Saying NO to fast fashion with a capsule wardrobe

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for nearly four years now.

The Project 333 is a Capsule Wardrobe system. It asks us to dress with 33 items, or fewer. The rules are fairly simple:

  • 33 items or fewer in your wardrobe. This includes jewelry, shoes, outerwear and other accessories. Vision glasses, wedding rings and religious items are exempt.
  • Sleepwear, workout wear, underwear, in-home only wear is not included. In my case, I’ve created a “10 items or fewer” Workout Wardrobe, that I use for workouts only. I also have items like nighties, ugg boots and a robe that I only wear at home (of course!).
  • You can box up seasonal wear to keep safe for the next year. This doesn’t count in your 33 items. For me, as it’s winter in New Zealand at the moment, I’ve boxed up my light denim jacket and a couple of dresses, which I won’t wear until summer again.

Stepping off the fast fashion train with a capsule wardrobe

Having a capsule wardrobe enables me to step away from the crazy, unsustainable world of fast fashion.

For a long time I’d had issues with the way fashion was going. Clothing was becoming poorer and poorer quality, while the stories of child labour and sweatshops were hard to ignore. I’m not a full-blown activist, but I wanted what I wore to reflect who I am. And who I am is NOT someone who supports cruelty and abuse.

Fast fashion is designed for profit, not for those who wear it or those who make it. It is cheap to buy, per item, but expensive in the long term. It is not designed to last or look good. Much like a drug hit, it give a quick “buzz” then the thrill is gone, forcing the user to move on to the next hit, then the next.

My capsule wardrobe from a few years ago. Some items have changed, but I still dress with less.

What I wear, what I buy…

These days, about half of my wardrobe is made locally. I buy locally made merino tops that I layer, and I stick closely with a color code of blue and black, with some brights in accessories for interest.

I’m also a fan of secondhand, recycled jewelry. I often pop down to the local Hospice shop, where I pick up cheap jewelry for a couple of dollars apiece. I wear it, then when I’m bored of it I donate it back and buy a replacement from the Hospice shop again. In this way, I’m sharing what I have, and I have an endless supply of great, recycled jewelry I don’t have to store or maintain! It’s a winning strategy!

Inside my drawer. A color code of blue, green and black helps me keep organised.

How a Capsule Wardrobe will change your life

Take a step away from fast fashion. Fast fashion is trashing our planet and hurting people and economies. Taking a step away from the madness is a positive move for everyone.

Buy fewer clothes. Less money wasted, less time spent shopping. More cash left for the things that really count.

A co-ordinated, planned wardrobe. Fewer items are easier to co-ordinate. I also have a color code – blue and black form the basis of everything I wear, with pops of warm colors in accessories (yellow, coral, red).

More money for better quality clothes. Having fewer items means I now have the budget for better items. I can buy three t-shirts at $80 each in merino, instead of 10 t-shirts at $20 each, and I know my better quality items will fit better, look better, feel better and last longer than the cheap ones ever could.

A minimalist capsule wardrobe: hints and tips

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for three years now*.

The Project 333 is all about having a wardrobe that contains 33 items of clothing – or less – and working within those limits to find clothing that fits your lifestyle and meets your needs.

When I first began capsuling, I was not convinced that having less would give me more options, but it has. These days, not only do I own less, but what I own must

  • Fit my colour code of blue and green. I then use black and grey as base colours (for bottoms and shoes etc.), and yellow and coral as “contrast colours” for accessories to give a bit of pizazz,
  • Fit my body, as it is, here and now (no clothing for “when I lose weight”). If I can’t fit into it, it doesn’t belong in my wardrobe,
  • Be of good quality. No cheap, crappy design-to-fall-apart items, and
  • Fit my lifestyle – be items I wear on a regular basis, for the way I live and am active.

Sticking to a colour code has helped me be more selective when choosing items for my wardrobe, and helps all my items work well together. Many wardrobe capsulers do the same thing. Commonly selected colours include black, grey and cream, but you can choose whatever colours you like.

Sticking with clothing that fits is a no-brainer. Before I started capsuling a literal majority of items in my wardrobe were stuff that didn’t fit, or that I didn’t wear for various reasons. Life is too short to have a wardrobe full of too-small clothing that makes you feel bad!

Sticking to good quality helps me look my best. I’m not a fashionista and never will be, but at least when I wear good quality clothes I look presentable, neat and tidy. Nobody ever looks great in cheap, tatty clothing. If you can’t afford good quality items new, but good quality items secondhand instead. You’ll look better than new cheap rubbish.

Stick to items that fit your lifestyle. For me, that’s jeans and merino tops (which are a little bit tidier than t-shirts). Have a wardrobe that works.

It’s fine to break the rules too – if you’re a businessperson half the time and a jeans and t-shirt person the other half of the time, have a separate capsule for each part of your life. In my case, I have a separate mini-capsule (10 items or less) of gym clothing that I only wear for working out.

Myths about capsule wardrobes

  • Capsule wardrobes do not have to be black, white and grey. Yes, it looks pretty on YouTube, but if these shades do not suit you, or you don’t like to dress this way, don’t have a wardrobe full of them! My wardrobe is based on shades of blue and green – my favourite colours – and black is limited. I own nothing white.
  • You don’t have to own “classic” anything! You’ll see so many lists telling you about “must-have classics” and “necessary basics”. None of it is true. Own what works, and what you like. For me that’s jeans and leggings, plus 50s style dresses for summer. For you, that might be something completely different. Base your decisions on your lifestyle, your body and your tastes.
  • Making mistakes is fine. Everyone buys clothing they expect to wear then never do. We all make mistakes. Just don’t keep them! Learn from your mistakes, and pass them on to someone who will wear them. Better yet, return them for a refund if you can. But don’t feel guilty. Everyone makes mistakes. I know – I’ve made plenty!
  • If you’re unsure, box it up! Not sure about letting an item go? Box it up! Then, after three months, if you didn’t need it, it’s probably ready to go someplace else. The exception to this is seasonal clothing such as heavy coats, bikinis etc.

Capsuling is a skill that takes time to learn. Be kind to yourself, and you’ll be so glad you gave it a go! I sure am! 🙂

*You can read what I’m wearing by clicking the Capsule Wardrobe tabs on the top of this blog.

5 benefits of a minimalist capsule wardrobe

There are lots of benefits of having a minimalist capsule wardrobe. Whether you stop at 33 items, like I do with The Project 333, or you go to something smaller with the 10 item wardrobe, it’s up to you.

But one thing is certain: you probably won’t go back once you’ve tried it!

5 benefits of a minimalist capsule wardrobe

More money. I don’t shop for a hobby any more. Instead, I shop when I need to, and I know what I need because I don’t have clutter in my cupboards that prevents me figuring out what I actually need.

A better wardrobe overall. I’m no fashion guru. At all. I don’t get fashion. But these days my wardrobe is manageable, and everything I have in my wardrobe fits me and looks good. I dress better, and I’m not afraid to spend money on good quality items because I know I’ll wear them when I buy them.

Better wear from my clothing. Because I have fewer clothes, I get better value from the items I have, as I wear each item more often.

Fewer mistakes. I still make mistakes, but there are less of them, as I have a better sense of what works for me now. De-cluttering my wardrobe really helped me get a better sense of my own style.

Knowing what to wear when. I stopped living in sports clothes and lounge-wear, because having fewer items enabled me to separate out separate sportswear and home-wear capsules. So now I know that Ugg boots are for home, and yoga pants are for the gym. Yes, I was that clueless about fashion! Even if you’re a fashion diva, having a minimalist wardrobe will help you organise your clothing better.

minimalist wardrobe

My current capsule wardrobe.

My minimalist wardrobe: Capsuling through three years

I’ve been doing The Project 333 – a capsule wardrobe programme – for three years now.

It has been a huge learning experience, and you can follow my capsuling trials – and errors! – in the “Capsule wardrobe” tabs in the menu of this blog.

When I first started The Project, I did as suggested and dragged all the clothes I owned out on to the bedroom floor and counted them. I was stunned to find I owned over 200 items of clothing! Most of it I hadn’t worn in ages, a lot of it didn’t fit me, and some of it even had labels still attached.

