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.

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.


Teaching our daughters to dress well: eight tips

Nobody taught me how to dress myself.

I was a typical teen. I followed along, buying everything my friends said was cool or trendy, never asking myself whether it looked great or was good value.

Occasionally I’d read an article about “backbone wardrobes” or “classic fashion”. But classic fashion didn’t suit me. I look uncomfortable in a suit, awkward in most jewelry, and downright ridiculous in anything too girly!

So I ignored fashion, thinking it wasn’t for me, and all the while dressing poorly, with clothes that didn’t fit well, didn’t wash well, didn’t look good.

Does any of this sound familiar?

These days I dress well, with fewer clothes. Far fewer clothes. I’m experimenting with the ten item wardrobe. Although I’m not down to ten items, I’m on my way.

I’ve figured out what suits me, I buy quality clothing, I’m not afraid to spend money on a single good item, and my wardrobe is small.

If I could go back in time, I’d wish I’d been taught to dress well. I think my mother was as awkward with fashion as I was – as lost in it all, although she always seemed incredibly beautiful to me.

I think she didn’t help me learn, because she’d never learned herself. Had she known, we could both have saved ourselves thousands – and much pain.

So here’s how to dress our daughters well:

1. Learn what colours suit youColour Me Beautiful is a great tool – but don’t be afraid to break the rules. For example, I’m a “Spring”, but I can wear black, as long as I keep it away from my face.

2. Find at least one style of dress that looks great on you, and is cross-seasonal. For me, that’s “swing dresses”: 50s-style dresses that are fitted in the bodice and flare from the hip. I buy dresses in fabrics that can be worn all year round, and dresses warmly with tights and leggings, or cool in summer with just a pair of sandals.

50s style swing dresses can be very flattering, especially for larger women, and those with larger bone structures.

50s style swing dresses can be very flattering, especially for larger women, and those with larger bone structures.

3. Don’t be afraid to buy quality. I’ve bought dresses I’ve worn hundreds of times that are great quality – and t-shirts that were cheap and looked awful or shrunk after just one wash. Cheap often isn’t a bargain – not if you have to replace it over and over, and it doesn’t look great in the first place.

4. Buy quality shoes that are cross-seasonal. My leather ankle boots are worn all-year-round. I look after them, and they look awesome every time I wear them.

5. We commonly dress teenagers in trendy, cheap, ugly clothing. I think teens deserve great clothing that is good quality, even if that means they get less of it. We can either teach our teens to dress well and understand quality and style, or we can encourage them to buy cheap rubbish. I’d prefer to teach my teens style. I think they deserve it.

6. Fit is everything. If it doesn’t fit properly, it won’t ever look good. Check out this Basic Guide to Proper Fit and see what a difference correct fit makes!

7. Make fashion work for you. Fashion comes and goes, but most of it won’t work for your daughter, unless she’s one of those rare people who looks great in practically everything. Teach her to be discriminating. For example, when the “pastels and lace” trend was in a few years ago, it looked terrific on my best friend. On me? Ugh. Sometimes taking a photo in the change room when trying items on can really help clarify things.

8. Buy investment pieces – even as a teenager. An investment piece is any item that lasts more than a season, and is replaced because it wears out, rather than loses quality (shape or stretch, pilling etc.) or fashion. Good investment pieces for teens to begin with might include:

  • Hiking boots
  • Great quality leather ballet flats
  • A medium width leather belt
  • A thick winter jacket or puffer jacket
  • A denim jacket
  • Great quality jeans that fit well
  • A cross-seasonal dress for day wear that fits well. Styles to try might include fit-and-flare, rockabilly, A-line and sheath
  • A cross-seasonal, fully lined evening dress in a dark colour and simple style that fits well.