Get Back to Basics with a Capsule Wardrobe

Cleaning out our closet never felt (or looked) so good

TRANSITIONING INTO COOLER months should be a graceful glide. For me, it’s more like a face plant onto an orange-leaf-strewn ground. On the first truly chilly day of the year, I found myself staring slack-jawed at my closet. I was faced with a dilemma a lot of people are probably familiar with—a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. Why was I so woefully unprepared for this?

After spending so much time learning about sustainability for last month’s column, I felt smarter, like I could do better—much better than a couple of sad layering turtlenecks and battered sweaters, which all but survived unscathed from last winter. As I visually skimmed my wardrobe, an idea in the back of my mind elbowed its way to the front.

The concept of a capsule wardrobe piqued my interest when it kept cropping up during my research on sustainable fashion. Coined by British boutique owner Susie Faux in the 1970s, the term refers to a collection of timeless, high-quality pieces that can last season after season. The end goal includes having a strong backbone of multifunctional basics you can rely on when the outfit-coordination part of your brain draws a blank. But more importantly, it’s about shopping thoughtfully and scarcely.

Writing about capsule wardrobes on the heels of an article about sustainable fashion felt like the logical next step. I knew just the right person to interrogate—Ashley Peeples, owner of Little Rock’s Beige boutique, where she stocks pared-back classics and basics with a bite.

When putting together a capsule wardrobe, what’s the first order of business?

It’s easiest to remove everything from your closet, especially for your initial cleanout. I’ll take everything out and start putting back my favorite pieces. I look at the pieces and see: Do they have any wear and tear? Are they holding up really well? Is this something I’ve worn in the last year? Is this something I see myself wearing three years down the road? I look at the quality of the pieces and how transitional they are. Everyone’s style evolves and changes, but is this something that will evolve with me?

There are so many websites out there that claim a capsule wardrobe should contain 10 pieces. Others say 20 to 30. Do you look at numbers, or do you feel like it varies from person to person?

It varies based on everyone’s lifestyle. Whenever I go to my closet and picking out outfits starts to get a little overwhelming, I know I have too many pieces. I know I need to back off a little bit, sell some things and donate others. When you go into your closet, if you can easily mix and match and throw together outfits, that’s the perfect amount [of garments]. If you get overwhelmed, then you have too much stuff.

Sticking to a neutral color palette is also something people recommend. What colors do you gravitate toward?

I love camel tones and creams. I find that creams are a little easier than a stark white, if you’re just wanting to have a few pieces to play with. If you have creams, camels, some blacks, a lot of brown tones—we’re seeing a lot of brown tones in the fall and winter collections—those are all interchangeable. If you’re someone who likes color, then I always suggest to my customers to invest in a nice printed silk scarf or some accessories that you can add in to bring in a little color to your wardrobe.

As we move into fall, what are some essential pieces that every person should have in their capsule wardrobes?

If you like to dress more casually, good denim is always something wise to invest in. My favorite right now is the Re/Done denim. It’s upcycled Levi’s. They’re sustainable, they last for years, and they look great on everybody. Two [pairs of denim] is plenty.

We only really wear the ones we love anyway …

Yeah, of course! Those are the ones you wear, and the other jeans you have in your closet just get neglected or pushed aside and not worn. I also love the idea of investing in sets because they’re so interchangeable, and you can get several different outfits out of them. For the fall or winter, a two-piece cashmere set is nice to have. A nice white button-up is something that you can mix and match with everything. I also love a good chunky knit sweater. I love to layer those over silk. Silk slip dresses are very transitional. You can wear them in the summer by themselves or layer them with jackets and sweaters in the fall and winter. A wool coat. A flannel blazer. It’s really just about having really nice fabrics, investing in nice [materials].

What are some fabrics that you know are tried-and-true and will last for a while?

For spring and summer, I love linens. You can never go wrong with linen and cotton. In the fall and winter, I’ll have wool and cashmere [pieces] that are sustainably produced. And like I said, good-quality denim is essential. Stay away from synthetic fabrics. They don’t wash or wear well. I don’t love [polyester and viscose]. I’ve noticed that a lot of our brands are using a fabric called tensile that has the same weight as polyester but is more of a natural fiber.

As far as shoes, what are some main categories you look at?

Whenever I’m getting dressed, if it’s for an event, I always gravitate toward a classic black pump because it goes with everything. Strappy sandals. I love having a loafer and a soft boot in my closet. Go with classic shapes, and if you want to get a funkier, trendier pair—as long as you have your classics and your go-tos—then you can play around with the more fun pieces.

What are some misconceptions about capsule wardrobes in general?

Well, a lot of people think that having a capsule wardrobe means stripping the person from all personality and color. That’s not really the case. I think it’s more than just having a certain amount of pieces. It’s mainly about investing in your basics.

Need some quality pieces to start your capsule wardrobe off right? Visit Ashely at Beige in Little Rock. (