Have you decided to try a capsule wardrobe, but are concerned about how to build a quality wardrobe on a budget? I’ve been there. It can be daunting knowing where to start, which is why I’d like to share what I’ve learned about creating a stylish, sustainable wardrobe on a budget.
Think of building your capsule wardrobe like you are building and furnishing your dream home. These are the components.
Foundation and Support
(hard working foundational pieces)
think sturdy jeans
well constructed tailored pants or skirts
classic cashmere crewneck sweaters
well made button down shirts in cotton, linen, or silk
Walls and Structure
think quality basics
tops and tees
structured jackets or a cover up or two
(statement & investment pieces)
think one or two pieces
that truly represent your style
& make a statement
(jewelry and accessories)
think a well structured leather bag
one or two heirloom quality jewelry pieces
Most of us don’t have the budget to completely start a capsule wardrobe from scratch. Using my house analogy, that would be like building a brand new custom home. So what do we do instead? We remodel over time.
Let’s dive in to my capsule wardrobe blueprint for transitioning your existing wardrobe into the capsule wardrobe of your dreams.
Salvage What You Can of Your Current Wardrobe
Before you can successfully budget for your capsule wardrobe you are building, you really need to evaluate your current wardrobe and figure out what you can salvage and what needs replacing.
I’m not going to go into how to declutter your wardrobe in this post because there are so many great resources that can walk you through that process. I will link a few down below for you.
The key though is that you get rid of any clothing and accessory items that are damaged, don’t fit, and anything that you just don’t like or wear. For instance, if it still has the tag on it – you can most likely let it go.
Another tip. Although your end goal is a capsule consisting of quality well-made items, keep pieces of lower quality that still look presentable and have some wear left. They’ll become important fillers as you slowly transition your wardrobe.
A word of caution, if you have items in your wardrobe that you are no longer wearing, but you absolutely loved at one time – keep them and store them away. Pulling once loved items out of storage after some time has passed can be exciting and feel like Christmas.
I’ve also learned from personal experience (from some extreme purges) that as my tastes and preferences ebb and flow with the seasons, there are many items I let go of that I now wish I had.
There is no set number of items you should end up with after the decluttering process. However, if you complete your declutter and you still have 50+ pieces*, I encourage you to repeat the process and/or reconsider if a capsule wardrobe is for you.
*Excluding underwear, lounge wear, workout wear, special occasion wear and necessary outerwear for cold weather.
Make a Need + Wish List
Revisit my house analogy at the beginning of this post. Do you have enough foundational pieces to build your capsule wardrobe off of? The foundational pieces are the building blocks of your wardrobe. You’ll want to make acquiring foundational pieces your first priority if your identified gaps here.
Do you have enough supporting and structural pieces to round it out? Continue evaluating each category.
By going through this process you will discover where your gaps are. For instance, you may discover you are overflowing with items in the structure category, but sorely lacking in the foundation category or vice versa.
Next ask yourself what you can buy secondhand and what you will buy new? While you can buy any of these items secondhand or new, it helps to have a plan. It will narrow down your shopping search and help better determine how you need to budget for your capsule.
Make your list using whatever tool works best for you. It can be in a note on your phone, a style app like Cladwell, handwritten in a journal, or documented in a spreadsheet. Make sure to also include your wish list items such as statement and investment pieces in your list as well.
Once you’ve identified your wardrobe gaps and made your list, the next step is to get focused and commit to buying only those things.
This may require a mindset shift.
Instead of constantly searching for a good deal and thinking you have to have the latest trends, it will require that you say to no impulse shopping. Check out my post on fast fashion if you need additional encouragement saying no.
Create a Clothing Budget
Having a clothing budget has saved me so much money and undue stress. I used to impulse shop without knowing what I could realistically afford to spend. And while I did sometimes find some hits it often resulted in a closet full of cheaply made misses.
It always left me so frustrated because I felt I couldn’t afford to spend more on higher quality pieces. However, this is just a trap and another mindset shift that is needed.
Wake up call. If you’re working with a tight budget, the fact is you’re never going to have enough to buy more expensive higher quality pieces if you’re constantly spending without a plan and throwing your money away on fast fashion.
The act of just creating a budget makes you aware of how much you are spending.
Creating a budget will also help you evaluate your shopping and decide which items you will buy second hand versus new. For example, you may decide to purchase 75% of the items on your list new and allocate the remaining 25% of your budget for buying used and vintage instead.
So, how much should you budget for your capsule?
Most financial planners say that we should spend about 5% of our take home salary on clothing. Therefore, multiply your take home pay by the total number of pay periods you have in a year. Next, divide that amount by 12 to get your monthly take home amount. Lastly, multiply that number by 5% to get your monthly clothing budget amount.
Use this amount as a starting point. In reality, you may have less than this to budget or you may be able to budget more. If the number is way above what you were expecting, take a holistic view of your budget and see if there are other spending categories you can reallocate. You may find you are overspending in some which will allow you to put more towards clothing.
I was actually surprised to learn that I was only spending about half of the recommended percentage so budgeting has actually given me more buying power for my wardrobe.
Once you’ve assessed your budget and know your amount, the next step is just to be strict and save that money.
There are many different methods that you can use for this. I personally use a budgeting software called YNAB. But the good ole envelope method is really popular and free. Just withdraw that cash each month and stick it in an envelope so it is there when you’re ready to shop.
Be Ruthless & Only Purchase Quality
Whether you are purchasing an item from the thrift store or a more expensive item you’ve been saving for. Be ruthless about the quality and construction. I think this is actually much easier to do when purchasing second hand or vintage items because you can see how well the garment has held up to repeated wears.
For new items, keep your focus and don’t get sucked in by a good price or a deal. Give yourself a checklist it must meet in order for you to make the purchase.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Needs to fit or be able to be altered. If it will need to be altered, commit to getting it altered*.
- It must be constructed well, top-stitching is even, seams are sewn properly and don’t pull apart, quality materials, etc.
- It must mix and match with other items in your wardrobe.
*Factor in the cost of the alteration prior to purchase. Simple alterations such as pants hem cost around $10-$25.
If an item does not match these qualifications – walk away. If placing an order online I always recommend that you order multiple sizes. Yes, you are going to have to return item, you have a much higher success rate of getting the right fit.
Armed with your list and your budget you have the tools that you need to be a Savvy Shopper. What does it mean to be a Savvy Shopper? Being a Savvy Shopper means that you are willing to wait for an item to go on sale.
Fight the urge to feel like you have to get every single thing on your list as quickly as possible. That’s why I suggested earlier that you hold onto some items when you do your declutter. You need those filler pieces to help you stay the course.
Otherwise when you are missing key foundational or structural pieces in your wardrobe it can be too tempting to just stock up on something low quality when there’s a deal.
For the items you decide to buy new, don’t buy it at the beginning of the season. Be willing to wait for the end of season sale. There are tools that you can use to alert you like Shoptagr which allows you to create a watch list of items and it will alert you when it is on sale or there is a discount.
Also, get to know the best consignment stores, secondhand shops and vintage clothing retailers in your region or area.
If you always go for quality you can easily mix and match vintage, thrift and second hand finds with more expensive brand new items and still look effortless and chic.
Here are those resources I promised you: