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3 Capsule Wardrobe Formulas & How to Use Them

travel capsule wardrobe packing formula graphic 5-4-3-2-1 method

3 Capsule Wardrobe Formulas & How to Use Them

So, you’re building a capsule. Naturally, you have some questions. Well, a capsule wardrobe formula can help. Think of a capsule formula like a recipe that you are trying out. You may go exactly by the book or may decide to alter it to suit your preferences. It’s your choice. And I’m here to help.

Ready to narrow down how many items you need in your closet? Let’s begin!

capsule wardrobe formula for 35 piece wardrobe

What is the formula for a capsule wardrobe?

The formula for a capsule wardrobe involves choosing a set number of items across clothing categories to create a functional wardrobe. There are a few different capsule wardrobe formulas floating around from the 5-4-3-2-1 method for travel to the classic capsule formula. Certain formulas can be helpful when building a capsule wardrobe from scratch so we’ll dive into them below. 

But first, let’s address some common questions you may have as you build your capsule wardrobe.

How Many Items in a Wardrobe

fall capsule wardrobe neutral

This is one of the most common questions people run into when building a capsule wardrobe. The truth is, you do not need to stress about the exact number of pieces.

From small ten-item wardrobes to full 40 piece closets, capsules come in different sizes.

If you must have a range, I’d say a 25-35-piece capsule (not including accessories) is a great place to start.

Below, I cover formulas for small travel wardrobes and larger everyday capsules.

How Many Colors in a Wardrobe

color palette generator showing closet and six colors


My capsule color palettes typically contain 4-6 colors. Anything above six can get a bit overwhelming when it comes to mixing and matching.

You can check out my capsule wardrobe color palette guide for examples. I also include different methods to determine your ideal wardrobe color palette. 

When working with capsule wardrobe formulas like the ones below, the number of pieces matters more than the number of colors you choose.

To keep things simple, it’s best to work within a small, well-defined color palette. You’ll make outfit creation all the more seamless when you do.

Scroll on for the capsule wardrobe building blocks you’re after.

3 Different Capsule Wardrobe Formulas, Explained 

Now for the fun part. It’s time to browse the capsule wardrobe formulas and find out which one works for you. The sweet, simple benefits of a capsule wardrobe are within reach.

Classic Capsule Formula 

Let’s start with the classic capsule formula. This features a minimalist 25-piece approach with 10 foundational pieces, 5 statement items, 5 layering items, and 5 pairs of shoes. Year-round capsule, here we come. 

10 Basic Pieces

Begin with ten basics that will serve as the backbone of your wardrobe. These are clothing pieces that are dependable, versatile, and pair well with all the other items in your closet. You can explore the top capsule wardrobe brands here for quality staples.

Item Examples: classic jeans, neutral t-shirt, tailored trousers

5 Statement Pieces

Next, add five statement pieces to the mix. This is where you bring in the bold prints and patterns. Don’t be shy. Let your personal style shine with these pieces. Keep them in a similar color family so that you create a cohesive capsule.

Item Examples: patterned midi skirt, bright top, printed pants

5 Layering Items

We are halfway through this capsule-building formula. It’s layering time. Select five layering items to supplement your current capsule. These pieces can add interest to your outfits and serve a functional role too.

Item Examples: lightweight jacket, sweater vest, chambray shirt

5 Shoes

Just like that, we’ve made it to the final portion of this capsule formula. Shoes alter the whole mood of an outfit. So choose five pairs that cover a range of occasions. This way, you have options from work to casual days to date nights. 

Item Examples: comfortable sneakers, classic heels, mules

5-4-3-2-1 Travel Capsule Formula 

This one goes out to my jet-setters. If you’re heading on a trip and want a travel capsule wardrobe that keeps things simple, you can give the 5-4-3-2-1 formula a try. 

travel capsule wardrobe packing formula graphic 5-4-3-2-1 method

Here’s how it works: 

5 Tops

Start with five tops that suit the climate of where you’re headed. Since you only have room for five, focus on tops that are versatile. Mix in a combination of short and long-sleeve options to give yourself flexibility. 

Item Examples: tank top, off-the-shoulder shirt, oxford shirt

4 Bottoms

Yes, the title is intentionally vague because the bottoms you choose will depend on the location. So feel free to pack shorts, skirts, pants, or a combination of the three. I recommend bringing at least one pair of dressier bottoms along. 

Item Examples: linen shorts, wide-leg trousers, 

3 Dresses

A dress is a one-and-done item that makes outfit creation simple. This formula calls for three dresses. The combination is up to you. You can choose two casual and one formal dress, for example. I aim to bring dresses that straddle the line between formal and casual. That way, I can use accessories to dress them up or down.

Item Examples: sundress, evening midi dress, wrap dress

3 Pairs of Shoes

Alright, time for shoes. As you can see, the number of shoes and dresses in this formula is the same. Yes, the 5-4-3-2-1 formula should technically be the 5-4-3-3-2-2-1-1 formula. But, for obvious reasons, that mouthful of a name didn’t catch on.

