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New Series on Chic Street Style!

The Ultimate Capsule Closet Checklist

AFTER 6 YEARS OF OUT OF STATE INTERNSHIPS, STUDYING ABROAD, TRAVELING IN JUST A CARRY ON AND NOW TRAVELING FULL-TIME:

I FINALLY HAVE CURATED THE ULTIMATE CAPSULE CLOSET.

This is what I have (give or take) in the Glam-V. When I used to style clients, this is the closet I would get them to, by editing and adding what they already had.

I think what you will find – because I know I feel this way – that there is so much waste and so many things that just sit and are simply never worn. It is actually so much easier to get dressed with less items that all go together effortlessly. Since switching to full-time travel, I got rid of 95% of my closet and I am so much better about investing in the right places and creating looks that can inspire everyone.

With this new series, I will be adding outfits each Sunday to the archives and be building on these pieces. Coming up next week: 31 outfits for a warm weather vacation in just a carry on.

Please note, this is meant to be a starting point. These colors, shapes and styles might not work for everyone (but in my history, it is pretty fool-proof). I chose these patterns, colors and pieces, because in all of my time living with a limited closet, these were the pieces I reached for day after day. Beware when you are buying of trends! Not saying they are bad, but exaggerated details like bell sleeves and crazy cut outs are in right now and they simply don’t layer as well and aren’t as versatile.

 

PIN THIS FOR LATER OR PRINT OFF THE CHECKLIST:

DISCLAIMER:

Now, for different options for each must-have piece at all price points. I’m breaking it down my category, what I look for and what you want fit-wise.

Let me just say that some of these pieces you may be able to find for a steal and some you might want to invest in. I can’t tell you how many cheap panama hats I went through before I finally just bought the $50 one that had a great shape and flattering lines. Buy right the first time and you will be doing yourself a favor.

You do not have to Stacy and Clinton style shop for all of these pieces, oh no. Your own capsule closet is an evolution (and honestly, it can be hard at first to let go off the “fluff” in your closet). Now, I’m going to go painfully in depth to each one of these because the details really matter (and you can always skim through it).

TOPS:

KEY PIECE #1: BLACK LACE CAMI

Save or splurge? Save!

This should be a cami that has a lace trim along the neckline. In my opinion, V-neck ones look best. Make sure it isn’t too low on your individual chest size. I have always found mine from H&M or Dynamite, at a very low price. I would also get one that skims and doesn’t hug, it looks much more sophisticated and is more flattering.

KEY PIECE #2: CREW NECK T-SHIRT (ONE WHITE, ONE BLACK)

Save or splurge? Save!

The reason I specify a crew neck is because after styling dozens of T-shirts from all different price points, cuts and brands, the crew neck is always the one I end up liking the look of best. I have tried $100 T-shirts and $5 ones and honestly, the cheap ones always last longer! Plus, if it gets ruined, it’s no big deal. My favorite are from Dynamite and Old Navy and are both really affordable. Again, go for one that skims, but it’s too tight or too baggy. Get one in white and one in black.

KEY PIECE #3: STRIPED T-SHIRT

Save or splurge? Save!

Once again, I recommend a crew neck for this specific style, because (sorry for the language) but it is hard to look chic and polished with your boobs falling out of your top. If you feel comfortable, a form-fitting one looks very French, a looser (skimming) style looks more laid back and relaxed. My favorite ones have always came from H&M, but even though a it is a basic, this one can be hard to find.

KEY PIECE #4: SLEEVELESS OR SHORT SLEEVE WHITE BLOUSE

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

Express has been one of my longest-standing destinations for affordable blouses with a great, easy fit, but they have gone in a more trendy direction lately. A lot of my favorites are from Dynamite, but really, the gold standard is Equipment if you are looking for true quality.

KEY PIECE #5: BASIC BLOUSES (WHITE, BLACK, BOW, BLUSH OR NUDE, BLUE AND WHITE STRIPED, PATTERNED AND COLORED)

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

Same advice and recommendations as above. The only exception is the patterned blouse. If you find one you absolutely adore and that really speaks to you, feel free to indulge yourself. Highly debating on the polka dot bow blouse from Marc Jacobs below because I could see wearing that for decades to come.

KEY PIECE #6: LACE LONG SLEEVE TOP

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

You can find a lot of really inexpensive lace long sleeve tops. All of my favorites have been in the $75-ish range and 100% worth it. Look for a great, skimming fit that tucks well and a sophisticated vibe.

KEY PIECE #7: CHAMBRAY BUTTON-UP TOP

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

I had 5 different cheap chambray shirts (with a pretty poor fit) before I finally just spent $45 on one (not $15) that had a fantastic color, fit and material. You can find tons of $20 chambray shirts out there and if you can find one that fits well, more power to you, save away.

KEY PIECE #8: BLACK TURTLENECK

Save or splurge? Save!

The big thing to look out for is problems of sheerness. Make sure that you can not see your bra through your black turtleneck. Go in natural lighting and have a friend help (that is the ultimate test). Go for a thinner material for the best versatility and tucking because it will be the easiest to style. Splendid makes my personal favorite for fit and materials at the best price.

KEY PIECE #9: KNIT SWEATERS (ONE HEATHER GREY, ONE CAMEL)

Save or splurge? Extremes: either really save or really invest

There are two ways you can go: save on a chunky knit from Forever 21 or Dynamite or, buck up and invest in a cashmere blend. Anywhere in the middle seems to be a waste in my personal opinion. A crew neck or mock neck with a thicker knit always seems to style and work the best. If you are top-heavy, a thinner knit will be more flattering.

OUTERWEAR:

KEY PIECE #10: BOUCLE OR TWEED JACKET

Save or splurge? Invest

Investing means different things to different people. Whether you want to spend $50 or $1,500 on a vintage Chanel, this is a timeless piece that works both casually and professionally and will never go out of style. Great options can be found at J.Crew or designer resale sites like The Real Real.

KEY PIECE #11: BOYFRIEND BLAZER (ONE WHITE, ONE BLACK, ONE NUDE)

Save or splurge? Save!

My best boyfriend blazers have been either pretty inexpensive ($50) or very expensive ($250). My favorite (and unexpected) source for amazing blazers is Missguided.

KEY PIECE #12: OLIVE UTILITY JACKET

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between

There are many interpretations of the olive utility jacket out there, but the best ones have a slightly structured, skimming fit and aren’t too oversized. It should hit just below where your jeans would sit. Madewell and J.Crew make great ones.

KEY PIECE #13: JEAN JACKET

Save or splurge? Save!

Depending on your personal style and body shape, different cuts may be better on you. My favorite always seems to be a slightly lighter wash with a slightly cropped shape. I almost never recommend anything cropped, but a denim jacket is the one exception. A regular length style will look boxy and won’t pair well with dresses. This is the exact one I own and style, for just $59.

KEY PIECE #14: COLORED SUEDE JACKET

Save or splurge? Either or

If you decide on a more neutral suede (like a cognac or grey), feel free to invest. My honest advice is to spend around the $100 mark on a faux suede option, no need to go crazy. Brands like BB Dakota make great budget-friendly options. A burgundy or plum would make a great pop of color in a mainly neutral wardrobe.

KEY PIECE #15: LONGLINE VEST (IN GREY, WHITE OR BLACK)

Save or splurge? Save!

For a while, TopShop (calls them “sleeveless jackets”) made these in spades, but this item seems to be available most come fall. You are looking for a long and lean, menswear-inspired vest. This is a great third-piece, especially for those of you that live in warm climates. It instantly adds an extra bit of polish and style, especially for work. Great designer pre-used styles can be found here.

KEY PIECE #16: CHUNKY GREY KNIT CARDIGAN

Save or splurge? Save!

Honestly, as with anything, you can spend a lot if you want to. I am advising you not to. There are so many great options available at stellar price points. Again, Dynamite makes great ones. I prefer slightly chunkier knits, for a more stylized look.

KEY PIECE #17: BLACK LEATHER MOTO JACKET

Save or splurge? Save!

