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How to build a capsule wardrobe

capsule wardrobe summer over 60

Many of us have used lockdown as an opportunity to declutter - and from the discussions on the forums our wardrobes have been the most pressing area to tackle. If you've had a good sort and are now thinking about how to build up a basic capsule wardrobe, we've got plenty of expert tips and advice. For many women, how to dress over 60 and beyond is the source of some head-scratching, so we're here to get you off to a flying start. Here are all the wardrobe essentials you need, from the perfect jeans to the most flattering dress. Easy dressing here we come!


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What is a capsule wardrobe?

"I revamped my (very aged) wardrobe. I now feel more comfortable about how I look and can put things together without too much thought as they all coordinate."

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of essential items of clothing - think jeans, skirts, jackets, trousers etc. - that won't go out of fashion and that can be paired with a variety of statement or seasonal pieces. The idea was coined by British boutique owner Susie Faux in the 1980s to encourage women to fill their wardrobes with high-quality garments that could be worn time and time again.

Fancy creating your own? Here are just a few reasons why you should switch to a minimalist wardrobe: 

  • It saves time - avoid the dreaded 'I have nothing to wear' panic by opting for clothes you know suit you and look great together (hello snooze button).
  • It's pretty efficient - not only does it help us to be more picky when it comes to shopping for clothes (and hopefully save us a bit of money in the process), but it also helps us to make sure that we don't just stick to current, fleeting trends.
  • It means less mess - a streamlined wardrobe of staple pieces cuts down on clutter.
  • It makes packing so much easier - if you're going on holiday, knowing the essentials you need to pack makes for one less stress.
  • It helps you to be more sustainable - buying fewer pieces rather than opting for fast, throwaway fashion is better for the environment as it reduces waste. Just make sure you donate or recycle the clothes you are discarding.

How should you build a capsule wardrobe?

Building a basic capsule wardrobe is actually quite simple and overhauling your current collection can be a liberating experience. When it comes to your wardrobe, there are a few hard and fast rules to follow. Here are just a few.


1. Start by clearing out your wardrobe

"I have a good clear-out about once a year and if I haven't worn an item in a year I get rid of it."

basic capsule wardrobe

The point of a capsule wardrobe is simplification - the sloughing off of excess and refinement of your style. To that end, it may be that you need to have a good clear out before you begin. Separate the stuff that you haven't worn in yonks, especially the dressier items that you seldom have occasion to wear, and the good-quality clothes that you already own. 

Take the first pile to the charity shop, or sell it on eBay, and have a real think about how likely you are to need the things in the second pile in the future. In order to effectively streamline your wardrobe, you may be better off keeping one or two of your favourite items and selling the rest.


2. Choose quality

"I buy the majority of my clothes from charity shops. That way I can have labels and better quality clothes than I could afford new."

over 60s fashion

Cut and material is everything when it comes to smart-looking clothes, so choosing classic tailoring in quality materials will give you instant but lasting style, not to mention a high-quality collection of clothing. John Lewis' current season has a good selection of classic items.  Always opt to spend a little more and buy a little less. Steer clear of cheap, throwaway clothes because that's exactly what you'll end up doing - throwing them away. They bulk up your wardrobe without really adding any value. Primark and the like may be easy on the wallet, but you'll pay for it in the long run.


3. Overhaul your underwear

"Look at your underwear, get measured for a bra, wear one that holds you properly, and buy new pretty knickers and foundation undergarments if you stick out in places you do not want to."

capsule wardrobe

How long has it been since you gave your undie drawer an overhaul? Or got measured for a bra? It may be time to start again. Go back to basics and make sure you have black, white and flesh-coloured options that fit properly and sit comfortably. House of Fraser, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer all have in-store bra fitting services, so go and get yourself measured. Your bra size can fluctuate as you get older so it may be that you've been buying the wrong size for years.


4. Invest in a wrap dress

"A wrap or shift dress always looks good."

capsule wardrobe wrap dress

There's a reason Diane von Furstenberg's iconic style is still going strong today. The wrap dress has really stood the test of time - and for good reason. It's an almost universally flattering shape that can be dressed up or down with complete ease.

If you don't have one of these already, you'll never regret buying one. Snap up Boden's classic black wrap dress or go the whole hog and go for the classic DVF staple.


5. Always have a pair of slim trousers

"Smartish, straight or slim leg trousers in black or dark grey are the way to go."

capsule wardrobe trousers

Some styles just never go out of fashion, and a good pair of tailored trousers is one of them. Cigarette pants or slim leg - whichever you go for, make sure they're good quality and a neutral colour that goes with whatever you feel like that day, be it a splash of colour or a comfy sweater. Top it all off with a pair of flats and you're ready to go.


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6. Mix and match

"I don't enjoy clothes shopping that much so tend to buy certain basics in two different colours then mix and match. I also stick to colours that I know suit me."

capsule wardrobe

Quite possibly the best thing about a capsule collection is the number of outfit combinations that it allows for. When building your wardrobe, go for a mix-and-match approach and always shop with your other clothes in mind. One of the most common errors is buying an item that you soon realise doesn't go with anything you already own. Whether it's winter or summer, day or night, you'll never be stuck for what to wear if you keep this fail-safe tip in mind.


7. Get your colours done

"I had mine sorted in the 80s and I've never looked back. It means that everything in your wardrobe goes with everything else."

over 60s beauty

The concept of getting your 'colours done' has been around for a while, and it's a tried and tested way of making sure you stick to shades that complement your colouring. Visit Colour Me Beautiful to find a consultant who will assess exactly which colours you should be scanning the shopping rails for.


