Working Wardrobe - back cover,showing the 12 piece Capsule Wardrobe concept

The idea of a Capsule Wardrobe is trendy now, but I remember it well from my teens. One writer credits Susie Faux and Donna Karan with the concept, and I do remember Capsule Concept shows at a department store in my youth, but I think of Janet Wallach and Emily Cho as the driving forces behind the idea.

It wasn’t about being minimalist. It was about building a professional wardrobe in a practical, affordable way. We knew — and rereading Cho’s book I think she expressed the idea very well — that how we dressed made a difference in how we were perceived. It made a difference in how we were treated and whether we succeeded in reaching our goals.

“You can’t dress in a neutral way,” Cho said. I heard a speaker once expand on this. You could go naked, she said, but that would really make an impression. Whatever you choose to wear, it says something. We women of the 1980s graduated from college with a couple of dresses best suited to dancing, blue jeans, and T shirts. We needed to be able to dress for our job interviews and then build a wardrobe we could wear confidently to work, paying for it week by week with our paychecks.

We learned that we could choose a neutral and a fashion color, wisely select a dozen pieces of clothing, and have a new outfit every day for a month or more.

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SWAP, or Sewing With A Plan, was based on that same notion. People who like to knit or sew get enthusiastic about something that everyone is making, or just about some idea or garment that looks intriguing, and make things without thought of how those things will fit in their wardrobes. Then there they are with a fuschia Clapotis and chartreuse fingerless mitts, staring at their closets every morning with nothing to wear. By planning a wardrobe — essentially a capsule concept wardrobe – before sewing or knitting, we could instead have a sweater that works with our lifestyle and a skirt that looks good with that sweater, and we can go ahead and get dressed.

Books on the subject generally look at methods for choosing colors, personal style (classic, romantic, etc.), flattering fashion silhouettes, and the way you spend your time. Using this information about yourself, you can plan a wardrobe capsule that will work with your lifestyle and make you feel good when you wear it.

I have gone down a dress size in measurements since the beginning of the year, even though I haven’t lost much weight. Since the last time I bought cool-weather clothing, I’ve lost four dress sizes. So I’m back in my post-college position of actually needing a new wardrobe.

I always like to plan a SWAP each season. It’s a fun project whether I get around to sewing it all up or not. This year, I’m motivated to get the capsule wardrobe made. And of course I took that Craftsy class on how to sew a proper wardrobe, so I have some additional knowledge and skills to deploy.

So I’ll be laying out the plan here at my blog, along with my progress (or lack thereof) with sewing up the SWAP.

This weekend I have a retreat and obviously will not be making any progress on sewing. But I can set out my plans and be ready to dive in when I have the time.

The images above are from Working Wardrobe by Janet Wallach. That book is out of print. Other books on the subject:

  • Looking Good by Nancy Nix-Rice
  • The Triumph of Individual Style by Carla Mason Mathis
  • Always in Style by Doris Pooser
  • Color with Style by Donna Fujii
  • Color Me Confident by Hamlyn

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