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How to Create a Colorful Capsule Wardrobe for Summer from High Priority Wear Items

My initial plan for this post was simply to share the high priority wear items I'd identified in my wardrobe for this summer (now through the end of September). But once I got started, I realized I could take this opportunity to attempt building a capsule around these pieces. I didn't know how well it would work to create a capsule from a not-entirely-random but also not-picked-to-coordinate set of items, but I thought it was worth a try!


As you have probably seen many times, the basic advice for starting a capsule wardrobe almost always has as its first step to identify your color palette. That makes a lot of sense! If you want to be able to create many outfits from a small number of items, they will need to be mix-and-match-able, which is easier when you have a tight color palette. That is how I've built the most capsules I've shared on this blog also, including the ones in the 2021 6 Scarves series and the My Scarf 2022 capsule wardrobe series. (A variant was the 21 piece capsule using color-based rows in which I developed the color palette as I filled in a grid). However, as I laid out in detail in this post, when your palette is very limited, you end up with a highly mix-and-match-able capsule that results a lot of outfits that look the same. Whether that is desirable or not will depend on you and your preferences. I personally don't like that kind of day-to-day monotony.


Another potential downside to using a color palette as the basis for your capsule is that you may have pieces you really want to wear that just don't match the color palette you've selected! These may be...

-Favorite pieces

-Pieces that are easy to wear/style

-Pieces that fit well and look good on you right now

-Pieces that are the most comfortable

-Pieces that make you feel More You

-Pieces that suit your lifestyle for this season

-Pieces that are currently trendy (due to cut, color, etc.)

-Pieces that have been put away throughout the cold seasons that you can't wait to pull out again

-Pieces that are new

-Pieces that still have a high cost per wear (CPW)

-Pieces that you haven't worn as much but want to wear more often

-Pieces you want to push yourself to style in new and different ways

-Pieces in colors/prints/styles that fit your idea of the season ahead (such as fall colors vs. spring colors)

-Etc. etc. etc.


I have multiple wardrobe tracking documents that I maintain, and one of them is a spreadsheet with things like item details, price, number of wears to date, current CPW, number of planned wears, and planned CPW. The "planned" aspect may sound strange! But I do a lot of outfit planning, which includes identifying pieces that I want to wear in the coming seasons and building outfits with them. One of the biggest criteria in choosing these high priority wear items is current CPW. Pieces with a high current CPW (that are appropriate to the coming season) ones I select as high priority wear items and use to build planned outfits around. One interesting thing here is that certain lower priority wear items might end up in a lot of planned outfits because they show up again and again in the planned outfits. Does that make sense? It's like if you start prioritizing fish and tofu in your main dishes for the summer, you might find that you are eating a lot of rice and salad, no because you prioritized rice and salad, but because those are foods you use to create full meals around your fish and tofu mains.


I had already done my prioritizing of high CPW items and created planned outfits around them in advance of the start of summer, so I can look in my spreadsheet to see which items I'm planning to wear the most of in the coming months (through Sept 30). I pulled together the images of the pieces with the highest number of planned wears and organized them roughly by color and clothing category. When I saw the 13 pieces together, I thought, Huh, I wonder if I could build a capsule wardrobe around these items? This would be an interesting way to think about an alternative method for creating a capsule...one which recognizes that not all of the pieces that you really want to wear in the coming season are automatically going to work together.


So here are the 13 pieces that are the starting point for this capsule. The balance of tops/bottoms/toppers isn't terrible (5 tops/3 bottoms/5 toppers). Oh, but the colors.... Although there is a lot of navy/denim (7 of the 13), black also appears in 2 pieces: the black short-sleeved top and the teal skirt with the floral print. Luckily the black top + floral skirt work well together, but they are not going to play as well with the navy pieces. (Or the green-teal tank. Or the vertically striped top.) Standard advice would say that those 2 pieces shouldn't be included in the capsule. And yes, it is totally an option to remove one or both of them. But let's say these were pieces you truly do want to wear this season...do you have to eliminate them? I say no! Looking at that teal floral skirt specifically, if you are just loving it right now and are OK with having it be one of your signature pieces in the coming season, you can make it work. Let's give it a shot!

For the next step, I identified if there were any obviously missing neutral pieces that would could help form the backbone of this capsule...pieces that could be worn again and again with the colorful and/or print items in the capsule. My first noticing: there is no white top in the capsule. A white top is an absolute necessity for me in summer...and it pairs very well with both skirts here. Next: with all the navy, a solid navy top would be useful...and it would complete a "modern twin set" with the navy jacket. Third: I want a light solid neutral pair of pants...and these beige skimmers would be a great pairing for the beige striped top and/or the ivory lace jacket. This brought the capsule up to 16 pieces, which is the number for a Vivienne Files 4x4 capsule (as has been under discussion at My Wardrobe, Myself lately).

I rearranged the pieces somewhat to incorporate these three additions and form a very rough 4x4, and already things are looking quite a bit better with our capsule! The white T and beige skimmers bright a sense of lightness that is so important to me in a summer capsule. We could stop here with a 4x4 capsule. But I really prefer a 21 For 21 capsule, especially for a non-travel capsule. It's only 5 pieces, but you can do so much with them.

