How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe: The Master Plan

Greater Than Rubies

We all have limited willpower. Mine tends to run out quickly in the arena of sweets. Ice cream? Hello, hello. Cheesecake? Be still my fluttering heart. Cookies/brownies/anyothersweetyoucouldname? Bonjour!

Seriously. We can NOT keep these things in our home because I WILL EAT THEM ALL. Not having them readily available means I have to admit I want them to the point of going somewhere and consciously spending money on them. As a result of this little system, I am much healthier.

Using your willpower to build systems that will give you disproportionate results is a fantastic way to turn what you have into something greater.

Working through this series to systematically build a wardrobe that works for your life stage, your budget, and your style will have ripple effects on your energy (when you dress well, you feel better), your wardrobe (thoughtful purchases will help curb impulse buys), and your time (less time spent shopping means more time to invest as you see fit).

If you’re just joining us, I would suggest starting at the beginning of the How to Build A Capsule Wardrobe series. Each post builds on the next, and you’ll get the greatest value and a stronger wardrobe if you go in order. Remember- we’re after disproportionate results!

Now, on to the Master Plan. (It is now appropriate to do your most evil laugh.)

Grab the notes you made during your Evaluation, and let’s create a draft of our list:

1. At the top: qualifiers.

  • What are your qualifiers? (These include must-haves like machine washable care, certain fabrics, etc. as well as the no-no’s, like the items you tend to buy multiples of.) I suggest writing these at the top to serve as reminders when you start shopping.
  • Write down the colors you want to add.

2. Then, move into specific pieces:

  • Make a note of items that you need/want. (Again, refer to your list and/or this post.)
  • Add your replacements to the list.

3. Finally, I like to separate by type (and all the OCD organizers said Amen):

  • Accessories (Feel free to break this one down into jewelry, shoes, bags, belts, scarves.)
  • Tops (tank, tee, blouse, long sleeves)
  • Completer Pieces (I made this separate from tops because it was the area I had the greatest gaps in, and I tend to find my clients do, too.)
  • Bottoms (shorts, skirts, pants, and I add dresses in here, too)

Voila! The list has been made.

If you’ve been working on building your wardrobe for a while, you may even want to go back through and get really specific. For example, my current list looks like this:


  • a floral scarf
  • brightly colored belt
  • colored cocktail ring in a blue or green hue
  • delicate, neutral colored bracelets that don’t clang on hard surfaces while I’m typing
  • pointy toe leopard flats (these are a replacement and givee me a different shape than any of my current flats)
  • black summer wedges
  • a casual tennis-type shoe that I actually like (I’m horrible at buying good casual shoes.)


  • black and white polka dot button up shirt
  • replacement black and white stripe lightweight sweater

Completer Pieces:

  • a white or cream lightweight coco chanel-inspired jacket
  • gray or herringbone winter coat with a defined waist


  • a wrap or casual jersey knit dress in a print or bold color

This list shows you I’ve done a pretty good job of building a capsule wardrobe of clothing, and at this point, I’m building up my accessories. I’ve tended to shy away from spending money on them in the past because (mental barrier alert!) I didn’t feel like they created as many options as a new top or bottom. I tested that, and found it was completely the opposite once I had my capsule wardrobe base in place. If your base pieces don’t mix and match well, it does you no good to have great accessories.

Now, a crucial step:

I highly suggest coming up with a budget at this point. If you aren’t married, ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable. When you know what to add, it can be tempting to buy and hunt and search for the pieces allatoncesoyoucanjustcompleteyourwardrobeandeverythingwillbegreat. Or so I’ve found. :) Knowing you have to report to someone will keep your finances in check and expose the lie that “completing” your closet will happen with just a few more purchases. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once you have a budget in place, go back over your list one final time. Considering how much you want to spend right now, estimate how many of the items you’ll realistically be able to purchase. Mark the items you would like to buy first.

A few things about this:

  • You do not have to buy these pieces first. Taking the time to define your priorities will help you make an informed decision in the heat of the shopping moment as to whether or not you want to put a top piece on hold for something further down your list.
  • Prepare mentally that it might take you a while to find exactly what you want. Planning for this ahead of time will help you be patient. It’s far better to wait and get the items you really want than continue to buy “ok” pieces that don’t really fit your guidelines. Delay the gratification and I promise it will be sweeter. (And easier on your wallet!)

