Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring Fever and Capsule Wardrobes

Pink and white trees are blooming all over Rotterdam. Pippin and I have been to parks twice in the last week and played on the swings and slides. The sun shines through the windows and has coaxed me to pull out some Tshirts and shorts.

Not long ago, my sister sent me a link on capsule wardrobes. A few days later, my mom sent me the same link. And then a few days after that, a friend messaged me with "Random question: do you do a capsule wardrobe?" Either spring fever is in the air or they've all been conspiring together. Maybe both.

But, yes, I do a capsule wardrobe of sorts, ever since the Great Life Makeover of 2012. My main inspiration came from minimalists like Courtney Carver of Project 333, but there are multiple definitions for what a capsule wardrobe actually is. The main idea is to have a (small) core of good clothing pieces that mix and match, instead of a (large) collection of random, non-matching pieces. The term "capsule wardrobe" was coined in the 1970's by Susie Faux, a British designer and boutique owner, who emphasized timeless foundation pieces and quality over quantity. What fascinates me is that this concept is relevant across ages, jobs, and continents. It's relevant for fashion bloggers like Caroline from Un-Fancy and for minimalist moms like Rachel from, ah, The Minimalist Mom. For college students, for men, and for chic travelers who read The Vivienne Files.

Over the last few years I've done a lot of online browsing and list-making in hopes of creating my own perfect capsule wardrobe, but one of the interesting (disappointing?) things I've learned is that a capsule wardrobe changes with you. Clothes wear out, tastes change, sizes vary. Some of my favorite black Tshirts from last year got stretched out of shape because I insisted on wearing them through my pregnancy (or at least for as long as possible). I lost my grey leather jacket somewhere and was never able to find it again; I went through a "too small" purple, a "too big" grey, and a "too tight" black jacket before I found one that was "just right." But the hunt was worth it because a leather jacket is part of my capsule wardrobe here; warm enough for chilly evenings, waterproof for biking in the Dutch rain, and cool enough to fit in with the fashion-conscious society here.

As a note, when I wore a leather jacket in the USA, I felt conspicuous. When I wear trackpants here, I feel conspicuous, unless I'm actually working out. When I was in the Middle East, sunglasses were a must; they helped me blend in and not make eye contact. A capsule wardrobe isn't a rigid collection of pieces; it grows with you. It does, however, help give boundaries to what you wear. It saves time, since you have less non-matching pieces to sort through. It saves money, since you're less likely to make impulse purchases for clothes you don't need. It helps (or forces) you to define your style, instead of just letting clothes pile up.

But it isn't something that happens automatically. It takes time and energy to build a good capsule wardrobe. As the seasons change, parts of your wardrobe may change, due to life events or weather. In the summer, two of my core pieces are a black Tshirt (short-sleeved or a tank top) and a pair of shorts. In the winter, that changes to a long-sleeved black Tshirt and a pair of dark-washed jeans. Another of wardrobe necessity of mine is a scarf, which is lighter in the summer and warmer in the winter. I have a silk bomber jacket that I wear all through the year, as well as several pairs of converse high-tops. A little black dress goes over warm winter tights or with sandals. I have long camisoles that I wear under tank tops for modesty (babies pull on clothes!), under black shirts for color, and under winter layers for warmth. The rest of what's in my closet – colored Tshirts, pajamas, sport clothes –  I don't count as parts of the capsule wardrobe. Some people do. It's what works for you.

Project 333 is a good example of a minimalist "what works for you" approach. It suggests that your core wardrobe, made up of 33 items, should include accessories like jewelry and bags, and that you should pack away whatever is left over. In the spirit of individualism, though, it encourages participants to pick a number that works for them, whether that's 20 or 50, and to adjust the rules to fit lifestyle needs.

I personally don't keep a strict count of clothes, but I do follow the separation of items. Instead of sealing them up and putting them in the attic I separate them into "visible" and "invisible." At any given season I probably have about 30 "visible" items in my closet, which means I can pull out an outfit in about 45 seconds. With a crawling curious baby in my house, this is a very good thing. It leaves more time for breakfast and books. It also saves my husband from hearing his often-indecisive wife constantly grumbling, "But what am I going to wear?" The rest of my clothes and shoes (about 40 items) are "invisible" and live in a footlocker under my bed. They're out of the way so I don't have to rummage through them, but if the weather suddenly changes I can grab my winter jacket or my sandals without too much trouble.

There's an excellent article on the Huffington Post about fast fashion, emphasizing that we can look at a capsule wardrobe as a way to just make our own lives better, or also to make the world better. It's a good reminder that what we do with our money, time, and trash affects others. I've never had a huge walk-in closet, but I'll easily admit to enjoying shopping. When I stick to a capsule wardrobe, I know what looks good on me and what I'm comfortable in. This helps me avoid buying a cute Tshirt or skirt "because it was on sale" and then getting rid of it a month or two later. Since I keep track of what I have, and because I keep the amount fairly small, I'm not as likely to accidentally buy a duplicate of something. It makes me happy to think that, if we suddenly decided to move, I could probably fit all my clothes in the footlocker or a large suitcase. Then again, sometimes I read blogs by hardcore minimalists who only own 100 or 50 items TOTAL – including electronics, passports, guitars, bowls and spoons – and I get slightly jealous. But only slightly, because I like options. Then again, think of how much more space we'd have in our tiny apartment if Faramir, Pippin, and I each owned 100 items or less!

Spring fever makes me itch to clean out my house, and apparently I'm not the only one thinking about my closet. Here's to enjoying capsule wardrobes so there's less drama, less to clean, and more time to play in the park in the sunshine.

1 comment:

  1. I know we're Facebook messaging about this, but I'm commenting anyway. I really think minimalism would be a good fit for me...if it weren't for books...