Elsie’s Autumn Capsule Wardrobe Recap

Hello friends! Today, I am excited to report back on my first capsule wardrobe experience! If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, capsule wardrobe is a seasonal collection of essential clothing pieces. It’s basically a way of minimizing your closet down to things that match, actually fit and that you actually wear. It was my first experience fully committing to a season and I learned so much!

I started a little before the first of September and planned to wear the pieces I chose for a full season, or until the end of November. I could tell after just a few days that this would be a worthwhile and positive experience for me. The two big goals I started out with were A. to take a complete break from shopping for three months and B. to feel better about what I wore by having easy go-to outfits.

Today, I’m here to summarize my victories, challenges and what I learned for next season (yes, it was worthwhile enough to me that I plan on doing a winter capsule next!).

Victories:
-For the most part, I did completely stop shopping for three months. This felt amazing!! I did buy a couple things (two dresses for my baby showers and two winter coats), but being able to recall all my purchases in this span of time is new to me and a big improvement. In the past, I would browse my favorite clothing stores many times a week, usually with a glass of wine and a TV show at night. It was a great way to unwind, but over time I felt I was collecting a lot of clothes I wasn’t wearing or only wearing a few times, and my closet was always too full. Ultimately, I wanted to teach myself to shop less and smarter.

Getting into the routine of not shopping was a process for me. There were countless times I clicked through a sale email or a link on a fashion blog only to realize I did not need whatever item I had just added to my cart. It took time for me to form a new habit, but in time I felt that I formed a new healthy habit. This was my biggest victory! I definitely saved money and (even more importantly) reduced the amount of waste in my closet.

-I found some go-to outfits and re-wore them a LOT. This was great and made my daily routine easier. I didn’t get sick of my mix and match pieces (tops, skirts, jeans) and for the most part I felt I had more than enough outfits even when traveling.

-I felt very comfortable dressing in a more simple style and more neutral color scheme most days. And for a few special occasions like when we threw a baby shower for friends, I reached into my vintage dress stash.

Challenges:
-While I was happy with my mix and match pieces, I did feel I had to repeat my dresses too much. I honestly probably wore that navy blue off shoulder dress 20 or 30 times, haha! And the same thing with the brown Free People dress … I wore it a ton. And although I really like both dresses, it did get a little boring at times.

Next season I will at least double my dresses because I realize now that I wear them a LOT.

-There was only one piece I didn’t wear, this cropped sweater (see below the photo with text on it – I pulled that from an old IG story). It just wasn’t a cute fit on me; I think I rushed a little bit too fast when choosing outfits for my autumn capsule because there were also another few items I ended up returning. For winter, I will try to be a little bit more patient, although “free time” is pretty much nonexistent this month, so we’ll see!

-In my day to day life, I didn’t mind rewearing the same clothes often, and it was actually really convenient. But for special occasions (Friendsgiving, our book release party, our ABM holiday party and maybe just some random date nights), I missed having new outfits to wear. I think adding more dresses next time may help, or maybe just making my own rule that it’s OK to buy a couple dresses for special occasions during the season. I think that, for me, there is a pretty big difference between buying a new dress for a shower or a wedding versus buying a bunch of cute clothes on ASOS one night just for the hell of it.

Things I will adjust next time:
-For the winter season, I have a list of what I need and it’s much less than what I needed for fall. I am pretty much just swapping out a few things for warmer shoes, more sweaters and more dresses. But I am using all the same jeans, most of the jackets and some of the other pieces for autumn. I feel like winter (and probably summer too) is more of a refresher than a whole new wardrobe.

-Add more dresses. I need to tailor this experience to my real life and personal style, and I think this will help a lot. I do wear jeans often, but when I go out on a date, to meet friends or really anything besides everyday errands, I feel more comfortable in dresses.

Summary of my experience:
The highlight for me is that instead of spending so much time shopping for myself (as a default) I was able to get more done, including prepping for Nova, finishing my bnb house (that took a lot of sourcing and shopping too) and doing my holiday shopping early this year since we aren’t going to be with my family for Christmas. I felt free of some bad habits that I had been wanting to shake for a while. I felt proud of myself for completing the challenge.

