A French Capsule Wardrobe?


French capsule wardrobe

It’s a long weekend here in Melbourne and yesterday, completely on a whim, Scott and I decided to rip out and replace the insides of our built-in-robes.

This decision prompted me to think about three things:

  1. Renovations – no matter how minor – always take longer than you think they will. Yep, we’ll be lucky to finish this little project by the end of the weekend the way we are going!
  2. We live in a very small home that I love. But, this means that we really don’t have much wardrobe space.
  3. Despite the truth of point two, I don’t have anything that even looks like a French capsule wardrobe.

Yes, this weekend, I discovered I’ve been kidding myself in a big way.

Because we have such a small wardrobe, I’d tricked myself into believing that I didn’t have many clothes.

I’ve managed to prove myself very wrong. It turns out that I have stacks of clothes. I know this because they are currently ‘stacked’ in our lounge room.

Interestingly, I wear most of these clothes regularly. Due to my work commitments, I have a fair selection of evening attire that could hardly be described as being on high rotation but apart from that, there are barely any ‘passengers’ in my wardrobe. At least I can give myself a tick for making the most of a very small space!

But all of this led me to thinking about capsule wardrobes in general.

Enter the words ‘French capsule wardrobe’ into your favourite search engine and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of results. Apparently the whole planet is in love with the idea of a limited amount of quality clothing items, supplemented by a few seasonal pieces.

I fully understand the concept – I can survive an entire month in France with nothing more than carry-on luggage if I plan appropriately. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I love the simplicity of the whole idea.

But I’m not sure that I could actually survive with a capsule wardrobe – French or otherwise – day in, day out.

For starters, I’m not sure how I’d keep everything clean working full time and travelling as much as I do. The steamer can only do so much. And do I really want to spend my weekends washing and ironing clothes the entire time?

Then there is the boredom factor…both for me and for the people who have to look at me all the time!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of quality basics and I’m still working hard to evolve my signature style. I’m just not sure how long I’d survive with only 30 pieces or thereabouts (including shoes and accessories) in my wardrobe.

I’ll ponder it some more while I sort out how I’m going to arrange all my clothes in my freshly designed wardrobe.

Have you nailed the French capsule wardrobe? Or, like me, are you struggling with the concept? Either way, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.


About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.


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8 thoughts on “A French Capsule Wardrobe?

  • Taste of France

    My French friends do not do capsule wardrobes, and I think they would think I was crazy if I explained the concept–like how did “French” get associated with that? They do buy quality rather than quantity, but even if you keep things for a decade and buy only a few of nice things a year, you still end up with a ton of clothes.
    For capsule wardrobe ideas, I love The Vivienne Files. She’s also a francophile.
    I just heard this podcast about work clothing and uniforms: http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/06/02/workplace-dress-code-fashion
    When I was pregnant I bought 5 white shirts (not identical, but close) and 5 black dress pants (ditto) and wore them every work day for the entire time. It was a uniform.
    There’s this great article about an art director who created a uniform for herself. I like the concept. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a10441/why-i-wear-the-same-thing-to-work-everday/

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks for this Taste of France. It is interesting that a ‘French Capsule Wardrobe’ wouldn’t resonate with your French Friends…Maybe my plan to buy quality/upgrade items isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had. I love The Vivienne Files too…Janice does such a good job of creating tons of outfits from so few pieces. Janice and I were trying to catch up in Paris back in November but unfortunately I flew out the day before she arrived. Maybe next time.

  • Alisa

    Such good timing for this post! I have been pondering exactly the same thing as I prepare for a lengthy trip to France.
    I have closets of clothes also, but as I get older I am a little weary of thinking so much about what to wear; I like the idea of an almost-uniform, and I have just realized that I am almost there quite unconsciously. I have boxes in the bedroom that I have been filling with items to give away. Most are things that I have enjoyed and worn, but just don’t have the patience for any longer.
    Black slim pants, black pencil skirts (cotton, wool, leather, linen, crepe, lace etc.), tons of white cotton and cream silk blouses, a black blazer and some other jackets that look nice with both the pants/pencil skirts and jeans, some basic fine-gauge sweaters, ballet flats, heels…and for casual wear, slim jeans, linen and twill cropped pants, linen shirts and white cotton tees.
    I also have some fun things – especially in summer! – but I probably spend 80% to 90% of my time in the uniform and now I find that is what what I feel most comfortable and confident in.
    I have come to think of the uniform as a canvas, and I really enjoy choosing my accessories – have acquired a huge collection of scarves, interesting costume jewelry, and some statement jewelry pieces as well as classic pearls and simple precious metal items.
    It seems that everyone is talking these days about simplifying one’s life, and this fits well into that ethos.
    Oh, and the ironing and laundering? No more than any other lifestyle wardrobe, as long as you have multiples of each item. Fabric differences – the contrasting textures of smooth lambskin, textured crepe, crisp poplin – also add variety.
    I think it is worth a try for almost anyone.

