Ethical Fashion Musings

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and What You Can Do to Reclaim It

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It
Amanda Busher
Written by Amanda Busher

Old school capsule wardrobe theory was sustainability on a clothes rack: a minimal number of quality, functional pieces that you love and can wear year-round, reducing the resources, time, and space otherwise spent on sourcing and storing your wardrobe.

The capsule wardrobe is all about shaking off the consumerist zombie within and getting back to spending time actually living, rather than shopping (or thinking about shopping). Unfortunately, this idea seems to have evolved, even mutated, since its gain in popularity over the last two years.

The capsule as a mask for continued consumption

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 1 Shoes

Whereas traditionally a ‘capsulist’ (yep, just go with it) would only replace items from their wardrobe when they were worn beyond repair, now you are encouraged to add on-trend garments to your wardrobe every season.

In fact, some lifestyle writers specifically define the capsule wardrobe as a small collection of clothes that changes every season. Another writer suggests that, rather than editing the clothes you don’t wear out of your capsule, you store them elsewhere—on the off chance you do wish to wear them at some yet-to-be-determined point in the future.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 2 Clothes

Now, call me crazy, but this is the exact opposite of what the capsule is meant to do: reduce the space your wardrobe takes up and create a minimal, functional, and trans-seasonal collection of clothing.

If you follow these new ‘rules’ for your capsule wardrobe, you are not ‘capsuling.’ I would suggest, in fact, that you are simply ‘wardrobing.’ Much like you probably always have done.

The capsule as a vehicle for trend slavery

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 3 Mannequins

The very purpose of trends is to distract you from your own style, to cloud your judgement so you can’t figure out exactly what it is you do like. Trends ensure that you will, sooner rather than later, wonder what you were thinking when you bought them. All so you can rush out and buy them again.

When you buy ‘on trend,’ you’re buying for everyone but yourself: for the fast fashion industry that demands you buy a new wardrobe every three months or less; for everyone around you who wants to look like everyone around them; for the magazines and Instagram accounts dictating what your wants should be, all through a Clarendon filter.

The idea behind the capsule is to create a wardrobe irrespective of the latest trends, a wardrobe that honours you and your style. The capsule wardrobe in its traditional sense is a sneaky way of subverting the ever-changing nature of ‘fashion,’ a direct push-back against trends, if you will.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 4 Outfit

So whilst the original capsule wardrobe is a more sustainable way of consuming fashion, its current appropriation by the fast fashion industry and its agents is not. This new faux capsule wardrobe trend encourages ongoing consumption of the latest fashion fads, while inexplicably prescribing a narrow, minimalist take on ‘personal’ style.

All the articles I found in researching this piece gave the impression that a pared down wardrobe made up of denim and neutral coloured garments is the only way to successfully ‘capsule’ a wardrobe. And in focusing so much on trying to recreate this trend in their own wardrobes, people aren’t holding true to their own values and style.

Eco Fashion Shopping Tips - Eco Warrior Princess infographic

A capsule wardrobe should balance sustainability and style

If you are a ‘capsulist’ because you understand the multi-aspect benefits it brings, kudos to you. However, if you’re ‘capsuling’ and updating your capsule every three months to reflect the latest trends, not only are you doing it wrong, but that level of counter intuitiveness is how black holes happen (probably) with you and all your neutral coloured base layers lining up to get sucked into oblivion.

None of this is to say that I don’t think the capsule wardrobe has any value to today’s ethical and sustainable fashion consumer. I think it does, if done right.

In fact, I’d like to see us in the ethical fashion sphere, reclaim the capsule wardrobe on the journey to curbing our consumerist urges, and appreciating and caring for the clothing we have. If this is a pretty sexy idea to you to, here are a couple of pointers to get started.

1. Take it slow in the beginning.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 5 Sunglasses

Creating a true capsule wardrobe is a slow, steady, and thoughtful process. It requires a commitment to the underlying principles of sustainability, quality rather than quantity, and style over fashion.

When you purchase an item for your capsule, you are not just purchasing for today, tomorrow, or next month. You are purchasing for the life of that garment. And if you buy well, that life should be a long, well loved one. So take your time curating your pieces. It won’t happen overnight.

2. Know yourself before making a commitment.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 6 Outfit

Each piece in a real capsule wardrobe satisfies a need and is not trend-based. You choose pieces selectively, based on fit, how they look on you, even how they make you feel—not how they look on the 14-year-old model wearing them on Instagram.

For instance, once you find the style of jeans that suits you, you know that this is the style you will be choosing when you need to replace them (because you’ve worn them out, not because the SS17 trend has a new pattern of rips that you just have to have).

3. Be yourself and the right one will come to you.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 7 Print

A capsule wardrobe is not about diluting your own style to fit a homogenous normcore aesthetic. If you love loud, bold patterns, then your capsule will reflect that.

