For quite awhile I’ve been intrigued by the capsule wardrobe concept. Not because it’s such a new idea, but because it isn’t. The capsule wardrobe arose from necessity rather than fashion.
The term Capsule Wardrobe first appeared in the late 1930s and resurfaced in London during the 70s. A London boutique owner hit on it as a marketing term, and it took off for a second time. Here’s the Wikipedia article about it, in case you’re interested.
Original Capsule Wardrobe
The concept behind the original capsule wardrobe was simple. Two skirts, three blouses, one jacket, perhaps a pair of shorts for summertime, and you’re ready for a season of clothing. It reduced clothing planning to the bare minimum. It saved closet space. And most important of all, it saved money over purchasing readymade clothing that did not match.
The Great Depression was in full swing in 1938 and finding the money for new seasonal clothes proved difficult if not impossible. Fabric was expensive, and in the Forties due to the war effort, somewhat scarce. Clothing costs soared after WWI, and had dropped again by 1923, but not to the prices consumers had seen in the 1910s. Families could see that clothing was becoming more and more expensive. And once the Depression hit, money to buy that clothing might be nearly nonexistent. What was a family to do?
The answer was to plan a seasonal capsule wardrobe. Several pieces of clothing made from one long piece of fabric saved on fabric usage, for one thing. Any leftover scraps of the material could be fashioned into a matching hat or purse, a definite plus. Leftover blouse material could line the hat, the purse, or be fashioned into matching handkerchiefs if enough existed.
Using It Today
Why does the original concept interest us today? For one thing, it’s much smaller than the set of clothing used for the term now. A sample 2020s capsule wardrobe might list three pair of shoes, two skirts, two pair of trousers/pants, one pair of blue jeans, several tops, a dressy blouse or two, one to two dresses, a dressy dress, and one to two purses. That’s not a capsule wardrobe. It’s a full wardrobe created with some planning, what we used to call Wardrobe Planning or a Trousseau.
If you enjoy a specific time in the historic past, you might want a small wardrobe you can wear. A small capsule wardrobe fills that need without breaking the bank or your storage space. But only if you keep it to the bare minimum.
Take Six Pieces
Of course, if you create a five or six piece capsule wardrobe and decide you want to wear these clothes all the time, you can always increase your pieces. Add a vintage winter coat and perhaps a vintage pair of slacks or bloomers. Pedal pushers were the knee-length capris of the Fifties and Sixties and they’re darling. I remember wearing a pedal pusher outfit of my grandmother’s as a preteen, and feeling beautiful in it.
Pick a time you like, and begin to build an ideal small wardrobe. Take two bottoms, three tops, and something that pulls it all together like a sweater or a jacket. Perhaps a white knitted shawl will work, depending on your time period. If you live in a warm climate your extra piece might be made of sheer fabric. Or it might be physically small, like a bolero vest.
Back to the Sixties
In the photo above, the 1965 home dressmaker could create an entire wardrobe from this one pattern. Let’s say she purchases this pattern and a ton of fabric in four coordinating colors. She buys a blue print, blue solid, yellow print, and a yellow solid. From the blue solid she makes a full dress and a long coat. From the blue print she makes a blouse and skirt. The yellow print gives her a blouse. From the yellow solid she makes a jacket, skirt, and blouse. Now she has three blouses, two skirts, a full dress, and a long blue coat that she can wear with anything. For a bit of extra glamour you could add an extra long coat in yellow, but it’s not necessary. One coat is plenty for a season, especially with a suit jacket that goes over a skirt and blouse.
Whatever you do, pick classic, timeless pieces that you love. If you don’t love it you won’t wear it. The whole point of the vintage capsule wardrobe concept is to allow you to dip into time-period fashion as much or as little as you like.
Next time, we’ll talk about creating a simple 1910s Capsule Wardrobe.