  • Kathryn Bechen

    Hi Janelle,

    I loved your post on this topic and I really enjoy all your Francophile insights. My hubby and I just celebrated our anniversary at an adorable new local French Bistro complete with French owners who moved to the state and speak lovely French. 🙂 I ramble a bit here, but maybe this will help you. Like you and your husband, I live with my hubby in a small space (710 SF top-floor apartment that we call our “petite penthouse”) and I actually prefer a smaller wardrobe, plus being an admitted neatfreak by nature, and by career too, I strive to keep my wardrobe simple, yet stylish, and my closet organized and highly functional. I don’t even LIKE large closets! Over the past year, I have tried to refine my wardrobe even further since I am nearing age 60 as the years roll on, and want to still look good, but not be obsessed with my looks or clothes though either. I took a year or so off and on and researched the capsule wardrobe at length online, and then tailored it more to my at-home-writer-and-wife lifestyle, which means KNITS that MOVE since I am always doing something in our home to keep things tidy, updated, cooking our meals and doing dishes etc., in and out of bed writing, and we try to live as elegantly as possible too. But it needs to be modern elegance too for me which means comfy. Whew! No small feat. Enter knits. 🙂 All that being said, my wardrobe has really evolved this past year or two, and not without some mistakes and challenges. Finally, I accepted certain things were not working, and donated some clothes, forgave myself for money spent, kept what WAS working, and added more of my beloved and trusty JJill Wearever line to what I already had, and have decided to stick mostly with JJill Wearever, Chicos’ Travelers knits in solid colors going forward, combined with colorful shawls and accessories when I go somewhere. They last a long time, wash like a dream, need no ironing, and can be dressed up or down. Also, foot challenges led me to the Vivobarefoot shoe line so now I wear their Jing Jing black ballet flat with everything! I have also heard that Tieks ballet flats are great but have not tried them yet; they are on my buy list. This look works for me, and is comfortable, presentable, and I feel good in my presentation/skin. I can dress it all up or down. I live in California, so I can also wear my one wardrobe year-round weather-wise, which does help and might not work in a four-season place. Like you, my husband and I also travel, and I want to feel comfortable but also stylish then too so I finally accepted that the JJill and Travelers Knits could be used both in my every day lifestyle and then also used when I travel so I don’t need “two” wardrobes. And it all fits in my small closet. And is easy to pack too. 🙂 Challenges along the way? I bought some cheaper clothes from a catalog and the quality just wasn’t there so after a few washings I donated them. Many pairs of shoes caused foot pain and much $ before I found the Vivobarefoot line. I realized I like now to buy solid colors as my core outfit top and pants and add accessories with colored patterned shawls, or add jewelry, rather than buy prints. I don’t wear skirts much anymore, and that’s okay. I do have about three dresses I can dress up or down. For me, less is more, but yet I don’t feel right limiting myself to an exact number of clothes as some of the minimalist articles etc. state. I keep it flexible to my particular lifestyle, climate, and life. Also, I do tiny loads of laundry every single day usually, and that is not workable for someone who travels a lot for work I don’t think. Important: I bought and organized my current wardrobe for my lifestyle I actually live, rather than one shown on the internet of someone else, my past lifestyle/work, or anything else. I accepted this is my life and work NOW and let go of former looks and lifestyles. Also, I narrowed my color palette down and that helped so much! Black, white solid basics with accent colors in solid tops of hot pink, teal, royal blue. Two red tops for Christmas but that’s it as red is not so great for me. I buy shawls and scarves in the same colors as the tops but allow patterns and fringe etc. for fun and color. Some of the blogs that helped me with all this are: Fifty Not Frumpy, Umme Femme (I think that’s the name) and Image by Design video blogger in Australia who owns a cute boutique. Vivienne at Image by Design really helped me with the core one-color concept and then add color in accessories. She is also good at showing easy packing. By doing this, I have a very streamlined wardrobe now that I love, even though I buy my clothes elsewhere than at her boutique since I live in the states. But I used her one color core principle, and also Fifty Not Frumpy uses lots of solid color core clothes too and she lives an elegant lifestyle and travels a lot but in comfortable clothes for our times. Also, when I chose the “name” for my wardrobe of “Ladylike Comfy” as per some book I read that suggested you give your own style a name of your choosing, this really crystallized my look for me too, so now, no matter what I buy, I make sure it feels, and looks like “me” which is “Ladylike Comfy.” It’s my mantra and helps me spend wisely and build on my look. 🙂 Hope this helps you. One thing I will say is that for me, even though I have always strived to look nice, be organized, and I like clothes etc., at my age, it was getting harder to evolve my look so that I liked what I wore. I had growing pains and frustrations along the way and it took me about a year of trial and error; it really has to evolve I think. But now I like my look, I feel stylish but comfortable, and I can see it carrying me into the future well. I also am happy with my clothing budget going quite far this way too, even though it still seems like we women spend so much on clothes, no matter what! And now I accept too, with good humor, that I no longer look good in flowered dresses that once looked cute on me when I was in my 30s, ha! 🙂 Instead, I choose to buy floral scarves or shawls for color and softness, and I am happy and content to age with grace, and hopefully wisdom, rather than strive to look young and perky. Well, that’s probably more than you wanted to know, but I remember how much I struggled with this wardrobe thing for a year so hope this gives you some insights. 🙂 P.S. My husband has gone to a “core wardrobe” of solid colors too, and accessories of colored ties, fun festive socks, etc. and we have a lot of fun with it together when we go out on “dates.” We share a closet and he has his side and I have mine, and we respect the other person’s side. It helps that he is tidy too since I would not live well with a messy closet mate, in all honesty!