If you want to save a bit of money and go with a faux-leather option, I absolutely swear by the Express “minus the leather” jackets. I’ve been wearing them for over 7 years now and I have one that is just that old that is holding up remarkably (especially for the price).

KEY PIECE #18: TRENCH COAT

Save or splurge? Invest!

A classic trench coat is an absolute must and is worth investing in. $30 in tailoring can also make a world of a difference in how expensive your trench looks. I’ve had mine shortened and taken in the waist. There are so many great options in the $200 range, but the gold standard is obviously Burberry. Here is a huge selection of pre-owned Burberry if you want quality at a great price.

KEY PIECE #19: MENSWEAR-INSPIRED CAMEL COAT

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between

This is not only functional (hello warm!) but it looks very minimally street styled. This piece can take a simple T-shirt and jeans to a whole new level. Wear it draped off your shoulders for an editorial feel. Once again, you can obviously invest, but there are so many fantastic options for under $200.

DRESSES:

KEY PIECE #20: WHITE SHIRT DRESS

Save or splurge? Save!

There is a huge range from Forever 21 to designer options, but yet again, Missguided is an unexpectedly amazing source for really chic shirt dresses at a fantastic price.

KEY PIECE #21: STRIPED T-SHIRT DRESS

For all T-shirt dresses, do yourself a favor and save some cash. My favorites have all ben found from sources like Old Navy. Just make sure it is a crew neck, with a skimming fit and the right length (right above the knee is normally the sweet spot).

Save or splurge? Save!

KEY PIECE #22: COLORED SLIP DRESS (IN ACCENT OF YOUR CHOICE)

Save or splurge? Save!

There are so many great affordable options for this specific piece, so save yourself some money. Find a color that coordinates and mixes in with your closet. You can never go wrong with navy, burgundy or olive. A longer length is a good idea (for risk of the silky ones looking like sleepwear). Avoid the ribbed (read: clingy) options and go for a satin effect instead. My favorite one is from Dynamite.

KEY PIECE #23: CHAMBRAY SHIRTDRESS

Get one with a skimming fit with either the option to belt the waist or a gathering at the waist so you don’t loose your curves. Slightly above the knees is a great length and I personally always prefer the button-up option. I found mine from ShopBop.

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle.

KEY PIECE #24: GREY T-SHIRT DRESS

Save or splurge? Save!

See piece #21 for the same advice.

KEY PIECE #25: BLACK SHIRTDRESS

Save or splurge? Save!

See piece #20 for the same advice.

KEY PIECE #26: BLACK MAXI SHIRTDRESS

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between.

I recently discovered how underrated and versatile this piece is! It is not something you would normally think to put in a capsule closet, but it is great for many seasons and occasions and is a really classy take on a black maxi. This one is perfect. If you are looking for budget-friendly, this is a great alternative.

DENIM:

KEY PIECE #27: SKINNY JEAN (WHITE, OLIVE, DARK AND FLATTERING, GREY)

Save or splurge? Save!

If you are looking for a great quality jean for a really reasonable price (especially with sales and coupons they offer), make sure to check out Express. If you are looking for an incredible fit and material at a touch higher of a price point, I can not recommend Paige “Transcends” enough (or the brand in general).

KEY PIECE #28: BOYFRIEND JEANS

Save or splurge? Splurge!

I’ve tried so many different boyfriend jeans at many price points and the truth is, typically, the more you spend, the better they fit. This has been my experience. So instead of buying 3 pairs of so-so jeans, invest in one great-fitting pair. The fit should be slightly slouchy, but not baggy. Many people go up a size, but boyfriend jeans are meant to have a looser fit already. These are my favorite fit and brand.

KEY PIECE #29: BLACK SKINNY JEANS (REGULAR, COATED)

Save or splurge? Invest!

I can not say enough that investing in quality, great fitting denim is the best way to go. Never go with a really low-rise fit (flesh belts are never in style) and make sure it is flattering. My favorite quality brands are J Brand is my absolute favorite (Hudson and Sevens are good too). If you need to go with more budget-friendly, Express makes some really great and affordable jeans (and they run sales a lot).

