It seems that after having children the name of the game is simplify. Simplify the things in your home, simplify your spending, simplify your to-do lists and for some, simplify your wardrobe. This is all in the name of living more efficiently so you still have time and control over the things in your life that make you, you. For me, that is style for obvious reasons so when Sara pitched us the idea of a capsule wardrobe, we were all ears. How can I make my closet work for me rather than having an anxiety attack every time I have to leave the house? It starts by keeping only the pieces you love. Sara shares her experience with her first capsule wardrobe and answers all our questions below.
By Sara Beukema
It’s amazing the seemingly endless questions that suddenly consume all your waking thoughts in those early days of motherhood. Is my baby eating enough? How do you treat cradle cap? Did we choose the right daycare? How am I going to go back to work? And when I do, what in the world am I going to wear?
Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I wasted in that first year standing in my closet searching for answers among the mix of ill-fitting pre-pregnancy clothes and blatantly ruched maternity wear. I packed on forty pounds during my pregnancy, which was a lot for my small frame to carry and far surpassed even my previous peak college weight. I loved being a mom, but felt completely at odds with my new body.
While nearly half the weight came off within the first month of delivering and another ten somewhere between returning to work from maternity leave and stopping breastfeeding a mere month later, the last ten pounds weren’t going anywhere fast. I started spending a lot of time obsessing over the contents of my closet – simultaneously beating myself up for continuing to wear maternity jeans well into my sixth month postpartum and impulse shopping in an effort to raise my spirits.
When we moved from Austin to Dallas that spring for work, the entirety of my dysfunctional closet came with us. It took nearly a year for me to finally get back to my pre-pregnancy weight and I was disappointed to find that even then, most of my clothing just didn’t fit the way it had previously. I had a closet that was overflowing and “nothing to wear.” Working in fashion for the first time, I was also struggling to feel stylish and professional for my new job. Getting dressed had become stressful and overwhelming, and I knew I couldn’t afford the time and mental anguish I was going through every morning before work.
Shortly before our daughter’s first birthday, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While I can’t say that I became a KonMari convert, it undoubtedly inspired the Great Closet Purge of 2014. I went through and took serious inventory of all my stuff. And there was a LOT of stuff. When all was said and done, I had well over ten bags of discards and had cut my closet down by about half. I felt liberated.
Pairing things down was a great start, but I was surprised to find that I still felt lackluster about my wardrobe and my self-esteem continued to suffer by proxy. It wasn’t until I discovered capsule wardrobes that I finally developed my true sense of style, and ultimately learned to love my post-baby body.
So what is a capsule wardrobe? How did you get started?
I was searching for yet more outfit inspiration on Pinterest one evening and stumbled across this introduction to capsule wardrobes on Un-Fancy. The concept is fairly simple – a capsule wardrobe is a seasonal mini-wardrobe with a set number of tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear and shoes. Some promised benefits include saving money by avoiding impulse purchases, saving time and energy getting dressed, and cultivating your personal style. Basically it was everything I didn’t even know I was looking for.
I immediately resonated with the less is more approach – after all, I had just radically reduced my closet. The thing that really sold me though was the idea that your closet should be made up solely of pieces you LOVE. It was a total aha moment. I mean, seriously, shouldn’t that be the case? But in reality, even after my closet overhaul I still had a lot of items that I felt lukewarm about.
Since I had already done a lot of the initial legwork paring things down, I pulled out what was left of my wardrobe and identified my LOVE pieces as well as seasonally appropriate items. Anything that didn’t fall into one of those two categories I shoved into the back of our daughter’s closet so they were out of sight and mind for the season. Using the Un-Fancy model as a guide, I aimed for thirty-seven pieces total, including shoes, for my first capsule. In the end, I came in right under thirty. I was left with three pairs of jeans, a pair of black pants, a pair of green khakis, one black dress, four t-shirts, three long sleeved tees, two blouses, four button down shirts, three sweaters, two jackets, a coat, two pairs of booties, a pair of flats and a pair of sneakers.
Was it hard to part with your clothing? What about sentimental items?
Honestly, by the time I finally cleaned out my closet, I was so over the stress and chaos that it wasn’t as hard as you might think. And in all fairness, there were quite a few items that I should have gotten rid of well before the point I did (like my “skinny” clothing that hadn’t fit even before I got pregnant). The hardest, yet most logical, items to part with were my shoes – my feet grew a half size during my pregnancy and the majority of my shoes were too small afterwards. There were several pairs I loved and others I had barely worn, but it seemed crazy to hold onto shoes that clearly were never going to fit again.
Once I had everything that I was getting rid of lying on the bed, it was hard not to think about how much money I had spent over the years on stuff. The thought made me a little nauseous. Fortunately, my younger sister and I are fairly close in size and she was more than happy to take the majority of the better pieces off my hands. It was nice to know that my favorite jeans and cutest dresses were going to a good home.
After I started doing capsule wardrobes, storing items out of sight that I wasn’t sure I wanted to get rid of became a great litmus test for whether or not I actually wanted to keep them long term. More often than not, those pieces eventually end up going to Goodwill as well.
Do you ever find it too restrictive? What about shopping?