Before you go shopping:

  • Stay tuned Friday for a fantastic guest post about quality & its relation to cost.
  • Next Wednesday, we’ll cover shopping tips (both online and in-store) as well as go over a few specific suggestions regarding where to shop.

Now, take a few minutes and tell us below- what are your top 3 pieces and why?

About the Author


  • Selah April 2, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    1) The jeans version of my perfect Levi’s shorts.
    2) A “tough” silver pendant. Something similar in style to my gold spike pendant.
    3) A hair accessory (scarf, bandana, wide headband) for bad / dirty hair days.

    How are you bad at buying tennis shoes? Do you mean you buy bad quality? Or your not happy with the styles? Anyway, I love both my white Sperrys and my black Converse.

    • Selah April 3, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      I had to share this! I’ve been looking for #2 on my list above, and noticing lots of tusk & tooth shaped pendants. I was reminded that I have one of those freebie shark’s tooth necklaces from our beach trip last year – like this:
      So, I took the tooth off of the “leather” strap, threaded it onto my long silver chain, and voila! I just got #2 for FREE!

      • Caitlin Author April 8, 2014 at 8:24 AM

        Awesome, Selah! Creating a great new look from something you have is one of my favorite feelings. So glad you shared your triumph with us :)

    • Caitlin Author April 8, 2014 at 8:19 AM

      Great pieces, Selah! To answer your question, I’m not happy with the styles. Quite honestly, I’ve never spent enough time trying to find a pair I really like the look of.

  • Maria April 2, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Great post, Caitlin! I try to keep an ongoing wish list, which typically helps me stay focused when shopping. Three items I’m hoping to add to my wardrobe for spring are:

    1) Short-sleeved blouse with a bow front
    2) Replacement for my watch (the band is looking pretty shabby)
    3) Floppy straw sun hat

  • Kelsey Clark April 2, 2014 at 7:31 PM

    1. Soft, slouchy grey cardigan
    2. Replacement black slacks
    3. Casual shoes like Keds, but not tennis shoes

    In my wish list excel file (nerd alert), I also like to add a “do not buy” list. There are things not on my wishlist that I feel okay with buying because it fits well with my closet, has a good price, durability, etc. However, there are some things I just don’t need to buy any more of. So, I like to have that reminder when I am shopping.

    • Iris April 2, 2014 at 10:19 PM

      Ooh I like the idea of a what not to buy list. It’s kinda like what not to wear! :)

    • Caitlin Author April 8, 2014 at 8:21 AM

      Love that your wish list is in excel! :) I agree with you- sometimes you come across something that’s not on your list but will compliment your wardrobe well. In that case, it’s definitely ok to break the rules.

  • Rachel Nordgren @ Our Yellow Door April 3, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    “…and all the OCD organizers said Amen.”

    I laughed a little too hard at that ;)

    The idea of a list is sublime, because it keeps you on track and reminds you what you’ve already set out to buy.

    Here’s what’s on my list…
    1. A sturdy pair of brown flats, because my other ones are on the verge of falling apart.
    2. A hard working tote (my little cross body just isn’t cutting it as a purse)
    3. A white button down top
    4. Patterned tops
    5. Lightweight trench coat

    …and some more things ;)

    • Caitlin Author April 8, 2014 at 8:23 AM

      :) Great list, Rachel!

  • Amy G April 4, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    I know what you mean about the accessories vs. clothing buying mindset. I’m finding gaps in that area lately. In fact, when I was thinking of things on my list, accessories came to mind first.
    – a colorless “statement” necklace (I use that term but I still want something understated. Actually, I’m stalking the colorless version of the red necklace I worn during the winter remix a few times.)
    – a polka dot scarf
    – cute flats that are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of walking (not just around the office comfortable)

    Honorable mention:
    – a blazer that fits!
    – a super versatile floral top

    I know what you mean about casual shoes. Some of them look good with pants but not shorts, and some look good with both but aren’t as comfortable as they should be (or they need to be broken in, which is annoying).

    • Caitlin Author April 8, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      Amy, I cracked up at your term of stalking a colorless version- funny, but that’s the perfect way to describe this sort of shopping! I also love that you gave items an honorable mention, and so giving them a rank. Even if you happen to find those before the rest of your list, you’ve thought that piece out. And yes! I just kind of refuse to buy a pair until they’re exactly what I want. But as I told Selah, I really haven’t put in the time to look. Maybe one day soon :)

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