It’s important to look at your wardrobe as a whole. It should be a collection of pieces that relate to each other. If it isn’t, you’ll end up with a collection of items you love, but that are hard to pull together into outfits. This leads to the all too common feeling of having lots of stuff and nothing to wear. That’s why I suggest thinking about your wardrobe in terms of three wardrobe capsule archetypes: mix-and-match capsules, category capsules and activity capsules. It takes discipline to manage your wardrobe and plan your purchases this way, but you will reap the reward.

The capsule approach is not for everyone. And even if you do plan your wardrobe carefully it’s hard to always have it top of mind. It is useful to have shortcuts to help you make decisions while you’re shopping. One of these is what I call the wardrobe orphan prevention test. It has two steps, the first one being to ask yourself the following simple question before you make a purchase:

Can I think of at least three different, complete outfits that combine this item with other items in my wardrobe?

I went through this thought process when I recently purchased J.Crew’s Maddie Pant in red.

  • It would work well with several of my white tops, combined with white footwear and a belt.
  • I liked the idea of combining them with some of my light blue tops.
  • I love blush with tomato red and white, so the red pants would work with my blush tops, blush belt, blush or white moto jacket, and white footwear.
  • The red pants would work well with my citron trench coat and tops.

The number of potential outfits put my mind at ease, so I purchased the pants. 

Since outfits that you create in your head don’t always work out in practice, step two of the test is to try on the item in the outfit combinations you imagined and make sure that it has earned a spot in your wardrobe. 

My outfit creation session with the new red pants confirmed that they do work well with my white shirts and new white loafers and booties. They also look nice with my light blue pullover and shirts. They did not work with my blush tops because the silhouettes and weights aren’t the best match for the style of pants. I also didn’t fancy the pants with my moto jackets, but loved them with blazers and trench coats. So I started creating outfits with my ink blazerseersucker blazertartan blazer and citron trench coat. These toppers, which I didn’t consider when I was looking at the red pants in store, opened up a whole new world of patterned and solid tops that I could work into the outfits. As a result, even more outfits were created, and the red pants passed the test with flying colours.

It is a privilege that we can purchase items and return them if they don’t work out. It means that we can use the best dressing room of all — the one in our home — to confirm that the items we buy can be incorporated into outfits that we love.