How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

My Spring capsule wardrobe is complete. I used one of the bonus rules, and worked on my little collection through the first week of April. Before we get to the actual how to, I wanted to look at how capsule wardrobe is defined. It sounds like something out the The Jetsons, but it’s pretty simple.

Capsule Wardrobe Defined

  1. a collection of clothes and accessories that includes only items considered essential
  2. a person’s basic collection of coordinating clothes that can be used to form the basis of outfits for all occasions
  3. a set of clothing, normally around 24 items, which can be mixed and matched to create a wide variety of outfits.

Each of those definitions came from a different dictionary-ish website.

Project 333 definition of a capsule wardrobe: A small collection of 33 including clothing, shoes and accessories built for use during a 3 month period of time.

It’s my intention to have 4 capsules, one for each season, with items overlapping for each. Not each item is essential in terms of survival, but essential in the name of minimalist fashion. 😉

Now that I only use one small side of my closet, whenever I am creating a new collection, I hang the pieces that I know I will keep on one side, and the maybe’s on the other. If the maybes aren’t put into the mix, out the door they go.

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

Make a list of how many of each item you think you will need. I didn’t know for sure, but this is where I started:

1 Sunglasses
1 Purse
1 Laptop/Camera Bag
2 Dresses
2 Skirts
1 Jeans
2 Shorts/Capri
1 Dress pants
2 Light Sweaters
2 Blazers
2 Tanks
1 Button Down Shirt
5 Shirts
1 Sweatshirt
4 Shoes
1 Trench Coat
2 Bracelets
1 Necklace
1 Scarf
33 Total Items

Mid-March, I started finding my pieces to match my list. On Friday, April 1st, it was 70 degrees. I pulled out one of my lawn chair, set it up on the deck and sat in the sun thinking about how fun it would be to wear a spring dress and start with a new collection.

On Sunday, I woke up to nearly a foot of snow covering my chair and everything else.

I know I can expect some varying temps. I know I will be cold some mornings and hot on some afternoons. Between now and June 30th, I think there will be a range of 50-60 degrees. I’ve built just the wardrobe to handle it. I know some of you live in very hot or cold weather, but I think 33 items is enough.

Next step.

Make a list of 33 numbers, yep 1-33 with a blank space next to each, and start adding your items.

Here is what I ended up with

  1. Black Purse
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Black Dress
  4. Ivory Dress
  5. Gray Dress
  6. Black Skirt
  7. Sequined Skirt
  8. Jeans
  9. White Capris
  10. Gray Dress Pants
  11. Chinos
  12. Rose pullover sweater
  13. Emerald green open cardigan
  14. Ivory Blazer
  15. Black Blazer
  16. Black Tank skinny straps
  17. Black Tank wide straps
  18. Orange Tank
  19. Light Green Tank
  20. White short sleeve button down
  21. Light Blue pinstripe long sleeve button down
  22. Soft denim long sleeve button down
  23. Blue/white stripe shirt
  24. Black V-neck short sleeved shirt
  25. Black wrap shirt
  26. Black sweatshirt
  27. Black flats
  28. Black sandal heels
  29. Purple Heels
  30. Flip Flops
  31. Recreational shoes
  32. Black Raincoat
  33. Bracelet husband gave me for 5th wedding anniversary


  1. says

    Loving my minimal wardrobe, Courtney! On the subject of shedding two pieces from your spring capsule, would you remind us of your needs? Are you regularly in an office setting? Do you go out a lot at night? My initial reaction was to get rid of a blazer- but I’m at home full time, so that’s influencing my reaction.

  2. courtney says

    Robin, I’d love to hear more about your collection. I am not in an office setting, but out meeting people regularly. I don’t go out and party the night away but love to get out to dinner with my husband and friends.

    • says

      I’m still paring down my clothing. Ready to oust my two boxes marked “Project 333” in the garage. Meanwhile, we’re getting rid of memorobelia- sheesh, that one’s hard.

      On your capsule wardrobe, I have a really hard time telling you to get rid of your purple heels or your sequin skirt. A girl has needs- and this feels like telling a 5-year-old to get rid of her pink sparkly shoes. If you wear them regularly and you love them, they should stay. Based on my experience thus far with project 333, I would put all 35 items in your closet, and it will become apparent what you should get rid of- because you’ll find yourself not wearing it. Call it cheating, but I put 35 items in my closet when I started. It became very clear in the first week what was going to go- because I always found myself not wanting to wear it for one reason or another . . .

      So, I’m guessing that you’re feeling pressure because this is the gig that you started- but I would say that you should cheat for a couple of weeks and let it play itself out.

