A useful way to determine whether an item deserves a place in your wardrobe is by assessing its style potential on three levels. First, assess the piece as an item. Second, assess it as one part of an outfit. Third, assess it as a component in one or more wardrobe capsules. Applying the “item-outfit-capsule test” helps you to make more informed decisions. This is how to eliminate closet orphans, ensure easy outfit integration, and get the biggest bang for your fashion buck. 

By way of example, here’s how I recently used the item-outfit-capsule test to determine whether this Rebecca Taylor combo sweater deserved a place in my wardrobe. We were in Neiman Marcus. Greg had just spotted the item and had offered to buy it for my birthday.

Let the testing process begin: 


First I assessed whether the piece was flattering and comfortable, worked for my lifestyle, was aligned with my current style goals, and whether I felt fab wearing it. YES was my response to all of these questions. I loved the colour, the non-itchy warmth factor, the simple design, the modern cut, the mixed use of fabrications, the refined gauge of the knit, the dropped shoulder seams and the high neckline. The item was off to a good start earning a spot in my wardrobe. 


Next I imagined how I would style the item in an outfit. The first thing that grabbed me was that the item can be dressed up or down because of its fine gauge knit. Wearing it with jeans is a no-brainer, but I asked myself which non-denim bottoms would work with this style of pullover. I came up with cigarette pants, wide tailored trousers, slouchy tapered trousers, classic bootcut trousers, cropped pants, pencil skirts and harem pants. Check. I have all these bottoms covered in my wardrobe. 

I realized that I would not be able wear my tailored blazers over the sweater because it’s too bulky, but that’s okay because I could wear it over a white button down shirt and add a leather jacket or coat for insulation. Sorted. Purchasing this sweater was still an option.


Finally, I thought about how the sweater would work across a few wardrobe capsules. A capsule is a group of wardrobe items that work together, and nothing more complicated than that. I wear a lot of black, white and cream and have an assortment of both dressy and casual items in these neutrals. I love this sweater’s shade of blue with black, white and cream so it fits right into capsules that are built around those colours. And because of the styling details, the sweater would work in both casual and dressy capsules. 

I could also see the sweater working with my smaller but growing citron and tomato red capsules. Throw in patterns like stripes, checks, dots and animal print and the mix-and-match possibilities just kept on growing. 

After having these conversations with myself in the dressing room, this piece passed the item-outfit-capsule test with flying colours. The sweater has earned a well deserved spot in my wardrobe and I’m excited to wear it as soon as the weather cools. 

Although this particular piece has a multitude of styling possibilities with the items already in my wardrobe, that needn’t be the case for all new purchases. It’s totally fine to bring home an item, or keep an existing one, with the intention of purchasing more to wear with it over time. That’s why we think in terms of wardrobe capsules. The point is that it’s worthwhile to think through these questions before you commit to keeping an item. That way you’ll know how to wear it and what you need in order to enjoy it to its fullest.