How to choose the best brands for your capsule wardrobe
A major perk of adopting the capsule wardrobe — i.e. a minimalist approach to curating your closet — is relying on certain tactics that save you time and effort.
One of those tactics is having a go-to list of brands for your capsule wardrobe that you know without a doubt work for your style, your body type, and your budget.
You also probably want to know that the brands you support align with any important ideals (such as environmental friendliness or giving back to the community) that you care deeply about.
This doesn't mean that you can't occasionally explore your favorite fashion blogs and style publications for inspiration.
It's just that you'll find it much more efficient to develop a strong relationship with a small tightly edited number of brands (or retailers) that you trust and respect.
Moreover, if you want to avoid the "needy object" phenomenon and prevent the possibility of impulse shopping, it's better to already know who you're going to turn to when you need to refresh your wardrobe.
This is all so you don't get confused, overwhelmed, or tempted by too many new and untested shops.
Before I get into the steps for choosing your brand I want to call out one big no no: falling into the "social proof" trap.
It's OK to consider a brand because your friends referred it to you, you read about it on a blog, or you saw your favorite celebrity endorsing it.
But consideration should not mean automatic intent to buy. This is not the time for jumping on the bandwagon and blindly going along with what everyone else is doing.
In order to craft a simple style you have to weed out all the noise, conduct your own research, and make your own decisions about which brands are going to work best for you.
Now on to what does matter. I’ve broken this into two parts: elements to consider and how to conduct research.
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ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER
There are five considerations for creating your go-to brand list.
Now, I could definitely add a few more things to this list but for purposes of this exercise I want you to focus on the issues that have a tendency to cause the most problems in the wardrobe.
When choosing a brand, especially for a capsule wardrobe or daily uniform, the first element to investigate is quality.
Read the brand’s website and seek quality assurance cues such as an overview of their fabrication and manufacturing techniques, a discussion on where their items are made, and whether they have a rich heritage or longstanding tradition in their category.
A brand that cares about quality will want to showcase it via beautiful lifestyle and product images, behind the scenes snapshots of their showroom and factories, interesting vignettes about how their fabric is sourced, their branding and packaging, etc.
Also, read any reviews you can find to get feedback from fellow customers.
Not all brands conform to the same sizing standards so know your body measurements (in inches or centimeters) before you go brand hunting. You can DIY (hundreds of articles come up if you google “how to take body measurements”) or go to your neighborhood tailor.
If you are shopping in-store then try on everything before buying if you aren’t familiar with how a brand fits you. When shopping online, navigate to the size guide (usually on the product pages or in the FAQs) to see how your measurements translate.
Many brands are also starting to enhance the buying experience with richer fit descriptions, better product images and video (so you can see how the item falls on the body), and tech solutions like True Fit which uses data to help customers find the perfect size.
“You get what you pay for” is an obvious rule of thumb when comparing opposite ends of the spectrum (like H&M vs. Acne Studios) but, as a former retail executive, I can tell you truthfully that price does not always translate to quality.
Let’s use a simple tiering system so you can get a sense of what I mean (and see where you fall out on the pricing spectrum):
Couture – Chanel ($2000+)
Luxury – Burberry ($500)
Affordable Luxury – Theory ($225)
Premium – J. Crew ($85)
Fast Fashion – Zara ($50)
Budget – Forever 21 ($10)
I recognize there may be different interpretations of this, and many brands have offerings in multiple tiers, but this should do for a rough assessment. The figures in parenthesis are my back of envelope averages for the price of a women’s button down shirt or blouse (at full retail).
Here’s my personal take on this:
I’ll get a staple piece (like a Trench Coat) from a Luxury brand because it’ll last forever, but can’t justify wearing Couture hanging out in coffee shops all day.
I believe Premium and Affordable Luxury brands offer the best cost-to-value and, at times, the quality differentiation between the two is hard to detect. So if you are forced to opt for a lower price item it won't necessarily mean a major decrease in quality.
I’ve purchased some items at Fast Fashion brands like Zara and Mango that I adore and that hold up quite well. The only catch is I have to search hard or limit myself to their special edition collections that are better crafted.
The shopping experience and quality of goods at budget brands are too poor for me to bother with. If budget restraints force you to shop here then always choose basics over trendy pieces and put more effort into caring for the items so they don't fall apart.
Once you establish your price range and the categories you fall into it'll take a bit of trial and error with fit and quality to nail your go-to list.
Because there is so much competition in the retail industry and a plethora of options, I have a zero tolerance personal policy for bad service. There is no reason to patron a brand that doesn’t exhibit A+ customer service.
The most important things to look for as it pertains to service are usually found in the FAQs.
In this section, search for things like: a free and easy return policy, fast affordable shipping and responsibility for defective or incorrect goods (if purchasing online), an effortless way to contact the brand (email, phone, or live chat with fast response times), etc.
Connecting with a brand on a higher level can help you narrow your list. Take some time to learn about their corporate policies, company culture, and reputation in the press, and see if they resonate with any of your personal ideals.
HOW TO RESEARCH
Start with what you already own.
A five-minute approach to doing this is to go to your closet, pull out 3-5 pieces that you absolutely love wearing, and jot down the brand names.
Add these brands to your consideration list and use them as a reference for the type of aesthetic that you are drawn to and the price point that you fall within.
In my opinion Pinterest is an excellent way to conduct brand research because of its strong visuals and popularity with lifestyle categories (fashion, travel, etc.). I actually use it more as a search engine than a social media channel and find it much more efficient than searching Google for brands.
I perform 3-4 word, highly descriptive searches (such as “minimal chic style”) and use the automatic suggestion boxes at the top of the feed to dive deeper. Then I just scroll through looking for beautiful images and following the links to any outfits that resonate.
As I mentioned, friends, bloggers, and even celebrities, can be a great source of ideas. The key is that their recommendations need to be properly vetted against the five elements outlined above.
Think about any individuals you know (or know of) whose style is a close reflection of what you are trying to accomplish with your own wardrobe.
Either reach out to them (if they are someone you can directly contact) or visit their social media channels and see if they promote any brands in particular. Gather the names and add them to your consideration list.
I could go on and on about vetting brands but I want this exercise to be an easy and pleasant experience for you. Using only the steps above, you can generate a list of between 15-20 brands that work great.
On a quarterly or annual basis periodically refresh the list as some brands change their design direction and may not remain a good fit. Moreover, you may learn about new brands and want to give them a try.