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The budget friendly way to create a career wear wardrobe capsule is to use items that can be remixed to create several different outfits. That means purchasing many separates and fewer standalone pieces. Whether you’re building a business casual wardrobe from scratch, or just looking to fill in capsule gaps, the information in this post will help you to choose the right pieces and in the right quantities.
But first, a big disclaimer. All guidelines are made to be broken! This would be my starting point with a client who had the goal of building an efficient professional capsule, but by the end of our process things would almost certainly look different to the blueprint.
Colours, Patterns and Textures
The first thing you need to do is choose a colour palette to simplify the mixing and matching. Neutrals are especially simple to remix, but adding the right amount of colour can look just as professional. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the specific colour palette you choose, but generally you need some conservative neutrals as the base, and colourful hues to make things interesting.
For example, black, grey and white, with splashes of teal and amethyst. Or brown, camel and cream as the base, with chartreuse and antique blue as the pops of colour.
More often than not I find myself encouraging my clients to add more colour to their professional capsule, even in small doses, because it adds variety and livens up their outfits. The easiest way to do this is through tops, cardigans, handbags, necklaces and scarves. Dresses and footwear are next on the list. Coloured bottoms are also fab, but they require a little more forethought in the wardrobe building process.
The next question is prints versus solids. You need to be thoughtful here, because while solid items are easier to remix, patterns add an attractive oomph. As an easy guideline, add patterns through tops, dresses and scarves and leave the rest solid.
Finally, be sure to remember texture. Items in luscious fabrications with interesting textures kick up the style quotient of an outfit. Try to incorporate items with fabulous textures into the capsule.
With the colours, patterns and textures under control, let’s break it down into item quantities.
- 5 tops: One top for each day of the week that can be worn both on its own AND as a layering piece to maximize remixing. There is nothing stopping you from selecting 5 solid knit tops, but I’m willing to bet you’ll pretty soon yearn for a change. So mix up the styles and fabrications for extra variety. For example, purchase two blouses, a button down shirt, and two knit tops. Keep some solid and some printed. Incorporate colour!
- 3 bottoms: Add trousers and/or skirts. Pencil skirts are usually easier to match up with tops so stick to pencil skirts instead of flared skirts. If you feel comfortable wearing trouser jeans to work, add them in here.
- 3 toppers: Add jackets and/or cardigans to layer over tops. Choose an assortment of colours and styles.
- 1 dress: A solid straight sheath dress is a no brainer because it’s easy to layer over it and underneath it. But by all means, use the dress to introduce colour and pattern into the capsule. Make sure that at least one of the toppers works over the dress.
- 2 handbags: Swapping out a handbag makes an outfit look and feel completely different so I’m going to be a devil and suggest two handbags, one in neutral and one in colour.
- 3 scarves: These are optional, but scarves are highly effective at changing up an outfit. Adding a patterned scarf to a solid top creates a totally different look. Incorporate colour!
- 4 necklaces: You might be more of an earrings and bracelet gal, but necklaces are more noticeable, which is what you’re after if your outfits are to look noticeably different from one day to the next. Purchase necklaces in different lengths, metals and colours.
- 2 belts: These are also optional. Figure out how you like to wear belts and add a few to the capsule. Waist cinching belts and skinny belts are fab over tops. Tucked-in tops look great with belted trousers.
I find that an effective professional capsule normally needs 3 to 4 pairs of shoes. Pumps are versatile because they work with trousers, dresses and skirts. Choose at least one pair to bookend your hair color, another in a colour and another in an animal print. The last pair is probably best in another neutral. Mary janes, T-straps, peep toes, shooties, oxfords and sling backs provide plenty of heeled pump style variety so think further than a basic pump. Throw in a pair of dressy flats if you like them paired with dresses and skirts.
Outlining a capsule in this way makes it seem that you need to start from scratch and get it all at once. That is seldom the case, even when I work with clients that overhaul their entire wardrobe. The capsule gives you something to aim for, helps you to identify gaps and ensures that the budget you set aside is spent where it is needed most.
When the capsule is in more or less in place, you can either build onto it (e.g. the same base neutrals with a different colour as an accent), or start another professional capsule in a completely different colour palette.
Once again, these are merely guidelines that can serve as a starting point. Create your own blueprint that takes into account your specific situation. And remember that the goal is to ensure maximum remixing potential, so it is important to think about the capsule as a whole. The effort will pay off. There will be fewer wardrobe orphans, and as you get good use out of the capsule, the cost per wear of individual items will whittle down to nothing. It will feel great knowing that you are getting the biggest bang for your fashion buck.
Over to you. Does this blueprint resonate with you, and how does it differ from your professional wardrobe capsule?