How to create a capsule wardrobe for men

By: Peter Nguyen
Last Updated: November 8, 2020

Today’s question comes from Rob:

“Peter, I have way too many clothes… What’s the least amount of clothes I can get away with?”

Great question, Rob! 

As a Personal Stylist, there’s an assumption that all I do is have my client buy racks of clothes. (I wish it were that fun and easy!)

The truth is, my clients actually end up having fewer clothes in their closets than when we started!

How? A minimalist, capsule wardrobes!

Today, I want to show you why great style isn’t about having a TON of options, so long as you have the right clothes.

Head’s up! I put together a FREE bonus for this post:

A “MINIMALIST WARDROBE SHOPPING LIST” Where I show you EXACTLY what I bought for my own wardrobe, complete with links.

Let me know where to send it by entering your info below!

What is a capsule wardrobe?

Less, but better

A capsule wardrobe is a small, tightly edited collection of clothes that gives you the most bang for your buck.

Imagine if James Bond needed a closet he could travel the world with. He’d want one to cover all his bases — from grabbing his morning espresso on the Italian coast, to important “business meetings” with Q — all without taking up a lot of space.

Why should you build a minimalist capsule wardrobe?

Does this sound familiar?

You’re getting ready for work in the morning.

You open your closet. It’s packed full of clothes.

Wire, wooden, and felt hangers tangled up. Shirts squished in-between jackets. Pants are on the floor.

“Fuck, I have nothing to wear.” You think to yourself.

You pull out a bunch of outfits, and everything sucks. 

You try on a shirt. 

You hate it, so you take it off and try another one on.

Clothes are piling on your bed, and now you’re running late! So you put on the last thing you tried on and head out the door.

After work, you head to the mall because you decide you need new clothes. You have no idea what you’re doing, so you buy whatever your teenage salesperson tells you is “cool.” 

The next day, you wake up to the same cramped closet of clothes you hate. The new stuff you bought stuffed inside somewhere.

You’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, stuck in your own personal hell of shitty clothes.

I’ve seen this so many times over the last 20 years I’ve given it a name: the “Cluttered Closet Cycle”

This is why you have clothes you forgot you even owned!

It’s that vicious cycle you go through every season. 

Why does this happen?

It’s what psychologists call the paradox of choice (aka analysis paralysis.) 

The more options you’re given, the harder our monkey brains find it to make a choice. 

It’s the reason I drive my wife crazy when I scroll through Netflix for 20 minutes only to proclaim “There’s nothing to watch!”

Why capsule wardrobes are a better way to approach good style

Most guys don’t shop for clothes with a plan. 

Think of shopping for clothes like shopping for groceries. 

Imagine going to the grocery store with no shopping list. You grab ingredients you think look delicious as you walk down the aisle. 

You get home and unload your groceries and find that you have. 

A few apples. Fish, hot sauce, dry spaghetti, donuts, and green juice. 

Kinda hard to make a meal, right? 

That’s what most guys are doing when they shop for clothes.

Building a capsule wardrobe is like going to the grocery store with a proper shopping list.

You get everything you need to make, for example, the perfect Italian dinner! All the ingredients work together, and nothing is wasted.

This means:

1. Less clutter! 
Focusing on getting what you need means your closets won’t be packed full of clothes. Plus, you’ll stop wasting money on clothes you end up never wearing!

2. Easier to get dressed!
Remember the whole analysis paralysis thing? Fewer options mean it’ll be easier for you to pick something to wear!

3. You don’t have to try to keep up with trends! 
A proper capsule wardrobe centers around timeless, versatile styles. That means you don’t need to worry about keeping up with “what’s cool”. Your capsule will outlast trends. (More on this later!)

What makes the perfect capsule wardrobe?

I’ve designed hundreds of wardrobes for clients. Here are my rules for building the perfect capsule wardrobe:

1. Timeless, classic designs 

The classic outfit looked great 50 years ago, and will prob look good 50 years from now!

Trendy clothes, by their nature, need to be replaced by the next trend. We want to avoid needing to update our wardrobe all the time. A good capsule wardrobe centers around simple, classic styles. The white t-shirt. The dark wash jeans. The navy blazer. 

2. Versatile Pieces

Fewer clothes mean you want to pick pieces that can double or triple duty. Your jacket should be appropriate for work but still look great on a date! 

3. Focus on Men’s core colors

Aka “Neutral Colors” 

Take a look at the image below. What do you notice?

Great examples of outfits using neutral colors

All the men center their style around neutral colors. (White, black, grey, navy, olive, khaki, and brown.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, black, Asian, white, formal, or casual. Neutral colors, or “Men’s Core Colors” as I like to call them, make everyone look amazing. It’s the foundation for great capsule wardrobes.

