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Capsule wardrobes won’t last forever

The trend is dependent on income and access to quality clothing
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JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY
JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY

Do you think that you own too many clothes? Do you wake up to the seemingly impossible task of deciding what to wear? TikTok users may suggest that you invest in a capsule wardrobe, a selection of interchangeable clothing pieces which complement one another.

Although the hashtag #capsulewardrobe has amassed more than 50.5 million views on TikTok, the trend is anything but new. In the 1970s, London boutique owner Susie Faux popularized the idea of a minimalist wardrobe. After noticing that consumers were purchasing pieces that were poorly made or didn’t fit properly, Faux built a reputation around a minimalist aesthetic. This inspired American designer Donna Karan to release a ‘capsule’ collection in 1985, featuring seven interchangeable officewear pieces. 

Capsule wardrobes offer an alternative to the mass consumer ideology of ‘fast fashion,’ which refers to a designing, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing clothing. Often, the production of this clothing replicates current trends and uses low-quality materials to offer the public inexpensive styles. This mass production contributes to the fashion industry’s production of about five per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It also overworks garment workers, who often aren’t being paid a living wage.

In contrast, capsule wardrobes are built around neutral and versatile items such as trousers, t-shirts, and pants. Generally limited to 25 to 50 items, capsule wardrobes are meant to cause minimal waste. The idea is that building up your basics will give you a timeless wardrobe that will outlive any trend. 

Although they sound simple and accessible, capsule wardrobes are dependent on the idea that individuals have access to high-quality pieces of clothing. This is easier said than done; as the clothing industry grows, websites and stores that sell fast fashion are rapidly emerging, making it harder to find items that won’t wear down within a few washes. 

Additionally, purchasing high-quality clothing rests on the assumption that an individual can afford items that are well-made. This requires not only money but also time, in order to research such products, and is likely easier for people who have extra time to do so. This trend is largely rooted in classism — as a child, Susie Faux had access to handmade, tailored pieces, and she created her boutique to reflect this. 

Perhaps a more realistic approach to organizing your closet lies with author Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” method. Kondo’s idea, which is described, in her book the life changing method of tidying up, is that every item you own should consistently make you happy. To test whether it gives you joy, you should pick up the item and hold it close. If you feel joy, you keep the item. If you don’t, let the item go. Not only does this idea let you keep clothing that you like — even if it doesn’t fit in the rules of a capsule wardrobe — it encourages sustainability. because it involves items you already own. 

Capsule wardrobes are dependent on the idea that a minimalistic style will always stay ‘timeless.’ Instead, I urge you to focus on wearing whatever makes you happy. There’s no shame in enjoying what you own and getting the most use out of items that already exist in your closet.

Limiting yourself to neutrals and a set number of pieces can only be realistic for so long. Besides, if you like bold clothes, why not enjoy them?