It was a mess. It reflected my haphazard approach to shopping, my need to self-medicate by buying stuff, and my general dissatisfaction with my body, plus a whole stack of other issues I’ve been dealing with across the years.

They say a cluttered home is a reflection of a cluttered mind. A cluttered wardrobe is no exception.

These days, now I’m entering my third year doing The Project, my wardrobe is sleek and small, and I wear everything I own. When I make a buying mistake – because I still make buying mistakes – I send them back to the shop or sell them as soon as I can, so they don’t become clutter.

But I make far fewer mistakes than I did three years ago. I shop less. I save money. I dress better. Capsuling works.

So here’s my wardrobe these days:

minimalist wardrobe

I got rid of about 30 hangers, but I still have too many spare hangers in my wardrobe – you can see them hanging in the wardrobe here. So more decluttering still needs to be done. It’s an ongoing process for most people. It certainly has been for me.

And my shoes:

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There's also a pair of uggs (slippers don't count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn't count).

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There’s also a pair of uggs (slippers don’t count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn’t count).

Apart from what you see I have one drawer of t-shirts and jeans I own two pair of jeans and four t-shirts), another drawer for my sportswear capsule (I’ll do a second post on sub-capsules), and a drawer for my underwear. Plus some crocs for gardening and a pair of ugg boots for homewear (neither counts in the capsule, according to The Rules of Project 333).

Lessons I’ve learned from three years of capsuling

There’s still room for improvement. That’s just life! I’m still paring down and still learning. But here are some of the things I’ve learned over the last three years I’d like to share:

Quality counts. Good quality costs more, but it wears better, feels better and last longer. I spend more money on items like jeans, jackets, shoes and belts, and it is worth every cent. Especially with shoes!

Fit counts. These days I don’t worry about the size on the label so much. If the size on the label feels too big, I snip it out! 🙂 Instead, I pay attention to how an item fits when I put it on, and especially check leg and sleeve length. If it doesn’t fit properly it is never worth keeping.

Life is too short for broken clothes. If you can afford to not wear broken clothes, don’t wear them! Or get them mended. Don’t ever put up with missing buttons, gaping shirts that are too small, stains on shirts, pilled jumpers, shoes that pinch and frayed collars. Don’t look shabby. If money is an issue, you’d be surprised what is available in secondhand shops and charity stores – especially for men. My partner has bought excellent business shirts in as-new condition for very little (NZD$4 each) by buying secondhand. This world is awash in great secondhand clothing in excellent condition – all you have to do is look.

Accept the body you have. Here and now. Face reality, and be your best self today. This is a tough one. I’ve spent most of my life being unhappy with my body in one way or another. It’s something a lot of people are familiar with. But I know this: wearing a size that is too small, or hiding in shapeless clothes while waiting for that magical day when you’re suddenly “the right size” is a waste of who you are, here and now. Make peace with your body, and wear clothes that make the best of your real, current physical self.

Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. I’ve bought lots of “mistakes” in my life – clothes I liked in the store but when I got them home I didn’t like them or didn’t wear them for some reason. If you can, return them. If not, sell or give them away. Everyone makes mistakes but that doesn’t mean you have to house them in your wardrobe forever!

Nobody notices when you wear the same item more than once. They really, really don’t. Think about it: can you honestly describe what your friends were wearing last time you saw them? Or your co-workers? Most people can’t even recall what they had for dinner last night! (I can’t.) While most people will remember a particuarly beautiful dress or a striking top it’s true, they won’t realise how small your wardrobe is when you capsule. They’ll only remember how good you look (or how bad). So take advantage of that fact and…

Own a small number of beautiful, good-quality, comfortable items you love to wear. Don’t waste your time with a huge wardrobe of meaningless clothing. Choose wisely and well. These days I spend my money on a mix of beautiful dresses and ultra-comfy clothing for casual wear. Everything fits. I wear – and like – everything I own.

Happy capsuling!

Capsule wardrobes – for kids!

A capsule wardrobe works particularly well for kids.

