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Why owning fewer clothes makes you a better dresser

better dresser clothes dresser fewer clothes

Why owning fewer clothes makes you a better dresser

 A Guardian fashion editor’s take on the capsule wardrobe. Composite: Daniel Benson

There is a sartorial magic to the kind of streamlined wardrobe made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Sade. Here’s how to master it

The capsule wardrobe has always been cool. The capsule wardrobe is Françoise Hardy and Sade. It is Audrey Hepburn and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. It is all the heady intoxication of fashion with no hangover of buyer’s remorse. It is a magic pill to streamline your wardrobe, so no more tying yourself in knots figuring out what to wear.

Outfit repeating used to be something that fancy people wouldn’t be seen dead doing, like getting the bus

OK, so here’s the thing: as we all agree a capsule wardrobe is such a great idea, why don’t we actually dress like this? I’ve never nailed it and I know a lot of very fabulous, cool, clever women and most of them haven’t either. But 2020 might just be the year that is going to change. Because capsule dressing is no longer the sensible option, the one you know you should commit to, if only you didn’t keep getting your head turned by newer, more daring, more exciting, more instantly desirable clothes. In 2020, capsule dressing is where the newest, most daring, most exciting, most instantly desirable fashion is happening.

1954: Belgian-born actor Audrey Hepburn, wearing black Capri pants and a black sweater with flats, looks over her shoulder in a full-length promotional portrait for Billy Wilder’s film ‘Sabrina’. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)
Françoise HardyFrench singer-songwriter Francoise Hardy, 1968. (Photo by Tony Evans/Getty Images)

Sustainability is aspirational. Zoolanderish, yes, but also true. If sustainability means that we as a species get to continue living on this planet, then that seems to me to pretty much sum up our wishlist right now. A fabulous capsule wardrobe is the sustainable way – which is to say the modern way – to raise your fashion game. You can tell that sustainability has become glamorous because outfit repeating – which used to be something that normal people did all the time but fancy people wouldn’t be seen dead doing, sort of like getting the bus – has now become a badge of honour. Meghan Markle rewears dresses, Joaquin Phoenix sticks with one Stella McCartney tux through red carpet season.

Ribbed roll neck, £275, by Wolford. Shirt, £295, by Joseph. Trousers, £1,395, by Roland Mouret. Earrings, £110, by Ariana Boussard-Reifel

The tagline of Wardrobe NYC, the front row’s current favourite label, is “luxury without excess”. Founded by designer Josh Goot and fashion director Christine Centenera, Wardrobe NYC is “the ultimate wardrobe for those with shared values and aesthetic”, which translates as pared-down urban minimalism designed in New York and made in Italy. The aesthetic is radically minimalist, but the price tag is seriously upscale, with £1,500 buying you a four-piece wardrobe, delivered as a set of blazer, shirt, T-shirt and leggings – just choose from black or white, and click your size. (It’s like a HelloFresh box, but with everything you need to look cool rather than to make dinner.) A four-piece, pared-back, day-to-night wardrobe commanding a price point usually ruled by the fancy party dress speaks volumes about the status of the capsule wardrobe right now.

Outfit repeating has become a badge of honour: Meghan Markle rewears dresses on royal tours

HRH Megan Markle has worn this same blue dress by Veronica Beard on multiple overseas visits.
Joaquin Phoenix breaks out his favourite Stella McCartney tux - again.

“We’re all so busy, no one has the time or the energy to spend hours standing in front of their wardrobe trying to figure out what to wear,” says Clare Hornby, founder and creative director of British “affordable luxury” brand Me+Em. “A capsule wardrobe means one you can rely on to make you look and feel good with minimal effort.” Hornby is a self-confessed trouser obsessive, as proven by Me+Em’s “transformer” trousers (in wide or narrow styles, around £170), which can be extended from cropped to longer length with a button fastening – endless research went into fabric and construction which could hold a chic silhouette in both modes. “Think about what’s practical for you,” she says. “If you work, then you need clothes that are smart enough for the office, comfortable enough for a long day, easily dressed up for after work.”

Pastel yellow blazer, £270, and trousers, £140, by Remain, and brown ribbed polo neck, £265, by Totême, all from brownsfashion.com. Open toe mules, £260, by MAXINE x &Finally from maxineshoes.com. Chunky gold earrings, £110, mishodesigns.com
Capsule wardrobes require team players. They work when your clothes can jigsaw together to solve your problems. Fancy, limelight-hogging showpieces are a distraction best avoided. Jazziness is good, but keep it subtle. Subtle jazziness is quite French, and Parisian brand Sézane does a brilliant line in light merino sweaters with detachable collar detail, so that you can add interest without fuss or bulk – and, crucially, help you keep the colours crisp by not washing light and dark together. (Current styles include the Olga, a smart short-sleeve top with a detachable broderie anglaise frill at the neck, £77.) Cos make detachable hoods with dicky-style bib fronts which can be layered under a smart coat when rain is forecast, instantly streamlining your coatrack.

Last year, Debenhams launched Kley, which aims to bring “the ultimate easy enviable wardrobe” to the high street. The range is quartered under the acronym Life: “Luxury” is for leather skirts and silk blouses; “Important” is for fashion-informed seasonal pieces; “Function” covers waterproofed and hybrid pieces; “Essential” provides foundational tailoring and knits. “It’s designed by women, for women,” says creative director Lucia Heffernan. “Versatility is key. We have less time nowadays, but women still want to look and feel great in whatever they are wearing.”

With sustainability non-negotiable, we who love fashion are finding ways to tease our passion apart from overconsumption. As the world heats, capsule dressing looks cooler than ever. A streamlined wardrobe frees a little more of your time, your sanity – and the world’s resources. “A capsule wardrobe isn’t just quicker,” Hornby says. “It’s better.”

A blazer, a trench, a cashmere knit, a pair of good quality trousers, the ultimate silk shirt, plus a jazzy skirt – how six items make a seven-day wardrobe

Trench, £290, reformation from net-a-porter.com
Trench, £290, by Reformation from Net-a-Porter
Trousers, £129,whistles.com
Trousers, £129, from Whistles
White Signature Shirt, £230 Equipment at Net-a-Porter
Tiger-print crepe midi skirt, £150, from Ganni
Tiger-print crepe midi skirt, £150, from Ganni at Net-a-Porter
Blazer, £150, from Next
 Blazer, £150, from Next
Charcoal jumper, £78, from Everlane
 Charcoal jumper, £78, from Everlane

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