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How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe: The Essential Guide for Men

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Joe Niehaus
Expertise:

Style, Skincare, EDC, Fitness, Shoes

Joe is world traveler and brand fanatic. He's been writing about physical goods and the founders behind them for over four years. Beyond his work for The Adult Man, he's contributed to The Quality Edit, Business Insider, Men's Health, Travel + Leisure, and more. He's been around the block, taking his goods across the world to countries like China, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Dubai, France, and Mexico. Read full bio.


Last Updated: Feb 23, 2024
17 min read
How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe Top Down Grid of Asket Clothing
Key Takeaways

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of clothes that can be worn interchangeably to make up several outfit combinations without an excess of clothes. Rather than having bottoms that only go with some tops, each garment pairs with another. For example, two pairs of classic jeans would look good with over ten different shirts to make for dozens of different outfit combinations, rather than having specific shirts for specific pants. To get you started here’s a exclusive men’s capsule wardrobe by Rue La La, one of our favorite online boutiques to pick up quality menswear at fantastic prices.

I’m a minimalist.

Ahh, the dreaded “M” word. So 2010s, right?

Wrong! Simplicity is back in style, boys.

I’m currently on a clothing kick where I’m trying to make my morning outfit decisions as easy as possible.

Right now, I have three different colors of the same casual pants and 10 different basic tees, with a few jackets to add some flair.

And I love the ease of it.

Now, my mornings only consist of brushing my teeth, grabbing a coffee, and pulling two or three garments out of my closet—and yet still maintaining a put-together look

No more mental energy wasted on figuring out my look for the day like I’m Tom Ford or Ralph Lauren. Ha, yeah right.

Just me, a pair of simple slacks, and a basic tee.

Let me show you how to do the same, all while looking good, too.

Capsule Wardrobes: A History

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The idea of capsule wardrobes dates back to the 20th century. “Capsule” means small and compact and, in the 1940s, magazines started using the phrase “capsule wardrobe” to describe curated apparel collections that went well together.

Later on, a few people revived and popularized the term.

Susie Faux, owner of a popular boutique called Wardrobe, started using it to refer to timeless essentials in the 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, American designer Donna Karan released a collection called “7 Easy Pieces” which made the capsule wardrobe concept mainstream.

Today, the fashion media industry widely uses the term “capsule wardrobe.” It’s considered a cost-effective way to remain fashionable on a budget.

What Are the Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe?

Overview shot of lululemon ABC pants

While some benefits are obvious, others you only realize after you’ve been building one for a while.

  • They’re cost-efficient: Capsule wardrobes end up being a lot more affordable than a regular wardrobe because each article of clothing gets more use. No more buying one item for just one purpose. I highly recommend a site like Rue La La—they have high-quality, timeless brands at great prices, making it easy and affordable to set up a capsule wardrobe.
  • They save you time: Capsule wardrobes save you time on both the front end and the back end. Dressing becomes easier, but also you’ll save time when shopping for clothes, because you’ll have a clearer idea of what you need and what size.
  • They save you energy: If you’re a busy guy like me, you already have to make a lot of decisions in a day. Capsule wardrobes take one energy-draining decision out of your day.
  • Your outfits look more stylish: What’s the point of apparel if not to look good? You’d be surprised at how many different styles you can create with just a few items. With a capsule wardrobe, your picks are deliberate, which means you should have a better looking range of outfit combinations to choose from.

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe: Four Simple Steps

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Step 1: Audit Your Wardrobe

Since you’re reading about how to create a capsule wardrobe, you most likely have way too many clothes in your closet.

The first step in creating your capsule wardrobe is to get rid of the garments that you don’t wear at least once every few months.

So don’t get sentimental, fellas. Marie Kondo that stuff.

Capsule wardrobe laid out with belt

After you’ve done away with the old, it’s time to really focus on those few special pieces that you’ll wear all the time. Are those blue jeans truly as cool as you originally thought? Does that t-shirt look clean or maybe a bit too worn?

Once you’ve narrowed down what styles you enjoy and have gotten a lot of use out of over the past few years, make sure that they’re still presentable. 

If it’s got holes, throw it away.

Step 2: Choose Your Capsule Wardrobe Pieces

Now that you know what you don’t need, let’s figure out what you do need for your capsule wardrobe.

When thinking about what to get, I like to break it down into three major categories: Versatility, functionality, and quality.

  • Versatility is the main differentiator of the capsule wardrobe.
  • Functionality will determine what type of clothing you’ll pick up.
  • And quality is super important because these pieces will have to last for many years.

