Principal Life Hack: Build a Capsule Wardrobe

Simplify your wardrobe, so you can focus on big decisions.

If there was ever a case for simplifying your wardrobe, it’s this: fewer decisions to make. One of the major challenges of being a school leader is grappling with decision fatigue. You make hundreds of decisions—big and small—every day. If you are like me, you know that the decision making starts as soon as you wake up. Why not minimize decision making about what you wear by creating a capsule wardrobe?

Disclaimer: In many ways men have more of a uniform or capsule clothing system already. This piece is about women’s clothing because there are just too many choices out there for professional women.

What is it, again?

A capsule wardrobe is an intentionally curated and downsized version of what you already own. It does not involve buying a completely new wardrobe. Instead, a capsule invites you to think about your clothes as interchangeable pieces that complement one another. When I embarked on making my own capsule, my biggest inspirations came from The Blissful Mind and Wardrobe Oxygen. Both of these bloggers share my love of simple basics and a polished look, and both taught me that confidence is key.

To create a capsule, decide how many pieces you want to work with and store the rest. You will be amazed at how efficient this system is and how much time you will save in the morning! Over time, you can easily create a work capsule for all seasons. Downsizing your wardrobe will also give you a clear vision of which types of clothes you actually need. I immediately realized that I don’t need another mint green sweater or another pair of wide-legged black pants.

You need to look good and feel confident.

Here’s the thing about a principal’s capsule: Your clothes need to be professional; yet, you also need a range of options, from suits for board meetings to a dress-down look for a Saturday night basketball game. On top of that, you have to balance your own sense of style with the role you fulfill in your community. Personally, I find that I am uninterested in cultivating and maintaining a traditional, authoritative look. My approach is friendly, collegial, and personable, and I don’t want my clothes to get in the way of making important connections.

On the flip side, I’ve also been told that I can look and present as youthful, which can feel awkward, especially when I’m interacting with parents. Because of this, I avoid trends. When I’m choosing clothes for the day, I’m trying to balance all of this with what is actually in my closet. With this in mind, I shaped my capsule around easy pieces that give me confidence in every situation.

Start by shopping your closet.

The first step in creating a capsule wardrobe is to remove anything from your closet that you have not worn in the past month. Remove items that do not fit or that are not in season. Aim to keep between 19 and 21 items. Though there’s no magic number, remember that less is more and fewer choices will mean easier decisions. Above all, choose pieces that make you feel confident, and then choose pieces that you love. I built my capsule around the following items:

  • 2 dresses
  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 2 skirts
  • 2-3 sweaters
  • 2-3 blouses
  • 3 jackets
  • 1 vest
  • 2 scarves
  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • Tights, as needed

Simplify.

First, create a base of neutrals and keep in mind that red and metallics count as neutral colors! As you choose your base neutrals, keep in mind that you want a variety of textures. Opt for seasonally appropriate materials. For instance, in late winter, I go with wool, velvet, and double knits. In my closet, I also created a side that is just for work clothes, which helps me make decisions quickly. Below, I have created a sample version of my capsule wardrobe.

Here is how I would create a weeks’ worth of clothing from this capsule. It’s easy to imagine how you can mix and match these to create completely new outfits!

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

You can easily see how using a base of neutrals can create even more combinations. In my closet, my black and red dresses are workhorses. Frankly, I would wear a black dress every day and no one would notice. I layer my dresses with wool or velvet textured jackets or vests to elevate the look. I like to keep my clothes very simple, and I use scarves, jackets, and jewelry to add color. My challenge came when I had to downsize my shoes. I am a shoe lover of the first degree, but even I can agree that I wear the same shoes again and again. Since I live in a cold climate, I will likely keep this capsule until April. Here’s the hidden bonus: When you unpack your next capsule, it’s like getting a whole new wardrobe!

Do you have a capsule wardrobe? What thoughts do you have about creating one? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Anne Rubin

Posted by Anne Rubin

Anne Gomez Rubin has been a dean and teacher in Minneapolis, MN, since 2016. She tweets about education, intersectional feminism, and tacos on Twitter at @annegrubin .

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