Creative Capsule Wardrobes

Capsule wardrobes appeared in American publications as early as the 1940s as small collections of garments designed to be worn together, harmonizing in color and line. American designer Donna Karan popularized the idea when in 1985, she released an influential capsule collection of seven interchangeable work-wear pieces. Some of the pieces in this post are, in fact, by DKNY.

There are a few new items in my collection, so it might be helpful to show you how I plan to wear them for different occasions with things I already have. I will likely take some of these pieces with me when I travel for a little getaway next month.

These combinations could work for dinner or a cocktail party. I’m wearing a size medium in the jacket and the top. The pants are a size six.

You’ve likely read a few articles stating that you need a white tee, great-fitting jeans, and a trench coat. But what if those elements do not flatter your shape, fit with your personality, or suit your weather? Perhaps the thought of wearing only plain pieces depresses you immensely. So, let’s consider a capsule comprised of elements that are not the usual suspects.

Black with denim is one of my all-time favorite combinations.

You may live in or near an urban area with many high-end shops, restaurants, and cultural events. Therefore, you may enjoy more intriguing details in your wardrobe. For example, you might never reach for a plain white tee if you have a sophisticated, edgy personal style.

I wear a slip dress a few times a year on special evenings, but always with another layer under or over it. I wear the opaque black tights here with dresses in winter.

The top is here. I am wearing a size medium.

At first glance, you might dismiss the popular sheer trend, but a well-chosen top can add lots of style points. I chose mine for the sheer sleeves and discreetly sheer bodice.

The pants are here. I am wearing a size 6.

Black pants can be mundane or add a touch of drama and change the whole silhouette of a look. The smooth fit through the hips and waist sold me on these pants.

The blazer is here. I am wearing a size medium. This is NOT the jacket I showed you in an earlier post. This one is a keeper! The fabric is great; it is well-made, has high-quality buttons, and looks good open or closed.

A black blazer is almost always listed as the piece you must own, but a different color might be more appropriate with your coloring.

The slip dress is here. I am wearing a size 8.

Denim jackets are worn by women of all ages and in unlimited ways, but the standard trucker style may elicit a yawn.

The darker denim jacket shown above is here.

If skinny jeans were never your thing, you are in luck this year. There are many more styles and cuts of jeans available now. As an example, highrise bootcut jeans are most flattering on my shape.

The jeans are here. I am wearing a size four (27).
For perspective, I am a bit more than five feet, six inches tall, or 1.68m, and I weigh 137 pounds or 62 kg.

I hope this post helps you see how a few well-chosen statement items can add interest and personality to your basics. For example, a small capsule wardrobe makes packing for a trip a snap. In addition, shopping links on this site may allow me to earn a small commission without cost to you.

  1. Love the top – especially with the leather jacket and jeans. So excited for you having an opportunity to get away with Mr. Mickey. Enjoy and safe travels.

  2. Great topic and as usual you look gorgeous in everything . The link for the pants is incorrect. I love those pants on you.

  3. Thank you so much for this fresh view of a capsule wardrobe! I could never wrap my brain around concepts such as the 333 project. Trying to choose just the right articles gave me actual anxiety. Your approach is much more fun and practical.

  4. I embrace the capsule wardrobe vibe and own all the necessary pieces with one exception. I can’t find that perfect denim jacket. I’ve purchased a few during my decade long search but they have proven to be epic failures. I have a longer torso, would prefer a little stretch but my 5’8” size 14 frame keeps me on the hunt. I feel as if they all cut me off at a weird place or they are longer and look dated. Any suggestions because you always rock this style with class.

  5. Patty, I share your frustration with denim jackets and have similar sizing issues as I also have a very long torso. I’ve decided they are not within my style and what works for me and my body type, maybe one day one will strike my fancy but I don’t think so. I much prefer a utility jacket and think they can be interchanged in many ways that people use and style a denim one and they have the length I prefer as well.

  6. I LOVE this post. It’s a bit edgy, looks comfortable and is Susan through and through.

    Thanks! I love the top.


  7. Perfect timing – we just committed to our first cruise in November. I can start here for ideas on my capsule wardrobe. Thank you!

  8. Natalie, I’ll keep that in mind as I shop. I guess we all just want to look like Susan but she’s younger, slimmer and always stunning in everything she puts on. That’s why I will continue to follow her. She is a bounty of wisdom and will always be a role model for all of us.

    Thanks for your input. I will now add a utility style to my quest of that perfect jacket..

