I Only Have 33 Items of Clothing: How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe should be full of items that you love. Don’t let anything questionable in.
Publish date:
January 8, 2014
capsule wardrobe, project 33

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Raise your hand if your New Years' Resolutions included getting rid of most of your wardrobe. No? Well lemme try and change your mind.

I first started reading about Courtney Carver’s Project 333 right around when I started college, but it took me a couple of years to actually try it because the premise sounded so scary: You get 33 items of clothing, including shoes, outerwear, and accessories, and that is all you wear for three months. Underwear, pajamas, and work-out gear are fair game and don’t have to be counted so long as you’re not wearing those yoga pants to, y’know, the grocery store.

The number seemed unnecessarily restrictive -- I was a student at the time but I also had an internship in an office. I thought there was no way in hell 33 items could support both my casual and professional wardrobes, especially not counting shoes.

But hey, I tried it. I picked out my items and boxed up the rest of my wardrobe. And here’s the best part: then I forgot. A couple of weeks into my new capsule wardrobe I felt so comfortable and normal that I didn’t even think about the clothes that I had stored away -- until two months later I spotted a P333 Facebook post announcing it was time to rotate out items for the next set of 3 months.

The cool thing is that 33 items isn’t really all that few. Let me prove it -- here’s every item of clothing I own, for both my spring/summer and fall/winter capsules.

My work staples that I wear for all seasons:

All of these pieces work well together. They make me feel polished and put together, and can go from summer to winter with a pair of fleece tights (those count as underwear, at least in my book).

And then here’s the stuff that varies:

Wintery Stuff

Summery Stuff

Shoes For All Seasons

And finally, fancy time things that I'm a cheater and I don't count because I only wear them for weddings or job interviews (the blazer, not the ruffly dress, obv).

That’s all my clothes. 41 items total: 33 for spring and summer, 33 for fall and winter. And it’s kind of a lot right? You could totally do this. And you should, too, because this is what has happened to me since I started dressing in a capsule wardrobe:

Getting dressed is super easy. Everything goes with everything. I can get ready in 30 seconds and know I’m gonna look fly. No more staring at the closet wondering how to put things together, no more buying things and having to buy more things to go with the first thing. It’s effortless. I can be lazy but not look lazy ‘na mean?

I look and feel better. When you narrow down your wardrobe, clothes that don’t fit you quite right, or are stained or faded, or that you have to adjust all day don’t usually make the cut. As a result what’s left over is the best of the best.

Instead of saving my faves for “special occasions,” I get to wear clothes that make me feel happy and confident every day. Bonus: Because I buy fewer items of clothing, I can put the money I would have spent on more items toward buying better quality pieces and getting things tailored. It’s a pretty cool feeling when the compliments you get switch from the occasional “That’s a cute skirt” to “You always look so put together” and “Girl, you can dress.” Brb preening.

My life is less cluttered. I spend less time doing laundry. I spend less time shopping. I can always find the clothing I’m looking for, and everything fits comfortably in the tiny closet I share with my husband. But beyond just being physically less cluttered, my mind is also freed up from thinking about what to where or whether I measure up to everyone else.

I don’t care anymore whether I’m “on trend” or whether I look cool enough. I thought I would be self-conscious that I was wearing the same things over and over, but nobody ever notices. I also worry less about money because of all the cash I’m saving. And I’m rarely if ever tempted by sales, or store emails, or impulses to get more stuff. I can just do me, all the while looking and feeling super awesome. Do I have you convinced yet?

If you’re on board to create your own capsule wardrobe, here are some tricks that worked for me.

Pick a number, any number. 33 items is totally, completely arbitrary, and it won’t be the right number for everyone. Still, I think it helps to choose a number so that it helps you limit yourself. Otherwise, everything you own might sneak its way into your “capsule.”

It should be a number that works realistically for your lifestyle -- giving you enough to wear for work and leisure time through whatever interval of time you do laundry. On the other hand, the number you choose should feel slightly uncomfortable. It should force you to make thoughtful decisions about what you realistically need and what you can do with out.

The founder of Project 333 calls it “an experiment in dressing with less.” So just try it. It’s an experiment. You’re packing your other clothes away, not getting rid of them (at least not yet). If you decide you really need 6 weeks worth of clothes you can always go back.

Decide on a color palette. You may have noticed that almost all my clothes are black or white, with a little green here or there. I choose clothes in those colors because I like them, they flatter me, and they are stupidly easy to match with each other.

But if that sounds really boring to you, go ahead and use all the freaking color you want. You don’t have to have a monochrome wardrobe to make a capsule wardrobe work. It does, however, help to pick a set of colors that complement each other, and work in a healthy mount of neutrals. With a palette in play, you can easily mix and match pieces to create a ton of outfits.

I have a general guideline that I should be able to wear any top I buy with any bottom and vice versa. That gives me an incredible range of outfits I can wear. You could loosen that rule and decide that each item you include in your capsule has to work in three different outfits -- that is where choosing a color pallete can really help. Or you can chuck this whole suggestion and start wearing really weird and unexpected color pairings all the time. That would look sick, too.

Be honest with yourself. This is probably the most important rule to capsule wardrobe-ing. At one point in my life, I owned lots of short, tight, sparkly, and/or strapless dresses. I bought them because A. Shiny Things and B. I might need them someday for “going out.”

But that was just silly and useless for a person whose lifestyle is based around the active pursuit of staying in. Why dedicate space in your wardrobe to pieces that will always go unworn? I eventually sucked it up and traded my sequins for sweaters, and I get a lot more use out of them. Dress for your real life, not your fantasy one.

This rule also applies to pieces you might be on the fence on. Give the item in question a test drive for a day. If you have to pull it up or adjust it constantly, or it fits weird, or you just don’t feel good in it -- and you’ll know the feeling -- get rid of it already.

It’s not paying its rent in your closet. If the fit can be fixed, or maybe you need to mend a seam or sew on a button -- then fix it. I’ll be generous and give you six weeks to take it to the tailor. And if you don’t do it in six weeks, you’re never going to do it, so just let the item go and stop feeling guilty about it. A capsule wardrobe should be full of items that you love. Don’t let anything questionable in.

Seriously, y’all, dressing with a capsule wardrobe is so worth it. TRY IT. DO IT. ONE OF US. It may feel weird or challenging at first, but in time you’ll wonder why you ever did it another way. Or even better, maybe you’ll forget you’re doing it at all. You were always this fabulous, right?