Capsule wardrobes: why this environmental fashion trend is here to stay


Sustainability has long been permeating the fashion industry – even the minimalist aesthetic of the 2018 VSCO girls was rooted in the idea of slow fashion and a newfound awareness for the environment, or, shall we say, “saving the turtles”. Even luxury designers such as Gucci have announced a goal of net carbon neutrality, by both reducing and offsetting carbon emissions from its supply chain. Therefore, it is to no surprise that the introduction of capsule wardrobes has brought yet another twist to slow, sustainable fashion; perhaps a trend that has a little more potential to stay.

The capsule wardrobe is simply the notion that one should only really have 30 items or less in their closet at any given moment. Thirty is not a number set in stone, but rather a goal that works for the majority of consumers. The potential for capsule wardrobes lies in its simple functionality; it provides a stricter guideline for consumers to follow rather than simply to ‘shop slow’.

The freedom of such a practice, which doesn’t constrict to any one style, allows it to be adopted by those who wish to shop more sustainably but cannot afford the higher price tags of certain designers. Equally, it’s ideal for those who wish to shop less but have the ability to invest in high-end items.

Limiting consumers to simply 30 or so pieces changes the rule of shopping altogether: rather than shopping for the sake of an item fitting one’s style, it begs consumers to shop with intentions of whether items truly fit their own needs. There is no universal capsule wardrobe. Adoptees are forced to question their personal style, rather than what they are expected to own. Will the item they buy genuinely be something they would wear each week? Will they love it enough to replace something that they do not wear as often?

The versatility of this trend is what spearheads the capsule wardrobe’s permanence. Limiting consumers to 30 pieces doesn’t mean that these are the only 30 pieces that they will ever wear – it can be changed out season to season. It permits consumers to still enjoy the endorphins of shopping, perhaps with more mindfulness, but shopping nonetheless. Its objective is to urge users to shop with intention rather than recklessness, to allow more use out of each clothing item.

Project 333, which is an adaptation of the capsule wardrobe trend, found 25,178 unique combinations were possible using the same 33 items of clothing. Although it doesn’t appear as versatile on the surface, the capsule wardrobe’s limitations in quantity allows consumers of the trend to find new ways of wearing each item that they may not have realised previously.

Shopping with the rule of the capsule wardrobe in mind appears to be the ideal antidote to combatting the mass production of fast fashion. With a reduction in the frequency of shopping, factors such as quality, durability, and tailoring become significantly more important to make a brand stand out in the crowd. Allowing such factors to take over the objective of producing as much as possible – in as little time as possible – pushes the environmental agenda that consumers are hoping for.

The capsule wardrobe has its clear benefits, as do most trends in recent years with similar environmental motives. However, the careful freedom and versatility of the capsule wardrobe are what define its potential; and consequential long-term benefits to the environment.

Illustration: Verity Laycock

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