12 Essentials on a Minimalist Wardrobe Checklist (for Women)
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
This blog post offers a checklist of 12 essentials for creating your minimalist capsule wardrobe. You can easily customize this checklist to fit your personal style, body type, color palette, and weather.
In this blog post, you will find answers to the following questions:
Let's dig in!
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What is a minimalist capsule wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is simply a small collection of items that can be worn together. Many times, the color palette is neutral so all pieces will coordinate. There is not a magic number you can tag to qualify a capsule wardrobe.
In my opinion, The Simplicity Habit has an excellent definition of capsule wardrobes:
The term ‘capsule wardrobe‘ was created by Susie Faux, who owned a London boutique named “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. She defined a capsule wardrobe as a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of style that can be enhanced with seasonal pieces.
The concept became popular in American culture in the mid 1980’s thanks to Donna Karan who created an influential capsule collection of interchangeable pieces.
A capsule wardrobe has come to mean a collection of clothes that can be worn interchangeably to maximize the number of outfits that can be made from them.
The idea is to have an appropriate outfit for just about anything without having excess. This is done by having staple pieces and coordinating colors.
Why should I start a capsule wardrobe?
Creating a capsule wardrobe with essential items will:
make getting dressed easier and faster
keep your outfits interesting but versatile
allow time for you to create a minimalist closet filled with clothes you love wearing
stick to simple, repeatable patterns that flatter your body type
How do you build a capsule wardrobe?
To build a capsule wardrobe, consider your current body type, personal style, combinations you like wearing, a color palette, declutter items you do not wear, and identify anchor items.
Embrace your current body type.
Over the years, my body has grown and fed three babies. My weight has bounced up and down. I’m now working on embracing the “menopause middle” and figuring out how to dress it while also figuring out how to lose it.
Body types change and embracing your current body type will help you nail down your own capsule wardrobe that makes you happy.
Dig into your personal style.
My personal style ebbs and flows depending on my body type and season. These days, I’m into a bohemian, easy style of clothing with fabrics I love wearing.
I’ve accepted that I do not like sweaters, but I like to layer my outfits with cardigans and light jackets. I prefer pants instead of leggings, and a dress instead of a skirt.
Repeat combinations you like wearing.
For example, I often will pair a white t-shirt with a light fabric cardigan and a comfy pair of pants in fall and spring. Neutral color tops plus basic navy or black pants affords the freedom to choose statement pieces like a bright color cardigan or denim jacket.
Nail down your color palette.
I've learned over the last few years to narrow down to a color palette that compliments my skin color. I've expanded with more pieces in navy and brown that I love.
Declutter items you do not wear.
Hanging onto clothes that do not fit now or fabrics that you do not love wearing is not doing you any favors. Mindset is important when curating a closet full of items you love.
Slowly let go of fast fashion and lean into higher quality items.
Keeping fewer clothes on your basic wardrobe essentials list is an easy way to add new clothes over time.
Buying higher quality clothing may require setting aside savings for a while. Clothes made with sustainable fabrics and ethical practices are typically more expensive, and have a positive, long term effect on your wardrobe.
You will find some fast fashion Amazon purchases on my list of 12 starter essentials below, as well as some higher quality made items. Phasing in higher quality items takes time, and sometimes you just need (or love) that cheaply made shirt.
Identify three or four anchor items and create outfits around each anchor item.
Thinking about your wardrobe as a collection of several mini capsules is one way to embrace a minimalist style but still have a considerable number of pieces in your closet.
Do you have a pair of skinny jeans you love wearing? Create a mini capsule of two shirts, a light jacket and some favorite shoes to wear with it.
What is the right number of items to keep in a capsule wardrobe?
I’m recommending 12 essential items in this blog post, but truly this is a suggestive, starter number. It’s a baseline of favorites that you can use a foundation to build a capsule wardrobe.
Project 333 suggests keeping 33 items in your wardrobe. Courtney Carver is the mastermind author behind Project 333, and she says:
“Project 333™ is the minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months.”
Un-Fancy kicks off a season with a 10 x 10 challenge of 10 items for 10 days. Per her website:
“Here’s how it works: Pick 10 items of clothing from your closet. Include tops, bottoms, and shoes for your everyday life. Don’t include accessories, outerwear, bags, PJs, or gym clothes — they can flow in and out freely. Then, for 10 days, create a new outfit each day using your 10 items.”
Here’s my answer: let laundry be your guide. Could I wear the same 10 items in rotation for 10 days? Sure. Do I want to? No. I like to change it up based on my mood, what time I woke up, what I need to do in a day, and where I need to go.
Typically, I cycle at least one load of laundry per day for my family of five. I wash everyone’s clothes in Dropps laundry detergent, and I wash darks with darks, lights with lights, etc. and throw everyone’s dirty clothes in together.
Sometimes I change it up and wash one person’s laundry per day. That’s a rotation of every five days, which means each person needs enough clothes to navigate five days.
My husband and I re-wear clothes, and the kids are (slowly) learning to do the same. However, my wildlings get muddy, dirty, and food messes on EVERY ITEM OF CLOTHING. Even ones they are not wearing (eh… mine, thanks kids). This means re-wearing can be challenging for them, but we are working on that in our house.
The “right” number of clothes in your capsule wardrobe is subjective.
