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Winter Wardrobe: My 2021 Seasonal Capsule Wardrobe

In 2021, I'm organizing my wardrobe into Seasonal Capsules. See why I'm going back to capsule basics, learn how Seasonal Capsules work, and check out my ~40 piece winter wardrobe.

January 5, 2021
April 18, 2022

In 2021, I'm going back to seasonal capsules. Seasonal capsules were how I began figuring out my personal style and reducing my impulse shopping habit—and it's time to revisit them, five years later.

(I always feel like these blog posts start with the breathless Instagram influencer-style voice, since sooooo many people have been asking me about my capsule wardrobe—narrator voice: no-one asked—)

In case you wanted to know anyway, read on to see why I'm going back to seasonal capsules, how they work, and check out my ~40 piece winter wardrobe.

What's a seasonal capsule?

A seasonal capsule is a small wardrobe, curated for a specific 3-month season. Unlike paring your whole closet down to a tiny capsule wardrobe, seasonal capsules are a way to focus in on a certain aesthetic or set of items during a season, and to reduce shopping and spending during that time.

Reflecting on how I'd used Seasonal Capsules this way early in my style journey, I wrote:

"Creating a defined set of items to wear for a season helped me narrow down what was and wasn't working. It was also the first time I ever thought critically about how fabric and fit related to my lifestyle and the weather. It was definitely the first time I had done any kind of pause on my constant, emotional, impulsive shopping. That was hard—and liberating."

Then and now, I'm choosing to make an under-50 piece seasonal capsule, and do all my shopping for the season at once.

How do Seasonal Capsules work?

  1. Consider the season, the weather, your lifestyle, and your closet.
  2. Create a capsule of 30-50 pieces. Give them priority closet space.
  3. Do any shopping, based on your overall budget for the year/season.
  4. Wear only those pieces and don't do any additional shopping during the season (three months).
  5. Rinse and repeat!

You can be as rigid or loose with this as you personally prefer. If you need more structure and find that the constraints help you—get strict. If you rebel against the rules, it can flex a little.

Shopping is 98% off limits—but I do have a few things on my wishlist that I only intend to buy secondhand/on sale, so if the right one pops up, I've got room for that. It'll just be borrowed from next season's budget, which means I'm strictly limiting it to pieces I'm already sure about. In the same way, Texas weather between January and March means we might have some hot days, and if I want to reach for a dress or tee that's not in here, I'll do that.

Want to create your own Seasonal Capsule? Get the last Capsule Wardrobe Planner you'll ever need.

For capsule wardrobe beginners and experts alike, the Capsule Wardrobe Planner will guide you through the creation of a thoughtful, intentional, and yes, fun, capsule! This free worksheet guides you through everything you need to plan a capsule and make it actually work for you.

Why am I going back to seasonal capsules this year?

My main reason? Reducing mental overhead.

As a self-employed entrepreneur with a new business, I've got a lot on my plate. I hate the whole idea of "busy" and hustle culture—I'm not busy, filling my days with pointless meetings and tedious work, but entrepreneurship requires a lot of mental and emotional energy.

Needing that energy means I need a lot of self-care. Clothes and style can be self-care—but mindless scrolling and shopping isn't. Lately, I've found myself futzing with my closet, making excuses about "putting together outfits" to take my sweet time getting ready in the morning, or wasting time scrolling the New Arrivals sections. That's fine... to a point. I've started to notice that I'm not doing it as intentional hobby time. Instead, I'm avoiding some of my business challenges, and that scrolling/shopping time isn't the kind of self-care I need. (The kind I do need? More journaling, more device-free time, more walks, not more scrolling.)

So I'm letting my closet support me, by devoting some up-front time to making a capsule and planning my shopping. This way, I know I don't have anything to shop for, I have a list of outfits to reference and grab in the morning, and I can show up in Real Clothes with real good energy.

The other big reason is planning ahead for quality. At this point in my wardrobe journey, I know how many pieces I bought last year—23—and my budget. Seasonal capsules help me plan ahead so that I'm buying the high-quality pieces that will really last and make a difference in my closet, not being distracted and excited by new arrivals. It's easy to find something you "need" that's new, and it's harder to wait and buy something basic (or luxe!) that doesn't seem as exciting. My goal for my closet from here is to increase quality as I decrease quantity, a little bit each year, and seasonal capsules are helping me focus.

What's in my 40 piece winter capsule?

I was chatting with a client the other week about seasonality and patterns in our style. In winter, I tend to lean heavily into two aspects of my style: sleek and sporty, or that boring normcore basics. It's cold, allergies are bad, I just want to be comfortable and warm, so I'm not expending a lot of energy trying to "make outfits."

My winter capsule is focused on simplicity, and that balance between work-from-home comfort and feeling polished and motivated. Personally, lounge pants aren't enough of an outfit for my work days, but I still want to grab and go—and spend my mental energy on other productive pursuits.

What I included in my winter capsule:

  • 10 bottoms — 6 jeans, 4 soft pants
  • 1 jumpsuit
  • 17 tops — 5 sweaters, 3 lightweight long-sleeves, 1 button-up, 3 t-shirts, 1 tank, and 4 sweatshirts
  • 3 coats — a wool coat, a lightweight canvas coat, and a fleece bomber
  • 6 pairs of shoes — 3 sneakers, 1 pair of dressy flat mules, Birkenstocks, and 1 pair of boots
  • 2 hats and a tote bag

My winter capsule style inspiration: Berlin normcore meets California jeans-and-a-sweater meets Texas

I associate Berlin's style with a lovely sort of functional dressing. Every time I go to Berlin (RIP travel), I fall in love all over again with how deeply pragmatic most people's outfits are. There's cobbles, it's cold, we're walking—comfortable chunky loafer-boots, super-functional sneakers, with, yes, socks, and yes, with Birkenstocks. Yet it has a cool aesthetic vibe all its own, that can't really be replicated by the "I got dressed so you could take a photo of me" street style/Fashion week/influencer types. Just boring real people clothes, not run through the style influencer press. Unsurprisingly, it's not easy to find inspiration photos of this real-life look. Normcore looks come close, but are often still styled on 6' tall Scandi models.

