by Izzy Chiang
Okay, what even is a capsule wardrobe? It’s a concept often tied to sustainable fashion and minimalism, essentially a method to help reuse, reduce, and (not really recycle) our consumption of clothing and textiles. And, no, it’s not when clothes magically appear out of Ubiquitous acorn-shaped capsules for single use purposes like in the middle-grade novel Grounded. Actually, it’s basically the opposite. Capsule wardrobes are not wear-it-once, good for just a mere 24 hours. They are a collection of clothing pieces, designed to have as little items as possible while still retaining a high re-wearability with distinct and different-enough outfit permutations.
I kind of really like shopping. Even if I know I’m not actually going to buy anything or it’s just to get some groceries, there’s just something really comforting and nice about going to a store. Or it’s just because there weren’t a lot of other places to go for the last 1.5 years except Target for the fourth time of the week. While shopping is definitely enjoyable and pretty necessary, there’s also something that needs to be acknowledged of it: the type of consumer culture that literally is figuratively consuming society, especially because of the media and in the lovely country of the United States. In categories like personal electronics or fast fashion, consumer culture is particularly prevalent. Everyone wants the new iPhone. Everyone wants the new trend of the fashion micro-season, whether it’s a House of Sunny hockney dress or JW Pei Gabbi bag.
Obviously, this model of consumption is not sustainable. I’m probably never going to quit shopping forever, but I think it is important to think of what we buy carefully and look for places where we can consider reducing consumables. Cost per wear is the idea of breaking down the initial upfront cost listed on the price tag by how many times you’re actually going to rewear it. Capsule wardrobes reduce the amount of clothing items you actually need, as well as raising the cost per wear of each individual item as you cycle through the pieces more quickly. It also kind of forces you to be more creative about the outfit permutations you put together, instead of relying on new pieces to create the look.
For my single week experiment with a capsule wardrobe, I decided to choose ten frequently worn items from my existing mess of a closet. These items consisted of: a white buttoned blouse, brown flared pants, a black pleated skirt, a comfy navy blue varsity stripe sweater, a colour blocked top that I crocheted, black cargo plants, a black lace tied cardigan, a taupe crop top, doc martens, and platform mary janes. I also chose three accessories: layered silver necklaces, a tortiseshell claw clip, and a circular chain linked belt. The overall colour palette was pretty neutral, mainly dark colours that I normally gravitate towards so I knew they would likely not clash too badly. I’d recommend including items that pair well with a variety of outfits for a capsule wardrobe, as well as picking a wide selection of garment types.
I honestly thought I would get kind of frustrated as the week went on due to running out of clothes to wear. What I couldn’t come up with anymore creative outfits? What if I had a day where I needed a dress? What if it rained and I didn’t have a raincoat? Thankfully none of the above happened, especially considering living in California. It might have been because it was only a week, but the capsule wardrobe worked well. The downside and the upside of a capsule wardrobe is the small selection of clothing pieces. Long term, you’d probably hit an occasion where the capsule wardrobe stops working. However, it does really help to realize what pieces you actually wear often and reduce clothing consumption. Well, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, this experiment basically confirmed that I wear pleated skirts a lot. And I’d say that it was interesting and insightful for my clothing choices, and helped me think about the reduce and reuse aspects of eco-friendly consumption. Recycling is important, but perhaps it is even more so to consider reducing and reusing first.