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Building a Classic Capsule Wardrobe: "Preppy" Closet Essentials

In the past few years, the concept of a "capsule wardrobe" has gone from niche to fashion phenomenon. The idea originated among minimal style bloggers, but is now extremely popular in the fashion community as a whole. For those who may be unfamiliar with a "capsule wardrobe", it's essentially a wardrobe consisting of a small number of items that are carefully curated to be easily mixed-and-matched. There are many different variations of the capsule wardrobe (including Project 333, the Five Piece French Wardrobe, and the 10-Item Wardrobe), but all aim for the same goal of creating a functional closet that allows you to be well-dressed, always. If you're interested in learning more, I'd recommend reading Anuschka Rees's website or checking out her book The Curated Closet. 

I love how creating a capsule allows you to really narrow down your wardrobe to the absolute essentials, and forces you to be smart about what you buy. In this way, capsule wardrobes are great to really get to the core of what pieces really define your style. They're also a super functional way to go about packing for vacation or extended trips!

I haven't seen many sample capsule wardrobes meant specifically for classic style, so today, I thought I would try and create one. By extension, this post is also a list of what I find to be the most basic core items that will anchor your closet if you already dress, or are interested in dressing in, a classic style. See the rationale behind each item below:

  • White Blouse
This is a wardrobe workhorse (as are most of the pieces here). White blouses can go with anything, and work all year round. This classic "Dillon" style from Banana Republic has a removable neck tie that gives you the option to keep the feminine detail or go without for a completely different look. 
  • Everyday Tee
Good quality is key for this one! Personally, I love the linen tees from J.Crew. This can be worn casually with a pair of white shorts or jeans, or teamed with a skirt for a dressier ensemble. I'd go with navy or white to start, then add colors if you want to expand your collection. 
  • Pinstripe Button Down
Dress it up, dress it down, wear it tucked in and buttoned-up or loose and casual. I love the quality and construction of the Polo Ralph Lauren shirts (bonus: they are super wrinkle-resistant!). The pinstripe is nearly as versatile as white, but the pattern adds a bit more interest.  
  • Rugby Shirt
Of course, the striped shirt is the quintessential "classic" piece. However, I like the way that the striped rugby shirt is so very New England, and has the same versatility and wearability of a plain striped tee, while simultaneously being a bit more unique. 
  • Little Navy Dress
I know I've spoken about the LND, or the LBD (little blue dress), and I think it goes without saying that this belongs in every girl's wardrobe. You could, of course, go for a little black dress instead of navy, but I find that the latter is a lot more flattering and suitable for all seasons (black is more of a fall/winter shade for me, but feel free to disagree!). A navy dress in a classic cut is the definition of timeless elegance. Add pearls and pumps and head out to a gala, or layer a cardigan and sandals for a casual look. 
  • Shirtdress
The shirtdress is the LND's casual cousin. It's nearly as versatile (find the right one, and it can take you from beach cover-up to presentation) but will add variety to your wardrobe. Kiel James Patrick makes great straight-fit shirtdresses with a pretty scalloped collar, and if you're more of a fit-and-flare gal, Polo Ralph Lauren has wonderful options as well. 
  • Dark Wash Jeans 
I'm definitely a jean girl at heart. I love jeans (although I hate shopping for them), and I have several styles on rotation. However, if we're really getting down to the absolute must-haves, I think there's nothing better than a well-made, tailored pair of dark wash skinny jeans! I'd check out Madewell - they have a great, inclusive size range and amazing quality denim. 
  • Camel Skirt
Camel is undoubtedly one of the most versatile colors you can own. For a casual look, pair this with the rugby tee; for a dressed-up look add a white blouse.
  • White Cable Knit Sweater
I think this one sort of goes without saying. Layer it on top of a shirt or wear alone, tuck it in or wear it loose and casual. A perfect white sweater is also an all-season piece; it's perfect for chilly summer nights and equally essential during the fall and winter. 
  • Navy Skirt
Where the camel skirt doesn't quite fit, try a navy skirt. This shade can be more easily dressed up, so if you have a more formal event, the navy skirt will be your best friend! Style options are endless, but I'd recommend going for an A-line or flare cut. One thing to keep in mind is to vary length between your camel skirt and this navy skirt (ie. if your camel skirt is longer, like in my mock-capsule above, then go for a short navy skirt - and vice versa). 