Do you need five cardigans? Maybe not, but if they are all different colors, fabrics, and you genuinely wear and like all five cardigans, then keep them.
If you feel overwhelmed instead of inspired when you are selecting clothes to wear for the day, then consider decluttering your closet or shopping for replacements that you love.
How do I declutter items from my closet?
Decluttering your closet is often prompted by being fed up. Fed up with how you feel in your clothes, the sheer number of choices, or how hard it is to get dressed. Jump on that feeling and choose a few items to donate.
Another way to declutter quickly is to pull out every top you own and pile onto your bed. Choose your favorites, the ones you love, and hang them back into your closet. Ruthlessly and honestly evaluate the ones you didn’t keep. Can you let go of all of them? Now repeat for pants, dresses, skirts, etc. You can find donation centers near you.
In this video, you will find some inspiration to declutter items from your closet. I recently and ruthlessly decluttered my wardrobe, and shared it on YouTube. I was fed up with the number of choices presented to me each morning. Solved that problem by donating 60% of my closet!
What color palette is best for a capsule wardrobe?
The "right" color palette for your minimalist wardrobe checklist is the one that you love and compliments YOU. If you love wearing red, but it's not in your recommended seasonal color palette, then wear red!
A Google search for "seasonal color palette for wardrobe" will unearth options for you, but I like how 30 Something Urban Girl (even though I'm 46 years old) breaks down options for a seasonal color analysis.
Using her website, I gravitate towards cream, navy and brown as my base colors, and punch it up with some minty accent color pieces, coral colored items, and an army green color. I'm a Warm Spring.
Neutral colors are an easy way to create a minimalist capsule wardrobe. In fashion, these colors are typically considered any clothing item that lacks color, such as black, white, gray, beige, brown, and even navy. These neutral tones can be light, dark, or muted.
Choosing a color palette that is best for YOUR capsule wardrobe depends on your preferences, style, skin color, and more. As an example, navy is one of my base colors and plays nicely with other neutral colors like gray and white.
The 12 Essentials for a Minimalist Wardrobe Checklist
Important note: these 12 essentials are suggested minimums. Starter items. I’m not suggesting you only ever own one tank top. Start with one and expand over time. The list of minimalist wardrobe essentials includes one tank top.
For example, I have three base tank tops (mint, white, and black) from Amazon in my closet that I wear with dressy tank tops or light jackets. They are essentially undershirts for me but are part of my recommended essential starter list.
Short sleeve shirt
Long sleeve shirt
Little black dress (LBD)
Solid color dress in a neutral tone (but not black since #8 is your LBD)
Sneakers or (sneaker like shoes)
Let's talk about that last one as an example. You could swap capsule wardrobe basics throughout your seasons based on your personal style.
Wear the same trench coat made of neutral tones in spring, fall, and winter. Living on the East Coast of the United States currently, our temperatures vary from season to season from below freezing to 100 degrees.
Wearing the same coat year round (weather permitting) may feel boring and not a fit for your lifestyle. Versatile pieces by season like a trench coat for spring, and a leather jacket for fall may work well for you. Maybe you need a heavy, winter coat for cold weather and your winter wardrobe essentials list is a bit longer.
Some areas may call for the simple solution of a denim jacket for cooler, summer nights. The pieces of clothing you curate into your minimalist approach depend on your body shape. I have yet to find a jean jacket I like for my apple shape, but love my green jacket (#12 in the image below) as it's a bit longer than a denim jacket.
A minimalist wardrobe includes the items you love and that you wear. The number of items in a minimalist closet is subjective. Whether you keep one coat or four coats is up to you.
Carving out a minimalist lifestyle takes time and figuring out what you can live without.
Here are my 12 essentials, but I want to note that I have about 50 items in my closet in total.
Shirt: Short sleeve from TJ Maxx (link not available)
Shirt: Long sleeves from Amazon
Jeans from J.Jill (these are similar)
Pants from Amazon (I'm obsessed with these pants - I have dark olive and black)
Skirt thrifted from ThredUp
Little navy dress from Amazon (they have it in LBD, too)
Solid color dress in a neutral tone from Christy Dawn (made from organic cotton)
Everyday shoes from Amazon (ballet flats)
Dress shoes (I usually wear sandals or my dress boots - I donated my heels)
Sneakers from Vionic
Cool weather coat from Lee (link not available for coat in image, but I also wear this trench rain coat)
How do I include special occasion items as part of the capsule wardrobe checklist?
Special occasions call for special clothes. The trick to maintaining great capsule wardrobes is to choose items that can be mixed and matched in different ways, such as seasonal weather or travel occasions.
Your little black dress is versatile for special occasions and can be dressed up with fancy heels, a cashmere wrap, and high quality jewelry. You may not wish to wear that same black dress to a wedding or for every special occasion, which is why I have a second dress on the essentials list.
That second dress in a neutral color can be leveled up with a splashy color coat or fun, red heels. You can use belts, wraps, shoes, cardigans, blazers, coats, and jewelry to mix up how you wear that second dress, as an alternative to your LBD.
Example: Watch me create two capsule wardrobes!
In this video, I explored creating two mini capsules using anchor pieces.
How would you personalize this list of 12 essential pieces? What would you change? Would you start with fewer options?
Read this one next!