  9. I commiserate with Patty and Natalie as I have a long torso too and it took years of searching (down here in New Zealand) to finally find the perfect denim jacket just before Christmas. It is dark blue (so looks quite smart), has an animal print embossed in it (very subtle) and is the right length. I confess that because it has taken me thirty years of looking that I have bought 3. One I can wear all the time now and two back ups. A bit excessive I know, though I often buy a duplicate of something special that I will wear and wear so that I have another one to go at. (which has mostly worked well over the years)

  10. Could you please talk about a trip away to somewhere HOT – an island vacation, or cruise where you’re not likely to wear jackets. Needing both casual and dressy.

  11. Do you follow the skin tone system? Are you cool or warm?
    Black is not a good color for me but I use it constantly
    And try to add a pop of color to it. You certainly do this also.
    Any help with this would be so helpful.

  12. Love the black houndstooth top. I have a black tulle skirt that it will look gorgeous with for theatre occassions.
    And I went to Chico’s online and found a very chic little denim jacket, thanks to your links.
    It’s a long way from Australia, but with your help it’s all possible.


  13. I always admire your style and love this black top! It’s gorgeous. Enjoy your escape! Enjoy every minute as you celebrate each other and special memories. .17 years of happiness! ❤

  14. I am thrilled with your return to wearing more heels! Your blog was hugely influential in my shift to cage sandals and then strictly pointed toe shoes. I truly feel that heels best express your special style and persona. I am looking forward to future posts.

  15. I usually like your choices — and I like the top with sheer elements. But in the photos where your bra is showing, it destroys the horizontal line and just looks “off” to me. Why did you choose showing the bra instead of wearing a strapless one?

  16. Hi Susan!
    I love the print mesh top that you are wearing. I am wondering what type of bra do you wear with this? Strapless? And if so, do you have any recommendations for a brand of strapless bra that has worked for you?

    Thank you!
    Lisa P.

  17. YES!!!! Thank you Susan, I have a black slip dress but it has cowl neck line. Other then put on a jacket or open tie shirt, I could not figure how else to wear it. Wearing long or short sleeve Tee under, look too childish. The sheer top< I would never have thought of. It looks beautiful and sophisticated. Thank you, now I have the perfect idea for event in the near future. XOXO

  18. Enjoy your posts and always learn a little more from the responses you provide in these comments. I noticed that the back pockets in the jeans seem to be placed lower. In my mind that would accent an already long torso. A somewhat delicate subject but does that placement flatter the derriere? What are your thoughts.

    Thank you!

    1. Proper pocket placement makes the jeans look better on the derriere. They can make it look bigger if they are too small and placed too far apart. If the pockets are too low, they can make the bottom look flat. Try on a few different pairs, and check the rear view in a three-way mirror.

  19. Fantastic post! I have a lot of travel this year and this post is great at showing how to make the most of a few choice pieces.

  20. I come from a generation where we never wore pants to church or a funeral. Is it OK now & what is yr advice?

    Susan Denton

    1. For the past twenty years, I’ve seen women wearing pants to speak during the service and attend Protestant churches often. Unless your faith requires that women wear a dress, I don’t see an issue with it.

  21. Hi Susan:

    I understand you are a consultant for Beautycounter and was wondering if you could help me. I have used Beautycounter for a while now, (on your advice) and I love it. However, I have gotten away from my skincare regimen because I have been sick with cancer and was just too tired or sick to stay with it. I have finished treatments now and am in healing phase and recovering well. I want to restart my routine now. I use the same Countertime regimen that you do. Some of the bottles have been opened and left unused during this time (about six months) and others are still new, not been opened. Are any of these products still good, or should I just purchase all new. Obviously, I’d prefer to continue to use what I have due to cost, but I can purchase new if need be. Any advice you can give on product quality would be most helpful. Thank you, Susan, for such a wonderful blog.


  22. Hi Susan. I bought the sheer black top from Nordstrom. Like it very much, but have a question. Should the bottom of the top fit to or below waist be fitted. I bought the Large which I always wear that size. It fits real nice through the top and sleeves but I just wanted your opinion. In your picture with the top it looks like it fits you close to the body. Please advise. Sandra Johnson

  23. Hello Susan! I especially enjoyed this post as I am often puzzled as what to wear for different occasions. I will be attending a wedding in April and would like some suggestions. With my short chunky legs, I enjoy dark (mostly black bottoms). Is it ok to wear all black to a spring wedding? Any thoughts?
    Thanks for keeping us gals on top of our game. You’re the best!

  24. Susan, you look so gorgeous in the black flared trousers and in the white jeans. Stunning! John

  25. I love your choice in styles . Unfortunate I live in a small rural area and would love to know where I can purchase your style clothing . I am over 70 but it doesn’t mean we can’t be stylish !

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.