can probably safely get rid of the non-seasonal shirts you don’t wear except for the ones you need for special occasions. Figure out a similar system for trousers, jackets, and even shoes.
A capsule wardrobe will free up closet space, which just feels good. And unless you have unlimited funds—and assuming what you own is quasi-valuable—you can get actual money out of these obsolete possessions. Sell them on the buying and selling forum, and use that money to upgrade what you keep.
Make a list of what you would want to make your dream capsule wardrobe.
Making a capsule wardrobe is like packing for vacation: you need versatility, where everything goes with almost everything else. But this is more aspirational—you are picturing what you really want in order to become the best-dressed version of who you want to be. In my case, I actually created a Pinterest board with photos of cool clothes (I found out later a bunch of those pics were of @NickPollica – the Creatie Director at Eidos – before I knew who he was; go figure). I wanted to have a “complete wardrobe,” and I had a bookmarks folder with links to actual products that matched those inspirational photos.
This step is the most important, because you’ll find all kinds of awesome stuff on sale that you’ll love and which would totally make your life better if you owned it. But your goal isn’t to buy everything that’s awesome, it’s to make a lean, wearable, flexible wardrobe. Having this list will help you when you’re three sheets to the wind and that Mt Fuji kimono is on clearance at No Man Walks Alone. You can pull it up and remind yourself of what you actually need, not just what would make you the coolest dude this weekend at Acme on Broadway in Nashville.
Having this list also helps you to upgrade what you already have systematically, piece by piece. For instance you may have a workhorse Brooks Brothers suit, but now prefer Italian tailoring. Once you know what in your wardrobe needs to be upgraded, you can start looking for the best replacements.