7 Things To Know About +Size Capsule Wardrobes

by Mariah Carrillo

At this point, there's a lot of information out there about building a capsule wardrobe, but not necessarily about building a plus size capsule wardrobe. In the face of constantly cycling trends and disposable fast fashion, taking a step back and downsizing can be a healthy way to refresh your closet and your perspective. Since my own personal style is relatively minimalist, I decided recently to give the capsule approach a try, but was slightly discouraged to find that, despite all the information available on this subject, very little material existed that focused specifically on building a plus size capsule.

While many of the tenets of the capsule wardrobe are relatively universal — focusing on quality over quantity, only owning garments that you love, etc. — building a plus size capsule is slightly different in that many fat women like myself have historically had very limited options in the first place. It's one thing to pare down a bursting closet of straight size designer duds, and another entirely to put together a closet of intelligent, high-quality pieces in extended sizes.

With this in mind, I wanted to mention a few interesting things I learned during my own capsule process, both about building a functional plus size wardrobe, and about personal style in general. If you've been curious about trying a more pared down or uniform-based approach to dressing, but have been discouraged by the lack of plus-centered material on the subject, read on to discover what I learned while creating my own fat positive capsule collection.

1. You Might Come Across Some Feelings In Your Closet

While I knew from everything I read (and honestly, what I imagined) that cleaning out my wardrobe would be an emotional event, I didn't realize how deeply this process would stir up my feelings about fashion and my body.

As a fat girl, clothing has been an important indicator of how I've grown and developed in relation to self-love and body positivity. Learning to use fashion as a celebration of my body, instead of a way to hide or make myself acceptable to others, has been a long and fraught journey.

Going through every garment I owned brought so many memories, both good and bad, to the surface and helped me better understand my own stylistic trajectory, as well as deduce how far I've really come.

2. Minimalism Costs Money

While the capsule wardrobe is often touted as a way to save money or consume less, in reality, the minimalist philosophical underpinnings of this concept are often deeply embedded in privileged cultural assumptions about class. The language of "paring down" that pervades discussions of capsule wardrobes usually overlooks the fact that, for many people, living with less is a necessity, not an experiment. I was brought up without a lot of extra money to spend on clothing; for much of my childhood, my family shopped primarily at thrift stores because it was the only place we could afford to buy clothes.

When I gained weight in college, finding decent clothing on a budget became even more difficult. Although I still love the orderly cohesiveness of the capsule approach, I think it's important to be aware of the potentially problematic nature of contemporary "magazine minimalism" that treats making do with less as the latest trend.

3. You Don't Have To Fit A Particular "Look" To Build A Capsule

There are also a lot of stylistic assumptions that sometimes get made in relation to capsule wardrobes and/or uniform dressing. Many of the examples I see of clothing capsules equate the functional minimalism of this system with a similarly minimal aesthetic. I don't see many bohemian capsule wardrobes, for example. While there's a certain logic to building a limited wardrobe from versatile, neutral basics, you most definitely do not have to do so.

Plus size women often face additional pressure from society to play down their bodies with understated, neutral pieces, and you shouldn't feel like you have to build a whole wardrobe around this expectation. As long as you love a particular item of clothing, it can function as a wardrobe component or even a uniform. If your "uniform" happens to be a retro-inspired wiggle dress, go for it! There are no "must have" pieces when it comes to personal style; only you know what your wardrobe really needs.

4. Even "Investment Pieces" Can't Live Forever

One of the concepts that gets a lot of play in the capsule wardrobe world is the idea of "investment dressing" — the "less but better" philosophy. And while I love this idea, both for its focus on craftsmanship and environmental responsibility, it definitely has a few limitations. Clothing is prone to wear and tear, especially if you're wearing a few core pieces in heavy rotation.

My thighs, for example, love to eat pants. They wear through the inner fabric of even high-end jeans and trousers like nobody's business, and while I want to buy quality pieces that will last as long as possible, I'm also not going to throw down a huge stack of cash on an item I know likely has a limited lifespan. That doesn't mean I skimp on myself; I still want to love my clothes! But I have a realistic understanding of what I can honestly expect from my wardrobe investments.

5. Treating Yourself Can Be Incredibly Healing

Although "investment dressing" as a concept has its problems, I have to admit that buying quality, beautiful pieces for myself as part of my capsule wardrobe has been extremely meaningful. For years, I avoided spending too much money on clothing; I told myself it was because I was young and poor, and that was partially true, but underneath the surface, I was also afraid to invest in a fat body.

I kept holding myself back, thinking, "What if I lose weight? Then this gorgeous dress won't even matter." I was too busy imagining a perfect, thinner future for myself to take care of the body I have now. When I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a pricey, knee-high pair of leather boots last fall, I was shocked at how strongly it affected my feelings about my body for the better. Treasuring myself, treating my body as if it is inherently worthy of the best, helped heal a part of me that had been neglected for a long time.

6. Plus Size Fashion Brands Are Really Starting To Step It Up

While there's always room for improvement, I've been really happy lately about my ability to find amazing designs in a range of different styles from plus size brands. Larger retailers like Lane Bryant, Addition Elle, and Target are upping the engagement and intentionality of their plus offerings, and independent lines line Universal Standard (pictured above), ELOQUII, Zelie For She, Jibri, and Carmakoma (to name just a few) are creating well-made, fashion-forward designs that would look great in any wardrobe.

For the last few years, I've been working on a graduate degree, and money has been really tight, so I've mostly stuck to plus size fast fashion lines, which allowed me a certain amount of room for experimentation, but also usually left me disappointed in terms of fit and longevity. Now that I'm working full time, I want stylish, high-quality pieces I can easily wear from work to play. Creating a capsule wardrobe has forced me to hone my stylistic vision, and I'm super excited to find new brands with designs that can keep up with my closet's needs.

7. There's No Room For Anyone's Taste But Your Own

When I started the capsule process, I was a little bit scattered in my approach to fashion. I had a few basics I wore almost every day, as well as an array of random, trendy pieces I had seen my favorite bloggers wear online that didn't really work well together. Forcing myself to really assess my current wardrobe allowed me to see my own aesthetic preferences more clearly, and purge items that, while lovely, didn't work with my specific style.

For example, I almost never wear heels. They're uncomfortable, and for my current job, highly impractical. While I own some truly gorgeous sky-high shoes, I'm realizing that they're just taking up space in my closet, not adding anything meaningful to my life. It's time to purchase some cute, sporty flats and get on with my life. When your wardrobe is honed to such a fine point, there's no room for items you don't love but think you "should" wear.

Even if I end up expanding my wardrobe beyond the limited dimensions of a capsule in the future, I appreciate the opportunity this experiment has given me to focus on what I want to get out of fashion, and I'm hoping to keep my closet to this thoughtful, curated standard indefinitely.

If you're interested in trying out the capsule wardrobe approach, remember you don't have to pare down your closet to some magic number of items or start dressing like a minimalist. Just use it as an opportunity to focus on how you really want to feel when you get dressed every day. Once you discover what works best for your unique life and style, letting go of the rest is easy.

Images: Pixabay (1); Igor Ovsyannykov, Alexandru Zdrobău, Francis Duval, London Scout, Allyson Johnson/Unsplash, Mariah Carrillo (1); Courtesy Brands