If you’re even tangentially interested in fashion, you’ve probably heard of what’s called a capsule wardrobe. At its most basic definition, a capsule wardrobe is an interchangeable set of basic wardrobe staples that you can mix and match to create an (almost) endless supply of outfits. The benefit, of course, is that you have a preselected batch of outfits to choose from, which makes getting ready for work in the morning a cinch. (You’re also less likely to impulse shop if you can’t figure out more than a handful of ways to incorporate it into your existing capsule wardrobe.)
What is a capsule wardrobe?
“A capsule wardrobe forces you to think more purposefully about your personal style,” says Aemilia Madden, a fashion writer and consultant. “Choose pieces that not only make getting dressed easier but better reflect what fashion and dressing up means to you.”
And stylist Kathryn Typaldos, who’s based out of Los Angeles, agrees: “Having a semblance of a uniform — which is what a capsule wardrobe really is — alleviates any stress of choosing an outfit from scratch,” she says. “Plus, because you’re using a foundation of classics, the right capsule wardrobe should feel timeless.” That doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, though, especially based on what sort of job you have. “You can use your own means to refine and subvert these basics as a way of self-expression.”
Capsule wardrobe checklist
But how do you start to build a capsule wardrobe for work? Well, you start with the basics. According to Typaldos, that can include pieces like a great-fitting trouser, the perfect white button-down, a blazer, a classic heel and a boot, among a few other pieces that are more climate- and dress code-driven. In addition to adjusting your capsule wardrobe based on your office culture, “The capsule wardrobe should be interpreted through a coastal lens as well,” she says. “If you’re in a cooler climate, chunky, lug-sole boots might take the place of sneakers — and if you’re in a warmer climate, you can probably ditch a turtleneck in favor of a great crewneck sweater.”
Capsule wardrobe essentials for women
“Play with the idea of fit and silhouette, dress things up and down, but when you have these elemental pieces for winter, you can transfer them from season to season,” Typaldos says. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of pieces, they’re definitely the most fundamental parts of a capsule wardrobe for women.
Mango High-Waist Straight Pants ($49.99, originally $59.99; mango.com)
The perfect pair of pants is subjective, but as long as they’re well tailored and make you feel confident, that’s all that matters.
Anine Bing Mika Shirt ($179; shopbop.com)
Wear it tucked into trousers or jeans, or as a great layering piece when the weather cools down.
Velvet Ember Dress ($218; shopbop.com)
Instead of a traditional sleeveless shift dress, lean into your own style with a fun sweater dress in a neutral-adjacent hue, like this forest green style.
Nilah Oversized Blazer ($299; thefrankieshop.com)
While you can opt for black or navy, a light-colored blazer makes for a great layering piece. The oversized fit feels modern yet timeless too.
Afends Organic Denim Straight Leg Jean ($110; afends.com)
“These relaxed black jeans are the anchor of so many great winter outfits,” says Madden. “They’re easy to style with boots, can be dressed up with the addition of a blouse, but can also be thrown on with a sweatshirt and sneakers. I prefer a high rise with room through the legs”
The Air Scoop-Neck Tee ($30; everlane.com)
The idea of a “perfect white tee” can change from person to person, but this scoop-neck from Everlane is a real crowd-pleaser.
Veda Canal Boxy Cropped Moto Jacket ($498; thereformation.com)
Veda’s slim fit leather jacket is a cult favorite among fashion insiders.
Kaye Block Heel Bootie Vince ($395; nordstrom.com)
Reviewers say this boot is one of the most versatile they’ve ever owned. “This boot is comfortable out of the box,” says one. “Heel height is perfect. They are a wonderful height for cropped pants, but they look lovely with dresses too.” Sold yet?
Nike Air Force 1 ($100; nike.com)
“For winter, I tend toward leather sneakers with a thicker sole to keep my feet protected,” says Madden. “Air Force 1s are a great example of a shoe that is simple but hits everything on the checklist.” If they’re too casual for the office, keep them stowed under your desk for when it’s time to head out.
Mango Asymmetric Stiletto Shoes ($59.99; mango.com)
Heels aren’t essential for everyone, but if you feel comfortable wearing one to work, make sure you choose one that goes with everything like this asymmetric stiletto.
Capsule wardrobe essentials for men
For men, a capsule wardrobe is a similar kind of formula that’s dependent on location and personality type, but a capsule wardrobe for a man is still a smart idea, Typaldos says. “A capsule can be bespoke to him — we’re all different shapes and sizes, so it’s important to figure out the silhouettes that work.”
Mango Slim Fit Wool Blazer ($149.99, originally $199.99; mango.com)
A slim fit blazer in navy or charcoal is an essential for anyone with a more formal office dress code.
Dickies UO Exclusive Cotton Cutoff 874 Work Pant ($59; urbanoutfitters.com)
“And depending on his build and style, he should also have a non-denim trouser that can take the place of an everyday pant,” she adds.
H&M White Crewneck ($6.99; hm.com)
A white tee is such a wardrobe staple that Typaldos recommends finding a fit you like and buying them in bulk.
Acne Studios North Stay Slim Fit Jeans ($220; nordstrom.com)
“Every man needs the perfect denim, either in blue or black,” Typaldos says. If you’re working from home or in a more casual office, feel free to opt for blue. Otherwise, black denim is versatile enough for work and play.
J.Crew Cashmere Crewneck Sweater (starting at $99.50, originally starting at $128; jcrew.com)
An easy crewneck sweater will be perfect for layering.
Theory Kylan Precision Tech Half-Zip Jacket ($150, originally $375; mrporter.com)
This piece is so contingent on dress codes and personal style, Typaldos says. You can either go with a cool, go-to investment piece like a peacoat, or opt for something more normcore like a half-zip or denim coat.
Faherty Recycled Fleece Shirt Jacket ($200; mrporter.com)
In winter, the shacket, or shirt/jacket hybrid, is a great way to layer.
New Balance Men’s Classic 574 Low-Top Sneakers ($79.99; bloomingdales.com)
A simple athletic-leaning sneaker will balance most casual work-from-home outfits.
Ugg Hillmont Chelsea Boot ($190; nordstrom.com)
Based on personality type and seasonality, a pair of all-weather boots is an essential. These look just as great with a suit as they do jeans.