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A 21 Piece Capsule For Winter Using a Grid of Color-Based Rows

A couple weeks ago, Janice at The Vivienne Files posted a "21 garments for 21 days" capsule wardrobe based on a black and white color palette and two print scarves. That got me thinking about expanding my winter WFH Daily Dozen into a 21 piece capsule that makes use of the outfit formulas + color formulas and the color formulas + color wheel combos that I have been playing with recently.

Janice used a 7 x 3 grid to arrange the 21 pieces like this.

But I didn't think that would be the most useful layout for me given my winter WFH outfit formula.

So I changed the grid to have 7 rows with up to 4 pieces per row to reflect the types of garments used in my outfit formula and the fact that I sometimes construct outfits with three layers on top instead of just two. Of course 7 x 4 = 28, so I decided to populate 3 of the 4 columns for each row, bringing us back to a 7 x 3 = 21 piece capsule.

I decided to populate my 21 piece grid in a very different way from Janice! She almost always creates capsules with very tight color palettes that are strongly dominated by neutrals with just a couple accent colors, and for this 21 piece capsule, she started populating the grid with her heroine's favorite outfits. For her heroine, this meant two different pairs of black pants entered the wardrobe immediately, and I thought, Oh no. And the black kept coming, until 4 of the 5 pairs of pants were black (the other was blue jeans). I don't mean this as a criticism of that method! There is obviously nothing inherently wrong with fact, I'm sure it is a very popular approach because many people like it...but a final capsule so dominated by one neutral just doesn't work for me. And I know that there are other people who also don't see themselves in those minimalistic capsules.

Another thing I noticed is that her approach of adding the items to the grid by outfit led to a populated grid that does not, in my opinion, take full advantage of the rows in organizing the capsule and letting you get an overall impression of it at a glance, which is something I wanted to do.

So as I looked at those 7 rows, I thought, Instead of creating a color palette and filling in the grid by outfit, why don't I start with my WFH Daily Dozen pieces and organize them into the grid with each color in its own row? Then I can expand my selections until I have 7 rows/colors with 3 pieces of each. This will make it easy to create outfits using the color formulas!

Now one caveat to this is that I won't always have 3 pieces in the same color that I want to include in the capsule, so there has to be some leeway in populating the rows of the grid. Here is how I placed my first 10 garments from the Daily Dozen. The bottom 4 rows are pretty straightforward because each row is a single color, but in the top row I have placed both my jeans and the white modern twin set. This is because I do not own (nor do I particularly want to own) a pair of white pants/jeans nor do I own (though I would be open to owning) a white sweater. So I knew that I wouldn't have any other white pieces to populate that row. Therefore, placing the blue jeans, which I consider the ultimate neutral, to finish off that neutral row made sense to me. But no one is beholden to having exactly 7 rows, of course! You could choose to make an eighth row to put the denim in instead.

With that initial placement completed, it was time to start filling in the blanks. I had room for another item (or two) in the beige, olive, pink, and wine rows, plus two empty rows to play with. I decided to tackle the pink-ish accent colors first by filling in the quilted vest in the same light blush as the rabbit sweater and a bold, colorful print blouse with a background that fits well in the wine row.

Additions Round 1

With 12 pieces, the top white/denim row and the bottom wine row are complete.

At this point, I knew I wanted to create a row in the capsule for my peacock blue cowlneck top, pants, and quilted vest "trio" that are a gorgeous deep blue-with-a-bit-of-green color that I love. I admit that I didn't think too much about how they would work with the other colors in the capsule! The 3 pieces go together perfectly, and I know that they can be worn with any neutrals in the capsule.

Additions Round 2

At 15 pieces, this capsule is really starting to come together. I love the color variety here! But I do think that another neutral would be useful for the seventh row.

I could have gone with navy or grey instead, but I really thought that black would make a lot of sense with the pieces I had already selected. As I've said before, navy doesn't provide as much variety in a wardrobe that also has dark blue denim, so that felt a little limiting/redundant with the jeans in the top row. The print blouse in the wine row has both grey and black in the print, and I love to wear it with either (or both) of those neutrals, so that was a harder call. But in the end, I could not resist the call of my relatively-new-to-me black velvet vest! I admit that it's not the most practical or mix-and-match-able addition (that would be my black quilted vest) but I really enjoy this vest and liked the idea of bringing a different vest silhouette into the capsule. I chose black skinny pants to create a long-over-lean combo with the velvet vest and rounded out this row with a black and white marl sweater that is more interesting than plain black and at a distance looks dark grey (similar to the cape that Jodie shared here).

Additions Round 3

The 7 rows are now set, and there are 3 additions still to make in the beige, olive, and light blush pink rows. The 5 vests and 6 pairs of pants felt adequate, so I decided to fill in with shirts/sweaters on those rows.

At this point, I just started to think about what would be useful in terms of versatility (to be able to create more outfits). The most obvious addition there is a blue denim shirt, which I would readily wear with literally anything but the blue jeans (the Texas Tuxedo is a perfectly fine style choice but I personally don't like to wear the matching denim look). That white sweater I don't own would be really good in this capsule, so I pulled in an ivory one. That left one hole to fill, and for that I reached for a third print sweater, this one with pretty stripes.

Additions Round 4

I placed those final 3 pieces in the grid with ivory on the beige row, the striped sweater (which contains pink) on the light blush pink row, and the denim shirt filling in the olive row. Wow, this is a really pleasing array of items to me! And I like how the row and column layout organizes things. A color palette developed organically as I made selections in those rows, and while I doubt I would have selected these colors for a palette up front, I think it's going to work pretty well. It is interesting to note that I have chosen quite a few semi-neutrals or colored neutrals here...olive, blush pink, wine, and peacock blue. In this capsule, they will function as accent colors while having some of the versatility of neutrals...a best of both worlds scenario!