Item Examples: slip-on sandals, tennis shoes, hiking boots 

2 swimsuits

If you’re heading somewhere warm, swimwear is a must. But rather than stuffing 15 bikinis into your suitcase, take the minimalist approach. This method means neater luggage and intentionality behind your swimwear choices. 

Item Examples: one-piece, bikini set, tankini

2 bags

Almost done packing. How simple is this?! Okay, for bags you’ll want a couple of options. I usually bring one large bag like a tote and then a smaller bag that I can take to dinner or wear out and about. 

Item examples: crossbody bag, clutch, tote 

1 Accessory

Don’t panic. You’re allowed to bring more than a single accessory in this capsule formula. The idea here is to only bring one of each type. So one pair of sunglasses, one hat, and one statement necklace should suffice to round out your travel outfits. 

Item Examples: sunhat, sunglasses, printed scarf 

Want to see this method in action for a real capsule? Take a look at my athleisure capsule wardrobe. 

Tropical travels ahead? This Hawaii capsule wardrobe is just what you need. 

3-2-1 Modular Capsule Wardrobe Formula

capsule module wardrobe formula

What is a module wardrobe?

A module wardrobe is a small collection of clothes that fit within a capsule wardrobe. A mini capsule in a capsule, if you will. In a module, every top should go with every bottom. Building multiple module wardrobes allows you to create focused group of clothing that speak to your lifestyle. 

The beauty of a module comes when it is combined with other modules. Here’s the quick math assuming you pick pieces that all go with each other. 

1 module (6 pieces) = 12 outfits

2 modules (12 pieces) = 72 outfits

3 modules (18 pieces) = 216 outfits

I first learned about the magic of modules from Christie Ressel and her well-crafted capsules. Now, that we have a rundown of modules, let’s build one. 

Here’s a simple module capsule wardrobe formula for a six piece wardrobe module: 

3 Tops

Start with three versatile tops that suit the purpose of your module. The most important factor to consider is the occasion. So for a business casual module, three semi-professional tops would be appropriate. 

Item Examples: silk blouse, striped long sleeve shirt, turtleneck

2 Bottoms

Next, choose two bottoms that pair well with the three tops you selected. For a module to work harmoniously, all the pieces should be interchangeable. If you have one statement top in your module, then your bottoms should be neutral so they can pair easily with the rest of the pieces. 

Item Examples: straight leg trousers, high waisted denim

1 Layering Piece

Lastly, choose a layering piece to add interest to your module. This can elevate an outfit for a dressier module or add a cozy texture in a casual one. 

Item Examples: lightweight cardigan, trench coat, blazer cape

As you can see, a capsule module is small. It’s just a portion of your wardrobe, not the full thing. But compiling multiple modules in a cohesive color palette makes for a well rounded closet. 

A Detailed 35-piece Capsule Wardrobe Formula

Here’s a breakdown of a 35-piece capsule wardrobe with specific items in each category. Feel free to use this as a guide. You can edit based on the season and your style preferences.

capsule wardrobe formula for 35 piece wardrobe

  1. Tops (12 pieces):
    • 4 short-sleeve tops
    • 4 long-sleeve tops
    • 2 blouses
    • 2 casual shirts
  2. Bottoms (7 pieces):
    • 2 pairs of jeans (choose different washes)
    • 2 pairs of trousers 
    • 1 pair of shorts
    • 2 pair of leggings or athleisure pants
  3. Outerwear (6 pieces):
    • 1 lightweight jacket or blazer
    • 1 denim jacket or utility jacket
    • 1 trench coat or raincoat
    • 1 cozy sweater or cardigan
    • 1 leather or faux leather jacket
    • 1 warm coat for colder seasons
  4. Dresses (2 pieces):
    • 1 versatile day dress 
    • 1 evening dress
  5. Skirts (2 pieces):
    • 1 printed skirt 
    • 1 solid midi skirt 
  6. Shoes (6 pairs):
    • 1 pair of sneakers
    • 1 pair of  loafers
    • 1 pair of ankle boots
    • 1 pair of sandals 
    • 1 pair of heels
    • 1 pair of everyday shoes

Wardrobe Formula FAQs

What is the 333 capsule wardrobe method?

If you’ve dipped your toe into minimalism, you’ve likely heard of Project 333. This is not so much a wardrobe formula as it is a challenge. Here’s the rundown: You select 33 items, including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear, and shoes, to create a versatile wardrobe. For three months, all you wear are those items. The goal is to simplify your wardrobe, reduce decision fatigue, and enjoy the positive effects of living with less.

What’s the difference between a capsule formula and an outfit formula?

A capsule formula focuses on creating a well-rounded set of clothing that allows for seamless mixing and matching. The process involves selecting highly versatile core items from your wardrobe and then supplemental pieces to round out the wardrobe.  

An outfit formula, on the other hand, acts as a template for getting dressed. These help reduce decision fatigue just like capsule wardrobes do. But in this case, we’re getting more granular with specific outfit breakdowns. Build outfit formulas around pieces you own multiple of. So a simple outfit formula I use often is midi skirt + off the shoulder top. It looks chic and I own multiple of each so putting it together is easy. 

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