I'm also always draw towards the Americana, California/Maine jeans-and-a-cashmere-sweater look. Texas weather doesn't often support that: it's either actually cold you need to be fully layered, or it's warm enough in the sun you'd be dying in a cashmere sweater. But at home I can replicate the look, and I've been reaching for my cozy sweaters more than ever.

And the Texas part? Well, I finally bought a western-esque hat. More on that some other time, but you bet your ass I'm going to be wearing a hat around my living room all year.

  • structured, classic high rise jeans; soft but subtly shaped interesting pants
  • classic cashmere sweaters and sweatshirts, relaxed fits
  • normcore shapes and fabrics: a chunky sneaker, a relaxed-fit sweatshirt or shirt; cotton, denim, cashmere
  • color palette: black, faded black, navy, dark/mid wash denim, white, charcoal grey, lentil

I got to this capsule vibe by considering what I've been feeling best in lately. As "boring" as it is, I've been reaching for my classic blue jeans, my cashmere sweaters and soft turtlenecks, a simple palette of grey-black-denim and ivory, and for a break, soft wide leg pants and joggers. I've been moving smoothly between day to evening lounge by switching my pants and shoes, and it's been so pleasurable I want to keep it going. It's a good boundary between work and personal evening time that I find helps my mental state.

I focused this capsule's shopping budget on the hat, jumpsuit, and some jeans. A number of my favorite jeans don't fit me that well right now, and I'm looking to replace a pair or two with some straighter leg styles that are more relaxed than my skinnies, and that fit more comfortably. I opted for that instead of upgrading my sweaters. I'm also itching for a cool pair of chunky loafer/chelsea style boots with a big lug sole. The black booties I included likely won't get worn a lot; the heel is low, but it's still a heel, and a flat lug sole sounds way more comfy. But: priorities! (Was the hat a priority? Maybe. Am I obsessed? Yes. Deal with it.)

What I Wore: my winter seasonal capsule outfits

I love that capsules can be small—this is 41 pieces, if you include a necklace and hats—but there's still so much flexibility.

I can lean in to the normcore look, and wear straight leg jeans, a relaxed fit grey cashmere, and chunky socks and sneakers. Or I can get a little Texas in my jumpsuit and hat. Or I can feel polished and chic in all-black jeans, sweater, and loafers. Or vintage Americana with tapered 80s style jeans, a sweatshirt, and white sneakers. And on days I don't feel like much at all? There's still a plush legging and oversized turtleneck waiting for me.

Recap! How did my winter seasonal capsule go?

Winter capsule failures, let me count the ways: broken buttons, incorrect sizes, pants don't fit, it's 5℉ ❄️, jk it's 90℉....

Turns out, as pretty as the graphic looks, this one was kind of a hot mess. Here's why:

I ignored what I KNOW about my preferences & picked fantasy pieces.

No matter how many times I write “slouchy and oversized,” I don't wear it. I wore my wide leg joggers ONCE. I did wear my other soft pants, but I prefer "real" pants when working, and "easy work outfits" was the goal of this capsule. Down with fantasy capsule picks! (My choices for tops were great, though and my new hat was an A++ purchase!)⁠⁠⁠⁠️

Life happened. In this case, the weather.

I finalized my capsule in mid-Jan. We got about three weeks of mild winter—Feb 3 was 77℉, too warm for knits!—then the freeze and power crisis hit us here in Texas. A week+ of below-freezing temps, no power, and all-around crisis. Then, the week after? High of 86℉ 😱 Dressing for the weather is tricky in any capsule, but this was next level.⁠⁠⁠⁠

Inadequate planning for my changing body after the panorama.

When I pulled out my winter pants, let’s just say I was optimistic that they still fit, and I was also wrong. So I bought two pairs of jeans for this capsule…⁠⁠⁠⁠…and neither worked out. The white jeans I got from a great sustainable brand, they’re cute & comfy. I got excited by the idea of them, but listen, if the zipper doesn't stay zipped when you sit down because they're too tight in the hip? 😒 THEN the button on one of my black pairs of jeans fell off, the other pair barely fit; one of my regular blue pairs didn't fit; the others I bought were too big but I took ages to return them (because of the freeze), so I ended up with... two pairs of jeans. And I never made it to the tailor to get that button fixed, either. WHEW.⁠⁠⁠⁠

Some of this I could have planned better for; sometimes it’s just how things go, and that’s OK too.⁠⁠⁠⁠ Not mad though, because my #1 capsule goal was easier daily dressing. Pre-planning outfits and just letting it be easy meant that I was spending less time on outfits (or scrolling), and more time on what matters 💜

Would I do another seasonal capsule?

Absolutely! Even though there were lots of issues with this one, my ultimate goals were still a success: reduced decision fatigue, shopping less, and easy grab-and-go outfits.

Everything you learn from one failure helps you do better next time, so—onward to the next capsule!

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In 2021, I'm organizing my wardrobe into Seasonal Capsules. See why I'm going back to capsule basics, learn how Seasonal Capsules work, and check out my ~40 piece winter wardrobe.