  3. queen of string says

    Seems to me the black wrap shirt and the stripe button down are close duplicates of other items on the list and you might be able to use the duplicates in the same settings and outfits. HTH

  4. Jessica says

    The two items that jump out at me, are the black sweatshirt and denim button down….

    I love this project! Still working on my final selections for spring—and of course it’s in the 50s here today so a bit chilly!

      • A. says

        I’d have a hard time without that piece, for slumming around the house and laundry days but what if you took it out and changed one of the black tops to a comfy black long sleeved top that can double for daywear — ?
        Don’t cut your color pieces, you’ve got it down, neutral pieces and then a few color pieces that pops.
        Also, you rock.

  5. says

    Why is your black raincoat on the list? Isn’t that outerwear? I wouldn’t count it.

    You might also consider the rose pullover. Or make it one of your swap-out items as the weather changes? And hold a tank top back until then?

    I posted a list of my 33 items on my blog but have changed it since then, so will repost.

  6. Sarah Moriah says

    I think you are one dress too many and on pair of purple heels too many. You’ve got three dresses, on top of your sequined skirt which is “dressy”.

    Purple heels? Can’t you wear the black ones with everything?

    Just sayin’ not trying to cramp your style!

    • courtney says

      Sarah, I can’t wear my sandal heels for a few more weeks based on the weather and my purple heels are a must for my pants that are a bit too long for flats. May need to think about the dresses!

      • says

        i love that the purple heels are there do not remove it, you put them on to revamp your look.
        A gal needs a pair of sexy heels
        maybe remove one of the bright coloured tanktop and one of the cardigans and/or one of the dress

        • A. says

          hmmm, don’t lose the heels. color, heel and practical for the pant length, too useful. clearly you also wear tank tops. perhaps drop the flip flops and use sandals or if the sandals have heels (i.e. you love slipping on those flips and go, which I do) how about a pair of stripy sandals, minimal or no heel that can run with chinos, skirts, and sometimes a summer dress. ?

  7. says

    I’d scrap the white capris, but I’m not one to wear white bottoms. Too much dirt!

    I’m also with Sarah in that I’d cut a pair of shoes. If you have one just to wear with one pair of pants, consider hemming the pants instead.

  8. Raven says

    Why 2 black tank tops? Especially if you were either under a blazer, the width of the straps won’t matter, so keep whichever one also works better with night’s out.

    I tend to agree on the purple heels, too (though I don’t know if I would be able to part with purple heels either LOL ). You can hem the slacks to wear with the black heels.

  9. says

    There is a great book from the 80’s called “Working Wardrobe” that talks about building capsule wardrobes out of 12 pieces. The styles are dated but the concept is good. They all mix and match so all the tops go with all the bottoms and you get a very cohesive look. One set was able to make 72 outfits out of the 12 pieces!

  10. says

    My first thought is eliminating one of the black tanks and either the sweatshirt or one of the button downs. Personally, I’m not a big sweatshirt person and a sweater or jacket could function in its place. I would never suggest eliminating shoes or the sequin skirt – it sounds too fabulous!

    • A. says

      I thought of dropping the more casual button down also — a long sleeved shirt in neutral that’s comfy can layer under either your cardigan or pullover. I live in a climate that is basically chilly although warm enough at some point most days that actual winter wear is too hot & my work environment is chilly or quite warm. I’ve been trying to build a small wardrobe, interchangeable and current. Most useful to me are the thin undershirts, long sleeved with a light weight sweater over — dress sweaters of — very functional for changes in temperature, most pieces in charcoal/black/eggplant which all pop with a scarf, luckily I love to wear a scarf so works for me & is another warmth layer if needed.

  11. Maren says

    To me it looks like one of the black tanks and one of the dresses would be the way to go. I would fight for the purple heels. You gotta let your color pop sometimes!

  12. Min says

    I’d have to say the chinos and the flipflops, because I loathe them, especially flipflops.

  13. says

    I’m not sure if you’ve made the decision yet, but if it were my list, I’d cut the skinny strap black tank (wide straps=more useful; can be worn as a layer or on its own), and as much as I love orange, probably the orange tank as the other ones will work great with everything already.

  14. says

    Hi Courtney, I have just started project 333 for the first time. You have been a huge influence on me. I too am looking to create four capsule wardrobes and this will be the main focus of my blog.

    Keep the skirt in please, I want to see those pics!

  15. Laura says

    I think I would get rid of the flip-floops (bad for your feet!) ad the black tank with the skinny straps. Like Beverly above, the wider strapped tank is more versatile. Just don’t let go of those purple shoes!

  16. sam says

    i was wondering about capsule wardrobes for younger girls? could you help me out? thanks!

