Wherever you go on the internet these days, especially if your interests include things like style, career, or ‘spending money in more intelligent ways,’ it’s hard to avoid the phenomenon of the capsule wardrobe. Everyone, from CEOs to startup gurus to fashion editors, seems to be in love with the idea of a very narrow, very curated, very quality wardrobes, full of a few staples and mix-and-match pieces that allow the wearer to fit their professional style needs and look stylish on a moment’s notice. Its appeal and efficacy are obvious, and even here on TFD, we’ve had many discussions on the subject, as recently as yesterday morning.
And that makes sense, because as I mentioned, so much of the capsule wardrobe is tied up in its financial savviness. Yes, it may mean that you invest up-front in some quality items, but that usually translates to replacing things much more rarely, and having to buy many fewer items overall, because they were all strategically chosen to go with everything else. People who are busy and in need of streamlining one more element of their personal life/routine — and that is essentially all of us — could most likely benefit from embracing it. I’m included in that demo, of course, but I just can’t get on board.
No matter how much my love of #NeutralLife dictates my shopping (buying mostly-neutral clothing items so, at the very least, I know that most things will match), I can never actually whittle things down to capsule-level, nor stop myself from buying things that absolutely don’t fit at all, because they are lovely and wonderful and I want to wear something totally un-neutral sometimes.
In short, the capsule wardrobe stresses me out, even though it should make perfect sense for my life and overall style.
And the reasons for this are basically twofold: one, the capsule wardrobe as a concept is often tied up with a more overarching theory of human productivity, and two, the routine and cohesion of a capsule often translates to a cold kind of chic (very much in the Parisian sense, for that matter).
To the first point, I really, really resent this techy, self-help mantra of productivity & efficiency as noble human objectives. I don’t want a four-hour work week. I don’t want to read endless articles on Medium about how my love of browsing Twitter is keeping me from world domination. I don’t want to cut an (actually fun!) form of expression from my life, in the form of diverse and interesting clothes that reflect my mood and the day’s activities. Like, yeah, I could probably add a solid work day’s worth of productivity to my week if I were to pre-pack myself five identical meals to heat up every night for dinner (or just cut the shit and started eating soylent green), but that would be incredibly depressing. Cooking a delicious, if slightly inconvenient, meal for dinner each night is a huge pleasure. So is one day wearing a navy top, trench, and skinny jeans, and the next wearing a red a-line shift dress. Yes, there are always things we can cut out of our life to make room for more #riseandgrind and inbox zero-ing, but what if those things are what make life unique, artful, and joyous?
And to the second point, because joy is a big factor, the calculated chic of the capsule (which, again, Inès de la Fressange would swoon over) is simply not me. As much as I’d like to pretend that I’m the kind of woman who can emerge, dewy, from her perfect eight hours of sleep and slip effortlessly into one of the Everlane sweaters she possesses in triplicate, I cannot be her. My routines are messy and my look is rarely “she woke up like this, but she also must have woken up in a stylist’s office, because she looks goddamn flawless.” I don’t have the no-makeup makeup look down. I don’t have the perfectly-organized closet. I don’t have the attention span to wear the same thing every day. It’s a kind of chic that one can appreciate while understanding that one is definitely not it. And that’s fine.
Which is perhaps the part of the capsule phenomenon that stresses me out the most. Whether on a personal finance site or a flawless female executive’s Instagram, the overall implication with this wardrobe choice is that it is somehow better in a quantifiable sense, aspirational in a way that we all should be aspiring to it, or at least capable of doing it if we really tried. The third option, that you might want to be more curative about your wardrobe without narrowing it down to one cohesive look, is almost never explored. One can be just as judicious about their purchases while eschewing minimalism, having several distinct aesthetics in their closet, or changing their tastes on a whim depending on the side of the bed you woke up on.
As much as there may be, to many people, a purity of work and balance to be found in streamlining and curating their life, there is also a good deal of motivation and creativity to be found in the opposite. For me, I value inspiration, ideas, and excitement much more than I do routine, efficiency, and practicality. My inbox will always be a bit messy, my wardrobe will never be perfectly-reduced, and my working style will always vary depending on the day — and that’s a good thing. Minimalism, the KonMari method, and hyper-efficiency don’t really work for me. Because, if we’re taking the clothing as an example, the fact that I feel like a totally different person each day depending on the look I’m going for and the style I’m inspired by means that my creative life feels always evolving and surprising. If I’m flitting around my neighborhood errands in a floral skirt, I will feel and think totally differently than if I’m visiting Marc’s sporty-chic family in an oxford, jeans, and loafers. I want both, and I think the tradeoff in efficiency is totally worth it.
Ultimately, one can embrace the best parts of themselves in very different ways, and not all of us should be aspiring to minimalist perfection. Not all of us should be looking to reduce our habits, style, and joys down to their most pure and simple essence. For some people, that’s a wonderful, smart way to live. But it is very much not for everyone, and it’s certainly not a professionally or morally better way to live, it just happens to emphasize and place value on aspects of life that someone else may not. What works for Zuckerberg might not work for you, just like what works for me would almost certainly not work for Zuckerberg.
My wardrobe is decidedly un-capsule, and I’m okay with it.
Image via Unsplash