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A Color Lover's 7 Color Capsule Wardrobe for Fall/Winter Using Trios & Thinking in Threes

In my bead soup earring project post, I shared this outfit, which is an example of how I start wearing darker colors more often and start layering with somewhat heavier pieces once summer is over and fall is on the way. The color palette of tan and black with pops of red is one I like for fall, even though none of these colors (except possibly the tan) is a traditional autumn tone.

Plus size outfit idea for women over 40
OOTD 9/18/23

A few days later, I wore black and red again, this time with white as the (sparingly used) second neutral. (The blazer is a very small black and white check print that looks like grey at any distance.) This outfit follows the same basic outfit formula as above: short sleeved top + long sleeved jacket (sleeves rolled) + skirt + wedges with bare legs. I like this formula for the summer to fall transition season because a long sleeved jacket/blazer says autumn to me, but the outfit can easily transform to a jacketless summery version if the day heats up.

Plus size outfit idea for women over 40
OOTD 9/21/23

After wearing these two outfits, I thought that these pieces would all work together well in a capsule wardrobe that leaned heavily on black and red. Red was particularly top-of-mind because I had read on You Look Fab that red is "the colour for Autumn and Winter 2023 and 2024." While it's a color that gets a lot of love around the Christmas holidays, I was curious about going in big with red for the full fall/winter period.

But fall/winter (let's call it the 6 months of October to March) is a very long time and spans an almost comical range of temperatures in many parts of the US/world. Here in St Paul, we're expecting a high of about 88 F (31 C) today, October 2. Over the winter, we will get overnight lows of -30 F (-34C) or more. If you're not in the Midwest, your temperature swing over this 6 month period might be less, but you probably do experience some variation. (If not, you can read this post and wonder why anyone lives where I do.) How can a single capsule be expected to handle a wide range of temperatures in addition to the range of activities a person might need to dress for over a 6 month period?

This is where I found the concept of "Thinking in Threes" from Liz Klebba at Closet Play Image a helpful one (5 minute video). The basic concept is that in order to have a versatile wardrobe from which you can create outfits easily across situations and seasons, it helps to repeat important items across multiple (in her formulation, three) iterations that vary in level of refinement or seasonality. This is a lot easier to understand from examples, so let's get right to it.

Let's start with levels of refinement. Say you like to wear black and blue together. By having pieces in the same color that differ in how casual/dressy they are, you can build similar outfits all along the range of refinement levels. In this example, the most casual version (e.g., for weekend errands) would be a black hoodie and T worn with bright blue jeans. The most dressy version (e.g., for an important meeting at work) would be a black silky blouse and tuxedo jacket worn with a bright blue suit skirt. And then you can create varying levels of casual/dressy outfits in between by mixing the pieces. It's really one outfit idea - black top + topper with bright blue bottom - that can be adapted for the situation by switching out the specific pieces. (Note: only for the topper layers did I have literally 3 options because these are pieces from my actual closet, but you can probably imagine a black button-up shirt and a pair of blue chinos in the middle of those rows. Three is Liz's number but even having two pieces that vary in dressiness gives you a lot of flexibility.)

Thinking in threes - level of refinement

Now let's apply the same concept to dressing for a range of temperatures. In the first row, I have three olive knit tops (at about the same level of dressiness) in short-sleeved, long-sleeved, and sweater versions. When creating an outfit that calls for an olive top, I can select the top that works for the weather. I might wear a pair of jeans with the short-sleeved T in early October, move to the long-sleeved T when fall truly arrives, then pull on a sweater for winter. This same idea can apply to bottom pieces as well. Here I have two pairs of black pants (and yes, one of them is a print): one is ankle length in a material suitable for warmer weather and the other one is full length in a heavier material. (You can imagine a third pair of black corduroy pants for cold weather.)

Thinking in Threes - warm vs cool temperatures

Now the idea of switching the level of refinement of your pieces to match your situation or the warmth of your pieces to match the weather is obviously not ground-breaking! But what's interesting is to consider how this can work in building a capsule. That's what we are going to look at today in creating a fall/winter capsule wardrobe with black and red (and quite a few more colors, as we'll see).

Based on my black + tan outfit I shared at the start of this post, I chose my black floral top as the inspiration for my color palette. I mentioned in the earlier post that this polyester top with several rich colors in the print is one I'm always happy to pull out when the weather begins to cool down from the height of summer. I was able to easily pull 7 colors, which I liked because it aligns nicely to 7 days of the week. For those of us who love color, having a lot of different colors to pick from makes it much easier to dress from a wardrobe capsule. And 7 colors means you could pick a different dominant color for every day of the week.

The first row of the color palette shows our 4 neutral colors: black, olive, beige, and denim blue. (Denim blue isn't a color in the print but I always want denim/chambray in my capsule!) The top also includes white, which in my capsule will be included with the beige as the "light neutral." The second row shows our 3 accent colors: red, blue, and purple. Right away I'm loving the variety of colors and the richness/depth of them for a fall/winter capsule. As I look at the 7 colors, there are no two colors that don't work together. While a lot of people put together capsules with the assumption that outfits will be dominated by neutrals and accent colors won't be worn together, I like that these three accent colors will mix and match pretty easily because it makes the capsule more versatile and the outfits more interesting.

7 color capsule wardrobe
7 color capsule palette: 4 neutrals + 3 accents

If you've read any of my capsule posts, you'll have heard me talk about something I call "trios" or "color-based rows." A trio is three garments - a top, a topper, and a bottom - in the same/similar color that can be mixed and matched. These are the basis of the color formulas that can be used to mix pieces in colors, such as:

1) Inner column: top and bottom pieces are the same/similar color

2) Outer column/"suit": topper and bottom pieces are the same/similar color

3) Modern twin set: top and topper pieces are the same/similar color

4) Matching scarf: scarf and top or topper piece are the same/similar color

5) Color blocked: all pieces are different (solid) colors

In creating this capsule, I pulled items from my closet in the 7 colors that would both create as many trios as possible while also applying across a range of weather situations (and with a secondary consideration of levels of refinement). I didn't limit myself to any arbitrary number of items in each color or for the capsule over all. While some people find it valuable to build a capsule with a hard limit of items in mind, I was more interested in just seeing how the wardrobe would develop without that kind of parameter. (Note that this would definitely not be suitable for a typical vacation capsule, though you could probably pull a smaller vacation capsule from the larger capsule wardrobe pretty easily.) I started with the garments I wore in the two OOTD I showed at the beginning of this post and went from there.

Here is my selection of black pieces: 6 tops, 4 bottoms, 7 toppers. I can hear some people clutching their pearls and thinking "17 items?! But that's already half of the 33 items of a Project 333 [33 items for 3 months]!" Take a deep breath and I'll explain my thinking...

Black capsule wardrobe cluster

We have to remember that we're selecting items to work across the entire range of weather from October to March (in Minnesota, that's about 110+ degrees of variation). Using the "thinking in threes" idea, I wanted to have pieces suitable for three different fall/winter temperatures which I am just calling "warm temps," "mid temps," and "cool temps" for convenience. You can think of this as three sub-seasons, but here we can go from late summer to crisp fall to early fall to snow in a week's time, with temperatures rising and falling and rising and falling in a chaotic pattern until winter starts. So instead of thinking of sub-seasons, I decided to think of it in terms of the day's weather with a focus on temperature.

When we filter the entire cluster of black items for what's suitable for warm temps, we go from the original 17 items down to 6: two tops, a skirt, a pair of pants, and two jackets. Happily, that includes a solid black trio (black top, black skirt, black tuxedo jacket) and 3 print pieces that add interest.

Black capsule wardrobe cluster - warm temperatures

We can do the same for the mid temps, which yields 11 items: 4 tops, 3 pants, and 4 toppers. We spend a lot of time in the middle (kind of by definition) so it makes sense that we have more items for this range. With 7 solid pieces (2 tops, 2 pants, 3 toppers), we have several different trios in this set. Plus 3 prints for fun. (In an ideal world, the black skirt would work year-round but I started the capsule with the linen skirt from my OOTD.)

Black capsule wardrobe cluster - mid temperatures

Now for the coldest part of fall/winter, we can filter the black cluster down to 8 items: 2 pants, 1 top, 5 toppers. That's a lot of toppers, but you'll see a lot of variation in levels of refinement there as well as the possibility of layering some toppers over others (e.g., quilted vest over hoodie). As often happens in my wardrobe, clothes for the coldest weather tend to be solid pieces, and we have multiple trio options here.

Black capsule wardrobe cluster - cool temperatures

Here's how it plays out for the olive pieces: 10 total but 5 for warm temps, 6 for mid, and 7 for cool. We have trios covered for all 3 weather scenarios, and have 2 print pieces for interest.

Olive capsule wardrobe cluster

The beige cluster is a mix of light neutrals including white, cream, stone, and tan that I think can be mixed and matched fairly freely. 12 pieces total; 4 for warm temps (which makes an awkward trio with both the silk skirt and the utility vest!); 7 for mid temps (nice trios there); 4 for cool temps (an OK trio).

Cream capsule wardrobe cluster

The denim cluster is the smallest at 6 pieces overall, and note that I didn't consider the trio factor because 3 pieces of denim together would be a lot in my opinion. 3 for warm temps; 4 for mid temps; 4 for cool temps. Of course the ombré sweater isn't actually denim, but I thought it fit very nicely with this grouping as a cold weather top option.

Denim capsule wardrobe cluster

The red cluster has 3 print pieces along with the 6 solids for a total of 9: 6 for warm temps; 5 for mid temps; 3 for cool temps. Now that we're at the accent colors, our ability to create true trios of 3 pieces that can be fully mixed and matched becomes more difficult. I find it easier to get matching/coordinating pieces in neutrals than in accent colors, unless I buy them together at the same time/store. These red pieces taken from my own closet vary a fair amount in color, and what works together has to be determined on a case by case basis...and even an outfit by outfit basis because whether two particular pieces go together can be dependent on how you're wearing them and what you're wearing them with! I personally am unlikely to wear more than 1-2 red garments together, so having 3 matched pieces is not very important to me. I probably put the most stock on having a red top in some shade in short sleeves, long sleeves, and sweater form. Fortunately both the striped skirt and the heart print T blend well with any of my red shades so can be worn quite freely.

Red capsule wardrobe cluster

The blue cluster has 7 solids and 1 print for a total of 8: 4 for warm temps (no trio but the top + button up shirt + skirt or jeans would be a cute outfit); 6 mid temps (with a reasonable trio that I doubt I'd ever really wear); 4 cool temps (again no trio but the button up shirt + skirt + pullover sweater is another nice combo). Both the striped button up shirt here and the striped skirt in the red cluster can actually be worn with red and blue so they will be versatile bridge pieces in combining these accent colors.

Blue capsule wardrobe cluster

Finally we get to our last color - purple, which is under-represented in my closet, so pulling these pieces was interesting! I managed to gather 7 items in very different shades of mostly light purple: 5 for warm temps; 3 for mid temps; 2 for cool temps. This is not a color I would wear head to toe, so I think I'd be fine with the various purple tones not matching. For a person who really loved purple and wanted to make it central to their capsule wardrobe, putting some effort into finding coordinating pieces would not be a bad idea.

Purple capsule wardrobe cluster

That's about 70 garments for the entire fall/winter capsule wardrobe. It's definitely larger than most capsule wardrobes you see, but for a capsule that spans 6 months of weather and that fully embodies 7 different colors for the rainbow lover's need for a lot of color variety, it's a fairly efficient wardrobe in my mind.

Using a rough version of my "grid of color-based rows" layout, I've separated the wardrobe out into warm, mid, and cool temperature sub-capsules so you'll have an idea of how the capsule would look for any given weather scenario. Starting with the warm version, we have these 33 garments.

7 color capsule wardrobe for warm temperatures

The mid temperature collection is a bit larger at 42 pieces.

7 color capsule wardrobe for mid temperatures

The grouping of garments for the coolest temperatures has 31 pieces.

7 color capsule wardrobe for cool temperatures

One thing that jumps out at me from these groupings is how pulling items to create trios ensures color variety across all garment types. Sometimes capsules focus color in only one area, such as tops, leaving the other areas to be neutral. That is a wise strategy if you have clear preferences about where you like to wear accent colors and which color formulas you will use. But if you prefer to mix things up (as I do), then it can make sense to have a top, bottom, and topper in each color; even if those three pieces don't make a nicely matched trio that can be worn together, it will help you put color all across your wardrobe. I like all the color formulas, so that's useful to me. And I find that I get more wear out of my neutral pieces when I have a variety of accent color pieces to wear them with because I don't often wear neutral-only outfits.

Had you heard of the "thinking in threes" idea that helps you span a range of temperatures or levels of refinement by choosing multiple items in the same/similar color before? Does 7 colors seem like too many colors in a capsule wardrobe to you...or too few? Would you change your color choices over the 6 months of October-March? Are you wearing red this fall/winter?

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