  • White Chino Shorts
Chino shorts are the spring/summer equivalent of a good pair of jeans. They go with almost every outfit, they're comfortable and 100% classic. If I were to narrow down to the absolute essentials, I'd recommend starting with a white pair for maximum versatility. J.Crew makes my favorite pairs, but you can also find great ones at Brooks Brothers, Talbots, and Gap. 
  • Colored Cardigan
At first, having both a cardigan and a sweater might seem redundant (especially when you're forced to narrow things down to the absolute minimum), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a cardigan is definitely something I can't live without. Cardigans are really essential for layering, but give a different look than a sweater, since you can still see whatever top you're wearing beneath them. They're also a great way to make a sleeveless piece wearable during chillier weather. I would suggest picking out a fun color to help add variety to your wardrobe, especially if you have a good neutral sweater on hand as well!
  • Silk Scarf
Three words: classic, chic, and versatile. These are the ultimate accessory and can be worn countless ways. Really, is there anything more put-together than a crisp button-down, and a pretty neck scarf? I love how the scarf I chose above has pops of red that pull from the other red pieces in the capsule. 
  • Nude Pumps
Medium-height nude pumps will take you anywhere and effortlessly elevate an outfit. The pair I chose above is from Ferragamo (more affordable options are also linked in below!); I love the bow detail that adds a bit of personality and interest to an otherwise very nondescript shoe. I'd also recommend choosing a wider heel for maximum comfort. 
  • Dressy Sandals
These are definitely one of the easiest shoes to wear. They can go from casual to dressy, and are a staple in my own wardrobe. I love the classic platinum Jack Rogers to fill this role (or try the Palm Beach Sandals brand).
  • Brown Loafers
I think everything from the uber classic Weejun to the more casual Sperry boat shoe can fit into this category. Whatever your preference, a pair of easy brown loafers are an all-weather, all-season, (almost) all-occasion essential! Bonus points if they're super broken-in.
  • Hunting Vest
This is the perfect item for layering in the colder weather. J.Crew makes them in a million colors (try a bright pop to add life to your cold-weather clothing).
  • Wool Coat
When the weather drops to its lowest points, the wool coat is your savior. I love how simple, chic, and tailored a wool coat looks. J.Crew's Nello Gori wool is no joke, and they have a great selection of styles that also come in tall and petite sizes. Alternatively, look to L.L. Bean or Land's End. 
  • Trench Coat
Trench coats are great for in-between weather (read: spring or fall). Look for a waterproof or water-resistant style (hello, L.L. Bean!) so that this doubles as a rain jacket. Perfect city-chic, classic versatility! Out of all the coats in my closet, I think my trench coat comes out on top in terms of how much wear I get out of it each year. 
  • Hunter or Bean Boots
In an ideal world, one can find great use for both Hunter and Bean Boots in their closet. However, these shoes aren't cheap, so if we're narrowing things down to the absolute minimum I'd recommend just picking one. Go for whichever suits your style and needs more: if you live in an uber-rainy place, I'd go for Hunters, and if you live in New England Bean Boots are likely more practical.
  • Monogram Necklace
I never take my monogram necklace off; it's the perfect everyday necklace that elevates every outfit. I'd look at Etsy if you're interested in purchasing one. They have a huge variety of sizes, styles, and metals for much less than big retailers.  
  • Pearl Studs & Pearl necklace
Pearls are, perhaps, the symbol of quintessential classic style. They are simply elegant, and every girl needs a great pearl necklace and set of pearl studs in their wardrobe. I am a firm believer that if you have both of these, you can forgo almost all other jewelry and still look incredibly put-together. 
    • Classic Tote
    If you're only going to have one bag in your wardrobe, make it the classic tote. A great tote will go with anything, go anywhere, and look chic and pulled together at a moment's notice. I love the customizable options from Barrington Gifts (how adorable is the tennis print featured above!).

    Optional Add-Ons

    • Riding Boots
    • Crossbody Bag
    • Watch
    • Corduroy Pants
    • Oversized Sunglasses

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    1. Thank you for your excellent ideas. I appreciate your website. God bless!


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