Building and personalising your capsule

Here’s a possible basic group of co-ordinates : the whole ‘cheat sheet for getting dressed’ from Eileen Fisher’s Personal Shopper section for November to February 2011.


My previous post suggested patterns for these.

How could you build up to having a group of clothes like this ? (apart from making the whole thing rapidly in one Stitchers Guild SWAP 😀 ).
And how can you adapt it for yourself if this is not right for you ?

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Building from season to season

If you’re just beginning to build a wardrobe of co-ordinates, you might start with the four items from Eileen Fisher’s early summer ‘system’ from last year (jacket, top, skirt, pants).

At the moment, Eileen Fisher’s Personal Shopper section has a simple ’Essentials’ group of 7 items. These could be basics for all seasons :
– tops : 1 camisole top, 1 cap sleeved top, 2 long sleeved tops.
– bottoms : 1 leggings, 2 pants,

If you’ve already got the skirts, pants and sleeveless tops from previous groupings, then all you need to add are some (flared) long sleeved tops, and a warmer (banded collar) jacket. See my previous post for pattern suggestions.

Louise Cutting in ‘Cutting through the clutter’ (in Booklets section) suggests a similar starter ‘weekend wardrobe’ of 7 items :
1 jacket,
2 short sleeved tops,
2 long sleeved tops,
2 pants.
For her ‘basic wardrobe’ she expands the 7 to 11 items by adding :
another jacket,
1 sleeveless top,
2 skirts.
Once you’ve got the basics, she suggests changing the fabrics to have clothes that look professional, dressy, or casual, suitable for travel or your climate.

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How many items do you need for your minimum wardrobe ?

To extend the wardrobe building idea, there’s Elizabeth’s plan of making 6 items each season. This builds up to a wardrobe of 24 items which co-ordinate throughout the year. This scheme is used in seasonal sewalongs at Stitchers Guild.

Or go in the other direction and minimise the number of clothes. There are several ideas for using only 6 garments. Lisette is choosing from the same 6 items every day for 30 days. Her 6 items are : tee, shirt, cardi, pants, jeggings, dress. Or here’s a shopper’s diet idea that consists of : jacket, 2 shirts, tee, pants, jeans. It seems you’re allowed an infinite number of accessories, which does make it easier to produce different looks 😀

This idea could make you focus on multi-purpose garments. In her book “Sewing a Travel Wardrobe”, Kate Mathews describes a reversible top which can be worn inside out and back to front – and is made of 4 clearly different fabrics.

I think the economic issues are a bit more complex than ‘owning only 6 items will save the world’. Modern economies depend on people buying things they don’t need. But it’s an interesting exercise. If you were only allowed to dress from 6 items (not counting under- and outer-wear), which clothes would you choose?

And would 6 be the right number for you ? In winter I wear several layers together. I can imagine a month in mid-winter when I would wear all 6 items every day, just to keep warm. I don’t think that’s what’s intended with this idea 😀 You’re supposed to arrange things so people don’t notice you’re wearing the same things repeatedly.

Perhaps 10 or 12 items would be a better minimum for me. Early in my blogging I wrote about a tunic wardrobe and decided I need at least 10 items, 2 each of pants, shirt, thin sweater, thicker layer, vest. Then there’s my take on the Sewing Workshop layering wardrobe, which gets up to 8 items without duplicating function, 16 if you have two of each.

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Start with simple basics

Eileen Fisher uses very simple shapes, but her clothes are luxurious because of the quality fabrics. (I’m assuming of course that we all do quality workmanship so I don’t need to mention it 😀 ) And there are many ways of making the same styles look different by using different fabrics, see my post on Kate Mathews’ wardrobe plans.

This approach to dressing uses simple basic shapes for bottoms and first layer tops. It’s the added over-layers which have more variety. In the Eileen Fisher capsules the jackets change the most each season. Of course the tops and bottoms are renewed in fabrics and details, but there’s not much change in the overall shape.

Though it is a mistake to think a basic shell top must necessarily be boring. Have a look at Shirley Adams Alternatives 500 series pattern 501, which includes nearly 30 ways of varying a shell by adding embellishments and seams. There are many other changes in another pattern, using different neckline shapes, collars, dart alterations, and wraps.

Alternatives pattern 501

I talked a bit about using a small group of basic patterns to build a co-ordinated wardrobe, in my post on reducing the number of garment shapes.