Teaching kids to buy fewer items not only enables them to keep their rooms tidier, but it also encourages them to care for their clothing properly and to choose well when buying.

Here’s a basic list, based on the Project 333 capsule wardrobe plan, that will suit most kids aged 2 – 20. I don’t believe that kids need accessories and high fashion items either, not at least until they’re buying their own clothes, so these are purely practical items.

The Project 333 – Kid Style!

Uniform

If your child has a school uniform, here’s a basic list (11 items). This may differ from school to school

  • 2 x shirt / blouse
  • 2 x shorts / skirt
  • 1 x school jersey / jumper
  • 5 x school socks
  • 1 x school tie
  • 1 x school raincoat
  • 1 x school shoes
  • 1 x sports school top
  • 1 x sports school shorts / skirt
  • 1 x sports school shoes

Home – outerwear

Clothing that is all-year-round works best and is better value (19 items)
Raincoat

  • 2 x winter jackets / hoodies
  • 2 x long sleeve t-shirt
  • 2 x jeans
  • 2 x t-shirt
  • 2 x shorts / skirt
  • 2 x summer dress (girls)
  • 1 x winter dress (girls)
  • 1 x swimsuit
  • 1 x sandals
  • 1 x sneakers
  • 1 x jandals or crocs
  • 1 x ugg boots (slippers)
  • 1 x gumboots

Home – underwear and shoes

The Project 333 doesn’t count loungewear, pyjamas or underwear in the 33 item restriction)

  • 5 x socks
  • 7 x undies
  • 3 x pyjamas
  • 2 x onesie

Project 333: What I’ve learned in 1.5 years of The Project

I’ve been doing The Project 333 – a minimalist Capsule Wardrobe Project – for a year and a half now. I started in August 2014, and I’ve nearly come full circle.

I’ve learned a lot, and I want to share it with you. I’ve made some important mistakes along the way, and I hope my mistakes will help others who are trying to simplify their wardrobes and their lives.

When I began

When I started doing The Project 333, I had no idea about:

  • what suited me,
  • what I needed in my wardrobe,
  • what quality meant, and
  • what I needed to buy.

I was a gym junkie living in tracksuit bottoms, t-shirts and hoodies. That was my uniform, day in, day out. I had pretty much nothing else in my wardrobe, and I had no idea how to approach fashion. Fashion confused me, so I hid in sports clothes.

Despite having read countless books and articles on how to assemble a wardrobe, the “classic wardrobe” type articles seemed far more about what to wear for other people than what might work for me.

Why I found fashion so hard

Fashion was hard for me because I’m hard to fit. I’m tall (5’11”) and broad-shouldered, so even at my leanest I’m a size 16-18 in tops. And I’m long-limbed – finding jeans long enough was (and is) a nightmare. Short people have it easy by comparison – at least they can cut the extra length off!

I wear size 11 shoes, so I couldn’t “just go shoe shopping” when I felt bad about myself either. Most clothing shops had little to fit but, me being muscular rather than chubby, the “plus size” shops had little to offer. What they did have was frumpy and fit poorly, and felt like it belonged on my grandmother rather than me.

In short, I felt like fashion was for everyone except me. If you’ve ever felt uncatered-for by fashion, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of where I was, two years ago. Lost.

Starting with minimalism

“Because my wardrobe was so crammed full of junk, I never could see what I actually needed. It was covered up by everything I didn’t need…”

I didn’t have much hope for The Project 333, in the beginning. But that quickly changed.

You see, The Project 333 worked because it started with what I already had, and encouraged me to question why I wore certain clothes I owned and not others.

Instead of looking at what I couldn’t have and what didn’t work out there in the shops (just about everything!), it began by starting with what I did have, and what did work for me.

In short, it focused on the positives rather than the negatives.

By focusing on a small number of items, The Project 333 also helped me figure out what I actually needed for my day-to-day.

I found for example, in Capsule 1, that despite having great tops I didn’t have jeans that fit! I had precisely one pair of jeans that fit me, once I’d pulled everything out of my wardrobe and done an initial assessment, and those jeans were in bad shape. You’d think it would have been obvious, but no. You see, because my wardrobe was so crammed full of junk, I never could see what I actually needed. It was covered up by everything I didn’t need.