To make it easy, I recommend checking out a sales boutique (can we say company vs. sales boutique? like Rue La La, which has pieces that satisfy all three of these conditions—and won’t break the bank.

Save On Your New Wardrobe
Rue La La's Exclusive Capsule Wardrobe for Men
Gents, Rue La La is your new online shopping secret of the year. They stock plenty of (actually) great brands at up to 70% off, with new deals added daily. Here, they've curated an exclusive capsule wardrobe for men with plenty of huge savings, just for TAM readers.
Shop Rue La La

Let’s take a closer look at how to choose the perfect pieces for your capsule wardrobe.

Tops

True Classic Tees Review Model Wearing True Classic Tees Shirt Outdoors

When choosing sweaters, tanks, tops, and tees, try to go for pieces you can wear with many other styles and colors. Basic T-shirts are one of the ultimate garments for this. A nice cotton tee in a wide range of colors? Perfect versatility. 

You can also find some great patterned button-downs that fit this requirement. Checkered flannels and solid-color flannels are also a solid bet, and can be both casual and dressy.

Tom-Beckbe-flannel-shirt-on-model

Your choice of fabric is also an important factor when selecting capule garments. Most shirts and T-shirts are made of cotton, which I would recommend sticking to. This fabric lends itself nicely to multiple dress codes and is functional and versatile, too.

Polyester is better for sweating but can look too “techy” in casual settings, while spandex feels soft but can be too stretchy. And other materials like linen or modal have their benefits but also aren’t the most functional for all settings, so if you choose these, just be aware of the limitations.

I find myself replacing shirts most, so quality and durability are other factors to consider when choosing your capsule pieces. That’s why denim shirts have always been a staple of mine: the cotton softens over time and lasts longer than regular shirting fabric.

Goodlife Clothing denim shirt over white tee

I always take a look at the stitching, too. Is it put together with double stitches or a flimsy single stitch? Are the buttons hanging on for dear life? 

Inspect these elements before swiping your card. A shirt is only as tough as its weakest thread, so be discerning.

Bottoms

model wearing lululemon abc pants

As I mentioned before, I currently have a rotation of the same style and size of pants. They’re the Lululemon ABC Slim-Fit Pants, and I have them in three different colors.

The brand of pants doesn’t matter so much, but fit, style, and overall look do.

When choosing pants for your capsule wardrobe, try to find pairs that can be cool in the summer and somewhat warm in the winter. This way, you know they’ll be good all year round.

I like polyester for my bottoms, but cotton also does the trick.

model sitting wearing L Estrange blue oxford and grey chinos

My go-to colors for capsule wardrobe bottoms are black, grey, and navy blue. Light and dark blue jeans are a safe bet, along with a pair of dark colored chinos. You could also opt for some tailored suit pants with a bit of stretch to lend themselves to different occasions.

Rue La La is again a great place to grab all of these at a steep discount.

revtown jeans review

Quality and durability are obviously key factors to consider when selecting bottoms, too. Well-made trousers can last a lifetime, so vetting your pant lineup can save money, drawer space, and headaches shopping for replacements.

It’s a good idea to get the garments in-hand before buying, to get a feel for the quality of the build and the hardware. Weak rivets and a zipper that won’t stay closed? Hard pass!

If you’re solely shopping online, take note of things like the fabric and fit—choosing durable 12oz denim for jeans or a quality wool or poly-wool blend for dress pants, for example. 

Outerwear

model with jacket walking down stairs

When picking outerwear for your capsule wardrobe, I recommend higher-quality garments in neutral colors like black, navy, or grey. Since you only need one or two jackets, you can afford to spend more on brands that will last longer.

But looking good is only one aspect of what makes a solid outerwear pick. It still has to keep you warm and dry, so be mindful of your use case when selecting a jacket, hoodie or coat. If you live in a warmer climate, opt for a light jacket you can layer with a sweater when needed. If it’s more chilly where you live, a big parka or quality leather jacket won’t look out of place.

Regarding quality, keep in mind that spending extra money on superb outerwear will arguably bring the most appreciable benefits than any other type of clothing.

denim jacket back

So instead of buying the first bargain denim jacket you see, consider upgrading to a 14oz selvedge denim jacket that can take a beating and develop a beautiful fade that’s unique to you.

Take my advice on this one.

