“Buy less, choose well,” is what esteemed designer Vivienne Westwood once said. It seems that today, in a tenuous ethical and environmental fashion climate, and bolstered by a social media culture where any trend can blow up in minutes, people are taking her words to heart. The capsule wardrobe, first coined in the 1970’s and practised by members of the fashion elite the likes of Donna Karan and Jil Sanders, has become a cult concept in 2018 amongst members of the fashion community both online and offline. It promises that by paring down your wardrobe to a specific set of guidelines – no more than 50 items in your closet, thank you very much – dressing yourself will actually become easier and your impact on the environment reduces immensely. Alexandra Thompson investigates.
The true definition of a capsule wardrobe differs depending on who you ask. The general idea, however, is to limit your wardrobe to around 30-40 of your favourite items – accessories and shoes included – and shop just once a season to update and refresh your style. Everything you don’t need must go. In true fashion industry style, though, lovers of the capsule wardrobe have made the concept their own.
“Everything in my wardrobe feels like a staple now,” says Maria Lee, a photojournalist from New York City who has documented her capsule wardrobe experience on her blog, Gold Zipper, since 2014. “I feel like everyone could have one…it could work for every single type of lifestyle.”
Caroline Rector, who runs the popular fashion blog, Unfancy, has veered away from the rigidly structured original concept and formed her own version. She dubs it a ‘10×10’ challenge, using just 10 items over a span of 10 days to create 10 outfits. “Structure is positive when you’re trying to build new habits and thought patterns,” she says. “But with time, that structure naturally melts into your life in an organic, effortless way…A capsule wardrobe should work with your life, not the other way around.”
“It’s about having your own defined personal style, a dedication to quality and a dedication to minimalism,” says Lee. “I haven’t really looked at what the official rules are in probably five years.”
Everyday fashion lovers share Lee and Rector’s capsule wardrobe sentiments, catching onto the trend through their social media forays.
“[It is] a collection of pieces that will never go out of fashion,” says Isabelle Hargraves, a university student working in Sydney’s retail scene. “I have been longing to invest in good quality pieces that will transcend time…I think if I invested in a capsule wardrobe, I might have a more succinct personal style.”
“I have a style that I like…[but] I haven’t put it into my own wardrobe,” says Jessica Bono, 23, from Sydney. “A capsule wardrobe would achieve it completely…if it’s neater in my wardrobe, I don’t have to keep searching for something to wear – everything kind of matches together.”
This is a key element of the capsule wardrobe: your own style, narrowed down to a collection of precious garments that work together in harmony. It is meant to be efficient and stress-free.
“The beauty of a capsule wardrobe is how personalised it is to you,” says Lee. “It should be very specific to you, to your personal style, to what you do every day…Everything goes well together and it fits into your lifestyle.
“Keep your closet lean so that way there’s no excess…It makes you a lot more picky before you purchase something because you really have to think, ‘does this deserve the small amount of real estate I have in my closet?’”
But why now? Why has the capsule wardrobe suddenly become such a cult movement in the fashion world?
It may well be the power of social media. As more and more people make their voices heard online, important issues burst to the forefront. Sustainable, ethical fashion is one of them.
Just this April, brands from Country Road to Myer to Best & Less were revealed to have failed to sign one or both of the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accords, in place to protect the welfare of Bangladeshi factory workers after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that claimed the lives of over a thousand people. The fashion institutions were held to account by the media and their social media followers for their contribution to unethical, unsafe manufacturing practices.
@CountryRoad Why haven't you signed the 2018 Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord to protect vulnerable garment workers?
— daveprid (@daveprid1) April 26, 2018
5 yrs today since collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh killed 1,100+ garment workers. Shame on @myer, Just Jeans, @bestandless & @CountryRoad for not signing the Fire & Safety Accord to protect the people who make our clothes.https://t.co/4l1Qrmy3nc @OxfamAustralia
— Olivia Ball (@RightsBase) April 22, 2018
On the 5th anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza collapse, it’s time for Aus brands Just Jeans, @myer, @bestandless & more to join the 2018 Bangladesh Accord. @OxfamAustralia @HelenSzoke @MicheleONeilTCF @StopTheTraffikA https://t.co/cj47ZrGQ2g #RanaPlazaNeverAgain
— Oxfam Australia (@OxfamAustralia) April 22, 2018
Meanwhile, in May, Australian actress Cate Blanchett aimed to make a statement about wasted fashion by re-wearing her 2014 Golden Globes couture gown on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet.
“From couture to t-shirts, landfill is full of garments that have been unnecessarily discarded,” Blanchett said to Eco-Age. “In today’s climate, it seems wilful and ridiculous that such garments are not cherished and re-worn for a lifetime.”
However, the growing popularity of fast fashion can make it difficult for regular shoppers to cherish and re-wear their clothes the way Blanchett believes. Fast fashion describes collections that are quickly and cheaply produced to ensure the most current catwalk trends are always on the shop floor at a low cost, and opinion of it is mostly unanimous.
“People look to models, celebrities, Instagram-famous people who have an influence on their style and what they buy,” says Laura Thompson, a Sydney student. “[They] feed into a consumer-culture where people are constantly wanting to buy new clothes because they’ve seen something online.”
“It’s cheap,” adds Bono. “[We] see trends online…but I don’t like investing that much in something that I know is only just on trend at that moment. I’ll just go to [fast fashion stores] to achieve an outfit that I like, or have seen on Instagram, in a cheaper way.”
“It’s just expensive to buy nice clothes and to buy from ethical brands,” says Lee. “If you do have to buy fast fashion, try to take care of those items when they go into disrepair, do what you can to keep them nice. Think of them as pieces. It’s not just clothes. It’s not just something consumable.”
Rector agrees. “I think we’ve gotten ourselves into a serious situation but I’m actually incredibly optimistic about it,” she says. “I’d been conditioned to believe that a large closet filled with clothes was the only way to find and love my style. That felt unattainable, so I started rethinking it. And soon I realised if I shrink it down and simply have a few pieces, I can get exactly what I want.
“I get to talk to individual people who share their [capsule wardrobe] journeys with me – they are wearing their clothes a little longer, trying to purchase a little less, trying to incorporate mindful habits into their lives…The sustainability movement is just getting started.”
Some background …