8. Find colourful or bold statement pieces

"My daughter bought me a gorgeous statement necklace this year in shades of green. It looks great!"

basic capsule wardrobe

While it's good to keep a base of versatile, neutral colours in your wardrobe, brightly-coloured clothes are one of life's great pleasures. Focus on one splash of colour per outfit, keeping the rest of it fairly neutral. 

Alternatively, team your outfits with fun accessories, such as a brightly-coloured necklace or a patterned scarf like this one from Boden. They will give your look an instant boost without being over the top. 


9. But never underestimate the power of a black dress...

"For evenings, I have a couple of black shift dresses and a beaded black taffeta knee-length skirt. Add the jackets, bags, earrings etc. and it's amazing how many events are catered for. Keep it simple is my advice."

capsule wardrobe little black dress

Choosing one really well-fitting black dress or skirt means you can add differing accessories to change it up for a multitude of occasions. Are you heading to an event with a smart/casual dress code? Go for fairly simple jewellery and shoes (flat shoes, even). Or, if you're going to a truly swanky do, break out the heels and opt for standout drop earrings. Et voilà - your 'going out' wardrobe expands dramatically.


10. And before you buy, find the most honest person you know

"My most successful purchases have been when I was with my daughter who is always brutally honest."

clothes shopping

It helps if they're stylish as well of course, but, at the very least, shop with someone who will tell you if one of your intended purchases simply doesn't suit you. Honesty is the best policy, as they say. 


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Buying the basics - your wardrobe essentials checklist

"I have never followed what fashion dictates and prefer good-quality, classic clothes that never date and last for years."

capsule wardrobe over 60

What does the ideal capsule wardrobe for a 60-year-old woman look like? Well, believe it or not, it depends on your own personal style, but here are a few wardrobe staples we wouldn't be caught without and that you should consider adding to your collection. 


1. Straight leg trousers

For straight leg trousers that don't sit too low, but do fit comfortably, try Marks and Spencer, or Boden for a good variety of lengths. This versatile piece of clothing really comes in handy, especially when you want to look stylish without having to put too much thought into your outfit.


2. Shirts and casual tops

Joules do a lovely range of casual, but stylish, shirts in soft cottons and pretty prints. If you're looking for a more tailored piece to dress up your straight leg trousers, Great Plains can almost always offer drapey longline tops that are universally flattering. White shirts are also a classic choice for your wardrobe that can be dressed up or down.


3. Good-quality, good-value underwear

Of course, Marks and Spencer can always be relied upon for good underwear, especially from the Autograph by Rosie range, but it's also worth considering TK Maxx for some real bargains on high end undies.


4. Non-frumpy knitwear

Hush is the perfect place to shop for knitwear that will keep you warm and cosy, but won't leave you looking like you're hibernating.

5. A decent pair (or two) of jeans

style over 60

Do you usually only wear trousers? Jeans are your best friend. Team them with faithful classics, such as your favourite cardigan, jumper or flats. Again, Marks and Spencer are our go-to for comfy slim fit jeans in a stretch fabric. We also love black straight-leg jeans with a smart top for a dressier look.


6. The ideal wrap dress

Are you feeling fancy or frugal? The ultimate wrap dress is, as mentioned above, Diane von Furstenberg's classic, but we also love JD Williams for a wide range of wrap dresses that come in longer lengths. It's such a flattering cut so it's the perfect style to experiment with - why not try a bold colour or a subtle print you wouldn't usually go for?


7. The perfect LBD

Debenhams have a stunning array of little black dresses, from the straightforward and simply cut, to sparkly, lace, swing - the list goes on. When it comes to creating a minimalist wardrobe, it's always handy to have a trusty go-to dress that's guaranteed to make you feel great the minute you put it on. 

8. A smart coat or jacket

Don't leave outerwear as an afterthought. A good quality coat that you can throw over anything is an undervalued essential. We love Marisota for trench coats, a timeless piece that will never go out of fashion, and also Sea Salt for their colourful jackets.

9. The finishing touches

fashion over 60

Now you're sorted with the key pieces, it's time to think about those little extra details. Finding a few staple accessories is an easy way to add an extra dose of glamour that can elevate even the most basic of outfits. Here are the essentials:

  • A good quality everyday bag - whether it's a tote bag or a satchel, find a style you love in a universal colour (tan always looks classy). Debenhams have some great styles from different brands.
  • A clutch bag for special occasions - look for one with a chain handle so you don't have to carry it all night. Try the Accessorize sale to find one you love. 
  • A patterned scarf - if you want to add a splash of colour, a vibrant scarf is a subtle way to play with colour - and keep warm! During hotter months a lightweight silk scarf is also a classic finishing touch which you can also tie to the handle of a bag to mix up your look.
  • Jewellery - you don't have to spend a small fortune when it comes to adding a little sparkle. New Look and Debenhams have options that won't have you reaching for the credit card.

10. Best foot forward - the shoes to buy

It's better to have fewer shoes that you wear regularly rather than fork out for passing trends which are likely to look outdated quickly. Boots, loafers, trainers and pumps are all practical shoes that can provide comfort and style. Clarks and Marks and Spencer are good places to start looking. 

When buying shoes, factor in functional elements, such as the cushioning and grip of the shoe. It's always worth having one pair of shoes for special occasions too, and a classic black or nude heel is a versatile addition to any wardrobe.

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