Penny pinching on my first rain jacket wasn’t a wise idea living in a place that sees all four seasons. The waterproof coating deteriorated in a matter of months, resulting in a jacket that was neither stylish nor protective.

Footwear

KOIO sneakers on model with sunglasses

My capsule wardrobe includes sneakers, dress shoes, and boots, which I think is a solid selection that covers three types of footwear your average guy probably needs.  

Find a pair of sneakers with modern features like supportive cushioning and flexible upper material but concealed under a neutral silhouette that can be dressed up or down. I’d recommend a basic white leather sneaker like the KOIO Capri or New Republic Kurt if on a budget.

For dress shoes, it’s best to opt for versatile over ‘dressy.’ Derbies, loafers, and wingtips, for example, are solid choices for date night but can still blend in at a black-tie wedding.

Wolf and Shepherd monaco loafers on model 1

Rue La La has a wide selection of ideal capsule wardrobe dress shoes curated as part of their exclusive men’s capsule wardrobe:

Save On Your New Wardrobe
Rue La La's Exclusive Capsule Wardrobe for Men
Gents, Rue La La is your new online shopping secret of the year. They stock plenty of (actually) great brands at up to 70% off, with new deals added daily. Here, they've curated an exclusive capsule wardrobe for men with plenty of huge savings, just for TAM readers.
Shop Rue La La

Boots might be the most diverse category of footwear, so it can be difficult to choose which type to go for. In general, I’d recommend something safe like a plain chukka, or rugged service boot, and opting for real leather in a typical dark brown or black to ensure a level of quality.

model wearing Outerknown sea jeans and boots

If your boots are more for function than fashion, buy some to suit the conditions. For cold, wet conditions, waterproof, wool-lined hiking boots are a shoe-in. Or, are you a city-dweller who needs better support while staying kosher with corporate? Chelsea boots could fit the bill.

Step 3: Create 10 Outfits

photo grid of asket minimalist outfit

Once you’ve taken a stab at curating your first capsule wardrobe, you’ve officially assembled your new dress code.

With ten variations, you have over a week’s worth of outfits to keep things dull. If ten still feels like too little, even one additional garment can add many new options to shake things up.

Just make sure things don’t snowball into a clothes pile that would put a Kardashian’s closet to shame. Keep reading for some examples of the types of outfits you should aim to create from your capsule selections. 

Step 4: Repeat the Cycle Every 12 Months

photo grid what to wear shawl collar sweater brogue shoes dark blue jeans

Having embraced the capsule wardrobe lifestyle, I always perform an annual checkup on the efficiency of my setup.

I had some T-shirts that developed unsightly pit stains and warped collars. I needed to find some more capable tees to keep me from buying more.

Has work stopped caring about the dress code post-pandemic? Maybe you can swap a couple of button-ups for henleys.

Think of it as a yearly performance review. Cut the dead weight and reinvest in what works. Check back in at Rue La La to see what deals they’re running.

What Should You Do With the Clothing You Have Left?

robert graham review shirt floral
My pink flower shirt didn’t make the cut

Letting go of your beloved collegiate gear is hard, but don’t let it be in vain.

My cousin was just about to begin his freshman year at the same school, so I was able to give mine a second chance at life.

If that’s not in the cards for you, donating clothes is always noble. I took the clothes that didn’t make the cut to the Salvation Army—hassle-free and for a good cause.

For the more valuable pieces, consider eBay, Grailed, or Depop for turning nicer garments into quick cash. Chances are, you have some gaps in your new capsule wardrobe, so use those funds to fill that white space.

5 Capsule Wardrobe Examples I Like

This capsule wardrobe embodies personal style with every part represented. I’m a big fan of their color use while maintaining the ability to mix and match. The hooded parka and leather bomber are a killer duo for fashion and function.

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This example is sharp. It definitely leans into an urban lifestyle, but it shows what’s possible with five tops and three bottoms.

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Capsule wardrobes flourish during travel. Shoes take up too much space, so I applaud this creator for paring things down to just three pairs of shoes that can work across multiple looks and occasions. Including toiletries is a nice touch, too.

I really dig the military aesthetic of this capsule wardrobe. Playing around with styles is good and all, but crafting a wardrobe around one central look pays off, and this kit demonstrates that.

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If you’re trying to channel your inner Yacht-fairing European prince, this is your blueprint.

You could throw darts at a board, and nothing here would assemble into a bad outfit.

Did someone say a three-month corporate sabbatical in Sardinia?

