The term capsule wardrobe essentially defines a core set of pieces within a larger collection. Although I normally use the term to describe the 20-30 key pieces of your entire wardrobe, a capsule wardrobe can also just be a smaller sub-section in your closet: For example, you could have a capsule wardrobe for your gym clothes, your outerwear, loungewear, underwear or any type of accessory that is an essential part of your look (watches, belts, scarfs). So far, I have only really written about building a capsule wardrobe for your main activities, but of course we all also need something to wear at home, at night, at the gym, for special occasions, in short: we all require at least a handful of subsections in our wardrobe that also deserve a bit of curating love :) As a new ongoing series I will be addressing a few of these subsections and give you a some tips on how to tailor them to your lifestyle and the rest of your wardrobe.
First up: Bags! Building a capsule wardrobe of bags requires a special approach, because even though bags are an accessory, we expect them to do a lot more than just look pretty (protect our stuff, withstand any ground, be comfortable and easy to carry, etc.). Because of these high functional demands, bags more than any other item in our wardrobe need to be 100% tailored to our activities. Although I usually recommend starting with a visual concept, when you are building a capsule wardrobe of bags it’s easier to first pinpoint the functional requirements your bags need to fulfill, and only as a second step integrate these with your style, i.e. function should definitely be considered before form in this case.
Below you’ll find two exercises designed to help you come up with a set of criteria for your ideal bag capsule wardrobe, which you can either use to fill gaps in your current bag collection or to start from scratch. Conveniently, my own bag wardrobe needs a complete makeover at the moment: After 4-5 years of heavy duty my 3 main bags are slowly but surely falling apart. So, to illustrate the process a bit better, I will let you know my own answers below each step.
The most basic variable of a bag is it’s size i.e. how much stuff it can hold. The easiest way to figure out how many and what kinds of bags your lifestyle requires, is to consider how much stuff you have to carry with you for each one of your activities, for example work, shopping, going out, running errands, daytime fun stuff, and so on:
- Make a list of activities that you do on a recurring basis and the things you need for each of them. Make sure you also include travelling, if you go on a lot of trips.
- Next, brainstorm some essential elements that the ideal bag for each activity would include. For example, if you want your hands to be free when you are going out at night, you need a cross-body bag instead of a clutch, and if you usually carry your laptop with you when you go to uni your bag should have a sturdy exterior.
- Now try to group your activities according to the space and elements they require, for example 'work' and 'daytime trips' if you tend to bring the same things (or a similar number of things) for these and could imagine wearing a shopper-style bag in each scenario.
Making a list of all my recurring activities confirmed that I only need three different sizes/types of bags: a larger bag for work/uni and any daytime activity where I want to bring my laptop or a notepad/books, a smaller cross-body bag for going out and days when I only need my essentials, and a weekend bag that fits in the overhead lockers on a plane and can hold at least 10kg. If you want you can write yourself a little list summarizing the functional criteria your bag capsule wardrobe needs to fulfill, like this one:
Onto the second step: integrating your functional criteria with visual aspects to create a bag capsule wardrobe that not only suits your lifestyle but also supports the style concept of your wardrobe. The number of separate groups you came up with in the first step does not necessarily represent the minimum number of bags you should own. How many bags you need per group depends mainly on the colour palette of your wardrobe and also, how much time you spend on the activities catered to by each group (in other words: your lifestyle). Some points to consider:
lifestyle If you plan on wearing the same type of bag every day of the week, it’s a good idea to get at least two versions, just to give each bag a break now and again and prolong its life. At the same time, make sure you don’t spread your budget out too thinly: Bags are one of those items that do tend to have a better quality at higher price points, so if you have 150 Euros to spend try to get two or even just one high-quality bag instead of 5 mediocre ones that will break after a year or sooner. For bag groups that you would only wear once or twice a week you don’t necessarily NEED more than one from a functional point of view, although you might want to consider getting a few additional versions for more variety.
colour palette For maximum versatility, the first bag of each group should either be in one of your wardrobe's neutrals or main colours. Bear in mind that a main colour does not have to be a toned-down shade: If orange is one of your wardrobe’s 2-3 most dominant colours, having an orange day bag makes absolute sense. Read this post for more info on colour palettes, main colours, neutrals and accent shades. Save bold patterns, accent shades and prominent detailing for groups with more than two bags. And: If you are not into mixing metals, look for bags with metal details in the same colour as your most-worn jewellery pieces.
Besides a bag’s colour and metal colour, there are of course a ton of other elements that will shape its overall look. Go for bags that share the overall design theme of the rest of your wardrobe, whether that is clean-cut lines, Brit-chic, bohemian, and so on. If you need more inspiration and have already created a few mood boards for your overall style, see if you can spot any bag-specific inspiration in them that you haven't considered before.
Here’s my final list of criteria, after adding some ‘form’ guidelines:
When you finally go shopping with your list, make sure you are strict about choosing only bags that match your functional criteria, but a bit more open when it comes to the visual guidelines you laid out, in particular the colours and detailing. Remember: Above all, your bags have to be functional, so always try them on before you buy them to ensure that the straps fit comfortably and have the right length. Also consider the weight of the bag and avoid those that feel heavy when they are empty!
If your bag capsule is still missing a lot of pieces, focus on finding the most important one first and work your way through your list however quickly your budget allows. If chosen carefully, a good bag will last you at least a handful of years, so it pays to not only invest a bit of money but also time and thought into selecting the right pieces.
I hope you found this first little ‘subsection guide’ helpful! I already have a few ideas for the next ones, I’m thinking underwear, lounge wear or jewellery, but let me know if you have any other ideas or requests!
Ho do you choose your bags and how many do you own?
Where to find the above items: Wristlet - Alexander Wang, everyday bag - ModCloth, backpack - ModCloth, weekender - Never On Sunday, shopper - Ted Baker, clutch bag - Marie Turnor, accent bag - Cambridge Satchel Company, cross-body bag - Annabel Ingall, mint quilted bag - Rebecca Minkoff, black cross-body bag - Kate Spade.