Here’s why they work:

Neutral core colors aren’t overpowering

Core color outfits vs bright colors

Many men overcompensate for the lack of style by wearing flashy and loud clothes. It comes off as showy.

Core colors are flattering and pleasant to look at compared to loud, bright colors. Nothing wrong with wearing bright colors, but many men overdo it! 

They mix and match easily with each other

Because neutrals don’t overpower on another, you don’t need to worry about mixing and matching colors. They mix together “automatically.”

They’re the perfect backdrop for brighter colors and patterns

Neutral colors are a great backdrop for brighter, pop colors

Core colors are like your wardrobe’s carbs: they’re a great delivery method for more color and patterns. When you’re ready to take your capsule wardrobe to the next level, you’ll have the perfect backdrop. (See Ryan, Jonah, and Idris above)

The Perfect Starter Capsule Wardrobe

Need an idea of where to start? I got you…

Let’s assume you do laundry once a week. Here’s what I recommend for a starter capsule wardrobe:

14 essentials pieces (not counting the socks and underwear)

  • 2 Jackets (1 dressy, 1 casual)
  • 8 tops (a mixture of t-shirts, polos, button-ups and/or henleys)
  • 2 pants (1 casual, 1 dressier)
  • 2 pairs of shoes (1 casual, 1 dressier)
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 8 pairs of socks

Here’s a breakdown of the starter capsule wardrobe:

2 Jackets (1 blazer, 1 casual)

Versatility is extremely important when putting together a capsule wardrobe! That’s why for this starter, I went with a navy blazer. It’s a jacket you can wear to important meetings and dates, but still dress down with a t-shirt if you wanted to. There are a lot of casual jacket options. I love a good, restrained leather jacket. Black mixes and matches with everything, and the minimal design (compared to a classic “rocker” leather jacket) means you can even wear it to the office!

8 tops (a mixture of t-shirts, polos, button-ups and henleys)

T-shirts are essential for any capsule wardrobe. But polos are my favorite secret weapon! They’re the perfect “business casual” shirt — they’re more casual than a button-up, but dressier than a t-shirt.

Button-up oxfords in a mix of white, pale blue, and blue striped will cover your needs for work. A blue chambray denim style shirt is a great versatile piece you can wear under a blazer, or throw over chinos and boots.

2 pants (1 pair of dark wash denim, 1 pair of olive chinos)

Save the light washed jeans for summer weekends. To squeeze out more versatility, make sure your denim is darker. Darker colors evoke a more serious vibe, allowing you to wear it to work. (Think about how intimidating security guards are when they wear all black!) It also makes it much easier to mix and match because a dark denim blue is not overpowering.

Chinos are the perfect business casual pant. I went with olive to give the capsule a bit of color. You can pair them with a blazer and button-up for work, or t-shirt and white sneakers for the weekend.

2 pairs of shoes (1 minimal white sneakers, 1 dressy leather boots)

Minimal white sneakers have become a staple in the modern man’s wardrobe. The clean design, combined with more relaxed dress codes, means you can totally wear these to the office.

For a dressier shoe, you have a few options. A black penny loafer is a great, versatile style for the office. I like a lace up boot here, which pairs well with both the chino and jeans.

A few more capsule wardrobe details:

We want multiples of items we shouldn’t wear twice in a row 

You know, the stuff that gets funky fast, like shirts, underwear, and socks. 1 for each day, plus a buffer.

Plan for our laziness 

In a perfect world, we do laundry every 7 days as scheduled. 

But some weeks I get lazy, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Instead of 7 days worth of clothes (6 days + what you wear on laundry day), we’re stocking 8 days as a “laziness buffer”.

Not counting accessories 

Accessories, like bags, pocket squares, and sunglasses, are purely optional. I recommend them, as they’re an easy way to add variety in your looks without taking up a lot of space.

Capsule Wardrobe Outfit Examples

Let’s take a look at this wardrobe in action. 

Click to enlarge

As you can see, great style it’s not about having a TON of clothes. It’s about stocking your closet with the few, select, right pieces you can mix and match.

Follow the basic recommendations above, and you’ll have a closet that’s 10x more stylish with 10x fewer clothes.

Want a list of what to get? Download my “Capsule Wardrobe Shopping List” bonus!

I put together a free bonus for this post: A minimalist wardrobe shopping list showing you exactly what I would buy for my own minimalist wardrobe, complete with links.

I’ve not only included the exact pieces I bought for my wardrobe, I also threw in alternatives to fit almost every budget, so you can look amazing and minimize your closet without breaking the bank.

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