The Capsule Algorithm: Lessons from the Capsule Wardrobe

I’ve been going back and forth with the idea of committing to the Capsule Wardrobe for over a year. { What a Capsule Wardrobe is, described below. } From a creative perspective, I’ve always found that adding some rules and restrictions can be liberating. However, I’ve never felt comfortable committing to the restrictions of a Capsule Wardrobe. In this post, I describe how to use the Capsule Algorithm, inspired by the Capsule Wardrobe, to systematically give your existing wardrobe fresh inspiration.

Where’s the algorithm you ask? An algorithm is “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” The process and rules for solving your wardrobe problems can be found below! The computer part… well, you may just have to wait for another post.

capsule wardrobe from the capsule algorithm on the fashion robot blog by leanne luce

What is the Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a basic concept of eliminating everything you don’t wear and narrowing down what you do wear to a specific number of garments. The term was coined in the 1970s by a woman named Susie Faux, who owned a boutique in London called “Wardrobe.” At the time, she was referring to the “essentials,” basics that make your wardrobe.

It has come to mean something a little bit different… the capsule wardrobe has become more of a challenge. For example, Project 333 is a challenge to wear 33 items or less for 3 months. The pitch is usually around simplifying your life, eliminating clutter, and reducing environmental impact associated with the consumption of fast fashion. These things are all good, but a challenge is designed to make you feel like if you can’t live up to it you are bad or against the values of the challenge. That is often not the case.

What don’t I love about it?

The truth is, I will probably never commit to the 10 pc / 12 pc / 24 pc / 32 pc limitations that are required to truly have a Capsule Wardrobe. There are a few reasons why I don’t love it:

Color — the Capsule Wardrobe favors neutral colors (and often solids) like: black, white, beige, navy… I often like to rotate colors because I get tired of them.

Outside Variables — an outfit is not suitable for any day, it’s suitable for some days depending on the weather, how bloated I am feeling, how much I’m walking that day (heels?), what’s in the laundry, upcoming events, and so many other variables… the amount of combinations that come from a really limited set isn’t always enough for my life in particular.

Waste — ironically… I think about all the garments in my closet, to commit to the Capsule Wardrobe as a lifestyle, do I have to get rid of everything else?

Rules — are meant to be broken. 😉

What do I love about it?

It’s a refreshing formula for getting over a creative block and exhausting the combinations of outfits you can make with a given set of garments. Our wardrobes are an ever evolving project and often without structured logic. Bringing a simple algorithm in to help expand possibilities within the closet you already have is a great way to rid of the feeling that you have nothing to wear.

the capsule algorithm 10 piece template

The Capsule Algorithm

Because this post really isn’t about creating and adopting the Capsule Wardrobe as a lifestyle, it feels like a misnomer for what I am describing. What I’m describing is using the Capsule Algorithm as a refresh tool. The Capsule Algorithm is the series of steps to create outfits. Those steps go something like this:

  1. Color Palette — define a limited color palette to help make it easier to recombine pieces. A good number is 4 colors, which allows for 2 base colors and 2 accent colors. { My example below is really focuses around 2 base colors and 1 accent color. That’s ok too. }

  2. Assortment — in apparel design, assortment planning is a critical step to building a balanced collection. This is no different. Consider the types of pieces you will need. In a 10 pc Capsule, a good balance looks something like: 2 outwear pieces, 3 tops, 1 dress, 2 bottoms, and 2 shoes. { Note, below I included 4 tops and no dress instead of 3 tops and 1 dress. }

    • Basic Silhouettes — Similar to the color palette selection, it’s good to think about balancing base and accent garments, having around 6 or 7 of the 10 pcs be basics will help make it easier to create outfits. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring. In the example below, I have a basic blazer in a novelty color.

  3. Choosing Garments — now that you have thought through the colors and garment types you’re looking to select, there are a few more variables to consider when choosing garments:

    • Lifestyle — in terms of styles, choose garments that fit your lifestyle. If you need to dress for work everyday, it might be good to build a Capsule around that. If you need every piece to pass the ‘sit on the couch and watch TV’ test, choose accordingly!

    • Weather — choose a period of time that you’re using the Capsule Algorithm for. For me, it’s October in New York City. It’s chilly, but not cold, I can wear a light jacket or a sweater pretty much any day. Knowing when you’re choosing for will influence which pieces you choose.

  4. Making Outfits — the best thing about a capsule wardrobe (especially at just 10 pcs) is that there are a large, but finite set of outfits you can make. My suggestion is to pair up every possible combination and decide later which ones actually work.

Fall 2018

There are a few colors in my wardrobe that seem to come back over and over again throughout time, no matter how many years go by. This maroon color is one of them. For fall 2018, I’m refreshing my wardrobe by embracing the maroon.

marooned no more

Example Outfit

Here’s a look from my Instagram @leanne_luce this week! I will continue posting more looks throughout the next week. Follow on Instagram if you don’t want to miss it!

capsule algorithm, inspired by the capsule wardrobe, example outfit for fall 2018
  Outfit 1  - without the sweater!

Outfit 1 - without the sweater!

Leanne Luce