Thoughts on Capsule Wardrobes andThrift Store shopping for clothes


I have always loved pretty, fashionable clothing. As a child, I was plump and the limits placed on me in my growing years by the clothing manufacturer's was very real indeed. Elastic waist pants with a crotch that went to my knees? Too short tops? All too common. A-line plain dresses...those too were all too common. I recall clearly the few bought things I owned as a child and teen. Fortunately for me, my mom was an excellent seamtress and able to alter patterns to fit me. She also had a love of shopping that took her into the finest department stores where she looked over dresses and pants outfits and blouses and having seen the current fashion trends went over to the fabric store where she purchased patterns with the same lines and fabrics that were as near the store pieces as she could find. And so I had a new wardrobe, twice a year.

When I was older, she would cut these pieces out and set me the task of making my own clothes. Thanks to her, I learned to sew beautifully. As with most things Mama taught me however, she left out the oh so important step of how to make alterations...So once I left home, I had no clue how to proceed with making my own clothes. As it happened two things happened simultaneously: I was flat broke, so I had no means to buy fabric anyway, and the clothing industry finally caught on that they were missing a large (literally and figuratively) portion of the population by adhering too sternly to their own sizing standards and began to create more and more plus and women's sizes that were attractive if not exactly affordable. The affordable part came much later.

I survived my first pregnancy with two jumpers that Granny made for me and one blouse and after my pregnancy, my wardrobe consisted of two blouses and two pairs of pants. I hated being so limited in my clothing but I managed for more years than I care to say with just those two changes in clothing and many, many repairs. So the idea of a 'capsule wardrobe' is not a strange one to me, though no one would have called it a capsule wardrobe back then.

Now for a little back history: 'capsule wardrobe' is a new term. In fact, however, it is not a new thing at all. Courtesy of the vintage magazines I've collected over the years, I know that the vast wardrobes so many have now was not the norm. Magazines articles abounded on how to build a wardrobe using one pattern . Typically two skirts, a jacket, a vest and a couple of blouses was all the wardrobe most women owned. They mixed and matched pieces, used accessories like detachable collars and cuffs or wore scarves or used a single dress to serve as both jumper and date night dress.

A casual summer wardrobe might be a play suit, bathing suit, a skirt to go over either piece and a light weight jacket.

There were magazine articles geared towards those who did not enjoy sewing running a monthly segment on how to build a wardrobe for year round wear one piece at a time. You might start with a suit (skirt and jacket) and then add sweaters or blouses, trousers, jackets, a winter coat. Clothes for at home were always inexpensive dresses bought for under $2 and aprons were used to protect clothing ( a habit I really need to get into!).

In the 1980's Lane Bryant coined the term "Fashion Math" and even published a book espousing the wonders of building a wardrobe from a limited number of pieces which might be combined in multiples of ways to make a great number of outfits.

Magazines took up that idea and generally published similar pictorial guides. Periodically they still do this. I recall one that took the 'little black dress' approach and they made it into a jumper, pulled a sweater over it to appear to be separates etc. I think they styled the dress in 11 different ways.

So you see, a capsule wardrobe is not a new thing it's just a new term applied to something that smart women have been doing for years on end.

Capsule wardrobes can truly be just ten items or it can be thirty. Some proponents store extra pieces in a separate area, or even away from home, then pull them out to use in another season when they want something new. A few have 'special occasion' pieces that remain in their closet and get used only if there is a ballet or fancy dress occasion to attend.

I have many pieces at my disposal at present. I bought what I liked when I saw it. I use the term 'capsule wardrobe' only to describe the limits I place upon myself as to which pieces I will choose to wear for a limited amount of time.

For myself, I began to get an idea of this type of wardrobe the summer of 2015 when I had NO money at all for frivolous things like clothing when medical bills kept rolling in. I surprised myself at how much wear I got from my limited wardrobe until pieces were literally falling off me as my weight dropped.

While I like a 'full' closet, I admit I feel great horror when I see the massive closets of clothing some have and feel very overwhelmed by it all, so this is another reason why they idea of capsule wardrobes suits my personality and eases little anxiety overrides, lol.

I'm finding this way of dressing makes me think about why I wear some things and not others. I am trying to incorporate pieces into my capsule that I liked at the time of purchase but seldom chose to wear. Like that classic tailored white blouse I've place in this winter wardrobe. If I find that I still reach for everything but that blouse as the season moves on, I'll know it's time to let it go...and to assess just why it doesn't work for me. Was it the fit? Did I purchase the wrong size? Is it just not my style? Did I buy for a life I don't have instead of for the one I do?

Eventually I would like to have fewer pieces in my closet that see little use and more that I wear all of the season. I'd like to have a wardrobe that mixes and matches well, not necessarily as limited in color as what I've chosen for this winter. I also want to find a wardrobe that suits me at home as much as it does out of the house. I can be slovenly at home. I'm trying to offset that now by using low priced t-shirts in fresh seasonal colors matched up with old jeans but you know that I mentioned my need of wearing my aprons...I am a messy cook, a messy painter and tend to skip treating stains as I ought. Well I want to change that as well and if it means that I reach for a 'uniform' at home then so be it. I could use some hardwearing attractive items that will hold up well! And ultimately I hope to save money and make fewer purchasing mistakes in my whole wardrobe.

My financial situation is easing in many ways and I allowed myself to go look online at new pieces from Cato this week. Truth? I don't know if I'll return to shopping there as often unless I find something on the clearance rack in the store that I can try on. For the longest time now I've been happy that at last I could afford to pay full price for something new, something I'd been unable to do in the far past. However, as with all things, I have to admit that it pains me to buy something that proves to be a mistake and it's a full priced mistake! I will only be buying new items at full price if I am so wowed by a piece, it is obviously my style and fits me and my current wardrobe so well that I can't bypass it. Truth? Seldom does that happen.

Bringing up the financial aspect, I want to talk briefly about my thoughts on thrift store shopping for clothes. I resisted this line of purchasing for years upon years and with Mama gifting me so many clothes so often in the past, even in tight financial spots it wasn't necessary to consider thrift stores at all. But this season of life found me with nothing to wear for cooler weather and no money in my account. Mama's shopping leans towards mail order and gifting stopped some time ago. I had to swallow my pride and my fears and just do it when it came to the thrift store this fall. Admittedly the barriers I had in my mind were just that.: in my mind. I was convinced the clothes weren't quite nice somehow and I was visually overwhelmed by the masses of clothes thing in larger established stores like Goodwill.

What I found this fall in having only the resources to purchase in a thrift store is that I can walk out of the store with a bag filled for under $30. And I might have done better! Certain color tags are priced at different price points but on some days of the week you might pick up all color tags for just 75c each compared to prices that range between $1.99 to say $3.99. I chose to shop when I had opportunity but in future with time more my own once again, I will try to shop on those special price days.

Are the clothes clean? Yes. Nothing had an off aroma. Occasionally a piece might have a tiny stain, or a small tear in an inconspicuous place, or was obviously well worn, but for the most part the clothes are in very good condition and there are far more new pieces than you'd imagine. The top I put on this morning to go out to breakfast was purchased at the thrift store and when I went to cut the tag, I found the spare button packet still attached in it's own little bag. Brand new, never worn and cost me all of $1.97. By the way, it was a Kim Rogers, a popular median end dress store brand for women. That was not the only new piece I purchased some of which sported all the original tags.

Which brings me to another point. I know most of the median to low price range brand names and it is not at all uncommon to come across Dress Barn, Kim Rogers, DKNY, Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, etc. I've also seen brands from Walmart, Old Navy and Target.

Once you start looking the organization of clothes quickly becomes more apparent. You'll find like things grouped together, first by solid colors and then in long rows of prints. However, the sleeve length is the organizational rule there: sleeveless, short sleeve and longer sleeves will all be grouped together. Sweaters, jackets and coats are all grouped as are skirts (regular and maxi lengths) and dresses, intimate wear and evening.

The best tip I can give you is to go with a specific list of what you hope to find or with a goodly chunk of time. If you are hoping to find certain colors the selection process will be quick and if it's just a more vague idea of hoping to add anything at all to your wardrobe then opt for the time factor.
You will spend the bulk of your time looking for your size range. There are dressing rooms at some stores and in others there are full length mirrors so you can pull something over what you're wearing to see if the fit is right.

And here's something you might not be aware of: Thrift shopping is big among some fashion circles just now. Seriously! Stylist Beth Jones (check out bjonesstyle on Instagram and YouTube) has a lot of company in wearing thrift purchased pieces and has literally built her career on styling thrift store finds. Some wear thrift store clothing for the fun of finding vintage and unique pieces and others wear them because of the sustainability factor and others wear them because they love the thrill of the hunt and some buy them because they can afford to have loads of choices in their closet if they so desire. Thrift store clothing is just a big thing right now for many reasons.

Is it hit and miss when shopping at thrift stores? Yes, it is. It's no more hit and miss than in any other store, though. I can't name the number of times I've loved a piece only to find that everything but my size was available in that style or what was in my size inexplicably didn't fit. Perhaps even better though is that the turnover at a thrift store is pretty good. Go back in two weeks and look again and you'll find they've added more.

I have yet to even shop the pants and jeans because frankly I have so many pairs just now. I had six pairs of jeans before Katie gifted me four more in my size and I had four pairs of dress pants (mostly winter weight) so pants are just not a concern of mine at present.

My overall viewpoint? It's worthwhile. So far I've liked every single thing I've bought but if it comes to the point that I find something just isn't for me, it ends being a lesser quality than I thought I was buying, or is accidentally shrunk in the wash after a single wearing then I'm out just a couple of dollars at most, and not a chunk of money I wish I could recover.

I've loved hearing your thoughts on this subject over the past two months. Thank you so much for sharing!

(C) Terri Cheney

Older Post Newer Post