I took a good look at what was in my wardrobe and worked well for me, then focused on those manufacturers, to start with. They were to become my hunting ground.

I made plenty of mistakes, especially at first. I learned, for starters, that there are no clothes that work for me available in Dunedin. I’d love to shop locally, but I can’t. Until this changes, I shop online and mainly overseas, because that is where the clothing that fits me is available.

The Project 333 made assembling a wardrobe affordable, because it began with what I had. I don’t have the money or inclination to spend thousands of dollars on designer clothing, as suggested in magazines and books. It wasn’t going to happen. The Project 333 was based in reality – my reality. It never told me what to wear – it helped me figure it out, by myself, for myself.

The Project helped me learn that I had – and have – a style of my own.
I learned I love leather, and vintage clothing.
I learned I love jeans.
I learned I love bright colours.
I learned it’s okay to make mistakes – as long as you send them back when you do!
I learned I love clothes that fit and work well.
I learned that cheap is, well, cheap, and you do get what you pay for. And sometimes – more often than I’d like – you don’t even get that.

Over the last two years I’ve learned to love dresses. I experimented with maxi dresses, only to find they didn’t work in the city for me – you know, escalators! More recently, I’ve moved into vintage style knee-length and tea-length dresses. Not only do they feel and look great, they’re very practical for pretty much any event.

What I’d do differently from the start…

No cheap clothes! If I could do the Project over, I wouldn’t buy cheap clothes. Ever. Every time I’ve bought cheap clothes – usually tops – they’ve looked cheap and they’ve not lasted. In two cases, they shrunk ridiculously on first wash (one top shrunk a good six inches in length!) and became unwearable.

Don’t buy just for the sake of buying! I bought a black shirt and a white shirt because “the Experts” told me I had to have both in my wardrobe. Except I don’t. The truth is, I don’t have to have anything in my wardrobe that I don’t choose to put there, that I don’t love and that I don’t want to wear. These days, I ignore “Experts”. I’ve realised they’re just trying to sell me stuff I don’t need or want.

Learn to return! I’d also have returned things that I didn’t really love. I buy a lot of items online – and always have – but when I first started the Project, I kept some items thinking I could grow to love them. That was unwise. If I didn’t love them now, I was unlike to ever love them later.

Stick to 33 items! I’d have stuck more tightly to the number 33 in items. At various points I exceeded 33 in items. I should have stuck to that number more tightly, and been quicker to get rid of items I was never going to wear. I guess I’m just someone who takes a while to accept when I made a mistake! 😉

If I don’t like it now, I’ll never like it in the future! I was slow to get rid of items I’d bought then didn’t wear, at first. I kept on telling myself I’ll wear them…eventually. But “eventually” never came. It took me more than a year to realise that if I don’t like something now, I’m not going to start liking it later. Sometimes I don’t even understand why I don’t like something, but if it’s not me, it won’t ever be me.

And on…

I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with The Project 333. I strongly recommend it. I’m no fashionista – not yet! – but these days I scrub up well.

I don’t step outside in tracksuit bottoms – unless I’m off to the gym or I’m working outside in the garden. I even wear jewelry and a few accessories, which is something I never thought I’d do. And the crusty old t-shirts are long gone.

Are you doing The Project 333 – or some other Capsule Wardrobe project? How is it going, and have you learned anything you’d like to share?

My capsule wardrobe, as it was. Everything is still here 1.5 years on, except the plain blue shirt and the plain white one.

My capsule wardrobe, as it was. Everything is still here 1.5 years on, except the plain blue shirt and the plain white one.

Capsule wardrobe: Building with the basics..

There are a myriad of ways to create a capsule wardrobe, but none of them will work if they don’t represent who you really are.

If you’re not wearing clothes that suit you, that make you feel great, that give a sense of your best self, then you’re just fitting someone else’s version of minimalism.

Which is being a bit of a fraud, really.

Your Capsule Wardrobe should represent who YOU are!

Nobody has to follow the guidelines of “black blazer, breton stripe t-shirt, little black dress, crisp white shirt, white t-shirt” if it doesn’t suit them.