I will definitely do another capsule for winter. I just started pinning stuff on a private pin board and plan to do all my shopping (and returning) before we leave for China! Winter is by far my least favorite season for fashion, but being able to choose cheesy matching outfits with Nova is making it fun this year.

All the photos below are from my phone and they are all “real life” outfits that I wore during these past few months. Most are low quality (a lot of them are self timer pics), but I wanted to share a look at how this challenge really worked for me in everyday life, not just styled outfit photos.

1. I wore this embroidered dress more times than I could count. I am considering getting another one in another color for my winter wardrobe (or maybe spring). If I like something, I try to get it in at least a couple colors (I think I get it from my grandma and my sister sometimes makes fun of me for it – haha). 2. I got a lot of mileage out of this denim skirt. I am considering the black one for winter. 3. I love these Big Bud Press jumpsuits. I wore them both quite a few times. They are great for getting ready fast because they look way more polished than the effort they actually take to throw on. I always get lots of compliments (from young people) and comments about my painters uniform (from old people). Haha. 4. This Forever 21 corduroy dress was maybe the most surprising piece because I wore it a lot and it got SO MANY compliments. The first day I wore it I remember I got three compliments and I felt so cool. Haha! It goes to show that you don’t have to shop at fancy stores or spend a lot of money to curate a good capsule. It was only $23.

1. Stayed with my tried and true go-to style here. I like easy outfits and beanies to hide hair that needs to be washed or dyed. 2. I bought a couple stripe crewneck tees from Madewell for this capsule and I swear every single time I wore one my husband would wear stripes too and we’d be at dinner realizing it and get embarrassed. Do any of you have problems accidentally matching? 3. I wore this jumper from Bando quite a bit and I wore it layered a bunch after the weather started to cool down. 4. I didn’t wear my Steve Jobs turtleneck as much as last year, but I wore it two or three times.

1. I ended up returning my Anthroplogie coat, so when I saw this insane mustard fur coat I didn’t feel too bad snagging it immediately. It’s perfect. 2-3. I mentioned above that I got a couple new dresses for my showers. This one and this one, which both were purchased at half off. I figured that with a daughter named Nova I needed a good star dress in my closet. 4. On the day we hosted a shower for baby Phoenix (my assistant Collin’s son) I pulled this vintage cutie out of my stash (I purchased it a while back on Whurl and hadn’t had a chance to wear it). It was perfect for the occasion and I ended up wearing it to the Katy Perry concert as well.

1. Another Big Bud jumper … I’ll probably wear this in our Christmas card photos. We’ll see. 2. Loved this gingham top (here’s a similar one). Nothing feels like fall to me like black and white gingham. 3. This is the sweater I ended up sewing into a doll for Nova. It felt awkward to wear a cropped (heavy) sweater in the first place, but the fullness of the sleeves really did not feel flattering. I loved the color; I think that is what made me keep it in the first place. But lesson learned, I have to focus on pieces that really fit and are flattering first and foremost. 4. More overalls … always on repeat.

1. One day I wore my corduroy dress with an old Simpsons T-shirt (from my workout clothes drawer) and I thought it was kind of cute. 2. Another photo of that white jumper. This is from that same day, but it wore it a bunch of other days too, I promise. 3. A brunch date with Ashley and Jacqui. This is the only time I wore knee highs that I can remember this fall … need to remember to do that more (but now it’s getting cold so maybe layered with other tights?). 4. That Free People dress again in New Orleans. It’s a great travel dress. I’ll definitely take something like this to China since it’s going to be warm in some of the cities we are going to.

And last, just an example of how I wore these two dresses over, and over … and over. I love them both a bunch, but this taught me what I need to add more of next season!

