Build a Money-Saving Capsule Wardrobe With 13 Essential Pieces

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BUY LESS, SPEND LESS


Americans waste a staggering amount of money buying clothes. Although average spending on apparel amounts to a small percentage of the household budget, clothes aren't chump change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that consumers spent an average of $1,846 on apparel in 2015. More to the point, most people wear only about one-fifth of what their wardrobes hold on a regular basis, an executive of California Closets told The Wall Street Journal.

One trendy way to save money and closet space is to build a "capsule" wardrobe with fewer, higher-quality pieces that can be mixed and matched almost endlessly. Although shoppers may spend more on each garment, buying fewer pieces less frequently can result in substantial savings. For example, imagine buying two pairs of high-quality jeans for $150 each that last four years instead of six pairs of $50 jeans that last only two years. The initial outlay is the same, but rebuying the cheaper jeans after two years means spending double the amount.

How do shoppers ensure they're getting quality items? Experts say it often pays to opt for natural fibers like cotton or wool over synthetics such as polyester or viscose, although a small amount of a synthetic such as Lycra can help with stretch in form-fitting items. Otherwise, "quality" is mostly in the details. Seams should be neatly sewn, with a minimum of threads that separate when pulled, and fabric should have a nice weight (avoid see-through anything). Buttons should be stitched securely, and zippers should lie flat.

The following examples of mix-and-match basics form a solid foundation for a capsule wardrobe, and the concept can be adapted for any lifestyle.
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STURDY TRENCH COAT

Trench coats never seem to go out of style. Depending on weight, a well-tailored trench coat can take wearers through most of fall and spring, as well as mild winter days. This adaptable outerwear looks polished over workwear and smart over jeans and flats. Trench coats are available in endless colors, but consider sticking with neutrals -- tan, gray, navy, or black -- for longevity and versatility. Burberry is synonymous with trench coats, but a quality trench shouldn't leave a $1,000-plus hole in your bank account. For colder climates, try something like Everlane's wool trench for $250, available in gray and black. For a quality warmer-weather option, look at the $298 Icon trench coat from J. Crew.
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DENIM JACKET

When a trench is too formal, an equally timeless denim jacket can handle the chill during those in-between times of year. Wear this casual topper over a summery dress, a tunic and bright leggings, a blouse, or a striped boat-neck shirt. Madewell's $118 jean jacket in pinter wash is a versatile medium blue with just the right amount of fading for that lived-in look. The premium cotton should hold up for yearly use and abuse.
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FITTED BLAZER

A fitted blazer smartens up any work wardrobe. Pair it with a printed blouse and dress pants for a slightly more casual look, or with a collared dress shirt and pencil skirt for more formal offices. A well-cut blazer is just as useful out of the office -- throw one on to elevate a simple T-shirt and jeans. Non-synthetic blazers don't come cheap, but Banana Republic's black lightweight wool two-button blazer is reasonably priced at $198. It has classic, can't-miss styling and a touch of spandex for stretch.
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STRAIGHT-CUT, DARK-WASH JEANS

The perfect pair of jeans can get a lot of mileage in a well-curated closet. For maximum versatility, avoid cuts that are too tight (skinny jeans) or too trend-specific (boyfriend, flare). Embellishments such as rhinestones, ripped legs, and excessive whiskering are also a no-go. As for wash, a darker hue can be dressed up or down with greater ease. Finally, while some stretch is nice, jeans with too much give can lose their shape too easily. Look for a pair that's either all or mostly cotton with just a hint of a stretch fabric like Lycra or elastane. Levi's has updated its iconic 501 jeans with the 501 CT, which offers a trim (but not too tight) fit in several washes and is priced at $89.50. The jeans are 99 percent cotton with a touch of stretch -- 1 percent elastane -- but not so much that they start sagging after a couple of hours.
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CRISP DRESS SHIRT

The possibilities are endless for a well-fitted dress shirt. It's always suitable with dress pants or a pencil skirt in the office but can look just as chic dressed down with jeans or Bermuda shorts. And this basic element of a capsule wardrobe doesn't need to be boring. Adding a scarf, bold necklace, vest, or cardigan easily jazzes it up. The best dress shirts have a hint of stretch, darting for shape, and wrinkle-resistant fabric. Brooks Brothers' tailored-fit non-iron dress shirt ticks all three boxes for $98, and enthusiasts say it withstands the test of time.
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BLACK DRESS PANTS