Occasionally I wonder if anyone notices how often I repeat my outfits or worry that my wardrobe might be perceived as boring, but I haven’t actually missed anything I cut from my closet. And even though I have fewer choices than I did previously, now that my closet is made up of items I truly love, I feel more content with the options I do have and, as a result, generally feel less need to shop.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that I still want or that I never shop, but now I’m much more purposeful with my purchases. I have a running list of items that I’d like to add to my wardrobe and prioritize what I buy (or don’t as the case might be). Last fall, we bought our first home, so I actually made a point not to buy any new clothes or shoes for myself all season since I knew that we would be spending money elsewhere. Since I’ve been wearing a lot of the same clothes for several seasons now, I’m reaching the point that I need to replace some of the more basic items, so recently I’ve been trying to take advantage of summer sales to purchase a few key pieces like a new pair of skinny jeans and a pair of black flats.
As a working mom, what does a capsule wardrobe look like for you?
It depends on the season obviously, but most of my wardrobe structure is fairly similar to my original capsule. I feel most confident wearing jeans, so it’s fortunate that my office has a casual dress code. I currently have three pairs of jeans (dark skinny jeans, black skinny jeans and boyfriend jeans) and those are the foundation for about eighty percent of my outfits. For work, I’ll pair them with a blouse and maybe a pair of heels and on the weekends with a tee and sneakers or sandals.
Since it’s about a million degrees in Texas currently, I’ve mostly been alternating between a pair of cut offs and some green chino shorts on the weekends at the moment; and occasionally a sundress or midi skirt if I’m going out. I also just added a midi length t-shirt dress to my wardrobe and can tell it’s going to be a new favorite. It’s cute enough to polished, easy to throw on, feels like I’m wearing pajamas, long enough that I can sit on the floor to play with my daughter and should be great for layering come fall. It’s the clothing equivalent to a Swiss Army knife.
How many capsules have you made at this point? Do you still use capsule wardrobes?
I made my first capsule wardrobe in October of 2014, and created one for every season the following year. By last fall, I stopped planning out capsules in the way I had in the past, although I still rearrange my closet when the weather starts to change so my seasonal clothing is handy and organized.
I’ve actually adopted the capsule wardrobe mentality to shop for our daughter as well. At nearly three years old, she still outgrows most of her clothes by the following season. Instead of buying one or two items for her at a time like I was previously (and overbuying as a result), I now try to map out everything I think she needs for the season and buy it all at once. This approach has also helped me create outfits that easily mix and match – something I’ve found to be especially useful since toddlers often require (multiple) costume changes during the day.
Aside from making it easier to get dressed in the mornings, are there any other benefits you’ve found by doing this?
I personally found the capsule wardrobe experience to live up to all its promises and then some. Breaking my shopping habit was huge, as was removing the clothing drama from my morning routine. But by far the best benefit was what it did for my confidence. I’ve become more mindful of what clothing and cuts work best for my body – high waisted jeans, scoop neck tops, structured dresses. I also discovered what colors make me feel my best (and what colors don’t), so now I can easily rule out clothing that doesn’t suit me. For the first time ever I feel like I really understand and own my style. It’s exciting!
So how did it help with your post-baby body image?
My pre-pregnancy clothing was affecting more than just my closet; it was clouding my judgment, too. Getting rid of those clothes gave me much needed clarity. Once I stopped holding on to this idea of what I thought my body should be and accepted my body for what it was, I was finally able to appreciate it again.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in making a capsule wardrobe?
DO IT! Seriously, I cannot sing its praises enough. If you are interested, but not sure where to start, Pinterest is hands down my favorite resource to kick-start any project. I’m extremely visual and love how easy it is to quickly sort through blog posts and images to find ones that resonate with me. Since capsule wardrobes have really taken off in the past few years, there is no shortage of inspiration to choose from. It is also really helpful to download a wardrobe planner like this or this. I didn’t try to sell any of my clothes at the time, but I think that could also make the process less painful if you have pieces you can’t imagine donating, but don’t necessarily want to keep. And you could use the extra cash towards future (well planned out) purchases!
And to a new mom who might be struggling to love her body?
Try to be patient, give yourself grace and remember that your worth is in no way tied to a number on a scale or the contents of your closet. You are your own worst critic. It’s something I continue to work on and remind myself of when I start getting down on myself for something trivial. I look back at photos from that first year as a mom that I remember picking apart for one reason or another – my face was too round, my thighs were too big – but it’s amazing what time can do to change your perspective. Now I see them and think, wow, look how young I look! My baby was so tiny! I look so tired, and happy and clueless – look how far I’ve come!
The truth of the matter is that my body is never going to be the same as it was before having my daughter and that’s ok – I’m not the same person I used to be either. Motherhood has made me stronger in so many ways. I mean, I made a human with my body and have managed to keep her alive for almost three years! That’s a big deal and totally worth celebrating. I’m worth celebrating. And you are too. We are all works in progress, and it does get better from here.
Sara lives in Dallas with her husband, Michael, and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Madeline. She is an Art Director for Fossil Group’s luxury brands. Follow Sara on Pinterest, Instagram and her website for more inspiration.
Featured image via Harper’s Bazaar