10 Stylish Capsule Wardrobe Outfits 

Check out these outfit ideas from @lifestylebyps that feature classic silhouettes that won’t collect dust in your closet. You’ll find a lot of these items in this carefully curated exclusive capsule wardrobe for men by Rue La La.

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Few things are easier to wear than a denim shirt. White shoes, black jeans, a pop of blue from the indigo dye with a clean timepiece to bring it all home? Effortless sauce.

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We’re country clubbin’ it in some tassel loafers next summer, guys. These leather kicks, chinos, and short-sleeved polo gives off that 1980s Ralph Lauren model vibe that’s undeniably suave.

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Repeat after me: Oxford. Collar. Button. Down. I don’t care if you’re a Denver trail nut or Wall Street Analyst, you need one in your repertoire.

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I like this outfit, but I can’t say a seersucker shirt is an essential unless you spend your summers in Martha’s Vineyard.

I want to highlight the cologne in this inspo shot. 

A capsule wardrobe’s cologne selection shouldn’t look like the rear wall of a dive bar. Pick one and make it your signature fragrance that people remember you by.

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This outfit is a masterclass in color theory. The gray, beige, and white scheme transitions naturally from fall to spring and avoids bloating your wardrobe with seasonal colors.

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Black clothing in a capsule wardrobe is cheating. There’s almost nothing it doesn’t look good with.

Tobey Maguire GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Just take it from Spiderman.

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All of this comes down to simplicity, and it doesn’t get more elementary than a white tee and blue jeans.

I rock this look at least twice weekly during the summer. For the other three seasons, toss any combination of a sweater and jacket over it, and you’ll be on style auto-pilot all year long.

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Few know this, but one of the ancient testaments of masculine dress goes: “Thou shalt not mismatch the leathers of both shoe and belt.”

I’m just playing, but the practice still holds true.

It’s essential the leather of your shoes matches that of your belt (unless you’re going for a deliberate and bold contrast, but that’s a totally different game). I don’t make the rules. 

With that being said, I appreciate the three-pronged hit of leather featured here. If it was a black jacket, people might question your eyesight.

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I don’t think I’d be able to go on without my favorite hoodie. We’ve been through it all together.

However, you don’t want loungewear overrepresented in your mix. If you’re a busybody who wants to keep his closet light, try to achieve harmony between your fleece tops and everyday pieces.

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What word comes to mind when you see this capsule wardrobe? For me, it’s cohesion.

I’ve been making a lot of recommendations here, but don’t forget that a streamlined wardrobe doesn’t have to abandon your personality.

Are eight pairs of jeans too much? For me, they are. But for someone like this western gentleman, his style and needs are accommodated, and that’s what it’s all about.

Conclusion

model sitting on steel staircase wearing olive chinos zip jacket and white sneakers

If you’ve become paralyzed by choice resulting from an overloaded wardrobe, creating a capsule collection could be the answer. .

If I had a framework like this when axing my closet duds, I could’ve saved valuable time and money buying new pieces for my simplified apparel lineup.

In summary by following these steps, you know exactly where to start and what the final outcome should look like:

  1. Audit your wardrobe for what you’ll keep and drop
  2. Choose your capsule wardrobe pieces based on their versatility, functionality, and quality
  3. Create ten outfits to determine if you’re left with enough style options
  4. Repeat the cycle annually to reflect on what’s working and what’s taking up space

With a trained eye and a bit of creativity, curating a distilled, efficient wardrobe that reflects your personal style is a slam dunk if you’re dying for some simplicity.

Save On Your New Wardrobe
Rue La La's Exclusive Capsule Wardrobe for Men
Gents, Rue La La is your new online shopping secret of the year. They stock plenty of (actually) great brands at up to 70% off, with new deals added daily. Here, they've curated an exclusive capsule wardrobe for men with plenty of huge savings, just for TAM readers.
Shop Rue La La

FAQs

How much money do you need to build a capsule wardrobe?

The money you need to spend building a capsule wardrobe depends mainly the garments you already own. If you’ve purged your closet with little remaining, $500-$1000 can set you up with a solid capsule wardrobe, depending on your taste and needs.

How many clothes should be in a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe should have at least seven shirts (including T-shirts), one jacket, three pairs of pants, and three pairs of shoes.

What do you need to create a capsule wardrobe?

Creating capsule wardrobe involves curating a collection of versatile clothing pieces that can be mixed and matched to create a wide range of outfits. This generally means well-fitting basics and timeless styles in neutral or complimentary colors, with a couple of statement pieces thrown in.