Student Capsule Wardrobes Offer Collections of Timeless Style

Going on a trip and don’t know how to pack? A capsule wardrobe might be the solution.

There’s time capsules and capsule hotels — but how about capsule wardrobes?

Whether getting ready to study abroad for a few months or go on a trip for a few days, a compartmentalized capsule wardrobe is a customizable way to avoid an overpacked suitcase or cluttered closet.

A capsule wardrobe is a streamlined collection of clothing items that all work well together and typically consists of around 10-20 pieces, according to Harper’s Bazaar. Capsule wardrobes vary depending on the person, but are oftentimes made up of basic neutrals with a couple of statement pieces intermixed.

Loyola sophomore Lucia Malfeo works as a retail associate for a clothing and home retailer. She said capsule wardrobes are ideal for those who love to travel. 

“If you’re going to Europe for three months, you don’t want to be bringing a million things, especially since you’ll most likely be bringing stuff home,” said Malfeo.

Ben Mielke, a senior at Loyola, is well-versed when it comes to packing for traveling around Europe. Mielke, who studied at the John Felice Rome Center for both the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters, said he made sure to bring just one or two items from each category (pants, shirts and sweaters/sweatshirts) when packing to move abroad. 

“Creating different capsule combinations depending on the climate and activities we planned to do on our weekend trips was incredibly helpful, and I’d encourage others going abroad to do something similar,” Mielke said.

The first step to creating a capsule wardrobe is to declutter the closet, which starts with sorting through unworn items and getting rid of them.

Maddie Ganoe is a junior at Loyola and an associate at clothing retailer Reformation in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Ganoe encouraged finding a time to try on everything in the closet in order to sort through it all.

“Based on your initial reaction, if you like how it fits, feels or looks, determine if it should go back into your closet,” Ganoe, an advertising and public relations major, said.

When cleaning out her closet, Ganoe said she gets rid of pieces she spontaneously bought due to short-lived trends. 

A capsule wardrobe is awesome because you can make it your own,” Ganoe said. “You have what you need and don’t feel like you need to hop on every new microtrend.”

While the trend cycle used to rotate approximately every 10 years, the emergence of microtrends has accelerated this, according to lifestyle editor A microtrend comes and goes quickly and is a main propeller of the fast-fashion industry, according to the Associated Press.

George Senick, a marketing professor at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business, believes much of this is attributed to the internet and social media.

“Over the past 25 years especially, technology has driven trends in my opinion,” said Senick.

While trendy pieces from fast-fashion sites may seem inexpensive, they’re hurting shoppers financially in the long run as trends come and go — and they’re hurting the environment even more. A study at Princeton University found that the fast-fashion industry is responsible for more annual carbon emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined, with an increase of 50% greenhouse gas emissions.

The second step after sifting through unwanted clothing items in the closet is to give them away —  items can be donated, thrown away or sold in-person or online if they are in good condition.

Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads Trading Co. are a few resale stores that offer store credit or pay in cash for items. Crème de la Crème Resale and Boho Barbie Ken are resell options in Rogers Park. Alternative options include selling clothes through websites like Depop or thredUP, which Ganoe recommends.

After disposing of unwanted items, the third step is to replace the old pieces with updated, elevated items. Capsule wardrobes may change with the seasons, but some staple pieces like t-shirts can remain the same.

For example, those who live in a colder climate may want more sweaters than those in a warmer one. If someone works in an office, their capsule may contain more elevated items than someone who works from home.

The fourth step after creating a list of items needed is to start shopping.

“Aritzia, Abercrombie, Target, Zara and Coss are great stores to find basic, staple pieces, especially things like bodysuits, tees and sweaters,” Malfeo said.

Denim, linen or wool trousers also serve as functional staples. Leather pants are a sleek addition, especially for those who like to go out frequently, according to Malfeo. 

“One versatile dress that you can wear to multiple occasions is also a must-need item,” Malfeo said. “Something that you can dress up or down depending on the shoes or jewelry you add.”

Ganoe said she is a firm believer in attaining staple pieces that can be accessorized in various ways. For example, selecting base pieces like a tank and cargos that can be made into a business-casual ensemble with a blazer or worn with hoops and kitten heels for a night out.

Harper’s Bazaar compiled a list of 13 of the best companies to get basics from, adding H&M, Uniqlo and Skims.

Malfeo encourages those who are looking to build a capsule to get items that truly speak to one’s personal style. 

“If you really love a statement piece and think you’ll get wear out of it, go for it,” she said. 

A capsule wardrobe isn’t meant to remain the same or last forever, but change based on lifestyle, tastes and wishes for a personalized wardrobe.

Featured illustration by Hanna Houser | The Phoenix

Natalie Doyle

Natalie Doyle