Pare It Down
Creating a Capsule Wardrobe

Photo: Emmanuel Brooks

One morning while getting ready for the day, Greenhouse Mercantile owner Kenya Brantley found herself overwhelmed.

In her own closet. She realized she had amassed clothing that spanned a lifetime, including items she hadn’t worn in several years and pieces with tags still on them. And even still, she thought to herself, ‘I have nothing to wear! There’s got to be a better way.’

She did a little research and found that better system, a “capsule wardrobe,” about five years ago. “It forces you to look at what you love and what is essential to you,” she says. By paring down the items in her closet to the things she actually uses on a regular basis, finding something to wear and getting ready became much easier. And once she had the formula down, she began helping others with the same problem. We asked her to share her tips with us.

Start by paying attention to what you wear within a three-month span, she says, and put all of those things at the front of your closet.

Take a good look at each item in your closet and ask yourself: Does this fit? Are there holes in it or buttons that need to be sewn on? Give or throw away those items that aren’t suitable for wear, or that you won’t find the time to repair.

If you have an outfit that you’ve worn to, say, your daughter’s wedding or other special occasion, take a picture of it and move on, she adds. “If you really love it and you’re going to wear it again, absolutely hang on to it. But if you’re not, sell it or donate it, and make room for something else that brings you joy.”

Closet staples should include a great T-shirt, a great coat, two pairs of jeans, a few blouses and slacks, to start. “Take a look at your lifestyle and build your wardrobe appropriately,” she adds. “Make sure you have clothes suitable to your job. Some people have a uniform. For instance, they’ll have five pairs of the same trousers for work, and that’s all they wear.”

What about shoes? (Please don’t ask us to get rid of our shoes, Kenya!) One pair of each type of shoe for different occasions is enough, she says. One pair of boots, casual shoes, dress shoes, flip-flops, and sneakers should cover it. “It’s about having what you need and paring down, not just having things in your closet just to have them.”

Capsule wardrobes tend to be fairly neutral, she says, to make sure everything can be mixed and matched, so choose basics that can be paired with other items. “If you love pops of color, you can always work those in. You can always pair that fuschia shirt with black pants.”

She doesn’t count her leggings and undergarments as part of her capsule wardrobe, just the things in her closet, but she does limit the amount of things in her drawers as well.

She has the same minimalist attitude toward her jewelry and accessories, again making sure that the pieces she has can be worn with most of what she has. She sticks to her one necklace and one pair of earrings, though she says it’s fine to have a few more pieces than that.

A study she read told her that in the 1950s, every woman averaged about 10 pieces of clothing and now we’re up to 150. She attributes that, in part, to today’s fast fashion. “We’re buying these pieces and throwing them away, instead of buying pieces that will last you a really long time and taking care of those pieces to make sure that you are more sustainable.”

Kenya only has 30 or 35 pieces in her capsule wardrobe and is always reevaluating what she can switch out or discard. She also doesn’t shop much, she says, because she’s content with what she has. “Being conscious of what you’re wearing and making sure that each and every piece fits you perfectly will boost your confidence!”