KEY PIECE #30: BLACK FLARE JEANS

Save or splurge? Save!

Same advice as above. One note: I do recommend a high-waisted or mid-waist pair of black flare jeans.

 

BOTTOMS:

KEY PIECE #31: HIGH-WAISTED SHORTS (WHITE, BLACK, LEATHER)

Save or splurge? Save!

There are many sources for high-waisted shorts. But consistently, my favorite all come from Missguided. They are affordable, wit a great fit and have feminine and tailored details (if you sort past the “clubbing” style ones). Also as a bonus, the more polished ones tend to go on sale, because it simply isn’t their target market.

KEY PIECE #32: CUT-OFF DENIM SHORTS

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between

There are many different styles, price points and brands that make cut off shorts. My favorites all come from One Teaspoon, because they have a very stylish, slightly distressed style to them, which looks great in a lot of outfits (especially with more polished pieces). The “Bandit” shorts are the exact ones I have.

KEY PIECE #33: TWEED OR TEXTURED SKIRT

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between

I personally like styles that are high-waisted with a slight flare. It looks great with so many different tops and has a really great texture to it. It does tend to be more preppy, so if you are more classic, swap this piece with an A-line skirt.

KEY PIECE #34: LEATHER PENCIL SKIRT

Save or splurge? Extremes: either save or really splurge

I personally like the look and cost of faux leather so much, that investing in a real leather skirt isn’t even in my consideration set. My favorite faux leather pencil skirts I have found for all $50 or less.

 

BAGS:

KEY PIECE #35: CROSS BODY BAG (RED AND BLACK)

Save or splurge? If you can, splurge!

I have the same advice for all bags: if you are going to splurge on anything, this is the item! Think about it, you literally carry it around like a child. Unlike shoes, you can’t trip and scuff it. A designer or well-made handbag really makes a huge difference in an outfit. Plus, if you buy pre-owned, it is actually a great investment. I personally have even made some money on selling my designer handbags. I can not recommend The Real Real enough. I get almost all of my designer bags pre-owned from there. If you can’t afford that, there are so many places to get inexpensive handbags that still look great.

KEY PIECE #36: TOTE BAG (BROWN AND BLACK)

Save or splurge? Save!

Same advice as piece #35.

KEY PIECE #37: GREY SATCHEL

Save or splurge? Save!

Same advice as piece #35.

SHOES:

KEY PIECE #38: BROWN SANDALS

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between.

I am really hard on my shoes. So spending a ton of money on them doesn’t make much sense. Buy too cheap of shoes and they simply won’t last past a couple wears. Nordstrom Rack (online, because sorting in store is impossible) is my favorite source for quality and beautiful shoes, marked down. For example, I got these Michael Kors sandals for $59, half price.

KEY PIECE #39: FLATS (RED, CAP-TOE, BLACK)

Save or splurge? Splurge!

For flats, a well-made quality flat can be extremely stylish and comfortable and is worth spending a little bit more on. A vintage Chanel cap-toe flat is a great investment, but there are plenty of affordable interpretations. I also swear by this brand of affordable Rockstud dupes.

KEY PIECE #40: LOAFERS (WHITE, LEOPARD)

Same advice as above. Spend a touch more and you will get comfort, style and quality.

Save or splurge? Spend a little

KEY PIECE #41: WHITE TENNIS SHOES

Save or splurge? Save!

My favorite stylish pairs have always been from H&M and are less than $30.

KEY PIECE #42: HEELS (NUDE, BLACK)

Save or splurge? Invest a little.

Don’t ever buy dirt cheap heels. It’s like asking for a blister. You can go for the ultimate Louboutin heel, but if you don’t feel like spending $700 for that iconic red sole, there are so many very affordable, beautifully made shoes. My favorite are Ivanka Trump, Nine West and Charles David.

KEY PIECE #43: ANKLE BOOTS (BROWN, BLACK)

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

I have found great ankle boots on sale for $40 and my favorites are Ted Baker, that run about $250. The main thing is they should look sleek and stylish and look great with jeans.

