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  • Writer's picturesallyinstpaul

How to Create a 21 For 21 Capsule Wardrobe for Summer Starting with a Print Dress

Last week I pulled out my sleeveless floral chambray dress from CJ Banks (one of only 4 dresses that I own!) for the first time this year and wore it with a coordinating sandstone coral cardigan. I find this dress pretty versatile because there are several colors in the floral print to draw from when selecting layering pieces (if desired; it also works well as a stand-alone dress), shoes, and accessories. It has a relaxed fit to allow air circulation...and it has side pockets!

Chambray floral dress + sandstone coral cardigan-Plus size summer outfit idea for women over 40
OOTD 6/29/22

I picked a bold silver circle necklace and "metallic denim" (is that a great colorway name or what?) snakeskin flats to add some shine to the outfit.

I'm wearing a DIY braided headband made from an old oatmeal t-shirt and peach/silver drop earrings.

I had decided I wanted to make a bracelet set to coordinate with this dress from smaller beads in the 3-4mm range to wear with seed bead bracelets, which I have been neglecting lately in favor of my medium sized 5-6mm stone or glass bracelets. So I made an unusually small DIY paper bicone bead bracelet from this image of sand and sky from The Economist. I cut the bicone strips to be 0.5" wide (my usual is 1") and ~4.5" long. They rolled up into 3.5mm beads that are colorblocked light blue and sandy orange with a couple dark blue stripes from the small habitation area in the middle of the image.

I already had the 3 DIY peach seed bead bracelets and the 2 DIY mixed metal spacer bead bracelets, but I made the 3 soft blue seed bead bracelets to finish this set. I think the resulting stack looks really good!

Thinking about the versatility of this dress, I decided it would be a good central piece for building a summer capsule wardrobe. Jodie gave me the idea of doing this when she previously suggested that a dress would make a good starting point for a capsule. I am creating a 21 For 21 capsule wardrobe using a variation on the color-based row concept I developed in this winter capsule post. Instead of choosing 3 items in each of 7 colors, I am starting with the chambray dress as piece #1 then adding 4 items in each of 5 colors. My idea is that each of the 5 color-based rows will have a solid top, solid bottom, and solid topper piece plus one print piece. I will start by drawing colors from the floral dress.

For my first row, I started very simply with the background chambray color. There were several different ways to go here, but I ultimately decided on a 3/4 sleeve T + t-shirt knit jacket in a soft indigo color that doesn't match the chambray but blends well with it. For the pants, I actually do have a pair of soft indigo full-length pants, but to keep in the spirit of the chambray (and for high versatility), I chose a pair of medium denim capris instead. I really like wearing these capris with a fun citrus print in yellow and soft blue against a navy background, so I chose them for the print piece; the yellow that is shared by the citrus print and the floral print provides the point of connection for the capris back to the primary inspiration piece for the capsule.

With yellow as that shared color, it was straightforward to choose light yellow as the color for row 2. I have a knit tank, 3/4 sleeve cardigan, and ankle pants in this color. For my print piece, I wanted a top this time, and I hoped to find something to work with the chambray/light indigo and yellow pieces. I did one better by adding this lightweight 3/4 sleeve sweatshirt that has yellow and indigo stripes plus a sandstone stripe that will coordinate well with the peachy sandstone color in the floral print!

If you guessed that sandstone coral would be the color choice for the third row, you are correct! I could have included 3/4 sleeve cardigan that I wore in last week's OOTD above, but that is the same style as the yellow cardigan and I wanted to bring in a different style option. So I selected a knit tank, 3/4 sleeve shirt (that can be worn as a top or a topper piece), and crop pants. For the print piece, I went with this low-key sandstone T with ivory/cream stripes, which I thought would be really fun to layer under the floral dress.

At this point, the color from the dress's floral print that I hadn't yet added to the capsule was white. I considered whether white would have any strange tension with the cream stripes in the sweatshirt or the ivory stripes in the T...and decided that for once, I wasn't going to over-think this! White is a super versatile light neutral that I like wearing in the summer so I'm going to add it. I have a pleated short-sleeved knit top, another 3/4 sleeve cardigan, and a textured skirt for my solid pieces. For the print piece, I looked over my white-based prints and found this 3/4 sleeve blouse with a floral/bird print with both dark yellow and sandstone accent colors on a white background. I like that there is an aqua/mint color in the print that is also present in the striped sweatshirt; this kind of shared color can be useful for selecting accessories or adding another color to the rows.

An aqua/mint row would be a nice accent color choice for this capsule, but since I was at my last color addition, I decided to go with a neutral instead. So I picked up the navy from the citrus print pants. I quickly chose the short-sleeved knit top with the crochet yoke and the navy slim capris, but I just wasn't feeling any of my solid navy cardigan/jacket options. Instead I liked this striped linen jacket that I think will coordinate well with the capsule colors. For the (second) print piece, the navy sleeveless blouse with yellow, sandstone coral, and white in the print is a great option.

Here is the final capsule consisting of 5 color-based rows of 4 items each plus the inspiration chambray floral dress. It came together so easily by picking a print item as the central piece, then selecting 3 solid items in a color from the print and 1 print item that coordinates. Then choosing another 3 solid items in a color from both prints and another print item...and so on.

It's interesting that I added my neutrals last, while most advice on capsule wardrobes recommend selecting your neutrals first. I knew that I would use white because there is white in the floral print dress, but the other neutral could have easily been grey or olive or brown, depending on the print items I selected. For example, if I had added the navy shirt with a light blue, pink, yellow, and olive floral print as the print piece on the light yellow row 2, I would have probably used pink instead of sandstone coral as an accent color, and I might have chosen olive as a neutral in the place of navy. Indeed, if I wanted to expand this 21-piece 21 For 21 capsule into a 33-piece Project 333 capsule, I could easily add this shirt and choose pink and olive to anchor some additional color-based rows. (To reach 33, you could create a grid of 8 color-based rows with 4 items each + the inspiration print item, for example.)

To put our capsule through its paces, let's build out some outfit options, starting with the inspiration dress. I would wear this dress alone or with any of these 9 layering options (under or over the dress) for a total of 10 different outfits based on the dress.

Next let's work some of our color formulas. There are 4 "trios" of matching/blending top + topper + bottom combinations.

Next are our inner columns of matching/blending top + bottoms. We have an inner column in each of our 5 colors, and each of these columns can be worn alone or with 4-6 topper options. And because we do not have color redundancy in the capsule (like 4 pairs of navy/dark denim bottoms), each of these combinations feels different from the rest. We have 5 2-piece outfits and 21 3-piece outfits here.

We have 4 outer columns of a topper + bottom and each of those combos have 7 top options. 4 2-piece + 28 3-piece outfits = 32 outfits total.

Just counting the outfits based on the dress, trios, inner columns, and outer columns, we are already up to 72 outfits. Doing some quick math to add in the modern twin set, colorblock, solid + print, and solid + solid + print formulas, I found a total of at least 300 outfits from this 21-piece wardrobe! (And that's before you start adding accessories to create even more different looks.) Even if you didn't like most of these combinations, you would still have plenty to take you through the summer, let alone 21 days.

Because I'm always interested in my print mix options, I've laid out some print pieces that I think could work well together. You saw the 2 dress outfits above, but I see some additional possibilities here. The capsule has 14 solid pieces (67%) and 7 print pieces (33%), which is a nice balance in a small wardrobe for those of us who like prints, I think.

I won't claim that the method I have demonstrated today is better than the typical "choose your neutrals, now choose your accents" recommendation, but I do want to say that it is a valid alternative (as is creating a capsule around high priority wear items, regardless of the color palette). If the more rigid method of "select your color palette: neutrals then accents" works for you, that's great! But it's also quite possible to develop a capsule in a more organic fashion without a set color palette up front...especially if you are shopping your closet to create (or at least start) your capsule. And I definitely think we should shop our closets first every time!

Do you think at all in terms of color formulas like inner columns, outer columns, or modern twin sets when building outfits? Do you like to have matching pieces (similar to the color-based row) in your wardrobe (capsule or not)? What is the breakdown of solid and print pieces in your closet?

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