How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe for Work

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
June 13, 2024 at 4:45PM UTC

Upgrading your work wardrobe but not sure where to start? Consider establishing a capsule wardrobe for yourself.

What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe made up of a select number of pieces that you can constantly mix and match to make unique outfits. It's a minimalist wardrobe that'll last you years (and trends).
The Business of Fashion defines a capsule wardrobe as such: "The idea was to create a capsule wardrobe that features only the most essential or influential pieces from a collection. A capsule collection is essentially a condensed version of a designer’s vision, often limited edition, which transcends seasons and trends by being functional."

What Should Be Included in Your Capsule Wardrobe?

Your capsule wardrobe should include a number of essential pieces. That said, your capsule wardrobe should still be reflective of your unique style and personality.
"While the fashion industry utilizes capsule collections in order to produce an air of exclusivity and a designer’s artistic expression, capsule wardrobes are more about personal style," according to The Business of Fashion. "Most of the individuals who have become capsule wardrobe experts got into the game because they were tired of “decision fatigue.” Our consumerist culture and fast fashion have tricked us into believing that we must own everything. The result is a stuffed closet full of clothes that we very well may never wear. Capsule wardrobes push us to think more about what clothing we actually wear, and whether we truly need each piece in our closet. Buy less, wear more, and find high-quality."
Your capsule wardrobe should include between about 24 and 50 pieces, including your clothing, shoes and accessories. Here are five main essentials to your capsule wardrobe.

1. Shirts

Photo via Ann Taylor
Photo via Ann Taylor
Your shirts should be professional for work but easy to dress down to go from the office to happy hour and into the weekends. They should also come in basic, neutral colors so that you can wear them often by pairing them with different pants and skirts.
You can find great work shirts at Ann Taylor. The brand offers an extensive collection of flattering, feminine and modern shirts, from tops and blouses to sweaters. Take, for example, the Clip Dot Boatneck Blouse ($79.50) — it's a loosely-fitted, long-sleeved, boatneck blouse made with clip dot chiffon and wide button cuffs and a shirttail hem. And it's perfect for both your morning meeting and your after-work cocktail plans. Plus, since this top is black with a simple black polka dot design, it can easily be paired with a fancier suit jacket to dress it up or a pair of jeans to dress it down.
Your work shirts will cost you about $50 to $200, depending on where you shop. If you shop at Ann Taylor, you're looking at about $50 to $80 a piece.

2. Pants/Skirts

Photo via This Is a Day
Photo via This Is a Day
Your pants should be versatile in that you can dress them up or down. They should also pair well with all types of tops, whether you want to wear a blouse with a suit jacket or an oversized sweater. In every capsule wardrobe, you should make sure to have at least a single pair of jeans, a pair of black trousers that can be fancier and a pair or light-wash or white pants for the spring and summer months. As for skirts, you can have a little more fun with pleats, materials like leather, denim or wool, and patterns like plaid. 
You can find great work pants at This Is a Day. The Turn It up Pant ($125), for example, is a tapered trouser that looks and feels good thanks to the super soft and breathable material and elestic waistband. You can pair these pants with a tank or a T-shirt outside of the office or a blouse when you have to go into work.
Your work pants will cost you about $100 to $300, depending on where you shop. If you shop at This Is a Day, you're looking at about $100  to $135 a piece.

3. Jumpsuits/Dresses

Photo via Everlane
Photo via Everlane
Your dresses should be a fun part of your wardrobe. You'll want to make sure you have one for each possible occasion — from a fancier event like a wedding, to a work event like a formal meeting or conference, to an ordinary day at the office, as well as for when you go out with your friends or partner.
You can find great work dresses at Everlane. The Japanese GoWeave Long-Sleeve Mini Wrap Dress ($110), for example, is a do-it-all wrap dress that can take you from the office to a dinner date after work (and it's wrinkle-free, so it'll last you all day and night). The above-the-knee dress features three-quarter tulip sleeves and a tie waist, which makes it ideal for dressing up and down.
Your work dresses will cost you about $100 to $300, depending on where you shop. If you shop at Everlane, you're looking at about $30  to $165 a piece.

4. Shoes

Photo via Steve Madden
Photo via Steve Madden
Your shoes should be comfortable so that you know you'll actually wear them — after all, that's the whole point of a capsule wardrobe. Every capsule wardrobe should include at least a few pairs of shoes: casual sneakers, work-out sneakers, sandals, wedges, high heels, booties, boots and flats (unless, of course, you never wear one of those).
You can find great work shoes at Steve Madden. Take, for example, the suede Irene Nubuck heel ($79.95). It's a short, two-inch heel that comes in neutral colors like tan or black, and it can easily be dressed up or down. Pair this heel with a pencil skirt or a pair of jeans and, either way, it'll look great.
Your work shoes will cost you a varying amount, depending on both where you shop and what kind of shoes you go for (heels and boots will likely cost more than sandals and flats, for example).

5. Accessories

Photo via Kate Spade
Photo via Kate Spade
Your accessories should reflect your personality. This is your chance to make each outfit in your capsule wardrobe unique with a statement necklace, a fun scarf, a colorful purse or an eye-catching ring, for example.
You can find great work accessories at Kate Spade, which offers a range of jewelry and purses. The Andi Canteen Bag ($298), for example, will add a pop of color to any one of your work outfits, and it will also fit well with a sundress for brunch on the weekends. The Italian-leather bag is a modern take on the classic, feminine hatbox shape, which means it'll sit upright on your desk without spilling over, too.
Your work accessories will cost you a varying amount, depending on both where you shop and what kind of accessories you go for.

Why Are Capsule Wardrobes a Major Key to Success?

Capsule wardrobes are a major key to success for a number of reasons. For one, they take the decision anxiety out of your morning routine. This means that, instead of worrying about what you're going to wear to a major meeting, a job interview or a conference, you already have an idea of what will work.
Secondly, a capsule wardrobe clears your closet of clutter. This is because everything that's in your closet is stuff you definitely wear — or it wouldn't be part of the capsule collection. And a wealth of research suggests that cleaning up clutter is key to leading a healthier, happier and far more productive lifestyle.
And then, of course, creating a capsule wardrobe teaches you a lesson that's applicable to all things in life, including your career: living with intention.
"[A capsule wardrobe is] a practice of editing your wardrobe down to your favorite clothes (clothes that fit your lifestyle and body right now), remixing them regularly, and shopping less often and more intentionally," Caroline Rector of Unfancy has said.
Living with intention, whether that means curating your closet essentials or using your time wisely in the workplace, is a valuable life lesson that certainly leads to success.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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