    • says

      Sam – I think it’s easy for little girls, but probably tougher for teenagers. How old is the girl you’re working with? I’m working on my daughter’s Project 333 wardrobe, starting her in May. She’s 2, and her outfits are largely mix-and-match. She has 3 shorts, 2 skirts, and 6 tee shirts that can all be paired together to make dozens of different outfits. They’re all teal/purple/pink, which she’s happy with. She also has a few dresses with leggings, and the leggings could be paired with the tees and skirts for even more options.

  17. courtney says

    One item eliminated itself. The clasp on my Sayulita bracelet is broken. Still on the chopping block: flip flops and pinstripe button down.

    Thanks for protecting my purple heels and sequined skirt!

    • A. says

      every girl can use a bit of blam ! Keep the pinstripe – multi use & flips are bad for your feet (the most common kinds).

  18. ModernMinimalist says

    Hi. You gyus have inspired one girl from Wales (UK) to give this project a go. I’ve actually ended up with less than 33 items – although I have about 8 work items which I’ve not sorted yet. Anyone else a lover of maxi dresses? These can be used all year round. These are best bought from high quality brands and mainly solid colours (subjective). Also, blck leggings – again from extra high quality brands. There a few tunic and all-occasion tops in my less=more wardrobe. Jewellry is down to one ring and one necklace (everyday). Girls – use your hair as your main accessory lol.

    Loving all your comments!!

    • toni says

      Please expand your thoughts about maxi dresses. I live in the mid southern united states. I only wear maxi dresses at night around the pool when it is hot sticky and the air is perfect for drinking mint julips. I guess I had never thought of wearing them in the winter.

  19. warmwinter1969 says

    I would get rid of the purple heels (never wear interesting shoes= my 1st rule) and get rid of the orange tank (orange is a color which is rarely flattering)

  20. says

    Why can’t you just keep 35 and vow not to get any more until you’re ready to give up one or more of the 35?

  21. JulieB says

    Hello. I wondered what you eliminated from this final list.
    I find this very helpful. I’ve been inspired to edit my clothing down after reading the Zero Waste Home;
    however, I know out of practicality I would not be able to go as minimal as the author there; she lives in California; I live outside of Chicago. Your blog has really helped me with the idea of getting started. It’s been a while since I’ve done my first major steps toward minimizing items in my life and I’ve subsequently returned to the workforce part-time and lost weight, so I’m overdue. :)

  22. says

    i am trying to joing the progect, but the tuff thing is not that i have a lot of clothes…. i am attending school (2 pairs of scrubs) and working in the restaurant (black pans, 3 colored shorts, 2 apinse…. + work shoes) and all the underware and soks, and snekers for runing and the work out outfit!!!!! I dont know what to start up with???? :)

  23. Ann W says

    Love love love this!! Can’t wait to start! Went to look for a couple of pieces to fill in that would work better (tops,etc.) and found I was so much more focused; less overwhelmed about in the dept store. Ended up leaving without a purchase but that’s a GOOD thing; means I’m more likely to only buy something I love & will wear alot rather than because it’s on sale!

    • A. says

      Fashion can be minimalistic. Indeed the most classic looks require minimal pieces that mix and match easily.
      My hairdresser taught me that every woman has one wash and go look — and from reading I learned that most of us have one killer look that we feel good in AND flatters us — think Audrey Hepburn, pencil slacks and white long sleeved shirt with flats — find your best look and stick with it is the mantra of many a fashion magazine editor.
      It’s the reason we reach for a shirt in our closet and then pass it by to the one we truly enjoy wearing, that one we pass by is the one I struggle to get rid of myself.
      Unlike Marilyn Streeps’s character in Devil Wears Prada many of them working 65+ hour a week gals in the fashion industry don’t have the budget or the time to dress to such an excess daily & “fashion” doesn’t require it.
      BTW I am that girl in The Devil Wears Prada — I had absolutely no interest in clothing or fashion (luckily this didn’t hold me back in career or finding a great man) in fact kind of looked down my nose at it until about 6 months ago, go figure. It’s fun, I discovered I have a knack for style (mine and friends) & creating beauty for myself is a wonderful thing. Since I am analytically minded this is my artistic outlet & I’m loving it.

      • A. says

        That said letting go of the old, outdated and worn out pieces is difficult for me.
        Recently I read, letting go is not the same as doing without.
        It helped me.

  24. Mary says

    Hi. I am really keen to start this, but have my wedding next year to save for so cash is a bit tight so this project may have to wait until next year! :-( By the way, can I ask what you guys did/are doing with all your old clothes? It feels wrong chucking them, do you give them away or sell them on ebay, or..? Thanks!

