Winter WFH Daily Dozen Capsule: Outfit Formulas + Color Formulas
In my last post, I shared this list of 12 items that are critical pieces for me during this work from home winter:
Starting with the elephant and rabbit sweaters, I put together this tidy 12-piece capsule based on items that have been in heavy rotation this last month or so.
It is interesting that this capsule came together quite naturally from the pieces I've been wearing the most with the two animal-themed sweaters, following a post about wardrobe workhorses at Closet Play Image, but it looks like it could have been a small "start with a scarf" capsule a la The Vivienne Files instead! So I could simply not resist making a scarf + color palette + rabbit mascot image for it. That ovoid beige rabbit with the amazingly textured fur is a Jersey Wooly. This one has had her fur trimmed and brushed so it is quite neat and spiffy, but it is possible to spin long Jersey Wooly fur into yarn (though it's a dwarf breed rabbit, so its wool production cannot compete with the much larger Angora rabbits).
Today I want to address a couple things that always come to mind when I'm putting together a capsule wardrobe....and even if you don't work from capsule wardrobes routinely, if you ever travel with only a portion of your wardrobe, that's a capsule. The first is the silhouettes / proportions / outfit formulas you want for your capsule. This one doesn't get a lot of attention, but I think it's a place where capsules can easily go awry.
There may be some women out there who can put together garments of random shapes and end up with a smashing result every time, but most of us probably do well to think about different silhouettes in garments and how we want to combine them. There are so many different things you can consider. Will that top be the right length to wear with both pants and skirts? Do you need jeans to work with both flats and heels? Do you like to observe the principle of volume in wearing a voluminous top with a slim bottom or a voluminous bottom with a slim top, but not two voluminous pieces together? Will the collars of your various shirts, blazers, vests, etc. play nicely with each other or will they compete? How often do you want to wear a third piece? Do you gravitate toward long-sleeves or 3/4 sleeves or short sleeves? Etc. etc.
So much minimalist wardrobe / capsule wardrobe advice glosses over this point, acting as though of course that one black shirt will work with literally everything else in the capsule in creating outfits with your desired volume and proportion. (Anuschka Rees is a notable exception to this trend!) This is where honing in on a few silhouettes / proportions / outfit formulas can make it easier to create a tight, mix-and-match-able capsule. For my fall/spring Daily Dozen, I chose to use a slim pants + top + long vest/cardigan long-over-lean formula. For my winter WFH Daily Dozen, I just worked with this one outfit formula that I have naturally gravitated to most of the time:
Now you certainly needn't limit yourself to only one silhouette per capsule! But I do think that for most of us, too many different silhouettes in a small capsule is asking for trouble generating a good number of different satisfying outfits. If "different" outfits isn't what you're looking for...if you are OK that the high-waist wide-leg pants in your capsule are really only going to look right with that particular shirt and this particular sweater and you're fine with only wearing those pants those two ways...then you have more room to include a wider variety of incompatible silhouettes. But if you are looking for more mix-and-match options in your capsule, selecting a more limited number of outfit formulas will help!
OK, on to the second component: color formulas. I'm using that term because of its similarity to "outfit formulas" but I'm not talking about personal color analysis, color theory, a color recipe, or color combining experimentation a la "rust color combos." I also don't mean selecting a color palette for a capsule wardrobe. These are all great, interesting, important aspects of color, but right now I'm thinking more about various standard ways to combine colors (whatever they may be) in an outfit. If you've heard about wearing a "column of color," for example, that's 100% in line with what I'm thinking about. The color formula in that case is a top and bottom (or a single dress/jumpsuit) in the same color for an inner column or a bottom and topper (like a suit) in the same color for an outer column.
Reading The Vivienne Files and Inside Out Style specifically have encouraged me to think more about this aspect of color, which is relevant at both the outfit level and wardrobe level (and thus eventually at the item level as you think about adding new pieces to your wardrobe). Of course, expanding our knowledge of the different ways pieces of clothing in various colors can be combined in an outfit gives us more opportunities to experiment and have create more outfits from fewer items. But it's also good if you can identify certain combinations that you like best and like least, as that will help you shop smarter and build capsules that support your preferred outfits. And once you've identified pieces in your wardrobe that work together to create one of these color formulas, you can use that combination again and again as a building block for creating outfits!
What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of color formulas, but I am going to use my 12 piece winter WFH Daily Dozen (plus one more piece, for a Bakers Dozen) to illustrate some of the possibilities available even in a small capsule.
First is the classic inner column, a top and bottom piece (or dress/jumpsuit) in the same/similar color that creates a column of color. A lot of people love the column of color for its slimming properties, but it's also nice because you don't have to worry as much about the proportions of your top and bottom pieces because they blend together to create a mostly seamless single block of color. The column is also just a wonderfully versatile base outfit that can be accessorized a million different ways. In this example, I went with high contrast in adding a light vest and dark print scarf to the medium value column.
A few points about the column:
1) It doesn't have to be a dark color. A column is a column regardless of whether it's light or dark. So if you love white, for example, put together a white top and white jeans and you're in business!
2) It doesn't have to be a neutral color. Here I've used a color that could be characterized as a neutral, semi-neutral, or accent color depending on the person/context. You could also do a smashing column in a muted mauve or a neon yellow or whatever color you like!
3) It doesn't have to be the exact same color. Here I've put an aloe vera sweater and olive pants together; they are not the very same color (hence I have given them distinct color names in my wardrobe) but they are quite similar and blend together well to create a column.
4) It doesn't even have to be extremely similar colors if they are both dark, medium, or light. You will eventually get beyond the scope of a column if the colors are too different from each other, but combining say dark grey and black or light beige and white can produce a very column-like effect.
A note on the inner column and scarves/toppers: Depending on how you wear your layering pieces, your top can be mostly obscured so that the column-ness of your column is lessened. That's totally OK, though, and I have found that there can still be benefits from an inner column even when you've really layered up on top. Sometimes when you're wearing a cardigan/jacket and a scarf worn long down the center of the body, it can seem like, Eh, who can see the top anyway? And that's fair. But I admit that I sometimes can get a little feisty when just a sliver of that other color of top comes through. It doesn't stop me from wearing a white top instead of a matching one, but I think in the "almost but not all of the top will be obscured by layering" that I do have a slight preference for the column rather than the peek of other color when I can do it.
Next is the outer column or "suit" that combines bottom and topper pieces (vest, cardigan, jacket, coat, etc.) in the same/similar color. I added this pair of wine work pants to the capsule so I could show an example, but if I were analyzing my Daily Dozen to consider how to expand it, these pants have jumped to the front of the list because they completed this easy-to-wear "suit." In this case, the color match is extremely close, especially given they are different fabrics and different brands/manufacturers. I chose a high contrast white top but a similarly colored print scarf from the capsule to wear with the wine column.
I actually have two wine/burgundy vest "suits" in my wardrobe: the quilted vest and traditional office trousers in a dark cool wine, and an open cardigan vest and skinny pants in a lighter, warmer burgundy color that is part of my fall/spring long-over-lean outfit formula...compared below. I personally don't ever interchange between them because both from a color and style perspective, I have a strong preference for wearing them in this combination.
The same points about an inner column above apply to the outer column as well. It's also important to note that these ideas do not apply to a formal suit, which is two (or more) pieces not only in the same color and not only in the same type of fabric, but cut from the very same bolt of cloth to create absolutely identical-looking pieces. If you need a formal suit, you need to buy/make a formal suit; don't try to fake it with separates. (But make sure whether a formal suit is needed or not; women have quite a bit of room to wear separates in situations where a true suit is required for men!) But for everything but a format suit situation, there is a lot of lee-way in putting together a column, inner or outer. I find that using different kinds of fibers and textures can actually make pieces go together better than when they are the same, so absolutely you can create a terrific column from a knit top + silk skirt...or a cable knit cardigan + wool skirt...or a sweater + cotton chinos or a quilted vest + cotton/poly/spandex pants, as I did above.
A quick note about vests: I think a column with a vest can, depending on the vest and how it fits/is worn, can look more like an outer column or more like an inner column. I call my open vest + skirt/pants combinations "suits" or outer columns by default, but they are special because the sleeves of your top are on full display...which I think is a lot of fun! There's no need to overthink this, but if the distinction between an inner column vs. outer column is important to you for whatever reason, it's worth being aware of.
Of course, the inner vs. outer column terminology is predicated on the idea that you are wearing three pieces: a top, bottom, and topper. But if you're just wearing two pieces (or a standalone dress/jumpsuit), your column is both (or neither) an inner or outer column, it's just a column.
Moving on to one of my personal favorites: the modern twin set! Like with the formal suit, a classic twin set is pretty regimented: a sleeveless sweater shell and round-neck cardigan in the same sweater knit. But the modern twin set (or "twin set") can be created from any top and topper piece in the same/similar color regardless of the style or fabrication of the pieces. I think there is something sophisticated and polished about layering in the same color that elevates even a very casual outfit. (Obviously sophisticated and polished are not my style guideposts, but a hint of it can be quite nice.) Here I have combined the white button up top with the white quilted vest...which is not something I've worn before but I really like how it looks here! This is another high contrast outfit (to better emphasize the color formula) with medium-dark wash jeans and the dark print scarf. Wearing this twin set with the beige pants would be a lower contrast option that keeps the overall value of the outfit lighter and has less of the "cuts you off in the middle" look, if that's something you think about. (I personally don't care much about that element in my own outfits.)
The inner column, outer column/"suit," and modern twin set are pretty standard color formulas. This next one is something I haven't seen as a thing before, but I just love it. LOVE IT. It's the matching topper and scarf combination. Again, I think it's the subtle color-on-color layering that has a sophisticated feel about it. In this case, I've created an inner column with the beige sweater and pants, then topped it with a wine vest + burgundy scarf combo. Adding a solid scarf in the same/similar color as the topper works very well, but definitely try it with a print scarf in a background color similar to your topper. In this example, the coordinating colors in the scarf and elephant graphic is a particularly pleasing touch for me as I tend to support Team Matching, but of course that isn't at all necessary to the look! This vest + scarf combination could be worn in a lot of different outfits (including the outer column example above).
Of course you can use the matching scarf to add subtle interest to other outfits, too, by matching to the top/pullover sweater and/or cardigan/jacket. The idea is to layer the same/similar color over itself with a scarf.
The next one is something I call "color blocked," which I use to mean an outfit with solid pieces in all different colors. None of the items match, but they come together to create a pleasing whole. I don't wear this color formula very often, but it can be a really great look. I'm pretty excited by the version I created here, actually! Three very basic neutrals + that utility-player shade of green + a gorgeous pop of pink that come together quite beautifully.
Color blocked is not the greatest term for this formula because often people call it colorblocking when you combine solid bold accent color items without any neutrals or layering...like a bright pink top and a bright orange skirt. If you have a better term for this "all different colors" look, do share!
To review: the color formulas I discussed today include inner columns, outer columns/"suits", modern twin sets, matching scarf combos, and color blocked outfits with all pieces in different colors. The colors in the color formulas can be neutrals, semi-neutrals, or accent colors...or utility-player colors that can function as any of the three.
You can apply a color formula again and again in your wardrobe to produce many different outfits in many different color combinations. If you like the inner column formula, you can focus your shopping and outfit creation resources on building a variety of inner columns on which to base your outfits. By identifying pieces in your wardrobe that can work together in color formulas...such as my wine pants + vest "suit", aloe/olive sweater + pants inner column, and white top + vest twin set...you can start experimenting with different outfits built around those formulas.
For further reading, I recommend The Vivienne Files "Color and Proportion" series that starts here and continues here, here, and here. It shows different ways of combining white, black, and beige in outfits, including accessories, with an eye toward finding what combinations result in a balanced look, and you can see which are ones that you personally prefer or dislike ("balanced" or not!). The comments are also excellent. Among other things, you'll discover that if you don't like wearing a white cardigan over a dark top, you're not alone!
Do you have a favorite color formula? Are there any here that you haven't tried much? Do you like to keep changing up your outfit formulas or color formulas or do you have tried-and-true ones that you like to rely on?
In my next color post, I will discuss how to work with color formulas and the color wheel together.
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