How to build a capsule wardrobe, according to a fashion editor

capsule wardrobe
The 5 items a fashion editor has in her wardrobeEdward Berthelot - Getty Images

You're doing your bit for the planet, right? You're recycling, donating unwanted bits to charity and drinking coffee from a cute re-usable cup, but have you managed to reign in those fast fashion habits?

I’m guilty as charged: I love shopping. When you write about clothes for a living, it's hard not to. So, since browsing is pretty much unavoidable for me, a few years back I vowed at least to be smarter about it. I started to build a capsule wardrobe full of quality, easily mixed-and-matched pieces and keep them on constant rotation. The theory being, once you stop being enslaved to trends, the sustainability part will fall in step behind.

As a teenager, I was addicted to scouring charity shops for second-hand gems. But as my style matured, it became more and more difficult to make the whole boho/1980s/granny-chic thing work from me. Vintage shopping comes with the added challenge of squeezing into 20th century sizes (spoiler alert: a 10 was basically a 14 back then).

What’s more, as fun as thrifting is, it often encourages a sense of must-buy panic. You know, the manic feeling that you might miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In 2019, during what I thought would be a money-saving month of #secondhandseptember, I dropped £250 on a ‘70s Saint Laurent suit with peaked lapels and floor-sweeping flared legs. Safe to say, it has not yet ventured outside of my house.

Luckily, there are ways around this. You can now rent modern and even current-season clothing, thanks to rental and swapping sites such as such as Hurr, By Rotation and My Wardrobe HQ (read our review of them all here). If buying something new gives you a real dopamine hit, this might just be your route to a clear conscience. But, remember, it still involves delivery and dry cleaning, so try to avoid mass hauls and choose wisely.

There's also a myriad of brands out there doing their best to balance the harmful effects of fast fashion (our favourites include The Reformation, Free People, Bite Studios and Nobody's Child). Of course, it's still important to be mindful when purchasing. It's all very well treating yourself to a gorgeous bias-cut sundress made from dead-stock fabric, but if you only wear it a handful of times per year, that's also not exactly sustainable is it?

The other solution? I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but a capsule wardrobe is king. Once you've nailed that neat little edit, it should make life easier (perhaps gaining you an extra 10 minutes in bed every morning), as well as being kinder to your bank balance. And, let’s face it, the effortlessness it exudes feels very chic.

The best bit is, you can dip a toe in and still make a difference. If you've never heard of Livia Firth's company Eco-Age and its #30wears mission, you'll know that making use of your clothing is what counts. And since we can't all afford to be decked out in dense wool coats and crisp cotton shirts from the likes of Max Mara and The Row, often that means shopping on the high street.

Going forward, besides working with what I’ve got (the most sustainable item in your wardrobe is the one you already own), I plan to shop sensibly. Buy more black, for easy styling, and consider how many ways I can wear a piece before I even think about adding it to my basket.

Oh, and that reminds me: shop with an actual, physical basket. The pandemic certainly made this trickier, but I would always recommend going into actual stores; feeling fabrics and trying pieces on for size. It'll help stop the slew of plastic-entombed parcels being shipped back and forth (around 50% of clothing deliveries in the UK are eventually returned, according to a survey by Barclaycard in 2018).

For now, start building those essentials. It helps to know where to begin, though, so we've rounded up the five basic building blocks that make a capsule wardrobe right here...

A slip dress

Oh, the faithful slip! This bias-cut dress will serve you in so many ways, especially in a demure ankle-length, which balances the lingerie vibes. Layer yours over white T-shirts and turtleneck knits, or wear it solo under a blazer; team it with trainers during the day, then switch to heels in the evening. Throw on a cashmere crewneck or oversized jumper and, voila, you have your very own slip skirt.

Ghost's midi is super versatile thanks to its thicker straps which create a sporty vibe. AllSaints' 2-in-1 design is even more handy with its accompanying cropped jumper – you can wear the slip solo, layered up to create a skirt, or style the knit as separately.

The oversized jumper

Talking of slouchy jumpers, you'll definitely be needing one of these in your capsule wardrobe. In the autumn/winter season, a turtleneck is a must-have (Victoria Beckham styles hers with everything from cigarette pants to pleated midi skirts), but in general anything oversized with a longline hem will do.

An oversized knit is not only practical, it provides another tool with which to layer. Slip one over a dress and you've created a relaxed two piece, or swap a blazer for one to tone down tailored pants.

A trusty white t-shirt

Every woman need a hard-working white T-shirt – or several – in her capsule wardrobe. This jersey basic is no longer reserved for casual weekends. You can layer it underneath slip dresses, let it tone-down tailoring and team it with jeans and heels (this is basically Jennifer Aniston and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley's LA uniform).

The perfect-fitting white T-shirt isn't a myth, but it is subjective. When it comes to versatility, though go for a slim-but-not-skintight cut (they're the true layering heroes). Our favourites this season come from staple-wardrobe brand Arket and the ever-reliable Uniqlo.

A trouser suit

If you didn't already know, the trouser suit is back in a big way. Invest in a decent cut and you can wear the separates as well as the set. Whistles' three-piece suit is ideal, but you only need two of those components for a capsule wardrobe: the double-breasted blazer can be styled over slinky evening dresses or as part of a trusty-jeans-and-heels combo, while the wide-leg trousers look great with a slouchy jumper and trainers.

For those who really don't do suits, ease yourself into the trend with a black blazer. The style set love this tailored jacket's ability to smarten up everyday outfits like jeans, joggers, midi dresses and even leggings. If you don't believe me, just Google the dreamy street style pics.

A wear-everywhere midi

Your wear-everywhere dress should be long sleeved and have a midi hemline, in order to work all year round. It doesn't have to be black, of course, but neutrals and monochrome shades are easier to style. If you don't do floaty shapes, this season's knitted styles are proving popular thanks to their minimalist body-conscious shape.

You'll wear this staple to the office with loafers or smart trainers, in the summer with flat mules, and in the winter with knee-high boots. It can be layered with a knitted vest when you need warmth, and easily elevated with lashing of gold jewellery. True desk-to-dinner stuff.

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