KEY PIECE #44: BLACK OVER-THE-KNEE BOOTS

Save or splurge? Spend a little

You should not buy cheap over-the-knee boots. They aren’t designed or made well and they will just fall down throughout the day. Whether you keep it flat or go with a bit of a lift, that is up to you and your personal preference. My favorites are these (not too expensive but good quality ones). The top of the line is Stuart Weitzman.

 

ACCESSORIES:

KEY PIECE #45: SUNGLASSES (MIRRORED, GOLD, TORTOISE, BLACK CAT EYE)

Save or splurge? If you have to save in one area, this is it. If you can, get designer.

For years and years I wore cheap sunglasses and it was fine. BP at Nordstrom makes really great cheap alternatives. If you can, especially with tortoise and cat eye styles, get a well made and beautifully designed style. Karen Walker makes the best tortoise and I love Miu Miu’s cat eyes.

KEY PIECE #46: WATCHES (SILVER, MIXED-METAL, GOLD, BLACK)

Save or splurge? Splurge.

A good time piece is everything. You can get Nixons for around the $100 range and they are the best quality and style for the money. I really like Michael Kors (will run $150-$300) and I just indulged in my first Michelle, which I absolutely love. If you want to save money, get it pre-owned!

KEY PIECE #47: BROOCH

Save or splurge? Go cheap or go full out. Anything in between is a waste in my opinion.

I have been collecting Vintage Chanel brooches since I was 20 and absolutely love mine. If you can’t swing Chanel, find one that speaks to you and looks sleek. Once again, buy pre-owned!

KEY PIECE #48: NECKLACES (SILVER LARIAT, GOLD CHAIN, GOLD PENDANT)

Save or splurge? Save!

Unless you find one that you absolutely have to have, save on necklaces. There are so many affordable necklaces that look great.

KEY PIECE #49: BELTS (NUDE, METAL, BROWN, BLACK)

Save or splurge? Save!

Honestly, unless you want to splurge and get a Gucci or Hermes belt, go for really inexpensive. My favorite are from Target and Old Navy and are almost always under $15. Go for one that is big enough to be worn at your hips, because it can always be looped and accent your waist as well.

KEY PIECE #50: HATS (PANAMA, BURGUNDY FEDORA, BLACK WOOL FEDORA)

Save or splurge? Save!

Forever 21 makes the best cheap fedoras. If you want to invest a little more, Rag & Bone makes really beautiful ones as well. Me personally, I always go for the inexpensive ones.

KEY PIECE #51: SCARVES (CAMEL, PLAID, LEOPARD AND GREY)

Save or splurge? Go for inexpensive or go for a cashmere blend

Like I said above, this is another one of those extremes. BP has some great inexpensive scarves as well as H&M and Nordstrom has some great cashmere blend options as well.

I know there are a lot of names and brands being dropped in this article, but keep in mind, you could easily cultivate this entire capsule closet without a single logo or designer item. I just like to give the most affordable and the top of the line options, so there is an option for everyone.

Check back each Sunday for more capsule closet content!

As always, thank you for reading.

This is the ULTIMATE capsule closet that I’ve curated after years of editing and refining for not only myself, but styling clients, on what gives you the most style, least amount of items and the maximum outfit combinations.

If you like this article, please check out:

Ultimate Study Abroad Packing Guide

Study Abroad Outfit Log (4 months, 1 Suitcase)

 

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6 Responses

  1. Rosamary

    i absolutely love this post!! I had to save it to my ointerest and to my reading favovites on my phone. Totally bookmarked iT. Thank you 🙂

    • Brenna

      Aw thank you so so much! So glad to hear it.

      xo,
      B

  2. Cammie

    thanks so much for putting this all together……i’m so excited to implement this in my own closet

    • Brenna

      Hi Cammie!

      So glad you like it. Make sure ti check back each Sunday for 10+ more capsule closet outfits!

      xo,
      B

  3. Chloe king

    DEFINITELY bookmarking this for when I start my internship!

    • Brenna

      Thank you so much! I plan on doing a professional wardrobe capsule closet as well!

      xo,
      B