How to Create a 21 Piece Spring Capsule Wardrobe with Color and Prints
Recently Janice at The Vivienne Files created a 16 piece capsule wardrobe using her 4x4 template with two neutrals (beige and olive) and FOUR accent colors (blue, purple, yellow, and red). This wardrobe created a bit of excitement in commenters because her capsules are typically have a small, tight color palette (such as two colors total or three colors or four). A total of 6 colors felt positively luxurious by this standard!
I decided to create my own (theoretical) capsule wardrobe for spring inspired by Janice's capsule because, as I stated in a comment to her post, I think a capsule with a couple of neutrals and several accent colors is probably the most do-able capsule wardrobe, especially for those new to them. I am targeting this capsule at my sartorial "Spring" season, which runs for about a month: April 16 through May 15. This covers the period when we have generally stopped getting snow (in any meaningful amount) but it hasn't gotten warm enough for skirts without tights. For simplicity, I am focusing on the clothing for the capsule here, not the shoes and other accessories.
While Janice usually starts by setting her color palette...which makes sense for a "start from scratch" wardrobe...I am not going to begin there. As I am building this capsule from my existing closet, I am going to let the color palette emerge more organically from the choices I make.
So where I am starting instead? Well, selecting your preferred silhouettes or an outfit formula (or several) is not a necessary first step in creating a capsule wardrobe, but it can make it a lot easier to pick your specific items when you have established your categories! Since I am targeting that spring period when it's no longer snowing but it isn't warm enough for bare legs, I am basing my outfits on pants for this capsule. Wearing pants with a top (short- or long-sleeved) and an optional topper piece like a cardigan gives me a lot of flexibility for the varying weather/temperatures that we get in spring. As I'm still in WFH mode, both pants and jeans are appropriate for my daily wear.
The four garment types in my outfit formula makes for a handy way to organize the clothing for my capsule...I can put short-sleeved top, long-sleeved top, pants, and cardigan (topper) as four columns and create some color-based rows as I demonstrated in this post. The nice thing about color-based rows is that it ensures you have items that can mix and match into a variety of easy-to-use color formulas like the inner column of color, the outer column/"suit", and the modern twin set.
Janice's 16 piece capsule had two neutrals (6 pieces in beige and 5 pieces in olive). For my 21 piece capsule, I decided to use three neutrals with 4 pieces each for a total of 12 pieces. (There is nothing magical about this number: you could easily do 1, 2, 4, or 5 neutrals...or fill multiple rows with the same neutral.) Here's what my 3 neutrals look like in a grid format of 5 rows x 4 columns with 1 wild card pick.
Now what about the remaining 8 slots on the template? I definitely wanted to replicate that "abundance of accent colors" feeling I got from Janice's capsule. But I didn't want a bunch of stand-alone accent pieces that could only be used to create colorblocked outfits. I am a lover of prints and bridge pieces, and I wanted to make sure that preference was represented in the capsule.
You might recall that in fall 2021, I created a navy common wardrobe, added accent pieces, and laid out 6 options for expanding the capsule (here and here):
(1) Bolster the core sets: finish building the core sets in the major colors of the capsule
(2) Add more tops (in the existing color palette)
(3) Add bridge pieces: include items that contain two or more colors from your outfit/palette
(4) Build up an existing accent color
(5) Add more prints (in the existing color palette)
(6) Add a new neutral
(7) Add a new accent color
(8) Add multiple accent colors
I am OK with the idea of rotating among 3 pants and 3 toppers for a month, but 6 tops is definitely not enough for me. It's absolutely going to be a laundry bottleneck! And with the variable weather of spring, using tops to adjust to the temperature is an easy option. Switching out tops is also a simple way to "look different" while wearing the same pants and cardigans on repeat.
So I decided to add more tops (option 2) but not within the existing color palette (my three neutrals). Instead I decided to add a row of 4 tops that are bridge pieces (option 3)...prints that include 2 or more of my neutral colors. Note that the tops needn't be limited to ONLY those neutral colors! Adding some additional color through the choice of prints is a feature, not a bug, to this step.
To complete the template, I chose to add (yet) more tops (option 2) in multiple accent colors (option 8) as the final row. This yields a capsule breakdown of 3 pants, 3 cardigans/toppers, and 14 tops. One thing I immediately have in mind here is that a button up shirt can do dual duty as a top and as a topper, so if include a couple of button ups, I can increase my options.
Now to start populating the template! First I pick my neutrals. I liked the olive and beige that Janice used in her capsule, so I went with those and added navy/denim as my third selection. Olive and navy are my favorite neutrals, and I like that this gives me a range of light (beige), medium (olive), and dark (navy/denim) neutrals in this capsule. Olive and navy are also interesting because they are clearly neutrals in that they coordinate well with a wide range of accent colors, but they are actually variants on color wheel colors (versions of Green and Blue, respectively)...unlike black, grey, and white. I think this "neutrals but still kind of like actual colors" quality is part of their appeal to me!
Now to fill in the olive row, I have these four items. Note that they are not all the identical shade of olive, but I know from experience that they can be fully mixed and matched in creating outfits. How close is close enough? That's totally up to you and what looks right to your eye. Remember that when combining items in slightly different shades of a color, if they have different fabrications/textures, those color differences will be less apparent.
The items for my beige row are not as similar in color as in my olive row. I have beige knit pants, an ivory/cream long-sleeved top and cardigan, and for the short-sleeved top, I had to sub in a soft white one. I thought the soft white top + ivory cardigan would work, and when I put them together in my closet, they were actually very similar colors! So these four items can also be mixed and matched.
