Go on, admit it. How often do you stand in front of your bulging wardrobe wailing that you have nothing to wear? We’re all guilty of it – in fact, statistics suggest that although we spend on average £1,000 a year on new clothes, most women wear only 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. But what can we do about it?
For many fashion experts, buying less and wearing more is key, especially at a time when millions of items of clothing are sent to landfill every year. Natasha Henson, a freelance fashion writer and the editor of British Style Society says that creating your own capsule wardrobe can not only help you dress more decisively but shop more sustainably too.
“A capsule wardrobe helps alleviate that ‘I’ve got nothing to wear’ issue,” she explains. “By buying interchangeable pieces that transition well throughout the seasons, you can style different looks for a range of occasions. A capsule wardrobe can also help bring out those individual style quirks, and make you feel more confident in your everyday fashion choices.”
How to reduce the effects of fast fashion?
The idea of shopping in a way that can reduce the effects of fast fashion is an important one, and more and more people are looking to lower their environmental footprint and support companies that listen to both the needs of their workers and the world as a whole.
“You can’t get away from the effect fashion consumption has on the planet - both human and environmental,” Natasha says. “For me, ethical and sustainable clothing represents a changing tide in the industry, and a step in the right direction to reverse the effects of over-consumerism.”
Alice Asquith, founder of sustainable activewear brand Asquith, agrees. “We have to all take responsibility for what we buy and disposable fashion needs to be a thing of the past,” she says. “When it comes to fashion, what we put on our bodies is as important as what we put in them. We eat healthily so why not wear healthy? People have become more aware of the dangers of industrial chemicals in their clothing, of environmental damages from industrial practices, and of the unsafe working conditions and inferior quality associated with fast fashion.”
So, just how can you create your own ethical capsule wardrobe? Here’s our simple step-by-step guide.
- Set yourself a starting point
The term capsule wardrobe can raise many questions among shoppers. How many pieces do you need to have? Can you have a summer wardrobe and a winter wardrobe? Should you have a limited number of accessories too?
“Personally, for me, it’s all down to your lifestyle,” Natasha advises. “What works for one person could be totally different from the next, so it’s best to give yourself a guideline and always opt for quality.”
Think about the sort of clothes you need in your life and start to plan out a rough idea of what your wardrobe should contain. For some, this may include a number of smart outfits suitable for the office, whereas for others the main base may be casual clothes.
- Learn what suits you
“Understand what works for you in terms of shapes and colours and use this as a basis for your wardrobe rather than simply what you like,” Alice advises. “I have broad shoulders and long, slim legs and have learnt that while v-necks and slim fit pants suit me, a-line shapes work and nipped in waists don't.”
Ask for advice from friends you trust when working out what looks good on you and go with your instinct – you know deep down if something is flattering.
- Look at what you already have
You don’t have to buy a brand new set of clothes to create your magical combination – the chances are, many of us have the key pieces we need for a capsule wardrobe sitting among our hangers already. Go through your current wardrobe and assess which items you need and don’t need. Be clear on your goal and keep asking yourself whether these items fit in your new capsule collection.
Keep pieces that are in line with your ethical mindset – those that are made with sustainable materials, are long-lasting and are from companies dedicated to paying a fair wage.
Once you have reduced your wardrobe to a point you’re happy with, re-gift your old pieces to friends, take them to the charity shop or make use of some of the high street recycling initiatives – Marks & Spencer allows you to drop off unwanted items in its stores and shops like H&M reward you for recycling clothes.
- Plan shopping trips wisely
Now it’s time to fill in any gaps you’re missing. Visualise the outfits you’d like to create and make note of any key pieces you’re missing.
Helen Venables, the managing director of personal stylist specialist House of Colour, suggests that you should only shop at the start of every season and always have a plan. “Many of us keep picking up lots of different pieces throughout the season, but if you vow to shop only at the start of the season it means you will only buy what you really want,” she says. “Make informed choices, rather than just impulse buying.”
Head to shops that you know are considerate of the planet. H&M has a Conscious Exclusive collection which is dedicated to using organic materials, for example, while M&S has been named the UK’s most ethical high street clothing retailer in Ethical Consumer Magazine.
And, don’t forget to check out what’s online. Some of the best eco-friendly brands only sell their items via virtual stores while others only have their full range online. Some of our favourites include People Tree, Reformation, Asquith, Thought, Komodo and Beaumont Organic.
Buying timeless items
When buying items for a capsule wardrobe, the key is to ensure they’re versatile and interchangeable. Steer clear of current trends that seem to be short-lived and instead opt for classic pieces that will never go out of fashion.
“It might sound a little ordinary, but for me, a plain white tee is the ultimate timeless item,” Natasha says. “This versatile piece can be styled in a range of ways. For a casual look, pair with denim or opt for a colourful blazer to give it a smarter feel. You can also try different neck styles such as boat or V-neck to add interest.”
Other popular timeless items that many include in a capsule wardrobe are a blazer, a pair of jeans, a fail-safe jacket, a white shirt, a lightweight jumper, a cardigan and a little black dress.
Choose good quality
When buying new items, always make sure they are high quality and made to last. “Look out for products that are made from recycled fibres, organic cottons and quality materials,” Helen advises. “Use locally sourced renewable materials when you can. Avoid polyester or nylon because they’re non-biodegradable. Synthetic fabrics are fashion's equivalent to single-use plastic.
“Typically (but not always) middle and higher end retailers tend to have better supply chain ethics than their fast fashion retail compatriots. Buy cheap and someone else pays. The likelihood is if your ‘perfect’ dress was only £20, then it was probably made in factories practicing cheap labour and poor conditions. Buy from brands who are actively working to improve the environment and put pressure on fashion firms to eco-fy their labels, by choosing companies committed to eco fashion practises.”
And bear in mind how your pieces may wash, too. Choose fabrics that will wash well at 30 degrees (which is better for the environment than washes done at higher temperatures) and go with styles that you can wash over and over without them changing in appearance.
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“Personally, I feel accessorising should follow similar rules to your capsule wardrobe choices,” Natasha says. “Opt for pieces that work well for several outfits and choose materials that will last years, not months. This may mean spending a little more initially, but you’ll have beautiful jewellery and accessories that complement your wardrobe for years to come.”
“Think of your colour palette and invest in a few great pieces; a great clutch bag for night-time, a statement necklace in silver and a statement belt,” Alice adds. “Quality again wins out over quantity.”
Ethical jewellery and bags have come a long way in recent years and there are some stunning vegan leather offerings currently available on the market. We particularly love the bags from Matt & Nat, JW PEI, LaBante and V by Townsley.
Now you have your ethical capsule wardrobe set up – enjoy it! “A perfectly assembled wardrobe of clothes should give you a thrill when you open the doors to look inside and each item should be joyful to wear,” Helen says. Experiment with different combinations and step out of your comfort zone with your accessories and make-up. You’ll soon find the compliments rolling in!
Words: Claire Munnings