How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe with Margaret Kelley

My friend Margaret is the quintessential All-American girl. She has an enviable, fresh, preppy look and over the holidays, I kept finding myself asking her about different outfits and clothing she was wearing. She seemed effortlessly polished and relaxed all the time, which is strange for someone with three kids. I was dying to know her wardrobe secret, and luckily for us, she was willing to share. 

All about Margaret's life-changing switch to having a capsule wardrobe, after the jump!

Tell me a bit about yourself and your lifestyle. 

I stay home with our three children: One boy (Edgar, six years) and two girls (Gweneth and Pauline, four years and two years). We live in a walkable town near a ravine and a beach, and we spend a lot of time outdoors, even in the dreary Chicago winter. The children discovered ice skating this past month, much to our collective delight, and we've been packing up our enormous L.L. Bean tote whenever the local skating pond is open to skate around, chase hockey pucks, and try to convince Pauline to keep her mittens on. The children all attend a Montessori school, and while they are occupied every morning I read and exercise as much as I can--for my own sanity! Novels are my great love, followed by running, yoga, and riding my grandmother's quarter horse. It's a very (literally) messy existence that requires a lot of costume changes, durable clothes, and flexibility (figurative and otherwise).

Why did you put together a capsule wardrobe? 

I think that truly what brought me to the capsule wardrobe was a kind of desperation. I'm a person who likes control, organization, predictability, time for reflection, time for rest... And my third pregnancy threw every bit of that out of the window. I have never been so tired or craved peace so deeply. At a time when everything felt like too much in every sense of the phrase, I yearned for something I could control, and for something that would carve even just a few minutes out of a frenetic existence. I stumbled across Caroline Rector's blog and I was drawn to her fresh and simple style, and minimalist attitude. It showed me a look that really felt like ME, almost more than at least half of my existing wardrobe did, and at the same time it promised a more pleasant clothing experience. How could I refuse?

When and how did you put together your capsule wardrobe? 

Two months after Pauline (#3) arrived, I was no longer imminently post-partum but I decidedly did not fit into most of my pre-pregnancy clothes. There wasn't much in my closet I felt good about. I determined that I had nothing to lose by simply moving out the clothes that did not look or feel good on me. I hung up only the clothes that felt right and looked right to me, so that when I looked in the closet, I saw only clothes that I actually wanted to wear! It was a game changer. Getting dressed suddenly became so much easier.

The next step was reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Once I started it, I couldn't stop. I decimated my closet-- sending bags and bags home with our housekeeper or to the church. And once my closet felt pared down to the items that "sparked joy" I was ready for a real capsule wardrobe. I had spent too much time standing in my closet, unsure of what to wear, while I heard my children screaming downstairs and my husband attempting to referee while the baby cried for a morning feeding. Everyone promised it was so much easier to get dressed with a capsule wardrobe; I knew it was the time to try it.

What pieces comprise your capsule wardrobe?

I did not include my layering shirts in the capsule-- grey and black long sleeved crew and turtleneck pimas from Everlane. Also, Chicago requires so many coats that I opted not to include them officially in my capsule. I just try to have a limited supply for each season. Other than that, my pieces are as follows:

Three pairs of jeans: One Madewell dark skinny, one medium shade Madewell skinny, and one light Levi 501's

Three pairs of ponte pants: High waisted ponte pants from Brass, and then a black pair and a grey pair of the J. Crew Pixie pant. Finally, one pair of off-white skinny corduroys from Banana Republic.

Three dresses: One black raw silk t-shirt style dress from Elizabeth Suzann, one grey sweater dress from Brass, and one printed jumper style dress from Ace and Jig that I layer under and over.

Six button downs: One cream silk-style, one black silk-style, and one dark chambray from Brass; one white button down from Cloth and Stone; one light chambray and one red and blue buffalo check from J. Crew. 

Four cardigans: One light grey oversized from Everlane, one oatmeal sweater coat from Brooks Brothers, one oversized black and white shawl style from Aritzia, and one open charcoal with ruffles along the edges.

Eight sweaters: Royal blue, black, and pink/beige crew neck cashmere from Everlane; red crop mockneck from Everlane; dark oatmeal tunic cashmere from Everlane; Navy turtleneck square crop from Everlane; oatmeal cable knit from Brooks Brothers.

How has your life changed for the better since doing the capsule wardrobe?

Where. Do. I. Even. Start.

Basically, it used to take me a long time to decide what to wear each morning, and the more time that passed, the more panicky I got about what I had chosen. Inevitably, I would end up regretting my choice, and change it later in the day for some reason-- not comfortable enough, not appropriate for the weather, not appropriate for the variety of activities I had to choose from. I found myself wearing clothes I wasn't excited about for any reason, except that they were new. I did a lot of on-line shopping and bought items that I wore a few times, or just for one season, and then retired.

Since the capsule, getting dressed (9 days out of 10) is effortless. I like all of my options for their style, wearability, comfort, and versatility. I happily wear the same outfit two days in a row, and sometimes even 3 times in a week. And the really amazing thing is that even with FEWER options to choose from, and MORE outfit repeats, I actually get more compliments on my wardrobe now! My husband is in design work, and he has said that constraint breeds creativity. I have found this to be astoundingly true. The fewer the items I have in my closet, the more creative I am in how I put outfits together, and the more I enjoy the results.

I definitely still enjoy shopping, and I go through phases where I buy more things than I wish I had. I have experimented with hard and fast rules about not acquiring during capsules, but it's just hard for me to follow them! However, the capsule has made me probably a hundred times more thoughtful about what I do purchase. I'm more likely to think a lot before buying something, I choose higher quality items, I am more likely to return something I don't love, and I work hard to learn from my shopping urges, as well as the "mistakes" I make when I really regret a purchase.

Mindfulness has been my goal for 2017, and the capsule wardrobe has allowed me to apply this idea to my wardrobe and my style. I am more likely now to ask WHY I want to buy something in a specific moment, and then try to address the real desire, rather than the quick fix. Do I still fall for quick fixes? YES. But less so. And that is something I am proud of.

Do you recommend a capsule wardrobe to others? Will you keep doing it? 

I highly recommend it to anyone who feels drawn to it. There's probably a reason it is calling to you, and the upside is so so up. You can always just put your other clothes away and try it for a week or a month or a season or a year, and then just change your mind if you hate it. What do you have to lose? A little time, maybe. I've learned more about myself and my style and clothes in general than I ever expected, and I've ENJOYED my clothes so much more than I ever have before. I'm not sure I'll ever go fully back. It's hard to know what the future holds, or exactly how I will capsule in years to come, but the daily experience of having a minimalist wardrobe is so great, that I can't imagine ever allowing the pendulum to swing back.


Thank you so much, Margaret! I don't know about those of you reading, but I feel like my wardrobe needs a total overhaul and I want to move toward the maxim of living better with less, and one's closet seems a great place to start. Do you already have a capsule wardrobe? Would you try it? Why or why not? Please share in the comments below. xo


  1. Yes! I found myself unintentionally creating a capsule wardrobe of sorts as the result of 4 moves on the heels of having had my second baby. Suddenly all these things I had been waiting to like again seemed superfluous and I purged mercilessly. Since then I read an article about a gal who wore a uniform and I thought that sounded right up my alley. Now I basically only buy black, gray or blue clothes to keep it simple!


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