Cultivating a “capsule wardrobe” could save the average Australian hundreds of dollars a year, while also benefiting the planet.
The concept of having only a small selection of essential and timeless clothing items that complement each other is gaining steam amid heightened concerns about the fashion industry’s environmental impact.
Fashion entrepreneur Pamela Jabbour, creator of Capsule Collection Wardrobe, says it also makes financial sense – particularly in the grips of a cost-of-living crisis.
“With increased expenses and inflation, it’s expensive to maintain a wardrobe that’s seasonal,” she says.
The average Australian household spends $73 per week on clothing and footwear, according to comparison website Finder’s analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data. This extrapolates to a whopping $3800 per year.
Further ABS figures released last week show the nation’s retail sales hit a record high of $35.9bn in November, jumping 1.4 per cent month-on-month off the back of the Black Friday sales. Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing had the largest month-on-month rise of 6.4 per cent.
“We should be conscious about every purchase, stop and think, ‘do I really need to buy this outfit for Friday night?’” says Sofie Carfi, founder of Fashion Revival Runway, which showcases independent, small and sustainable Australian labels.
“Our problem is we throw too much away.”
Model Irinia Kulikov in Alexander McQueen’s Horn of Plenty show, which critiqued the throwaway nature of fashion. Picture: Robert Fairer
The “rise of big fashion conglomerates” in the ’80s and ’90s triggered a “cultural discussion about excess in the industry” that has only gained momentum since, according to National Gallery of Victoria fashion and textiles curator Danielle Whitfield.
Acclaimed designer Alexander McQueen notably lamented that the “turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway” as he launched his provocative 2009 collection The Horn of Plenty, which critiqued over-consumption and its social and environmental consequences following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
Whitfield says McQueen – the topic of the NGV’s summer fashion exhibition, Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse – also criticised the relentless seasonal fashion cycle and mass production at the expense of the handmade in other collections like Deliverance and No.13.
Shalom Harlow’s dress is painted by robotic arms in McQueen’s No.13 runway show, which examined mass production in fashion. Picture: Robert Fairer
She says similar concerns about the industry are driving a joint effort from designers and consumers today to “change the way the fashion system operates”.
“The beneficiary is ultimately the planet,” she says.
Jabbour is in this camp, launching Capsule Collection Wardrobe three years ago with an aim of simplifying the sustainable fashion practice for Aussie purchasers.
The label offers a considered collection of versatile and timeless clothing in neutral colours, which are designed to be mixed and matched to create dozens of different outfits.
Jabbour says having a smaller wardrobe filled with complementary items will reduce decision fatigue and ensure you are less likely to feel “overwhelmed deciding what to wear”.
“You will absolutely save money and time,” she adds.
Neutral colours are generally recommended for capsule wardrobes because of their versatility.
To craft a capsule wardrobe, start by determining which items you already own would work in it.
Jabbour says criteria includes that a piece could form part of multiple outfits across all four seasons, is unlikely to go out of style, is made from durable materials and suits your lifestyle.
She prefers neutral colours – think black, white and navy – but encourages a pop of colour, as long as it works with several other items in the closet.
Next, you can determine if you’re missing any staples that are worth investing in, and what to do with items that won’t work in your new closet.
Carfi says to avoid unwanted clothes ending up in landfill, they should be sold, donated or even better, repurposed.
“Use them as rags to clean your car, strip them and braid them into floor matts for your dogs – you don’t have to throw anything out,” she says.
Anyone with basic sewing skills could also recreate pieces by adjusting a hemline or sleeve length, or adding new buttons or zips.
Pamela Jabbour has kept a capsule wardrobe for almost two decades.
In addition to obvious staples like a couple of T-shirts, singlets, jumpers and pants, Jabbour says every capsule wardrobe should feature a trench coat, a woollen coat, a blazer, long-sleeve shirts and a great pair of jeans. She also swears by a pair of tailored shorts she wears “every summer”.
Moving forward, she says you can invest in two to three complementary new pieces each season.
When buying a new item, she recommends researching the fabric, including its durability and how it drapes on the body, and thinking in depth about how it would pair with your other clothes.
Carfi adds you should “love” anything you purchase and, and support sustainable, independent and quality Australian designers with a cost-per-wear mindset.
But ultimately, Jabbour says with a well-planned capsule wardrobe, you’ll barely need to go shopping and still rarely have to wear the exact same outfit twice.
TIPS FOR CULTIVATING A CAPSULE WARDROBE
E Use your existing wardrobe – it’s unsustainable and expensive to start from scratch – and begin by separating the clothes you do and don’t wear regularly.
E Consider which of the items you do wear regularly are most functional for your lifestyle, most suitable for your body shape and style, durable enough to sustain many wears, and versatile in that they easily pair with other clothes. These will form the basis of your capsule wardrobe.
E Pieces that work best include items in neutral colours like white, black, grey, navy or cream, in classic cuts and patterns that won’t date, and made from high-quality fabrics.
E Use websites like Good On You and the Australian Fashion Council to ensure any clothes you buy for your wardrobe are sustainable.
E You don’t need to put a number on the items you keep, but it can help to create a checklist of every item you think you will need in your wardrobe. Eg. 4 x neutral-coloured T-shirts, 3 x dresses, 2 x denim jeans, 1 x blazer, etc.
E Sell, donate or recycle the items that aren’t suitable, including pieces that don’t fit or suit you, any duplicates you don’t need or items that are stained or damaged beyond repair.
E Create 10 everyday outfits from your capsule wardrobe to make yourself feel more comfortable about having a smaller selection of clothes, and save time and mental energy when getting dressed. This could also help expose any items in your wardrobe that don’t work with as many outfits as you’d hoped
E Use accessories to inject colour and personality into your wardrobe
How to perfectly curate a capsule wardrobeDose of the basics can build your capsule wardrobe
E Pack away clothes you won’t need in a particular season to keep your closet as minimal as possible
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse at NGV International until April 16
Originally published as How ‘capsule wardrobe’ trend can help save money, time, the environment