Capsule vs. Uniform

I’d been thrifting with the concept of “capsule” in my mind as it’s a great tool for getting your wardrobe to that sweet spot where you love and wear everything you have.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the 1970s by Susie Faux, a London boutique owner who used it to describe a core of classic pieces that will never go out of style and which can be supplemented by a selection of fresh, trendy pieces each season.  In more recent times, Courtney of Project 333 re-conceptualized the capsule as a series of fixed, small collections–one for each season–and it took off, with myriad bloggers coming up with their own twists, rules, and definitions.

12 months of outfits based on Hermes Grands Fonds silk scarf
Sample capsule wardrobe via The Vivienne Files

A contemporary definition that particularly resonates with me comes from Caroline of Un-Fancy, who describes a capsule wardrobe as “a mini-wardrobe made up of really versatile pieces that you totally LOVE to wear.”  I was very much on board with this revamped definition–it spoke to my love of concision and the satisfaction I get out of really enjoying things I own, things that feel like ME.

Until, that is, Natalie of Hey Natalie Jean messed with my head.  She had done a few seasons’ worth of capsule wardrobes and enjoyed the process, but felt like what it ultimately taught her that she was more of a uniform gal–someone who returns again and again to a few favorite silhouettes and who therefore owns several iterations of a few types of clothes, rather than one iteration of several types of clothes.  Whereas capsule purists are looking to cover all their bases with the fewest items of clothing, adherents to the uniform philosophy have found their groove and want to settle into it, deeply–Google Emmanuelle Alt, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, who is almost invariably seen in the same. exact. silhouette: slim/skinny pants, slightly slouchy top (usually button-down), blazer, heels, hair worn down–all in black, white, grey, and the occasional denim.

Emmanuelle Alt in uniform
Emmanuelle Alt in uniform

Variety ain’t always the spice of life, turns out.

Natalie then doubled down by talking about the 80/20 rule–which, when applied to clothes, roughly states that we wear about 20% of our clothing 80% of the time.  In other words, most of us already have a de facto mini-wardrobe we consistently rely on when pressured, uninspired, and/or lazy/out of laundry.  The theory is that looking at those favorite, always-in-rotation pieces will tell us a lot about our respective wardrobe leanings–focused but narrow uniform, or broad but versatile capsule?

I thought about what I wear most often, with the most happiness and comfort (both physical and psychic–when do I feel most “at home” in my outfits?), and concluded….that I am a fence-sitter.  I have an edited mix of skirts, pants, shorts, tops of various kinds, sweaters, dresses, cardigans/jackets, and a small but treasured collection of short-sleeved playsuits (did I mention it’s HOT here in the summer??).  That, and my plays-well-together color palette, make me sound like a capsule wardrobe devotee.

But I could care less about honing my closet down to a prescribed exact number of items (often a dictum of capsule wardrobes), and I find myself rotating the same 3 silhouettes to work and falling back on the same one silhouette for play.  When seasons change, I don’t want to come up with a roster of X number of pieces that I’m allowed to wear–I just want to swap out shorts for jeans, tweaking the same silhouettes for different weather.  So does that make me a uniform-er?

Maybe I have a cuneiform?  (Bad middle school history joke.)

Or a unipsule?  (Sounds like some new NSFW offering from American Apparel.)


Either way, I’m going to use that nifty 20% rule to set aside some things towards which I don’t typically gravitate and see if I can up my ratio to 50…65…80%?  Wish me luck!


Where do you fall on the capsule/uniform/20% spectrum?



2 thoughts on “Capsule vs. Uniform

  1. Sounds like you, and definitely The Ma, have a great balance between the two. The Ma has a silhouette that works great for her, with a few variations, but she also has a pretty narrow color palette. I, on the other hand, base my wardrobe entirely on comfort.

    1. Thanks fore reading!
      Re: Ma, she totally does! And I learned from the best–without really realizing I was learning.
      You, too, have a “look”–a certain pants/shirt combo you go for with funky and/or brightly colored t-shirts that speak to you–because you don’t have to be non-comfortable or even pay attention to fashion/style to have a uniform. And when you define it, it’ll help you chuck clothes you don’t wear very much and choose new clothes that you’ll love to wear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *