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How Many Outfits Can I Create from a Capsule Wardrobe? Color Formulas & Outfit Counts

One thing that makes me laugh about a lot of capsule wardrobe information is when they tell you something like: From only 9 pieces, create 36 different outfits! And then when you look at the 9 pieces, it's like...well, yes, you can wear any of the 3 tops with any of the 3 bottoms, so that's 9 outfits (3 x 3). And you can wear any of the tops with any bottom and any topper piece, so that's 27 outfits (3 x 3 x 3). So yes, technically, that's 36 outfits but they all look the same!

Technically you can create 36 almost identical outfits from 9 black pieces

Or they will count the blue jeans + white shirt + black flats outfit with the small gold necklace as one outfit, and the same clothing combination without the necklace as another outfit. Huh?!

I'm sure there's a strong personal element to what makes an outfit seem distinct from another one. For me, color plays a very large role in that. Maybe that's partly because I tend to wear fairly simple, classic garments with clean lines and basic silhouettes, so my various black tops aren't all that different from each other, but I also think that overall, color is noticed and remembered better than many other elements of our outfits.

So for people like me, who like color and need to wear different colors to get a feeling of variety, I thought I'd put the 21 pieces from the first 3 months of the My Scarf 2022 capsule through some wardrobe capsule outfit calculations. While my accessories are on the more maximal end, and can be used to make the same base outfit look different, I am going to ignore accessories here and focus instead on calculating the number of base outfits.

As a reminder, here are the garments in the capsule.

My Scarf 2022: Jan-Mar Garments, total = 21

The 21 pieces break down like this:

-5 pants (bottom layer)

-7 t-shirts (top layer)

-2 pullover sweaters (top layer)

-4 cardigans (topper layer)

-2 vests (topper layer)

-1 button up shirt (top or topper layer)

It's kind of overwhelming to think about how to start putting together all the possible combinations in a wardrobe like this, where not every piece can go with every other piece and at least one piece can play multiple possible roles in an outfit. So I organized things using the color formulas I've talked about before (columns, twin sets, etc.). Here we go!

First, let's take a look at our garments that form "trios"--a top, bottom, and topper in the same/similar color. With this capsule, I only have trios in navy/denim (I am treating navy and the medium to dark blue denim in this capsule as the same color). I have the four different top + topper combos on the left and the four pairs of pants on the right. Using conventional capsule math, you could make 12 2-piece outfits (3 tops x 4 bottoms) and 16 3-piece outfits (4 top/topper x 4 bottoms) for a total of 28. But come on, really? You can definitely vary how warm the outfit is (a t-shirt alone vs. a sweater + quilted vest) and how dressy it is (jeans vs. work trousers), but for me, this is 1 outfit.

Conventional calculation: 28 outfits; My count: 1 outfit

Next let's look at our inner column (matching top + bottom) options, starting with navy inner columns and solid toppers. We have already covered the 2-piece navy outfits, but we do have some new 3-piece options here. Conventional calculations would give us 16 outfits (SS + cardi x4 bottoms, LS + cardi x4 bottoms, LS + vest x4 bottoms, and sweater + vest x4 bottoms), but I see 2...a navy inner column + rosy pink cardigan and a navy inner column + blush pink vest. To my eye, these two pink topper pieces are distinct enough colors from each to count separately.

Conventional calculation: 16 outfits; My count: 2 outfits

Now for our navy inner column with print toppers...the sweater drops out because we don't have a print piece to layer over it (and I didn't think a top layered under the pullover sweater would be that different from the sweater alone). Each of these pieces can mix and match, so the conventional math gets us 24 outfits (2 tops x 4 bottoms x 3 toppers). I count this as 3...a navy inner column with a check, striped, or bird print topper.

Conventional calculation: 24 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

As we turn to the red inner columns, things get a little more interesting! The red pants + red top combination can be worn on its own...conventional math = 2 outfits; I count it as one. For 3-piece outfits, the column with the short-sleeved T can be worn with 4 different toppers and the long-sleeved T can be worn with all 5. Conventional calculations yield 9 3-piece outfits but I am counting this as 5 outfits...a red column with 5 different topper options, each topper option being distinct.

Conventional calculation: 11 outfits; My count: 6 outfitss

The capsule has no inner columns in pink or print-mixed, so let's look at our outer columns/"suits" next. We only have matching bottom + topper in navy, and let's start with the solid top options. For 2-piece outfits, we have 4 bottoms that can be worn with any of 5 tops. Conventional math = 20 outfits (4 bottoms x 5 tops). As usual, I am considering all the navy/denim pants interchangeable, but for top color options, I see (SS/LS T), white, and 2 distinct shades of pink. That works out to 4 outfits (1 bottom x 4 tops). The 3-piece outfit conventional calculation is 32 (assuming you wouldn't wear a pullover sweater + cardigan or a SS T + quilted vest). For me, it's 4 outfits...a navy "suit" with a red, white, blush pink, or dusky pink top.

Conventional calculation: 52 outfits; My count: 8 outfits

We can also wear our navy "suit" with a print top, of which we have two in the capsule. The 2-piece calculations are simple: conventional = 8 (4 bottoms x 2 tops) vs. my math = 2 (1 bottom x 2 tops). These pieces are fully mix-and-matchable in creating 3-piece outfits, so conventional math yields 16 outfits (4 x 2 x 2) while mine yields 2 outfits...a navy "suit" with a striped or check shirt. (I could even see the argument that the two navy/white tops are similar enough not to make distinct outfits, but for me, the difference in the print makes them distinct.)

Conventional calculation: 24 outfits; My count: 4 outfits

Now it's time for our third color formula, the modern twin set (a matching/similar top + topper), and once again, let's start with our navy options. Once we take the navy pants out of the picture (since we counted navy + navy + navy in the trios), we are left with 3 navy tops, 2 navy toppers, and the red pants. Our 2-piece calculations are 3 outfit for conventional (3 tops x 1 bottom) and 1 outfit for me (navy + red bottom). For 3-piece outfits, the conventional method yields 4 outfits (SS+cardi, LS+cardi, LS+vest, sweater+vest) and I count zero because I don't distinguish between a navy top + red pants and a navy top, navy topper, and red pants (just like I counted all the different combinations of navy top, navy topper, and navy pants in the first "trio" section as 1 outfit).

Conventional calculation: 7 outfits; My count: 1 outfit

Now let's think about our pink twin set options. Arguably, the only twin set here is shown at the left: the blush pink LS T + blush pink quilted vest. But I quite like the idea of a pink twin set that brings in two shades of pink, so I'm going to put the LS T with the rose cardigan and the dusky pink sweater with the blush vest also. 2-piece pink top + navy/denim bottoms were covered in the outer column navy + solid calculations so let's look at 3-piece outfits. Conventional calculation = 12 (3 top/topper combos x 4 bottoms), but I count 3 outfits, one for each twin set. (Do the two light pink + darker pink combos seem distinct to you? For me they do.)

Conventional calculation: 12 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

Now for our colorblocked outfit options...this is what I call an outfit consisting of multiple solid colors. The only way to get a colorblock outfit from this capsule that I would wear is to use the white LS T as the base. For 2-piece outfits, the conventional math is 5 outfits (1 top x 5 bottoms) and I see 2 outfits...a white top + navy/denim pants or white top + red pants. More adventurous color-mixers might find more combinations than this for 3-piece outfits if they combine red and pink, but conservatively speaking, you can go with white + navy + pink (the left) or white + navy + red (the right). This leads to 10 outfits with conventional math (1 top x 4 bottoms x 2 toppers plus 1 top x 1 bottom x 2 toppers). I count 3 outfits...white top + navy pants + blush pink vest, white top + navy pants + rose cardigan, and white top + red pants + navy topper.

Conventional calculation: 15 outfits; My count: 5 outfits

Because we have both print tops and print cardigans in our capsule, we can also consider the possibility of print mix twin sets! Here are our two print tops, two print cardigans, and the red pants. Of course the navy/denim pants would work here as well, but I didn't think a navy print top would be that different from a navy solid top (already covered in the navy inner columns). The conventional math would give us 10 2-piece outfits (2 tops x 5 bottoms, including the navy/denim) and 20 3-piece (2 tops x 5 bottoms x 2 toppers). I count 2 2-piece (red pants + each top) and 2 3-piece outfits (red pants + each topper; the tops are similar when layered).

Conventional calculation: 30 outfits; My count: 4 outfits

Our final color formula to consider is the Solid + Solid + Print combo. This is a very popular way to dress, but I haven't run across a name for it so I am using this one. First let's look at the white T + red pants with a print topper. For once, conventional capsule math and I agree...this is 3 outfits! (The white T + red pants was covered under the colorblocked formula.)

Conventional calculation: 3 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

Next we have the white T + navy/denim pants combo with a print topper. Conventional math yields 12 3-piece outfits (1 top x 4 bottoms x 3 toppers) but I count 3 (one for each topper piece). (The 2-piece outfits were covered in the navy inner column + solid section.)

Conventional calculation: 12 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

Here we've switched out the white LS T for the blush pink one. The math goes the same way as before...conventional = 12 outfits, I count 3. (One could make the case that a white vs. blush pink T layered under a print cardigan doesn't matter much at all, but I think it can, depending on how it's styled, so I counted them as distinct.)

Conventional calculation: 12 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

This time we are working with a print top instead of a print topper, again with pink and navy solids. These pieces are fully mix-and-matchable, yielding a conventional calculation of 16 3-piece outfits (2 tops x 4 bottoms x 2 toppers). I count 4 3-piece outfits (2 tops x 2 toppers x 1 bottom). And you know what? In the print-mix twin set section I counted these 2-piece outfits for the conventional math, and for my count I skipped them as too similar to solid navy top + navy pants. But I changed my mind looking at this right now! So I will count an additional 2 outfits for the two print top + navy pants combos.

Conventional calculation: 16 outfits; My count: 6 outfits

And finally our last set of options: a red top + navy/denim pants + print topper. Again these can be freely mixed and matched, yielding 24 3-piece outfits by conventional calculations (2 tops x 4 bottoms x 3 toppers). I count 3 outfits (one for each topper). (All the 2-piece outfits were covered in the navy outer column section.)

Conventional calculation: 24 outfits; My count: 3 outfits

Whew! OK, that took quite a bit of time to work through, but now we have what we need to make our final count of outfit combinations arising from this 21-piece capsule wardrobe!

Using the conventional "every single piece is different" math, we have....drum astounding 286 outfits.

By my count, which considers the same/similar color of pieces as 1 garment in most cases, we have...a less impressive but still quite respectable 55 distinct outfits.

For a "21 For 21" capsule wardrobe challenge, you only need 21 days worth of outfits. So even by my count, you have more than enough to wear two different outfits every day without repeating any. Even if you wanted a 21-piece capsule to cover 3 months, as is implicit in the My Scarf 2022 capsule building process, you could just about get there with no repeats...55 of the 60 or so days. And that's before you start to consider how accessories can change up the look of a base outfit!

So if like me, you've sometimes looked askance at the "oooh 286 outfits from 21 pieces [of which 4 are navy/denim pants]" type capsule calculations, I hope you have found my calculations of more color-distinct outfits an interesting exercise. I was somewhat surprised to count 55 outfits there! Just goes to show that we have more outfit possibilities in our closets than we think we do.

Where do you fall on the distinct outfit question? Would you count more similarly to the conventional math, where every item is different, or more similarly to how I did it, where color influences the counting? Or is there something else besides individual garments or colors that make outfits distinct to you? Do you care about having a lot of distinct outfit options or do you happily repeat outfits frequently?

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