    • A. says

      garage sale girl ! money for the wedding. and get your new pieces the same way or the local goodwill on discount days. i’ve been buying quality there since the 80’s. Cheap designer heels as well.

  25. Liz C says

    This is where I have soooo much trouble… my wardrobe at the mo basically consists of 2 pars of jeans and 4 vest tops….. I really have to start from scratch…. and Im not where/how to start.
    Im a SAHM at the moment so I have no need for suits or any sort of formal clothing. We dont go out on a night or on holiday really/ regularly…. so all I really wear is my clean toilets and fetch n feed kids uniform (jeans and vest top)…. and my gym clothes (1 pair leggings and a baggy tee).
    Im just finding this sooooo hard.

  26. Amanda says

    Some reasons to have a capsule wardrobe are to save money, make sure you love everything in your wardrobe, make space in your closet so you can see the clothes, have things which work well together…

    You’ve already bought the 35 items, you love everything, 2 items won’t make a significant difference to closet space and two more pieces adds possible 15 more outfits. Keep ’em all, I’d say! :)

    If you’re determined to lose 2 things, 5 shirts seems like quite a lot to me… 😉

  27. liz says

    lol, well you are the wkd witch of the west arn’t you??
    35 is fine!
    Congratulate yourself on the chioces you’ve made- all 35 of them honey.

  28. says

    A capsule wardrobe should be the backbone of your wardrobe, not a seasonal thing. It must be conformed by staple pieces. Staples are basically your neutrals. Neutrals are just like a blank canvas that you can build your outfits on…

    • courtney says

      That is up to you. I could count each piece individually, but if it helps you to count as one, that’s fine. Make the experiment work for you!

  29. Kristin MB says

    I’d dump either the black skirt, especially if you can wear your black dress in a way that looks like you have a black skirt on. I’d also stick with just one of the black tanks.

  30. says

    Well for a start I wouldn’t be counting your sunglasses. In this day and age sunglasses are a necessity to protect your eyes, not just a fashion accessory, I don’t count mine in my P333 and I would maybe think twice about the chinos (unless you absolutely love them and they go with all your tops).

    But whatever don’t sweat about it, if just for one season you have 35, is it the end of the world, we won’t tell :-)

  31. Yoda says

    If I may add a comment, I believe that the whole point is to help you find the least number of pieces that are required to cover your personal needs as a private, professional, what-ever entity of your life and at the same time help you in seeing clothes as investment material instead of a shopaholic!! As in a subject called in maths “non linear differential equations the variables change according to the time, person, needs etc thus a person’s capsule wardrobe could be not be working for another person. In my opinion if you have 35 pieces by which you are happy with do not drop any of them. I could say the same to someone who has 82 pieces BUT everything is necessary for her way of living

  32. Vicki says

    Lose the chinos. You can wear the jeans instead. I’d also get rid of the denim shirt if you really must lose another item.

  33. Kristen B says

    I saw an organization tip that might work for Project 333 ladies with a few too many things on their list, like the author!
    When hanging up your clothes, put the hangers on the rod backwards. When you wear something, you put it back on forwards. At the end of a specific set of time, anything that is still backwards goes, bc you don’t wear it.

    To me, though, I don’t think “fancy” items should be included in someone’s 333. Maybe you only wear your sequined skirt a few times a year- to weddings or fancy parties- but it’s your signature fancy item. I wouldn’t get rid of it, nor would I count it, bc I wouldn’t wear it all the time but I do wear it.

  34. Patti Burnett says

    I don’t have any suggestions as I am so new to this Project. I have recently pared down my closet from over 100 items to a very small amount. (I haven’t counted, but I would say less than 20). I am trying to wrap my head around the pairing of like items to make multiple outfits from a few choice items. (I’m sure I’ll get there in due time). I do love how much room my tiny closet has now!

  35. says

    Excuse me if I missed something as I was reading the article, but why do accessories like your bracelets have to be included? Surely they are so sentimental that you should not count them? And I would think jewellery and other accessories like scarves or hair accessories wouldn’t be included, because they can completely change up an outfit. They are also generally cheaper to buy and more likely to change with each season. Instead of constantly updating your clothes, you can purchase small accessory items to change your closet.
    I’m in the middle of creating my own capsule wardrobe and your post is helpful, but I am choosing not to include the accessories in the final count of the capsule wardrobe (but shoes will be included).

    • courtney says

      Simone, You don’t have to include them, but Project 333 is a challenge to wear 33 items (including jewelry, accessories, clothing & shoes) for 3 months. People change up the rules all the time to make it more approachable.

  36. Darbla says

    I wear nice-fabric yoga pants as dressier pants. Then they have double duty, and the non-exercisers (every single person there) in my office have no clue I’m wearing workout pants every day to work.


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