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 capsule closet I would eventually get them to, by editing and adding to what they already owned.

I think what you will find (and I know I definitely feel this way) that in your typical wardrobe, there is so much waste and so many pieces that just gather dust and are never ever worn. It’s actually much easier to get dressed when you’re working off of fewer 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. 

Please note, this is meant to be a starting point. These colors, shapes and styles might not work for everyone (but in my experience, they’re pretty close to foolproof). I chose these patterns, colors and pieces, because in all my time living with a limited closet, these were the pieces I reached for day after day — classics and staples that I can always count on. Beware of trends! I’m not saying they’re bad, but by definition they will only be in fashion for a limited amount of time. Exaggerated details like bell sleeves and crazy cutouts are in right now, but they won’t be forever.

 

PIN THIS FOR LATER OR PRINT OFF THE CHECKLIST:

DISCLAIMER:

Below are some different options I’ve found for each must-have piece at all price points. I’m breaking it down by category, what I look for, and what you want fit-wise.

Let me add that some of these pieces may be easier to find at 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 correctly the first time and you will be doing yourself a favor.

Keep in mind that you do not have to Stacy-and-Clinton-style shop for all of these pieces, all at once in a mad rush. Your own capsule closet is an evolution and it will take some time to curate (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 on each one of these items 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-necks look best. Make sure it isn’t too low for your unique chest size. I have always found mine at H&M or Dynamite, at a very low price. Make sure to get one that skims and doesn’t hug your frame, as it looks much more sophisticated and is super flattering.

KEY PIECE #2: CREWNECK 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, I find that I always prefer the look of a crew neck. I have tried $100 T-shirts and $5 ones and honestly, the cheap tees always last longer! Plus, if it gets ruined, it’s no big deal. My favorites are from Dynamite and Old Navy, where they’re both really affordable. Again, go for one that skims, in that happy medium between 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 (pardon me) it’s pretty 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, but a looser, body-skimming style looks more laid-back and relaxed. My favorite striped tees have always come from H&M. Even though this is a basic piece, the right one can be hard to find.

KEY PIECE #4: SLEEVELESS OR SHORT-SLEEVED WHITE BLOUSE

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

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

KEY PIECE #5: BASIC BLOUSES (WHITE, BLACK, WITH 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 being the patterned blouse: If you find one you absolutely adore and that really speaks to you, feel free to splurge a bit. Personally, I’m 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-SLEEVED TOP

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

It’s not hard to find a lot of rather inexpensive long-sleeved lace 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 has a sophisticated vibe.

KEY PIECE #7: CHAMBRAY BUTTON-UP TOP

Save or splurge? Somewhere in the middle

I tried five different cheap, poorly-fitting chambray shirts before I finally just dropped $45 on one that had a fantastic color, fit and material. There are tons of $20 chambray shirts out there and if you can find one that fits well, more power to you and save away! This piece is one that really depends on how hard you’re willing to search for decent quality at a lower price.

KEY PIECE #8: BLACK TURTLENECK

Save or splurge? Save!

The big thing to be wary of here is unwanted sheerness. To make sure you can’t see your bra through a black turtleneck, test it out in natural lighting and have a friend help you out. Opt for a thinner material for the most versatility and easiest tucking, making it a cinch to style. Splendid makes my personal favorite fit/materials at the best price.

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

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

There are two ways you can go here: 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 turtleneck in a thicker knit always seems to style the best. If you’re 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 on a cheaper piece or $1,500 on a vintage Chanel, this is a timeless staple 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 (WHITE, BLACK, 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 version of the jean jacket always seems to be a lighter wash with a slightly cropped shape. I almost never recommend anything cropped, but a denim jacket is the one exception. A longer style will look boxy and won’t pair well with dresses. This is the exact one I own, 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 jacket would make a great pop of color in a mainly neutral wardrobe.

KEY PIECE #15: LONGLINE VEST (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 most readily available come fall. You are looking for a long and lean, menswear-inspired vest. This is a great third-piece, especially for those of you who 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 KNIT GREY CARDIGAN

Save or splurge? Save!

Honestly, as with anything, you can spend a lot if you want to, but with this item I am advising you not to. There are so many great options available at stellar price points. Again, Dynamite makes great cardigans. I prefer 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 one in particular for over 7 years now, and it’s 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 well 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 at the waist. There are so many great options in the $200 range, but the gold standard is obviously BurberryHere 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 this piece lends a great minimal, street-styled look. A camel coat can take a simple T-shirt and jeans to a whole new level. Wear it draped over your shoulders for an editorial feel. Once again, you can obviously invest, but there are many fantastic options for under $200.

DRESSES:

KEY PIECE #20: WHITE SHIRTDRESS

Save or splurge? Save!

There’s a huge range of options here from Forever 21 to designer, but yet again, Missguided is an unexpectedly amazing source for really chic shirtdresses at a fantastic price.

KEY PIECE #21: STRIPED T-SHIRT DRESS

Save or splurge? Save!

For all T-shirt dresses, do yourself a favor and save some cash. All my favorites have been from places like Old Navy. Just make sure it’s a crew neck, with a skimming fit and a flattering length (right above the knee is normally the sweet spot).

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

Save or splurge? Save!

There are tons of great affordable options for this piece, so save yourself some money. Find a color that coordinates and mixes well with the rest of your closet. You can never go wrong with navy, burgundy or olive. A longer length is a good idea (with silky dresses, a shorter length runs the risk of 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 gathering at the waist or the option to belt it yourself so you don’t lose your curves. A hemline slightly above the knees works best, 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’s fantastic for many seasons and occasions and is a really classy take on a black maxi. This one is perfect. If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, this is a great alternative.

