We send more than 12 million tonnes of clothing and textiles into the waste stream every year – and that’s not a good look. As we shop, scroll, swipe, one-click-ship, like-to-buy, and pre-order our way through life, it’s easy to forget that every single “new” purchase is part of the problem.
Because “What’s one more t-shirt?” Well, it takes 2,650 liters of water to make that shirt. “A new pair of jeans?” Add 6,800 liters more, to help, Here's How To Curate A Second-Hand Capsule Wardrobe.
To illustrate the issue of our clothing habits, Value Village created an interactive art installation calling attention to how we can practice conscious consumption, how thrifting can significantly reduce our overall carbon footprint, and most importantly, learning about the environmental impacts of clothing production.
The event coincided with Waste Reduction Week in Canada and took place in Graffiti Alley in Toronto’s Fashion District. The installation was a brilliant visual representation of the amount of textile waste we are generating every year. The event got me thinking about how one can build a secondhand capsule wardrobe by shopping at a thrift shop like Value Village. It is possible.
What is a capsule wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called "Wardrobe" in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don't go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces, usually in the realm of 30 items or fewer, including shoes and sometimes even accessories. Faux suggested fewer than a dozen items for an ideal capsule wardrobe.
Today, the capsule wardrobe has become "trendy" and I think that's doing more harm than good. We see so many blogs, articles, and even books on the subject, but in many cases, the actual tenets behind the concept have been completely lost.
I've seen blogs that promote upwards of 30 pieces of clothing per season; this is far from the concept of a capsule wardrobe in my opinion. A capsule wardrobe should have nothing to do with shopping for new clothes every season; the whole point of it is to challenge how and why we consume, meanwhile maximizing the use of what we own. The minimum number of items will change from person to person, but it’s important to focus on the benefits that have nothing to do with fashion.
Benefits of building a second-hand capsule wardrobe
- Integrating a capsule wardrobe can affect how you see your participation in other consumption patterns. Once you start down a path of more conscious consumerism in one area, it can provide inspiration for other ways to live intentionally and lessen your impact on the environment.
- Removing shopping for the sake of shopping from your lifestyle frees up a lot of money. When you do need to replace an item, you can consider repairing/adapting what you have or buying a replacement at a second-hand price.
- Having less clothing in regular rotation ultimately allows for less time spent managing stuff! Creating a second-hand wardrobe allows you to stop sifting through piles of clothes that you forgot you had, don’t fit anymore, or aren’t popular anymore. Bedrooms, closets, and laundry spaces are easily put in order.
- Fewer options that are always in rotation make it easier to get dressed. I used to wake up and try several outfit combinations before settling on one for the day. It made me late, and a little frazzled. Now I put an outfit on, and that’s it: I’m me, it fits, and I feel good.
Let's get started and consider the steps to set up a secondhand capsule wardrobe
First and foremost, your capsule secondhand wardrobe should:
- Assess what types of clothes you typically wear, and how often
- Evaluate what you already have by making a "keep" pile and a "donate" pile, then donate or sell what you no longer need. A good rule of thumb is if you have not worn it in 6 months, it is time to let it go
- List all the types of clothing (i.e. dress, jeans, leggings, collared shirt) you would like to include in your capsule
- Fill in wardrobe gaps with seasonal clothing from storage
- Shop for quality pieces from the thrift store, consignment store, or eBay
- Commit to the new wardrobe and lifestyle!
As you go through these steps, you may find that you also go through some perspective shifts. After all, changing a habit oftentimes starts in your head, then turns into action one step at a time.
Myths and Facts about creating a second-hand wardrobe
Myth: Capsule wardrobes are for people who already have a great sense of style and understand how to create outfits.
Truth: Capsule wardrobes are a way to learn how to make great use of what you own while enhancing your lifestyle and the environment.
Collecting items for a capsule wardrobe is not hard, but it does require some intentional thinking. First, consider what types of items you’re looking for. You could take a week and observe how many days in that week you wear leggings, pants, skirts, dresses, and shoes. Take pictures of the outfits you like, or even just jot the items down so that you have a sense of what types of clothes you find most comfortable and useful. These are the essential items that build a framework of what you already have.
Since the capsule wardrobe is intended to be a collection of clothes that you wear a few times before washing, you’ll need several uses/outfits using the same items. A summer tank top is also a winter base layer; leggings can be used on their own or under a skirt.
Identify the gaps and create one list with all that you have at home, and a wish list of garments (skirt, t-shirt, sweater) for when you’re shopping. It’s important to have both so that you’re aware of how items and colors could work together.
Myth: We all need distinctly seasonal wardrobes; to be updated 4 times a year.
Truth: Seasonal clothing does not demonstrate a love for the environment. We need to appreciate the year’s seasons by lessening our consumption.
Thrift stores are oftentimes organized differently than the typical retailer selling brand new garments. Traditional stores are designed to coerce shoppers into buying more than they planned to. Most mainstream retailers set up the store with new, on-trend, or seasonal items at the front, and ‘old’ or clearance items at the back near the fitting rooms. This is so that you have already an armload of clothing by the time you get to the fitting room. As you’re trying things on, you may be inspired by a piece that’s a fraction of the price and think to yourself, “what’s one more thing?” and purchase it without even trying it on. It’s so cheap, right?
In creating a capsule wardrobe, we are rejecting the ideals of ‘new’ and ‘on sale’ as reasons to purchase, and instead go to a store because there is a specific, defined item that we need. The truth is, shopping for brand new wardrobe items can create unnecessary challenges and distractions to staying on task with the capsule wardrobe.
Instead of being categorized by ‘new’ versus ‘clearance’, second-hand stores like Value Village are organized by:
- Type of garment
This means that the sections of the store will align with your garment list, so you can systematically go through your list of items and be in the right aisle to find what you’re looking for.
Myth: It’s hard to find quality items second-hand.
Truth: The second-hand items you’re looking for are easier to find when you have a clear plan.
After taking stock of what you already have in your clothing inventory and what types of garments serve you best, get thrifting! A total number of 30 items or less is the goal as it’s a manageable way to have just enough variety in your wardrobe without excess.
Be attentive to quality by checking the tags on the items: are these high-quality items/brands that will keep after several uses? Many low-quality brands can be on the racks, which will defeat the purpose of your wardrobe as they won’t last very long. Also, watch for great fabrics; some of my favorites to watch for include Tencel, organic cotton, and recycled polyester.
Myth: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Truth: Actually, that’s true. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Keep in mind that you don’t need to build the entire wardrobe in one day! Be honest, if something doesn’t fit or you’re not 100% sold on it, then hold off. In the process of creating a secondhand capsule wardrobe, you’re developing new habits, letting go of nostalgic items that don’t serve you, and simply saying ‘no’ when you aren’t sure. It can be a good idea to start with a small wardrobe the first week, try it out, and then make a second trip the next weekend. The added bonus is that there will likely be ‘new’ second-hand gems on the racks.
I suggest limiting yourself to two trips because the true rewards of a secondhand capsule wardrobe begin after you’ve started using it!
A final word on curating a second-hand capsule wardrobe
Once you have your wardrobe in hand, the final piece of the puzzle is to commit. Decide on a fixed period of time where you will absolutely not be acquiring or buying any clothing items. I think of this as the no exceptions period, which will eventually feel natural.
During the no exceptions period, stick to your commitment so that you get the full value of your small, uncluttered wardrobe and see it spill over into other areas of your life. Integrate conversations with friends and family about the impact of fashion on the environment and our population's health. Learning and changing aren’t always comfortable, and when you find some discomfort, that’s how you’ll know you’re making progress.
Once you've designated your capsule wardrobe, don't forget to DONATE responsibly. And if you love shopping second-hand, make sure to check out all of your guides:
Let's keep clothes out of landfills. And to help you do that, we've got a ton of resources to help: