Why a capsule wardrobe won’t work for me

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the 100 pieces challenge that I’m trying to do here in Cambodia. For the duration of my volunteer placement, I’m going to live only on the clothes I brought here. Should I need to buy new clothes, I would have to give up ten pieces for each new piece bought.

It is easier said than done. Not because I couldn’t keep myself from shopping. A life of a volunteer does not allow for impulsive shopping, and even if it does, I think I have overcome that phase long ago in my life. However, when I went home for a short holiday to the Philippines last week, my sister gave me nine nice tops that were just sitting sadly in her walk-in closet. And who am I to say no? It’s not as if I bought them, and I gladly tried each one and they fit perfectly so I happily stuffed them in my hand carry bag.

From my old clothes, I also brought two jackets, one long sleeved top and a pair of cropped pants because it is starting to be cold in Mondulkiri. This means that while I came here with 122 pieces of clothes and hoping to end up with 100 without buying any new piece of clothing, I actually have 135 pieces now. As I said it’s important to know the numbers, I am an M&E practitioner after all.

My sister’s generosity is just one of the reasons why a capsule wardrobe won’t work for me. If you don’t know what a capsule wardrobe is, let me share this with you:

“The term capsule wardrobe was coined in the 1970s by Susie Faux. The idea is to intentionally keep a small wardrobe with only mix and match clothing in an attempt to combat consumerism and exude personal style.”

A capsule wardrobe is usually a 37-piece mix-match set of clothes that one wears for a season (three months!) without buying anything in between. Here are some more links you can visit to learn more:

A few years ago, when I first learned about it, I honestly thought it was a fad, but it has been catching up and a lot more people are ‘buying’ into it. But sadly, not me. I admire people who can live on a capsule wardrobe, and I’ve got nothing against it. I just think it is not for me. So back to why I can’t have a capsule wardrobe, let me count the ways:

  1. I accept hand-me-downs from my sister. And as I do I cannot limit myself to 37 pieces of clothing, maybe 73 pieces would work, but just maybe. When I feel that I have too much, I just give my other clothes away, like I did for the Balagon Cultural Creatives Tao-Tao Free Market, or if my clothes are too old to be given away, I simply retire them or re-purpose them as rags.
  2. I wash clothes weekly, or if I’m busy or travelling, bi-weekly. If you have a capsule wardrobe, you would have to wash your clothes more often, which I think is a waste of detergent, water, and precious time that I would rather spend in my bed in the warm company of my pillows and comforter.
  3. I wash clothes separately. I separate my dirty laundry by five colors: blacks, whites, blues, lights, and darks. No, I’m not obsessive compulsive. This is to protect clothes from discoloring each other and making them last longer. On an ordinary weekend, I wash at least two color batches, which makes me wash whites, for instance, only once and rarely twice in a month. Meaning if I have a capsule wardrobe I would immediately run out of clothes to wear.
  4. I press clothes weekly, sometime bi-weekly. As a climate activist, I have to walk the talk and conserve energy as much as I could. With a capsule wardrobe that requires frequent laundry, I would also have to press clothes more often. I do have a lot of clothes that don’t need to be pressed at all but I still need to iron a lot of clothes for office.
  5. I change my mind about what I wear. Yes, I have episodes wherein I’m all set to go out the door and suddenly change my mind and change my clothes. It doesn’t happen often. But it would be sad to have close to nothing to choose from if it does.
  6. I love variety. Although my clothes colors and styles are pretty basic, and although I have favorite clothes that I love wearing over and over till they are thread-bare, I also love variety and I want to be able to enjoy that. This is a very subdued way of expressing my creativity.
  7. It’s too tedious for me! Just thinking of selecting a set of wardrobe for every season already makes me feel tired. I’m glad my clothes are ok all year round. Life should be simple.
  8. Capsule wardrobes won’t work for Southeast Asian climate. A capsule wardrobe is designed for seasonal clothing, three months, and would have to be changed for the next season. But for Southeast Asians, the clothes we wear are year-round clothes. We do not need fall or winter clothes. What we wear for summer, we also wear for the rainy season, give or take a light jacket or scarf.

So how do I compensate for not being able to minimalize (there is no such word, but hey, just think I invented it. The word is actually minimize, but it seems not emphatic enough!) my wardrobe? For one, I hardly buy any brand new clothes. Most of my clothes are from thrift shops, hand-me-downs from my sister, and gifts. I currently only have seven pieces that I bought new, and the last one I got almost a year ago.

I also limit my shoes and bags. I love shoes and bags! There was a time when I bought shoes that matched my bags. But that was a long time ago. Now I only have one shoes-bag match, but I didn’t buy them to match. I just got lucky to find those shoes in a sale. Now I only have five pairs of shoes and five bags (this includes a huge shoulder bag, a backpack, a laptop bag,  an overnight bag, and my 30 kg luggage).

2017-05-01 12.33.43

I only have five pairs of shoes. Each for a different occasion. I wear the brown flats to the office. It’s my everyday pair. I’m thinking of buying another flat, maybe a black one, that I could switch with it now and then.

I don’t buy jewelry. After having twice experienced snatching of my necklace back in college, I just gave up on jewelry. What I wear now is a ten-year old watch from my sister, my seven-year old onyx bracelet from my brother, and baby earrings that no longer have matching lock but I just couldn’t give it up because I couldn’t find a similar studs.

2017-05-29 13.51.15-2

Don’t pity me. I’m perfectly ok with this. I still have the onyx stone that got loose from the bracelet. I would like to find similar stud earrings, but still can’t. Notice the different locks and the bend? I used it to pry my sim card from my phone! It is called maximum utilization. 🙂

I hardly accessorize. I only have one belt, one cap, one pair of shades, that’s it. I’m pretty much low-maintenance.

I encourage you to be mindful of what you buy and wear. Do you want to do a capsule wardrobe experiment? I have read that many who have tried it did not last long in sticking to a capsule wardrobe, but they learned a lot about not being a fashion victim, and not falling prey to consumerism and impulsive buying. They have also learned more about their personal style and those lessons are helpful in maintaining a more mindful lifestyle. So by all means do so, and let me know how it goes.

There are many ways to simplify your wardrobe. Some even resort to extreme minimalism, going beyond wardrobe to simplify every aspect of life. I only have respect for these people, how I wish I could do what they do. If you want to learn more about extreme minimalism, here are some links you can visit:

I’m a long way from achieving my 100 pieces challenge. But if there is an opportunity I would gladly hand down some pieces to those who would be glad to have them. And hey, I still have ten months to go.

As for minimizing other aspects of life, it is an on-going process. You can check some of my blog posts to know more about this journey:

Simplifying my diet:

As a climate communicator:

Do you have a similar journey? Care to share about it?


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