My priority for these 5 new pieces was to find two tops that would coordinate with the teal print skirt as well as the other 3 bottoms in the capsule. So I pulled out the yellow-green and bright blue from the print in a lime sleeveless tank and splash blue short-sleeved T. The lime doesn't work well with the sky blue cardigan to my eye but the splash blue might. Otherwise, these pieces can mix and match easily with the capsule while bringing some dashes of color (which I always like!).


Next, I wanted another top and was really interested in a print this time. I picked a navy-based floral/bird print lightweight blouse with 3/4 sleeves that is a great stand-alone top for summer and can work with both pants and probably the striped skirt.


Then I looked at the short-sleeved floral button up shirt to see what other accent color I could bring in as a top (potentially even wearing it as a base layer with the floral shirt over it as a jacket). Blue was already covered, yellow...eh, just wasn't feeling it here, but pink, that was a promising choice! I found a simple pink T to add another accent.


At this point, I felt good about the tops! Immediately my mind was calling out for a pair of colorful pants. A colorful skirt would also work, but I prefer the balance of 2 skirts/2 pants. If I were adding the pants new to my closet, I'm not sure what color I would have picked. But from the clothes I already have, the pink ankle pants that can be worn with the new pink T as an inner column of color won the day. This is definitely NOT the most mix-and-match-able option to include! But colorful pants are a hallmark of my style, and I find that having distinct differences in the color of my bottom pieces from day to day has a big impact on my feeling of variety. In an ideal world, the floral/bird blouse would also have pink (it has a coral/pink instead) but that's OK. There are still plenty of tops that will work with the pink pants.

Here's the final 21 For 21 capsule...what do you think? I really like seeing the variety of accent colors, a number of print pieces, and a range of neutrals that differ in value (light/medium/dark) and texture. Sure, the black t-shirt sticks out, but guess what...we wear outfits, not capsules! While seeing cohesion at the capsule level is a good indicator that you will be able to build outfits easily from it (and preferring high cohesion when you look at your capsule as a whole is a legit aesthetic choice if that's important to you), you don't truly need 100% cohesion in order for a wardrobe to work. This isn't like selecting décor for your living room, where that one weird pillow will jump out at you every time you sit down. It is OK to leave a little bit of "free to vary" in your capsule (and your outfits).

Now it's time to move from the capsule level to the outfit level to put our capsule to the real test: can we make enough different outfits from it to satisfy our personal need for variety, the demands of the weather, our personal laundry cycles, etc. I am going to organize by bottom piece and build out the outfits that I see from the capsule. You may not like all these outfits, and/or you may see other possibilities I didn't include...I was trying for "outfits that most people would consider reasonable" when counting out the options.


First, our trickiest piece...the teal floral skirt with black in the print. It's a ponte knit pencil skirt that I find easy to dress down. We have 5 tops that I think work extremely well with the skirt! There are 3 toppers that will coordinate readily with at least some of these tops. Your particular count might differ from mine, but I'd say there's easily 17 outfits here.

Next is the navy and white striped knit skirt. It's a little more casual than the floral pencil skirt but suitable for a lot of business casual workplaces, particularly in summer. The only tops I wouldn't wear it with are the black top and the beige vertically striped top. All 5 topper pieces are in play, and even though they aren't 100% mix-and-matchable with the tops, it still results in a lot of outfit options!

These stretchy denim ankle pants are terrific for summer wear...lightweight, extremely versatile, and very comfortable to wear. They are basically jeans for summer. The only pieces I wouldn't wear with them in this capsule are the denim shirt and jacket (because I don't like the multiple pieces of blue denim look personally). There are so many good combinations here, which is good because this piece is probably the core of the entire capsule.

The beige skimmers are a just-below-the-knees pants option that I at least can readily wear to work in the summer, and they will go with everything in the capsule. (Obviously you may prefer a longer pant or a skirt instead, but this is what I have.) I love how switching to a lighter pair of pants makes such a difference to the look of an outfit!

Finally, the pink ankle pants...which coordinate with a surprisingly good number of our tops! I didn't pair them with the green-teal tank or the lime tank, but arguably those combinations could work too...especially if you like the bold colorblock look, you wear a neutral topper piece that reduces the impact of the top, or you wear a bridging accessory. The navy floral/bird print blouse with the sandstone instead of pink is the other one I skipped over, though the combination definitely wouldn't be a terrible one.


The basic idea of a 21 For 21 capsule is that you wear it for 21 days. With the around 180 outfit combinations shown in this post, you really could go all summer without even repeating an outfit. (And repeating an outfit is not the end of the world! If you like identifying your favorite combinations and wearing them again and again, go for it.) And note that we haven't even brought accessories into play here...which could create even more distinct outfits.


What are your high priority wear items for the current/coming season? Have you tried a capsule wardrobe? Would your capsule have more neutrals than this? More color? Could you imagine putting both navy and black into a capsule?


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