Your basics should be your basics. They’re up to you, and should reflect your style and who you are.

Whatever you choose, your Capsule Wardrobe should represent yourself. No-one else. Just you.

So what I’m suggesting here is what to look for in your basics. Guidelines. Then I’m going to give examples of some good basic items that work for me. They might work for you too.

What might be in your Capsule Wardrobe? The basics…

Here’s what to look for in a good basic item:

  • Good quality. Invest in good quality items, and buy fewer of them. For example, I own just six pair of shoes, which serve me all year round. These include special purpose shoes such as walking shoes and my gym shoes. Buy items designed to last. I’ve learned this the hard way, but you will save money – absolutely.
  • Cross-seasonal. Invest in items you can wear all year around. Examples might include a denim jacket, a leather jacket, a plain cardigan, or a plain pair of leather flats.
  • Multi-functional. Invest in clothing that can be dressed up or down. For example, I wear my denim swing dress to the beach with sandals in summer, but I can also wear it in winter with leggings and a cardigan and puffer jacket.
  • Unmemorable. Your basics shouldn’t be particularly memorable. Stick to plain, neutral colours. Unmemorable items are easier to mix and match with memorable accessories.
  • Mid-weight. I choose mid-weight fabrics wherever possible, as they’re more flexible for year-round wear. And do the “scrunch test” – scrunch the fabric in your hand to check for creasing – before you buy.
  • Well-cut. Choose items that fit you well, and are well-cut. Good quality blazers, dresses that fall well, jeans that have a flattering cut, trousers that sit well.
  • Items that mix and match. Denim jeans that can be worn with all of your shirts. A great pair of leggings to be worn alone or under a dress. Leather gloves to wear to work or on the weekend. A great belt that goes with everything. The more of your wardrobe that works together, the more options you have every day when getting dressed.

Examples of good basic items

  • Denim jacket: Wear with everything casual. Buy a good quality jacket that fits well.
  • Puffer jacket: Mine is black. I’ve had it about eight years now, and it’s still in good condition. Look for a jacket with smooth-running zips and a good hood if you’re out in the weather.
  • Leather jacket: Mine is a black Moto jacket. I’ve had it three years now and it looks great over dresses or jeans, for work or casual.
  • Denim jeans: Check for fit and length, and be aware that some brands will shrink in length in the wash, so go longer if you’re tall (like me). Most shops will re-hem for free or a small fee if you need this service, so ask.
  • Basic dresses: Basic dresses in plain colours are my staple. Pair with a jacket and you’re good for work. Choose dresses in colours that suit you: I’ve bought in bright red, bright blue, black and denim. Pair with heels, flats or boots.
  • Leather flats: I only bought my leather flats last week, but already I’m wearing them incessantly. They look terrific with jeans or dresses, and a classic style in good quality leather will last the distance. Mine are black.
  • Ankle boots: Ankle boots are great for winter. I tend to avoid heels, as I live in Dunedin, which is a city with lots of hills and ice in winter, and I’m tall so I don’t need the extra height anyway. My ankle boots are black leather, from Nine West, in a very classic style.
  • Knee high leather boots: Knee high boots are great with jeans or, depending on the style, a winter dress. Experiment, and see what works. You can ever wear long, thick socks underneath to keep you extra toasty!
  • Solid leather belt: Every wardrobe needs a solid leather belt. Check to make sure it is thin enough to go through the belt hoops of your favourite jeans, while wide enough not to slip or sag.
  • Leather gloves: Leather gloves, especially wool or fur-lined, will keep you warm and look fantastic through winter.
  • Well-cut shirt: Well-cut shirts or blouses can be a staple in your wardrobe, depending on the look you want to achieve. I like to wear vintage shirts, as they’re better-made and give me a unique look and style I enjoy.
  • T-shirts: You don’t need more than two or three. Make sure they’re in good condition, fit you well, and are a flattering cut. I like scoop-neck and v-neck t-shirts, but it’s up to you.
  • Comfortable hoodie: A comfortable in a colour you like looks great over pretty much anything, and is terrific with jeans in winter.

denimjacket