I own five white T-shirts, all by the same brand in the same style. You might find this madness, but to me it is pure joy.
That’s because I’m a devotee of the capsule wardrobe, a concise edit of key pieces that makes getting dressed in the morning a breeze.
My capsule comprises precisely seven items: a pair of tailored trousers, a blazer, a bias-cut black silk slip dress, a button-down shirt, a pair of denim jeans, a cashmere knit and that white T-shirt (Uniqlo U, not too boxy, not too tight).
These pieces have served me well during my years as a fashion journalist, as I wore a blazer with trousers and a shirt for meetings, then pared it back with jeans at the weekend. But recently I’ve noticed myself gravitating towards new pieces that are less tailored and more in tune with my WFH reality in 2021. And it seems I’m not alone.
“The pandemic has reset the way we shop and think about fashion,” says stylist Penny McCarthy, who has been incorporating more oversized shirts, T-shirts, flat shoes and polo-neck knits into shoots. “[The capsule wardrobe] is definitely more relaxed now, and it may even include trackpants.”
The pandemic has reset the way we think about fashion
In the UK, Matchesfashion reports strong growth across its “essentials” category for womenswear, with sales up over 25 per cent since last year for t-shirts and denim. Here in Australia, David Jones and The Iconic attribute an uptick in sales of wardrobe staples to the shift in work and lifestyle brought about by Covid.
“Essential categories are performing well due to the need for a versatile wardrobe that works for our new hybrid lifestyle,” says David Jones general manager of womenswear, footwear and accessories, Bridget Veals. “We are seeing the trench, soft blazer, wider-leg pants and denim category all increasing in sales, while loungewear and the ‘zoom blouse’ continue to grow above double digits.”
The understated ease of these pieces is a world away from the bold and brash runway looks of just a few years ago.
“Designer logos that were already feeling a little ostentatious are the last thing we want to be wearing,” says Sara Crampton, founder of The Undone and long-term proponent of elevated capsule dressing. “We might have done a lockdown induced wardrobe clear out and identified what we gravitate to and what no longer serves us.”
Although there have always been women with enviably refined closets, the concept of a capsule wardrobe really rose to prominence with American designer Donna Karan. In 1985, she launched her Seven Easy Pieces collection of basics with an interchangeable collection of workwear including a tailored jacket, a bodysuit, a skirt and a dress. The point was to make women’s lives easier and more comfortable: a revelation.
The idea went in and out of fashion, as Karan’s pared-back aesthetic gave way to the glam ‘It-girl’ look of the early Noughties, but received a recent reboot when stylist and Vogue Australia fashion director Christine Centenera co-founded Wardrobe NYC with Josh Goot in 2017. As frequent attendees of fashion weeks around the world, the pair wondered why luxury fashion was often out of touch with our everyday lives, and rebooted the capsule wardrobe with a call to customers to buy better and consume less in the sustainability-conscious era.
The New York brand offers bundled sets of clothing such as a blazer and tailored leggings, and an eight-piece tailored set that includes a double-breasted coat, turtleneck, wrap skirt and tuxedo separates. “No one wants that dreaded feeling in the morning of not knowing how to put things together,” Centenera told the Wall Street Journal in April.
But even Centenera’s version of a capsule feels a little fashion with a capital F right now, with its double-breasted blazers and tuxedos (this might be why she’s recently added sportswear and denim to her collections). Far more appealing are the soft knits and cotton shirting of Australian brands such as Jac + Jack, Bassike and Esse Studios.
“We create small capsule collections that you need every day,” says Esse Studios founder Charlotte Hicks. “Each piece in each edition is designed to be worn together and each new edition is designed to be worn with the last, slowly curating the pieces that work for you.”
Wardrobe NYC rebooted the capsule wardrobe
As to how to curate your own capsule wardrobe, it’s worth noting that everyone’s is different.
Penny McCarthy’s includes a trench coat and soft leather pants, while Crampton’s features a longer-length coat and a gold chain necklace and hoop earrings to elevate any outfit.
Parlour X boutique founder Eva Galambos has a ball-gown skirt in hers for fashion shows and work events – “I wear it with magnificent top and jewellery for evening and trainers and a crisp poplin skirt on weekends” – while My Chameleon e-boutique director Giselle Farhat has a pair of chic loafers for running around town on buying appointments.
“Look to pieces that make you feel confident and good when you wear them,” says Farhat.
You could also look to the internet. “A really good way (of curating a capsule wardrobe) is to google celebrities or people whose style you admire,” says McCarthy. “We call it ‘style stalking’ in fashion talk and it’s a great starting point if you are unsure about your style.”
My own capsule wardrobe was originally inspired by the packing list of American writer Joan Didion, which she kept taped to her closet door, she wrote, “during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. This list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do.”
I was working as a travel reporter at the time, so I took note of her concise and cool instructions:
I’ve not packed a bag for an overseas trip for some time now – these days you’ll find me WFH with that mohair throw wrapped around my white Uniqlo T-shirt – but the takeaway from Didion’s list remains. A capsule wardrobe should make life easier, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
“If you’re thinking about your clothes during the day my thoughts are you’re wearing the wrong clothes,” says Crampton. “They should become part of you and allow you to be the most confident version of yourself.”