Black dress pants can go almost everywhere. Whether dressed up with a blazer or dressed down with a cardigan, they're always appropriate for the office. Pair them with a blouse and heels or dressy sandals, and you're ready for a date night almost anywhere. As always, the key here is fit. Tailored pants add a level of polish that their rumpled, baggier counterparts can't. Talbots' "seasonless" wool straight-leg pant has a just-right slim silhouette for $97 on sale. These pants are fully lined and mostly wool, but a bit of nylon and spandex add durability, lightness, and stretch.
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PENCIL SKIRT

Along with black dress pants, a pencil skirt is a must-have for a professional capsule wardrobe. It can pinch-hit just about anywhere: with a blazer or a cardigan, a dress shirt or a blouse. It's also one of those rare wardrobe staples that looks good on just about everyone. J. Crew's well-tailored, knee-length pencil skirt in Italian stretch wool, tagged at $148, is available in black, gray, and navy. The hint of stretch keeps the fit close -- but not too close -- and flattering.
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SILK BLOUSE

A pretty silk blouse in just about any color is totally work appropriate with a pencil skirt or dress pants. Layer it with a tank and jeans for a more casual vibe. Cut is crucial here -- the blouse should skim over the body without clinging. The Joie Marru semi-sheer silk blouse is a versatile option with a flattering V-neck and vertical pleating for $208 at Nordstrom. An elasticized hem makes for a more polished, tucked-in appearance.
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STRIPED BOAT-NECK TEE

T-shirts can be a little boring -- or, even worse, sloppy. A striped boat neck adds just enough classic nautical flair to avoid either of those labels. Paired with jeans and flats, it's a great option for a casual day out. Add a scarf or blazer for a touch of polish. Striped boat necks are available at almost every price point. L.L. Bean's $44 signature cotton/modal boat-neck top is worth a little extra because of its slender shape, bold stripes, and lifetime guarantee.
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COZY TUNIC

Want a more put-together casual look than a hoodie or T-shirt? Throw on slim-cut jeans with a tunic, then dress it up with a long necklace or scarf. Tunics provide a nice drape and a little extra coverage in the rear. Be sure to choose one that isn't so oversize that it looks sloppy. Eddie Bauer's Aster in Tune tunic is made of moisture-wicking polyester and spandex to help it stand up to active pursuits. It also has versatile three-quarter-length sleeves, a flattering scoop neck, and built-in odor control for $49 on sale.

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LIGHTWEIGHT CARDIGAN

Cardigans are the ultimate essential for layering, and as much at home over a T-shirt and jeans as they are over a pencil skirt and dress shirt. Commonly available in cotton, wool, or cashmere, cardigans are most versatile in a lightweight knit that won't add bulk or too much warmth during warmer months. For a more casual option, L.L. Bean's $60 Shaker-stitch open cardigan is lightweight and almost seasonless. For a dressier, more traditional look, upgrade from cotton to cashmere with Lands' End's cashmere cardigan sweater, available in black and lavender for $120 on sale.
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LITTLE BLACK DRESS

No capsule wardrobe is complete without a high-quality, jack-of-all-trades little black dress. There's a reason this item has become so coveted that it's nearly a cliché: It really can go almost anywhere, depending on accessories and shoes. The ultimate little black dress might be Diane von Furstenberg's Bevin sheath dress, which has a flattering empire waist, V-neck, and ruching. The stretch fabric also makes it comfortable and forgiving. The $348 price tag will put a dent in most wallets, but this chic, polished piece should hold up to frequent wear season after season, year after year, making it a better long-term investment than multiple dresses that will be worn only sparingly.
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STURDY FLATS

Workers in more formal offices may get more mileage out of pumps, but for business casual, it's hard to beat a versatile pair of flats that can get plenty of wear beyond the 9-to-5 hours. Wear them with jeans and a T-shirt or a tunic and leggings to make those weekend staples look just a little more put-together. Tieks by Gavrielli have a cult-like following because of their comfort, style, and durability. These $175 flats are made of hand-stitched, full-grain leather with plenty of cushioning and a non-skid sole. They're also available in a huge array of colors and patterns.