Thank you for following along. If you’ve been considering a capsule experiment yourself I highly recommend trying it! My winter capsule will (technically) begin December 1, so join me if it’s something you want to do!!!!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments. I’ll be back soon to share my winter capsule! xx – Elsie

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson, Photography: Mainly iPhone photos with a few photos by Amber Ulmer (from room tours) as well.
  • I say go for making your own rule of purchasing special occasion outfits. Many things in life boil down to the intention of the action and special occasion shopping does feel different than random online shopping sprees 🙂

    Love the b+w gingham on you. The shoulder detail is cute!

  • I’m confused. This post says your capsule is going until the end of November, and also says it’s been three months, but it started in September. That doesn’t add up. Are you not doing it until the end of the month? Are you shopping and wearing whatever you want until Dec. 1?

    • She says she started before September it’s now nearly mid November, sounds like 3 months to me…

    • I’m still currently in the middle of the third month (still wearing the fall capsule). But I felt I had enough of the experience behind me to go ahead and write this post. Because we’re about to adopt a baby I won’t be blogging in December. xx!

  • I have the exact same experience with dresses as you do. I don’t shop as much but I do try to plan my wardrobe every few months mostly with what I have, and I always end up pulling another dress or two out of the drawer in like, week 2 or so.

  • I got some style inspiration from this post, but this is a weird way of looking at a capsule wardrobe for me. A shopping spree every three months is definitely not possible for my life, and I think including fast fashion pieces from places like forever 21 kind of defeats the whole purpose. Capsule wardrobes to me are about simplicity, but also about making responsible choices that will last a long time and not at the expense of the people making your clothes. I would love to see more posts about ethical fashion choices, not limited to vintage (which is also great!)

    • I think that customizing it to your goals is really important. For me, only shopping once every three months was an improvement. There’s nothing wrong with doing it a different way if that suits your goals better.

      And I definitely do care about ethics in fashion and shop at a lot of small shops, but I am by no means an expert. I will say it’s easier of me to “shop small” with Nova’s closet than my own. I’ve had a more challenging time finding small clothing shops that suit my style, but if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them! 🙂

      • I really like Leah’s suggestions of maybe looking a little more into the ethics behind the industry and shops in fashion. It was very enjoyable seeing you look into this in details for beauty products as well as food – how do we purchase? What is the impact of what we wear/eat/cover our skin with? There is a lot to be said about this in fashion for sure and it would be great to hear from my favorite bloggers on this topic. 🙂 Especially as you also do sell clothes in your shop now – I would be keen to hear what kind of due diligence you do on your suppliers to ensure that the supply chain is child labour free for instance? Just a suggestion for more blog posts to come! Have a great trip to China Elsie and enjoy every moment of your maternity leave!

  • If I find a top or pants that I like that fit me properly, I will by multiples in different colors. I hate shopping because of fit issues so if I find something that works, give me all the colors!

  • I may have just missed the link, but I love your blue, spotted, off the shoulder dress – can you put up a link to it? Thanks!

  • I made one earlier this Fall and I am hooked. I got rid (donated) of SO much stuff (five trash bags to be exact!) I kept only things I really like and made a list of the few things I felt I needed and it has made getting ready in the morning a breeze, I have less laundry to do, and I am getting creative with how I am styling the pieces I kept for Fall which keeps it all fun. Even better I am SO picky about what I am buying and make sure I am 100 percent comfortable in it before I commit. I like keeping it simple (I think becoming a mom does that to you 🙂 and Im excited to tweak it a bit for winter. My husband even had me help make one for him last weekend. Thank you for the inspo for doing one on your previous post I have to say it has been a life changer for me I feel so much more confident and organized 🙂

  • Question! Did you simply put all your other clothes “away” for the season, or did you fully purge and get rid of everything else and literally only had these to choose from? (Now that I type it out, I assume you didn’t get rid of literally everything else you own 😉 But curious! Trying to see how this process could work for me!!

    • I didn’t. I have been donating clothing a LOT this year, but I have to do it in phases. Everything I kept was in a separate closet (like summer clothes and vintage dresses). For minimizing my closet it’s really worked for me to take it one step at a time. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing! I am definitely interested in simplifying my closet, I am glad it worked out well for you 🙂

  • Hi Elsie! I love this post (am also slimming down my wardrobe… but hate the idea of a ‘capsule’) and love a lot of the pieces you picked!

    I really love reading A Beautiful Mess but have you guys ever received feedback on how many in-post ads there are? I mean… its excessive! I scrolled through 12 ads just in the copy of this one blog post… which made scrolling down to the pictures to see what items you were talking about quite a pain in the a**. I know you have to make money to support the website and I 100% support that- but it makes reading and enjoying your posts quite tricky!

    Otherwise, love everything you guys have to say 🙂
    -Stefanie

    • Thanks for the feedback Stefanie. We have heard this quite a bit and I do agree with you. We are planning to try a different ad lineup soon (not sure exactly when). We do many a large portion of our income from these ads and we need them, but we’re going to try our best to find a more pleasing spot for them. xx! Elsie

  • Something maybe to consider if you like having something new for special occasions and parties (and there are a lot of those in the winter) but want to intentially live with less— clothing rental, like Rent the Runway. Not sure what their vintage options are, but worth a look. And if not, there’s a business idea for somebody ? (though you’d have to have a lot of capital to get it started, but it’s an idea)

    • I did look into it once, but it was more than I wanted to spend and I’m not big on designer clothes…. I feel like I would be stressed wearing a $400 dress anywhere haha.

  • We went on a family vacation to Europe this past August and most of September, too. Since traveling requires limiting outfits to what fits in your suitcase and multiple countries over months really pushes you to include variety and layers… I accidentally made a capsule this past seasons too and….

    IT WAS GREAT! FREEING! I felt cuter and more put together than normal. I didn’t have to waste time at the closet staring and throwing things into piles that I later had to put away…. none of it.

    Also, I’m a dress girl. Through and through. I own two pairs of jeans. I found that jumpers were my friends as well. I included lots of crop top sweaters, but I layered them over the jumpers and onesies. I also made allowances for a few new things when the occasional event popped up. Awards ceremonies, gala dinners and promotion interviews totally win my vote as good reasons to get new velvet
    Jumpers. ?

    I love that you shared about this experience and I can’t wait for us both to do ❄️ winter capsule!!

  • I could never go capsule just because of my addiction of buying countless dresses. I do wear them all. I promise. I just wear a lot of dresses 🙂

  • So interesting to read about your experiences, I should maybe do a capsule wardrobe too next season. Are you going to share your winter capsule as well?

    Hanna

  • Love the jumpsuits I am in the old category ! I had a “painters jumpsuit and wore it forever (hard to keep white in nyc) You’re adorable

  • I think for special occasions it could be good to just a separate closet or an extra section in your closet where all of your special dresses are. That way you can pull stuff out like you did with a vintage dress if you don’t want or have time to shop. My personal problem with shopping for special occasion dresses is that I usually wear them only once or twice and it’s hard to justify a new purchase. But you seem to be way more social than I am, so a special closet for special occasion dresses seems like a way to go 🙂 (god, how many times did I write “special” in this comment?? haha)

    • I love this idea!!! They’re more of a collection. I want to keep them, but I only wear them occasionally to a party or in photos… Thanks for the idea!

  • I’m so glad you did a recap! I purged my closet right before the fall, and while I didn’t do a capsule wardrobe, it was really nice having less clothes in my closet to sift through every day. I think you’ve inspired me to take the plunge for winter!

  • I love to follow along with the capsule wardrobe experiment! I read _The Curated Closet_ on your recommendation and it’s made shopping / giving away clothes so much easier! I don’t buy many clothes, in general, and try to buy second hand. I love inspirational stories like yours — not owning much can still be fun and fashionable! Sending love from Seattle!

  • Great post! I have been using a fall/winter capsule this season as well. I also had challenges with dresses for special events. Sometimes I just wanted something pretty and new, so I allowed myself a few extra purchases. I think it is important to taylor the experience to your own style as well 🙂

    http://fashionspiritbklyn.com

  • Thanks. I’ll be in Israel for the whole spring, living out of a suitcase, which i feel is the best time to try my first ever capsule wardrobe, instead of throwing random things in a suitcase and trying to make it work for 3 months. I would love to hear more about how to plan and how to get started. One thing I’ve never seen addressed is how to deal with it when you have work clothes too. It’s like you need a separate wardrobe, and usually the things I see that have set numbers of items don’t work for me at ALL as a result (and because I really like dresses!). I also would love you to share your seasonal capsules BEFORE the season when you can so it can help us plan too by seeing examples. Thanks so much! I loved this!

  • Hi Elsie. Thanks for this post!
    Q. I’ve been working on having a much smaller wardrobe & buying less for about two years now but have a hard time truly doing a capsule. I have a varied style, plus I dress very casually at home & about with my little girls, but like to wear dresses & skirt outfits to church on Sundays (as well as social outings), so I’ve been having trouble truly creating a capsule. Since you also have such a creative & varied style, do you have any tips for creating a truly mix & match capsule?

    • My biggest tip is to customize it to your life and your style. In The Curated Closet (a great book) she says to write down all the places you spend your time in a week to get an idea of how much casual vs dressy outfits you really need. That helped me a lot.

      I avoided trying a capsule for so many years because a lot of the ones I’ve seen online are all gray and black and very plain. But I still get so much out of the exercise even if my closet can’t mix and match as well as someone who only wears black and gray so it’s still worth it to me! xx

  • I really enjoyed this post! I will say that the ethical side of a capsule wardrobe is really difficult. And most of the time you feel like you’re set up to fail. We also can’t forget that there’s is a level of privilege to being able to purchase a 100% ethical wardrobe since most companies charge more for products as a result of ethical production. However, there are more commonplace companies who aren’t 100% ethical but are aware of the issue and are making efforts to improve and offer more ethical options (target, H&M, ASOS, etc). It’s also important to remember that just because a store is ethical in production doesn’t mean that company is socially ethical (ahem American Apparel). Also, not all body types have the same trendy, fun experience in thrift stores that average to smaller body types have. Early last year my I spent a lot of time, money and energy building a 100% capsule wardrobe. I even talked my husband into doing the same! But we made a big mistake, the clothes we bought didn’t last and we didn’t practice first with a limited closet. I was also the person who would shop almost daily and purchase items that were more trendy than practical. So I really appreciate Elsie “trying” a capsule and taking small steps towards having an ethical closet. I also don’t think you have to be either 100% ethical or not at all. While I now don’t have a fully ethical closet, I’m more mindful about the items I buy. I research companies before purchasing and also try to encourage others to do the same. Putting pressure on ourselves to try to fix the world can be overwhelming and, also, intimidating for others and I think it ends up pushing more people to blissful ignorance than action. But showing that there are small steps we can all take to make progress is essential. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to try to be an ethical shopper. If you’re even thinking about buying consciously and buying less, than that means you’re aware. And awareness is the first step to progress. We can always learn and grow and instead of criticizing, we should keep encouraging each other. I’ve rambled enough now but I want to say thank you to Elsie for raising awareness and also making trying a capsule wardrobe fun and lot less intimidating!!

  • Those overalls are so cute! I found some on sale online. Do they fit like Levi’s jeans – similar sizing?

  • Thanks for sharing Elsie. I was happy to see you use some bright and unique pieces. Often I feel like capsules ask me to trade some personal style for simpler, “blend in” pieces. I really appreciated that even though you are comitted to living with a little less your taste still shines.

  • These posts on capsule wardrobes are so fun, encouraging, and interesting! I’ve really found them helpful and would love to see what you choose in future seasons! Xoxo

  • Love your outfits here and the idea to limit yourself in how much you bought. Are you planning to do a new capsule every season or just add in pieces with what you have already? I’ve only ever seen overall capsule wardrobes that focus on long term pieces, never something seasonal, so it’s interesting to see. I look forward to seeing your future seasons! Did you find it harder to do as ABM sometimes focuses on fashion? Maybe not so much anymore, but I remember the sister style posts and some c/o items mixed in. Did that make it harder? Thanks for sharing!