Now the idea of this capsule is that you will wear 21 items for 21 days, but I think we can make more than 21 outfits from these pieces! To put the capsule through its paces, I will put together 6 outfits for each pair of pants...that's 6 x 6 = 36. (So you could despise 15 of the outfits and still be covered with a different outfit for each of the 21 days!)

To build on the ideas we've been discussing lately, I am going to build outfits that are variants on my WFH outfit formula (pants with a 2 layer top, consisting of a shirt + sweater, shirt + vest, or sweater + vest) and that utilize various color formulas...such as the inner column (top + bottom are same/similar), outer column/"suit" (topper + bottom are same/similar), and modern twin set (top + topper are same/similar).

Note that I am presenting the un-accessorized base outfits. Once accessories have been added, your options increase dramatically.

OK, here we go...

Starting with the black pants...the first four outfits show how the coordinated black garments of row 7 can easily create the 3 outfit formulas mentioned above plus the "trio"...which is just a combination of an inner + outer column with all 3 pieces in the same/similar color. For the colorblock formula, pair the black pants with a top and a vest so that all 3 pieces are different colors. (I love how readily the eye accepts blue denim as a neutral that goes with anything in the context of an outfit even though it is actually a very nice blue that can bring a cheerful dose of color to the look, especially when it's a more saturated version, such as my medium blue denim shirt!) Finally, the wild card option here isn't all that wild, I know...but for some people, pairing black with the very pale colors of the shirt and sweater could feel unbalanced.

Next let's turn to the wine items in row 5, which are also straightforward to use in building outfits based on the color formulas. Even though the blouse is a print, the background is the same wine color as the pants and vest, so it works to create the columns (just a print variant rather than a solid one). The wine + olive color combination is an example of a complementary color scheme (muted versions of Red-Violet + Yellow-Green). The ivory sweater outfit is a colorblock option. It's interesting that in the context of the grey sweater outfit, the denim shirt feels more like a blue accent than a neutral because it repeats the blue stripe in the sweater (but it would work just great even if that wasn't the case!). The wild card option here colorblocks with two accent colors. I am ambivalent about this would probably come down to how it's accessorized for me.

The 3 peacock blue pieces in row 6 create the same color formula combinations, but doesn't it look so different from the black versions? I know this is a lot of color for some people, but I love these monochromatic and +1 neutral looks! I am surprised by how different the denim shirt + striped sweater looks with the peacock blue versus the wine. The wild card option is a simple peacock inner column with an unusual accent color...and I kind of like this one!

That covers the 3 rows that have a top, topper, and pants that go together. Now we'll move on to the beige pants, which appeared in the grid with the ivory sweater and beige elephant sweater. The inner column, twin set, and colorblock formulas are available here...and the third outfit with the white vest may not be a true "trio" but it has a strong "trio"-like vibe to me. I snuck in the fifth outfit with just the cowlneck top and no vest just as a reminder that there is no law that says these outfits must have two layers on top! That's how I usually dress in the winter, but even I can get away with a single layer on occasion. The wild card option here feels pretty cohesive to me, but I know that mixing beige and grey can give some people pause.

I just wrote about how versatile olive pants can be, so I'd say they would be a great addition to a wardrobe even as a stand-alone piece in that color. But I can't deny that having a top and/or topper in olive to pair with it is a terrific idea that allows you to utilize more outfit formulas, such as the inner column and twin set shown here. Isn't the third outfit really fun with the elephant on the sweater bringing together the wine and olive colors as a bridge piece? Of course, that outfit would also look great with a different neutral sweater or shirt instead, but I had to show the elephant version. The fifth outfit is interesting because the bird blouse doesn't actually have olive in's more of a mint green...but it still is a nice combination with the olive pants. I love the wild card option here! It's colorful but not overpowering with the two colored neutrals together. Again, this isn't much of a wild card, but it's hard to come up with a combination that doesn't hang together well with olive pants.

Finally, let's take a look at some jeans-based outfits, which we are all so accustomed to putting together that we can practically do it in our sleep. There are a lot of options for combining a top + topper piece that work together in interesting ways using the modern twin set idea and/or the analogous or complementary color scheme idea. In the fifth outfit, I even made an inner column from the denim shirt and jeans, topped with a colored neutral sweater, and I think I like it! For the wild card, I put together the elephant sweater and peacock vest, which don't really relate to each other in color...and I feel like if you want to do that kind of random-feeling combination, putting it with the ultimate neutral of blue denim is the way to go.

So yeah, I've definitely noticed that when reading about capsule wardrobes, I do get frustrated that they seem to assume a willingness to wear the pants/skirts in the same neutral color (or maybe 2 neutrals) day after day after day. It's very practical and probably reflects the preferences of many women...I know some people are like, give me only black pants and I'll change up the look with different tops...but for me, that becomes really monotonous, really quickly. The variety of pants colors here, based on building the capsule in color-based rows, works much better for me!

In closing, one thing I want to stress is that all of the concepts discussed here in the context of the 21 piece capsule wardrobe can apply to your wardrobe no matter its size! Using a capsule is a way for me to illustrate these combinations, but you could have a wardrobe of 300 pieces and it would all still apply. You'd just have a lot more rows, probably multiple outfit formulas, and the ability to create many thousands of outfits instead of dozens.

I think that's what I like the most about thinking in terms of outfit formulas/silhouettes, color formulas, and color-based rows...these ideas scale up with the size of your wardrobe and are not at all reliant on having a tight color palette. That means you can use them if your like to create capsules or if you don't. You can apply these ideas to a capsule or in place of a capsule.

About how many color-based rows (or partial rows) would your ideal wardrobe have? (My answer is: A LOT!)

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