Although the jackets in the Eileen Fisher capsules do change in style each season, the previous season’s styles are current classics and not outdated. You can certainly continue to wear the cascade styles from Eileen Fisher’s early Summer 2010 capsule.

WordPress recently told me what was most active in my blog during 2010. There’s that Butterick 5472 wardrobe with the cascade jacket I suggested for copying Eileen Fisher’s version. Out of all the patterns I’ve given links to, this is the pattern that the most people wanted to know more about.


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Your own needs

The more serious question is : does the Eileen Fisher capsule suit your needs ? your body shape, your lifestyle, your personal style ?

Simplify the EF capsule to :
1 jacket
2 long sleeved tops
3 sleeveless tops
3 pants or leggings
3 skirts.

What about the general types and numbers of each item ?
Not much good for people who like dresses or jumper dresses.
And I would have no use for so many skirts, while some people rarely wear pants.
I’d like some vests instead, for more warmth ! (and for the same reason I rarely need a sleeveless top).
People who need power dressing may prefer more jackets rather than tunic tops.

What about the style elements of each item ?
I use shirt-blouses for my first layer rather than sleeveless tops (there are a couple of soft shirts on the main Eileen Fisher site).
And I haven’t got the legs to look good in skin-tight pants and short skirts.
Also in winter I want a jacket that fastens up to the neck, for warmth.
Many people would not feel happy in the generally longer styles.
People with waists might prefer their tops and jackets more fitted.
People who are larger above the waist than below may not look good in flared styles.
As I have a pear body shape, I need a bit of flare. But I need to be careful with styles which use flare as a style element, as I really need upper body emphasis.
Power dressing is easiest with a more structured jacket (though at work I used the highest quality to achieve a power effect with an unstructured style).
And many people like more structured styles anyway.

There are two interesting strands at Stitchers Guild which show what different ideas people have about their ideal minimum garments :
Your tried n true patterns, and why
What constitutes a classic wardrobe

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Your own style

What’s the core style for your most basic most useful wardrobe items ?
Perhaps the last thing you enjoy wearing is plain tees, skirts and pants without any added style elements 😀 If you rarely wear jackets or added layers, you’ll want some of your tops and bottoms to be ‘statement pieces’.

It’s certainly much easier to follow someone else’s capsule suggestion. If you’d like a similar group of co-ordinates though not Eileen Fisher styles, you have to find a way to cut down on the almost infinite possibilities.

It’s an advantage of using independent patterns. The Big 4 try to cater for all tastes, which some people find confusing. It’s simpler to choose one pattern you really like, from an independent. Then pick the rest of the pattern group from the same designer. They’re likely to be in the same style. Choose patterns with potential for easy changes to sleeve and body length and neckline/ collar. I’ve already talked about some sources of independent patterns, both well established and more recent.

If you don’t want to work your way through all the companies individually, start from a retailer who lists patterns by type of garment. Here are some sources for jackets :
The Sewing Place (230 jacket patterns ! And they don’t even sell the Big 4.)
Nancy’s Notions
Craft Connection

Find a pattern you like. Get the pattern company name from the pattern envelope photo, and search for them so you can see their whole pattern line. Most pattern companies sell their patterns on-line now.

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Some of us would find it a relaxing relief to have a wardrobe devised for us. The Big4 pattern companies suggest wardrobe patterns. Most style books include wardrobe plans. For me they give pleasure and food for thought, though I’ve never wanted to follow one of them exactly. But by thinking how to change them so they suit me better, I learn about my own needs and likes.

There are also many ideas for building a wardrobe of co-ordinates. The simplest is Endless Combinations. Just check that everything you make or buy goes with at least 2 items you already have, love wearing and find flattering.

Despite knowing their limitations, I haven’t been able to resist suggesting several capsules with different styles. This all went on too long so that has become a separate post. . .

Good Fortune for your own choices, about how many clothes you have, as well as what styles, colours, and shapes they are 😀

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Patterns and links available January 2011

Explore posts in the same categories: personal style, wardrobe planning

2 Comments on “Building and personalising your capsule”

  1. bluemooney Says:

    Madame Plums, I am really enjoying your blog. Endless combinations sound like the best approach for those of us that don’t want to adhere to a plan. That’s the way I’ll be approaching my CLD wardrobette.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Robyn. “Madame Plums” makes me hold my head high 😀
      I enjoyed your blog post on light-dark in flattering outfits.
      I personally wear monochrome light at best.
      And in practice I usually wear oversized dark tops with light bottoms – even worse than your D !
      Hmm. . . definitely food for a re-think.

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