I called my last neutral "navy/denim" because I knew I'd want to include my dark wash wide leg trouser jeans in the capsule. The short-sleeved top and cardigan are similar darker navy and the long-sleeved T is a somewhat brighter navy, but they can all be mixed and matched as well.
So I now have my core neutral items in place. These items are fully mix and match-able both within and across the rows. For outfit counting purposes, I consider the two tops in each row as basically the same...I can just pick one or the other to adjust to the weather needs of the day. From these 12 pieces, you can generate 9 2-piece outfits and 27 3-piece outfits for a total of 36 outfit options in the capsule. Now some of those you might not like as much as others, but I don't think any of them would be terrible! I personally think some of the 3 neutral outfits (1 item from each row) would probably be the least natural combinations. If there are combinations you don't like, feel free to ignore them! You will have more than enough options before we are through.
Next I went to my tops and pulled out ones that contained 2+ of my neutrals in the print. I love print tops and have quite a number of them, so I had to be selective in choosing my four. If you don't have four that include 2+ neutrals, it's perfectly fine to substitute something else...an item with one of the neutrals in the print...or another solid neutral item in a different texture than you already have...etc.
My first pick is a button up shirt with 3/4 sleeves that can be worn as a top or layered over a short-sleeved T as a topper layer. It has all 3 neutrals in the print and can be substituted for any top or cardigan in the outfits above.
I love this tropical leaf print T in the transition seasons, and it has all 3 neutrals as well...another highly mix-and-match-able piece.
I really liked the idea of a lightweight pullover sweater in this capsule because April can still be cool here, so this striped sweater with olive and beige was a good option. It can be worn with the olive pants, beige pants, and jeans.
I had multiple contenders for this last print top slot, but ultimately I settled on this light colored 3/4 sleeve blouse. I'm not sure about it with the navy cardigan, but it otherwise fits in well with the neutral items.
I love how a print item can both add a lot of interest to an outfit as well as bring various colors together. I'm quite happy with how the selections in the neutral-based prints row works with my neutral pieces.
You can fill those last four slots in the accent color row any way you like! Pick your favorite accent color tops...pick tops that work with an accessory you love to wear...pick tops in styles that you like a lot or don't yet have in the capsule...pick tops that you love to pair with the pants or toppers in the capsule.
How I chose to do it was to look at the accent colors in my print items and pick tops in similar colors...the idea being that if I wanted to create an accessory capsule to go with this wardrobe (and surely I will, right?), it would be helpful to have some overlap in the colors. This is 100% not necessary, but it's the direction I chose to go.
Here are the 3 tops from my print row that contain accent colors. I have identified those accent colors in the circles below each item. One thing I noticed right away is that these colors share a soft, muted quality. Even though the colors (hues on the color wheel) are quite varied, they are all soft. So even though I didn't set out to create a capsule with muted colors, it arose naturally from my garment selections. That doesn't mean that if I'd had an item with bright green and red instead of sky blue and rose that I would need to replace it in the capsule! Since the tops won't be worn together (for the most part), it's perfectly fine if they clash terribly with each other. It's really up to you how overall cohesive you want your capsule to look. As a practical matter, it can be easier to select accessories when there is some commonality among the colors, but you needn't use this as an iron-clad rule!
I compared the accent colors from the prints to my neutrals and to the tops in my closet to make my selections. I don't have any mustard tops (which is NOT a great color on me) so I eliminated that one immediately. I gravitated toward the colors that were a little more vivid (watermelon pink, sandstone coral, light blue, light blue denim) rather than the more greyed out options (wine, rose, slate blue). I think the more vivid colors I picked feel more fresh, spring-like, and "full of color" than the greyed out ones. I purposely chose pullover tops for the two short-sleeved ones and button ups for the 3/4 and long-sleeved ones. This way the two tops with longer sleeves can be worn as a topper layer over any of the short-sleeved tops in the capsule. The denim shirt is really a neutral piece that can be worn with anything, but it will also make a modern twin set when worn over the light blue T due to the similarity in color.
With the grid complete, my capsule now has 20 pieces. That breaks down as:
Pants - 3
Tops - 14, including 3 button up shirts that can be worn as topper layers
Toppers - 3 cardigans + 3 button ups
Now it's time to fill in that wild card slot! Anything goes here. But I picked something that is in one sense quite wild and in another sense not wild at all: my best-fitting pair of black pants. I know - what?! Black doesn't fit in the color palette of this capsule at all...and yet. And yet I'm 100% certain that I am not the only woman on earth who has a great-fitting pair of black pants and who feels it would be a damn shame to decide not to wear them because they don't fit into some arbitrary capsule wardrobe color scheme. I'm sure there are actually a lot of women who would say that their favorite pair of pants is black. I mean, black pants are sold everywhere by everyone. When pants only come in one color, that color is black.
If you've got a pair of black pants you really like wearing, you don't have to fight it. Add them to your capsule. They might not match everything, but they don't need to! You don't need everything in your wardrobe capsule to mix and match. I stopped counting outfit options in this capsule when I hit 81...which was before I even got to the accent color tops in the bottom row.
Now I'd like to reiterate a point I've made before (i.e., quote myself):
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 you like to create capsules or if you don't. You can apply these ideas to a capsule or in place of a capsule.
I am quite happy with how this capsule turned out, black pants and all, and would like to revisit it to add some accessories and create some outfits with it. I think there are some really great outfit options here!
Have you ever created a capsule wardrobe? Do you have any outfit formulas you rely on in the spring? What's spring weather like where you live?
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