Style Guide

How (and Why) to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

"The fewer clothes you have in your closet, the better you know your clothes," says designer Merin Guthrie.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen April 28, 2017

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Merin Guthrie of Kit designs custom clothing that's meant to be worn for years.

Doing more with less is basically the motto of the new millennium. Stuffing our closets with fast fashion isn't just harmful for the planet, it's a lot of work. Hence the emergence of the capsule wardrobe, the philosophy of paring down our clothes to a few key pieces that all work together—especially since most women spend 90 percent of their time wearing 10 percent of their clothes anyway.

But teaching yourself to shop with a bigger picture in mind is tricky, so we called up Houston designer Merin Guthrie, founder and CEO of Kit, a customizable clothing line, on how she works with her clients to make the most of their purchases—and why less clothing clutter really does make life easier. 

"The fewer clothes you have in your closet, the better you know your clothes," says Guthrie. "This is what works for me. It just speeds up your morning—most of us get dressed before coffee, so it helps to be able to have a default."

1. Stop thinking about pieces individually

You don't actually need six pairs of pants in a range of colors, you need a couple pairs that between them mix and match with your other pieces to produce several unique outfits. In other words, look at your closet as a cohesive unit where everything (or at least almost everything) should play well together. It helps to keep it simple and focus on your real goals for how you want to present yourself every day.

"There's this perception that women are dressing every day as this sort of external projection of their personality, values and creativity. And that is very true of some women, particularly 18-to-24-year-old women who have a lot of time to invest in what they're wearing. We do a lot of surveying and what a lot of women want is to look reasonably put together and stylish but not trendy," says Guthrie.

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A layer-ready dress for all seasons: the A-line sheath from Kit in linen chambray, $235

2. Pick fabrics that are made to last

First of all, a nice fabric will do great things to your frame while you're wearing it. The alternative isn't very pretty: "A lot of synthetics are very thin and clingy, so you end up with this really nice effect of seeing every bulge of your bra," says Guthrie, who nevertheless says there are nice synthetics that wear well. But in addition to draping nicely, natural fabrics don't break down in the wash the same way so they can last for years.

Did we mention that they breathe? "Our older customers who have lived in Houston 50 years will say, 'I don't even want to look at the synthetics—it makes me hot just looking at it,'" says Guthrie. When in doubt, she says a medium-weight cotton or heavy linen work well almost all year.

3. Make neutrals your best friend

"This may sound boring, but I'm a big neutrals and prints-that-match-neutrals person. A lot of my wardrobe is white, black, navy, grey and colors that match them, like tomato red and some bright blues," says Guthrie, who also loves to throw in prints whether florals, animal prints or graphic patterns that will pair well with the neutrals. In other words, focus your wardrobe on the same part of the color wheel. Or maybe just accept that navy is all you need. "We sell a ton of navy year-round. Navy is the jazzier black when black feels like a copout." 

4. Add oomph with accessories

"Fifty-five percent of our customer base, which is women from their late 20s to their 70s, the way they like to throw in color is through accesories or a small piece, like a blouse. I do think women gravitate things that are easy—that's what makes a capsule wardrobe so great. It becomes really easy to throw on an outfit and add a citron yellow scarf as your pop of color, or some really fun earrings. I know women who have great collections of fun earrings," says Guthrie.

5. Pick styles that can transition through multiple seasons

The VIPs of your closet, according to Guthrie, are pieces that can get you from September through June with just a little layering. (July and August are separate beasts that require as little clothing as possible, and we all must deal with them as best we can.) Among her favorites are a classic crisp white button-down shirt; a tunic in linen, cotton or silk; and a short-sleeve or sleeveless shift dress that loosely skims the bust and torso.

"We had trunk shoes in New York in early April and all I had was the spring/summer clothes, so I packed a black and white graphic shift over black opaque tights and a black cashmere turtleneck. Then when I got back to Houston I'd wear it with flip-flops," says Guthrie.

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