Your Capsule Collection: how to build a wardrobe for life

Sustainable clothing choices

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Welcome all to your next instalment of the sustainable fashion diaries. Spring finally did arrive then, in fact there’s a chance it’s sprung so far we might be in summer already, and this is the time of year we open those wardrobe doors and think ‘ugh, what do I wear now?!’.

I love my spring wardrobe, I wave a friendly farewell to large overcoats and tights and bring out some delightfully light jackets, crocheted jumpers and floaty skirts. So with this turn of the season and the urge to shop bubbling up inside you it’s the perfect time to start creating your sustainable capsule wardrobe with this step-by-step and example wardrobe to guide you:

Step 1: Declutter, pronto

Throw your windows and wardrobe doors open and embrace the thrill of a spring clean. You need three piles for this particular mission:

1. The Bin Pile, for all the stuff that’s totally worn out and you now avoid wearing it because it’s totally worn out but you haven’t managed to throw away. Do that now. Author edit:  I always take my ‘bin pile’ items to a clothing bin, often my local Oxfam one where they sort again what they can resell – even if we don’t think they can – or what they will recycle. However, it’s important to know that some end of life clothes recyclers are struggling to do this as often they’re sending items to African countries where clothing is now being refused and sent to landfill anyway.

2. The Sell It Pile, for stuff you don’t wear but it’s good enough for someone else. This is a good way to get a little pocket money for your troubles – eBay, Depop and Preloved are full of people who might want your things! Top tip: take good photos, white backgrounds or modelling your items works best.

3. The Donate Pile, still good but not good enough to sell, this one is likely to be your biggest pile but lots of charities are so happy to receive part-worn clothes (and there’s lots of people like me who like thrifting them).

Step 2: Channel your style

Leave behind only things that you love, that you could wear on any day and will last you. Figure out your staples based on what you’ve worn over the last few months and the first things you picked out for the warmer days, this should tell you a lot about your style. Try to picture yourself in the things you have, what pieces immediately come to mind when you think of: going for a picnic, going for a walk, going to a BBQ, going to a party, slouching around the house, running errands? Do you picture some of the same items for each scenario? Ask yourself how you feel about what’s left in that no-man’s-land between definitely staples and your three Piles, try to move as much as you can to one of those piles.

Step 3: You’re allowed to shop now

Yes, you are, promise! I’m not going to leave you with nothing.  Here’s where you must figure out your basics which include your go-to tops, bottoms, jackets and accessories. You can go about this in your own way but I tend to work by the rules of French style: “classic” and “timeless”. These are two words that are perfect for defining your capsule wardrobe and to give you an example, here’s how I went about it:

Tops

I have two white shirts, one light and flowy with a few simple patterns (from Oliver Bonas, members of the Ethical Trade Initiative), and one plain white number which can go with any colour that you feel suits you. I also have a couple of basic tees, a white, a grey and a navy – these go for any occasion, days at home, for casual looks with jeans or paired with a midi circle skirt and heels for a little more sophistication.

Bottoms

a good pair of flattering trousers, not too tight in case you’re having a big dinner, not too loose that you lose the shape of your legs underneath. A good pair of jeans, Levi’s or MUD jeans are my go-to, they last, can be repaired by the brand if you need them and tend to retain their colour and shape a lot longer than your bog standard high street pair. An A-line skirt of any length is crucial for spring and summer days, for a feminine silhouette and for dressing the same outfit up or down. I love this one from Thought Clothing, which is now on sale!

Jackets

A little leather jacket – suitable for any occasion and a staple for street style chic, a light blazer in anything from navy to pastel pink – summer outerwear sorted. For winter you’re allowed to keep your tailored overcoat and a little waterproof number, seeing as it snows in March now flexible options are a must.

Accessories

Scarves: a couple of light, a couple of thick for changing seasons. Try to buy sustainable wool for your winter warmers as they’re much longer-lasting and the warmest you can get. Bags: for me bags are something I don’t buy willy nilly, I don’t have many and make the few that I have work for various occasions. In this day and age it’s crucial to have a good backpack. We’re always carrying around laptops, iPads and pack lunches alongside the toys and spare pants for kids and our make up bags for the work-out transition. I have a couple of smaller bags that I use for more casual occasions – this is a must, you can’t turn up to a cocktail party with a backpack (unless you’re planning on taking leftover food home which is fine with me). I currently LOVE this dreamy shoulder bag from CARV London, who hand make everything from vegetable leather. And, if you insist on needing a summer-only bag (also fine by me) you can invest in a good basket bag for which all the help you need is on Kate’s recent post.

So there we have it, in just a few short minutes (or some agonising days, we’ve all been there) you can figure out exactly what it is you love to wear; items that you feel most comfortable in, that make you feel pretty, sophisticated or glamorous don’t have to be that many in number as long as you are buying good quality clothing, you can define your style and stick to it. This should completely eradicate your need to buy something new every time you have an event and therefore making you so much more of a sustainable fashionista! With the right accessories and jewellery you can change your basics up to match your occasion and at the end of the day, if you feel great in what you’re wearing, you’ll look great too – no matter how many times your friends have seen your skirt before.

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3 Comments

  • I am so disappointed that a seeming avocate of sustainable living through fashion can recommend throwing anything in the bin in this day and age. Clothes into landfill continue to be a issue in the UK, with 1bn items a year ending up there according to WRAP research. There are end of life solutions for any item, no matter how worn, as they can be recycled. You just need to separate all totally knackered materials from good, resealable items, and make sure you pass them on to reputable processors (like Oxfam, who have their own recycling centre, or commercial recyclers). Please, please, please, never ever advise anyone to put clothes in the bin again!!

  • Hi Alex,

    Thank you for your comment. I should have been clearer about what I mean by disposing of items in the “bin” pile, I always take my “bin pile” items to a clothing bin, often as you say, my local Oxfam one where they sort again what they can resell – even if we don’t think they can – or what they will recycle. However, it’s important to know that some end of life clothes recyclers are struggling to do this as often they’re sending items to African countries where clothing is now being refused and sent to landfill anyway.

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