    • Janelle Post author

      Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you Kathryn for all this detail. I’ve just spent a happy hour (or so) Googling all your hints and tips. I love your tips about knits and your thoughts on evolving your style. I think I have the colour concept nailed (neutrals, neutrals and more neutrals for me) and I’m getting better at the quality over quantity piece. Now that our new wardrobe fit outs are finished, I’m feeling a bit better about the number of clothes in my wardrobe. Like Taste of France suggests, it only takes a few new, quality items each year and it is easy to end up with a stack of clothes. And thanks too for the tip about ‘naming your style’…I’m going to try that. Enjoy that new French bistro – and I hope you had a wonderful anniversary.

      • Mary

        Yes. Thank you Kathryn for taking the time to go into all the details. This was very inspiring to me as I am struggling to edit my wardrobe and make it more consistent with my actual life. This was so helpful.

  • Kathryn Bechen

    You are welcome Janelle and Mary; glad to share if it helps someone else as once I was over 55 I found it all harder, but I was determined! 🙂 I liked what Alisa had to say here too, especially that as we age we just don’t want to mess with so many things anymore. So true, I think. And yes, I think it’s more “quality over quantity” and “less is more” than French anything per se, but I do think the neutral thing and the French love of black too is wise for many reasons. (And I think you and your hubby look very stylish, Janelle.) Also, I like all of author Anne Barone’s Francophile books and she has a great chapter in her book with the words boudoir/armoire in it (I don’t remember the exact title as she has several books) about small closets and wardrobes, and as long as I have been a neatfreak and continual declutterer with my small closets over our many personal moves over the years, some of the things she said about small closets and wardrobes made me laugh and I agree! She’s been writing about the French way of living for many many years as she lost much weight when she was a young woman visiting France as she learned their food techniques and has kept it off and is still stylish at 70-something because as she lost weight she also picked up on French wardrobe and living style. Fun Francophile books and blog, she has. She was one of the first to write about the French lifestyle I think. Many inspiring blogs out there now for mature women to dress nicely, AND comfortably, without looking boring! There’s also a lady named Joyce Carpati (enter her name on Pinterest) who has been photographed for the Advanced Style blog repeatedly and I really like her simple, especially black, elegance and pearls wardrobe style. She is in her early 80s. She’s very neat and trim too so at that age she is really gorgeous. Have a great day and happy travels!