Remember, your capsule will probably not look like the clothes rack photos on Pinterest. And that’s okay. As long as you apply the above principles—committing to each garment for the life of it—you are doing it right.

4. You can never have too many lovers.

How Fast Fashion Destroyed the Capsule Wardrobe, and 4 Things You Can Do to Reclaim It 0 Store

Think less about the number of garments you have; rather, focus on curating a collection of garments you love and that you wear.

You may have a dress you love but only have occasion to wear once or twice a year. That’s okay. As long as it keeps fulfilling a need, and you continue to love and wear it irrespective of trends, it is still a valuable part of your capsule.

And really, who wouldn’t long for a closet full of favourites, of pieces of clothing that evoke fond memories and great stories?

To learn more about how the fast fashion industry has impacted people and planet, we recommend you grab the book Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion.

Tell us, are you a fan of the capsule wardrobe? Have you ever found yourself struggling to keep your closet minimal because of some new trendy piece you felt you needed in your life? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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About the author

Amanda Busher

Amanda Busher

Amanda Busher is the founder of New Left, an online ethical fashion boutique established in 2014. Amanda has a social justice, human rights and fashion design background and is an unapologetic feminist and vegan. Once she's done changing the world Amanda is going to get back to her childhood dream of being an Astronaut.

9 Comments

  • Brilliant article!
    I’m in the process of building my own capsule wardrobe. I’ve never thought of my clothes as a collection that needs curating before, but I love the idea.

    • Thanks for reading, Peta! Yes I love the idea of curating my wardrobe. I find I have so much more appreciation for my garments, and take much more care of them when I think of them as my own wearable art gallery! X

      • I totally agree! I’m also being a lot more particular about the pieces that go into my wardrobe. If I don’t LOVE the way an item feels and looks on me, I don’t buy it! Makes shopping more difficult, but when I do find what I’m looking for, it feels great ?

  • I was so excited about the idea of the capsule wardrobe when I first heard about it. But then everyone talked about storing all of their other clothing away and buying things every season and that astonished me…
    My own wardrobe is getting smaller over time I think. I started sort of a personal challenge a while ago, to only buy clothing items second hand or from ethical sources. That involves lots of research for every new item I add and is completely sepparated from trends and fast fashion. Each change of season I do think about what I have or haven’t worn and give away clothing back to second hand shops. I slowly am able to create a wardrobe of ‘loves’.
    I still am not 100% happy but I guess it is a sustainable and slow enough way to work my way through everything. And as long as I purchase clothing second hand I am not as mad about things not working out in the end because I didn’t support any new things being produced.

    • Sounds like you are onto it, Zamo. I try to take the same approach with my wardrobe – building a wardrobe you love takes time and is so much more rewarding in the long run. I’ve found clothing swaps with friends a couple of times to be a great alternative to thrift stores – knowing my pre-loved clothes are going to people that will treasure them, and picking up some lovely gems for myself!

  • I’m always super conscious about what I buy, but I’d never limit myself to a capsule wardrobe. I probably choose from about 40 pieces each season (is this a typical number for a capsule wardrobe?) just because that’s the amount of clothing I own. Whenever I purchase a new item, I make sure it will go well with many other pieces and that it will fill a need, as you said. I don’t know any other way to buy. But creating a capsule? That’s limiting in a way I dislike, when it comes to fashion, as fashion is about expression, not asceticism.

  • Honestly, I was never into the capsule thing, because I like colours and different textures and I do not do trans-seasonal, simply because I hate winter and refuse to have anything to do with it come summer. Then it is all colour and flimsy fabric all the time. Anyhoo, I was forced to capsule during my pregnancy and since then, and store all my (smaller) pretty things away. I did with about 20 pieces (including shoes, excluding underwear) and goddang, I hate it. Like, I only have three pants and seven tops. I get so bored. And they get shabby quickly, because I constantly wear and wash them.
    Also, I realised I did capsule before, because I did only wear about 40 things in a season, but I have had some of them for a decade. I will be glad to get back to that.

  • I guess This is why some of the ethical fashion bloggers and influencers have started using the term minimal wardrobe instead – which reflects what you described the original capsule to be… I love the idea of a capsule/minimal wardrobe and I’m so much more happy about my wardrobe since i set out on the capsule quest myself… I do Fall into the navy/Black hole naturally, just need to Update my essentials AS I Wear the Old ones out, which unfortunately happens quite fast…

  • I so agree with you! So many sites recommend that you add rather than take away. Where’s the point in that? And so many are simply mini-collections pre fabricated and pre determined by trends. I have not found a true direction on finding your own style and determining your personalized capsule based on personal needs and preferences.

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