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December 09, 2015

Capsule wardrobes are the future of feminist fashion

Minimal closet decisions means more time for life

Lifestyle Fashion
Jamie Lee Burns Mademoiselle Capsule Jamie-Lee Burns/YouTube

A screenshot from Jamie Lee Burns YouTube video "Winter Minimal Capsule Wardrobe."

A recent survey suggests the average woman’s wardrobe contains over $550 worth of clothing she’s never worn. Those completely untouched garments account for approximately 20 percent of her closet. In fact, she’s likely to wear only 20 percent of her closet consistently enough to warrant its expense at all. The rest of her clothes are either too big or too small, too young or too old. Their only function is to torment their owner by constantly implying she is too big or too small, too young or too old.

Last month, transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner upset a lot of people when she told BuzzFeed, “The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.” Regardless of Jenner’s intention, her sentiment highlights our culture’s gender discrepancy when it comes to dressing for success. Men like Einstein and Steve Jobs have historically been hailed for their pragmatic, self-imposed uniforms. However, the idea that a woman might augment her own creative and professional pursuits by reducing the size of her wardrobe is a relatively new and curious concept. 

For centuries, we’ve often measured a woman’s success by how often she dazzles in a new dress or unique pair of shoes. And yet, thanks to phenomena like decision fatigue, where making too many decisions throughout the day exhausts our mental energy, too many clothes weigh us down, literally and figuratively, even when we’re not wearing them. Too many clothes are part of the cultural tether that keeps women from getting ahead.  

Enter the capsule wardrobe: an eco-conscious, sanity-saving solution to your endless search for what to wear. A capsule wardrobe is as condensed as its name suggests and contains just ten to forty seasonal items of clothing, shoes, and accessories, depending on your individual life and style preferences. Because capsule wardrobes emphasize quality over quantity, they are carefully curated to promote the highest level of comfort and functionality. They’re designed to help women (and men) do more with less. If dressing stresses you out, consider the capsule wardrobe your fashion chill pill.

In the age of do-anything YouTube tutorials, it’s easy to find inspiration to help you clean out your closet and curate a personal uniform that works for you. 27-year-old Australian publicist and style blogger Jamie-Lee Burns is one such fashion guru who’s happy to share her scrupulous fashion expertise. Her channel is chock-full of tips for purging clutter and discerning which beauty and clothing items are worth your investment. Burns' minimalist winter capsule wardrobe fits effortlessly on one clothing rack, so it’s easy to inventory each piece and arrange endless ensembles from her classic grayscale and camel color palette.

Burns said she didn’t always used to be so selective with her wardrobe. “I was always the girl who was wearing or buying something new and, honestly, that just isn't sustainable.” 

She said the process of transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle takes patience, honesty, and a willingness to literally look at yourself in the mirror. 

“There's no better way to decide what to keep (and what not to keep) than trying it all on. I pull everything out of my closet, then try each piece on one-by-one, deciding to keep an item based on how it makes me feel, and whether it fits within the definition of my own personal style. Everything that ends up in the 'No' pile is either donated to local charities or sold online via eBay.”

Not surprisingly, charity and eco-consciousness are at the heart of many capsule wardrobes. For 28-year-old vegan Melissa Alexandria, minimalism is an ethical decision. The British Columbia-based writer and editor told me she builds her capsule wardrobes from second-hand stores as much as possible. 

“Each item has to fit well and be comfortable, as well as cruelty-free. Of course, I have to love wearing the clothes, too. I’m always trying to find new ethical, eco-friendly retailers to shop.” 

You might assume women with smaller wardrobes don’t love fashion as much as women whose wardrobes occupy several closets and, in some cases, entire rooms. Quite the contrary is true. Capsule wardrobe enthusiasts have so much respect for clothing that they’re committed to finding better homes for garments that no longer suit their lifestyles. They’re opposed to holding clothing hostage, simply because they might wear it “someday.” 

“There are a lot of people out there who could really use the clothes we keep lying around our homes,” Alexandria said.

When it comes to clothing, it truly is better to give than to receive. At least it’s mutually beneficial. “My days feel much more free now,” Alexandria said. “I’m more creative and energetic with less physical clutter and fewer things to worry about cleaning and taking care of.”

Rachel Robbins, a 32-year-old from South Philadelphia, said she used to feel chronic stress before committing to a weekday uniform. Robbins, who works in customer support for Ticketleap, was inspired to adopt her own capsule wardrobe this past spring after reading Matilda Kahl’s trailblazing piece “Why I Wear The Exact Same Thing To Work Every Day” for Harper's Bazaar. 

“It used to feel like a lot was riding on what I wore, but I didn't enjoy spending time deciding what to wear and was rarely happy with the decisions I made," she said. "Now, I wear the same exact thing every weekday. I don't spend time wondering what to wear. I don't try on tons of outfits before leaving the house. I don't doubt what I'm wearing. I don’t doubt myself.”

Robbins, who documents how she styles and layers her daily work uniform on Instagram, says shrinking your wardrobe is an excellent way to expand your horizons. The fewer garments you own, the more you wear your clothes and the less they wear on you.  

“It's incredible how much uniforming fits my personality and how much it says about me," she said. "I’m conscious of where I spend my time and energy in all aspects of my life now. Uniforming helps me recognize when something doesn't serve me and eliminate it from my life."

"A friend of mine recently observed that uniforming is a feminist fashion statement. I love that. I'd say a uniform is like feminism through self-care. It's an outfit that shows you who I am, but it’s also not all I am.”