DENIM:

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

Save or splurge? Save!

If you are looking for a high-quality jean at a reasonable price (especially with sales and coupons), make sure to check out Express. But if you’re looking for an incredible fit and material at a bit higher of a price point, I can’t 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 varying  price points and the truth is, typically the more you spend, the better they fit. So instead of buying three pairs of so-so boyfriend jeans, invest in one perfect pair. The fit should be a little slouchy, but not baggy. Many people go up a size, but beware since boyfriend jeans are meant to have a looser fit as is. These are my favorite fit and brand.

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

Save or splurge? Invest!

I can’t say enough that investing in quality, great-fitting denim is the best way to go. Never opt for a very low-rise fit (flesh belts are never in style) and make sure it’s flattering. My absolutely favorite quality brand is J Brand, but Hudson and Sevens are good too. If you need to go with something more budget-friendly, Express makes some fantastic 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 fit here.

 

BOTTOMS:

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

Save or splurge? Save!

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to high-waisted shorts. But consistently, my favorite all come from Missguided. They’re affordable with a great fit, and many have feminine or tailored details (if you sort past the “clubbing” style ones). Also, as a bonus, the more polished ones tend to go on sale frequently, because that really isn’t their target market.

KEY PIECE #32: CUT-OFF DENIM SHORTS

Save or splurge? Somewhere in between

There are countless different styles, price points and brands to consider when hunting for cut-offs, but my favorites come from One Teaspoon. They have a very stylish, slightly distressed style to them, which looks fab 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. This shape lends itself well to all kinds of tops, not to mention the iconic texture. This does tend to be a more preppy piece, so if you’re more into the classics, opt for an A-line shape instead.

KEY PIECE #34: LEATHER PENCIL SKIRT

Save or splurge? Extremes: either save or really splurge

I personally love the look and affordable price point of faux leather so much, I wouldn’t even consider investing in a real leather skirt. I’ve found all my favorite faux leather pencil skirts for $50 or less.

 

BAGS:

KEY PIECE #35: CROSSBODY BAG (RED, BLACK)

Save or splurge? If you can, splurge!

I have the same advice for all bags: if you’re going to splurge on anything, invest in your bags! Think about it: your bag is like your child, tagging along with you anywhere and everywhere you go. Unlike shoes, you can’t trip and scuff your bag or get caught in a muddy parking lot, so you can splurge without fear of ruining your big-ticket bag.  A designer or well-made handbag really does make a huge difference in an outfit. Plus, if you buy pre-owned, it is actually a very sensible investment. I personally have even made some money by selling my designer handbags. I seriously can’t recommend The Real Real enough; I go there for almost all of my pre-owned designer bags. If you can’t afford that, you’ll have no trouble finding places to get inexpensive handbags that still look great.

KEY PIECE #36: TOTE BAG (BROWN, 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 for me. If you’re the same way, I’d recommend saving here. But beware: buy shoes that are too cheap, and they simply won’t last past a couple wears. Nordstrom Rack (online, because sorting in store is impossible) is my favorite source for beautiful, quality shoes at a markdown. For example, I got these Michael Kors sandals for $59 (half price!).

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

Save or splurge? Splurge!

A well-made quality flat can simultaneously be super stylish and incredibly comfortable, a combo that’s worth spending a little bit more on, in my opinion. 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)

Save or splurge? Spend a little

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

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 gold standard Louboutin heel, but if you don’t feel like spending $700 for that iconic red sole, there are so many super 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

Ted Baker makes my fave ankle boots — they usually run about $250 but I’ve found them on sale for $40. The main thing here is that they should be 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’s up to you, but definitely be prepared to spend a teeny bit more to get significantly higher quality. My favorites are these (not too expensive, but good quality). On the flipside, 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. (But if you can swing it, go designer.)

For years and years I wore cheap sunglasses —  BP at Nordstrom makes really great affordable alternatives to designer shades. However, if you can, especially with tortoise and cat eye styles, opt for a well-made designer pair. 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 timepiece is everything. You can get Nixons for around the $100 range and I fully believe they’re the best quality and style for the money. I also really like Michael Kors (will run $150-$300), and I just indulged in my very first Michelle, which I absolutely love. If you want to save money, always go pre-owned!

KEY PIECE #47: BROOCH

Save or splurge? Go cheap or go full-out. Anything in between is a waste, IMO.

I’ve been collecting vintage Chanel brooches since I was 20 and they are my pride and joy. If you can’t swing Chanel, find a brand that speaks to you and looks sleek. Once again, go pre-owned!

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

Save or splurge? Save!

Unless you find one that you absolutely must have, necklaces are a good piece to save on. There’s no shortage of 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 something really inexpensive. My favorites 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 (but personally, I always go for the inexpensive ones).

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

Save or splurge? Go for inexpensive, or go all-out on a cashmere blend

Like I said above, this is another one of those extremes — go bargain or high-end, but stay away from the in-between! BP has some great inexpensive scarves, and H&M is not bad either. Nordstrom has some beautiful 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’s something 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)

 

xo,Brenna
  1. Rosamary Wrote:

    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 Wrote:

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

      xo,
      B

  2. Cammie Wrote:

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

    • Brenna Wrote:

      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 Wrote:

    DEFINITELY bookmarking this for when I start my internship!

    • Brenna Wrote:

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

      xo,
      B