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How to build a capsule wardrobe, according to four Australians who have one

WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

Advice on how to curate your own tightly edited closet essentials.

My wardrobe is overly stuffed and it’s truly embarrassing. It’s like that scene in 27 Dresses when Katherine Heigl is maddeningly trying to hide her overflowing closet of bridesmaid dresses from James Marsden. It takes a lot of manpower just to physically close the drawers of my cupboards, so much so, I’ve basically given up and just have piles of clothes scattered on my floors like debris.


For more sustainable style features, head to our Fashion section.


It seems hypocritical of me to also tell you that I’m on a sustainable fashion journey. Because of course, one of the biggest root problems of unethical fashion is overconsumption. I wanted to know how to slowly build my own capsule wardrobe, so I turned to four women in the sustainability space for answers.

From being critical of fabrics and quality to understanding your personal style and making the most out of accessories, these are just some of the things to take into consideration when you’re downsizing your wardrobe.

Chloe Naughton, Melbourne Fashion Festival’s fashion programmer

What are your core, must-have pieces in your closet?

Because winter is upon us (and it’s my favourite season), these are my winter capsule must-haves. A great pair of comfortable jeans that are stylish and a flattering cut for your body shape. A warm winter coat, a killer blazer, a classic trench, a few great pairs of trousers (I’m a pants person) and a pair of warm and excellent quality leather boots.

Also a pair of leather flats, a silk slip skirt, a few cotton shirts, a huge scarf that you will wear every single day and a 100 per cent woollen jumper that will get you all the way through winter. You could also throw in a puffer jacket. I don’t have this yet but have my eye on this one from Acne to add to my wardrobe this year.

What materials, silhouettes, design elements should people be looking out for?

My advice would be to stick to all-natural materials and fibres and to steer away from anything acrylic and polyester. Natural fibres will keep you warmer in winter, cooler in summer and will generally look and feel better on your skin. The first thing I look at is the general cut and design of the garment, and then I look at the fabric. If it’s not a natural fibre, it’s a no from me. It’s that simple.

For silhouettes and design elements, I look to Arnsdorf. Its founder, Jade Sarita Arnott, has really built her brand on an ethos that I really believe in. Arnsdorf is an Australian-owned and made brand with really classic designs, with very interesting modern twists on everyday wardrobe staples.

Why do you have a capsule wardrobe?

I actually didn’t go out all those years ago with the intention of creating a capsule wardrobe but it’s certainly the frame of mind that I’ve always had without intending to do so. I feel like having a capsule wardrobe means you have a carefully curated and selected wardrobe of high-quality investment pieces. A wardrobe that has a perfect balance between practicality for everyday life and an interesting design focus that accentuates your body type, makes you feel good and is built to last.

To have a capsule wardrobe, you need to have a strong sense of your personal style. A capsule wardrobe is the foundations of your wardrobe that the rest of your wardrobe is built from. It’s taken me years to really finesse my own personal style and to actually build a capsule wardrobe. It can’t be done in one night or even in one year – it takes time.

Any other tips?

Everyone’s capsule wardrobe is going to look different. To begin, you need to know your own style and make educated and selective choices depending on your aesthetic. Of course, this can always naturally change and evolve over the years. I am a big believer in buying to invest. You can’t treat slow fashion like fast fashion.

You need to be considered and concise. Once you have a good idea about your style or the fabrics you are after, go to op shops, secondhand designer stores like Goodbyes, The Real Real and Vestaire Collective.

@chloejnaughton

Jillian Boustred, fashion designer

What are your core, must-have pieces in your closet?

Currently, my core pieces are my knit dresses, linen trench coat and a classic black linen dress. I love beige at the moment and just find it goes well with everything, so I’ve been layering a lot of beige hues to get me through the trans-seasonal phase! A good pair of sneakers, a quality leather jacket and a pair of well-fitting jeans are also core pieces that I live in during winter.

Why do you have a capsule wardrobe?

I really don’t like waste when it comes to my wardrobe so I try to curate my wardrobe as best as possible from basics to accessories and event wear. Quality is really important to me, I love to invest in pieces that are made beautifully and I know I will live in. As I get older, I find myself spending more money on a good T-shirt while it would have been on a summer dress a few years ago!

What have been your biggest challenges? 

It can feel expensive investing in a core wardrobe and sometimes a bit boring because you save up for months to buy a pair of beautiful boots, for example, rather than getting that regular hit of retail therapy when you buy a cheap piece every few weeks. I often see friends in fun new dresses that they purchased from Zara and I feel a bit tempted to go and purchase a few cheap new garments. But it’s much more rewarding when you’re patient and considered with your wardrobe and the cost per wear of your garments will be a lot greater.

@jillianboustred

Rosie Dalton, writer and editor

Photo credit: Sophie Brockwell

What are your core, must-have pieces in your closet?

I tend to dress in a uniform of sustainable basics, classic black blazers and blue denim – particularly mom jeans from the 1980s or responsibly made styles by brands like Neuw Denim. For evening, I will sub in a locally made black slip and dress it up with some vintage accessories.

What materials, silhouettes and design elements should people be looking out for?

Finding the silhouettes that work for you means that you can gravitate towards a tightly edited rotation of uniform pieces that you will wear over and over again. This is ultimately the most sustainable approach. For me, materiality is really important, and I try to look for organic fabrications, circular production processes and closed-loop systems. I am a particular fan of heirloom jewellery with a great story behind it, or interesting pieces handcrafted from recycled metals.

 

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A post shared by Rosie Dalton (@rosie_dalton)

Why do you have a capsule wardrobe?

I find that a capsule wardrobe saves me time getting dressed in the morning – especially now that I have a newborn son – and it also means that I am getting lots of wear out of everything I own. Fashion waste is a huge issue in our society, so this is my small way of rejecting the disposable fashion culture.

What have been your biggest challenges?

It can feel repetitive at times, dressing in the same pieces every day. But it also offers an opportunity to get creative with different ways of styling those pieces. Accessories are my favourite here and, failing that, a bold red lip. When building a capsule wardrobe, it can also be challenging to identify the brands that are actually producing responsibly rather than just greenwashing. But I personally try to shop in a way that reflects my values – gravitating towards well-made pieces that have been crafted using responsible materials and under fair conditions.

Any other tips?

Shop based on what feels true to you, rather than following the latest trends. This will ultimately make your personal style feel more authentic.

@rosie_dalton

Tyla Lockwood, podcaster

What are your core, must-have pieces in your closet?

For me, it’s all about starting with a good base which means a high-quality basic singlet, T-shirt and long sleeve shirt. From there I would suggest a couple of simple bottoms – a pair of jeans, shorts, a skirt and a casual pair of pants (I have been living in a Hemp Temple pair lately). Once those basics are arranged, then I like to add other must-have pieces, like a blazer (oversized or fitted works), some button-up or turtleneck tops and maybe a dress to finish up the wardrobe. The key is to start with your base layer and build from there!

What materials, silhouettes, design elements should people be looking out for?

I try to live as low waste as possible which means I always opt for natural fibres (like linen, hemp, organic cotton) over fibres made of plastics (like polyester). I also find these materials wear quite well over the long term. It is important when building a capsule wardrobe to make sure every new item will suit more than one item you already have.

Why do you have a capsule wardrobe?

I started my capsule wardrobe because I was overwhelmed by the number of items I owned. I continue to have one to this day because it reduces the stress of getting dressed. It also significantly reduces my clothing consumption because I now barely shop for clothes and am more intentional about the new pieces I bring in which reduces my environmental impact.

What have been your biggest challenges?

One major challenge was being conscious about where the items I was removing would end up. Many of them were still good quality and I didn’t want anything to end up in landfill. This meant there were months where I had clothing sitting around my house before I decided what to do with it. Every item I got rid of was either sold, donated or given to a fabric recycler.

Any other tips?

Just because you like an item of clothing doesn’t mean you need to buy it. I used to see a brightly coloured dress or shirt and would buy it but never wear it because it wasn’t really my style, this taught me that I could admire an item without buying it for myself.

@tylalockwood

Find out how you can reduce your closet to just 37 pieces here.

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