No One Told Me

Capsule Wardrobes Are A F*cking Scam. Here’s Why.


Written by Elizabeth Narins
A woman looks in her closet at her capsule wardrobe.
Zeljkosantrac/Getty Images

As the seasons change and we all catch the I-need-an-entirely-new-wardrobe-for-this-weather bug, we're faced with a decision: Go full-out fast fashion and get, like, 50 trendy new pieces that don't scream "I'm somebody's mom!" or invest in a selection of evergreen items that look great with everything, transcending trend and seasonality.

The latter is sometimes referred to as a capsule wardrobe, aka a minimalist collection of clothes you can pair creatively for a multitude of outfit options. The benefit here is clear: Capsule wardrobes "promote simplicity, efficiency, and ease in dressing while minimizing clutter and decision fatigue," says Carolyn Mair, PhD, cognitive psychologist, fashion business consultant, and author of The Psychology of Fashion.

Capsule wardrobes make a lot of sense on paper. They're theoretically convenient, pragmatic, and, of course, environmentally responsible (since you're not churning through fast fashion every season). But here's the thing: They're a total scam for moms. Let's talk about why.

They f*ck with your body image.

Since the first time I got knocked up some five years ago, this mom bod has gone through more bra sizes than her oldest kid can count. My pants size has gone up and down (and up and down) more than the average seesaw. For me, any effort to maintain a capsule wardrobe is all for naught since it requires a stagnant size and shape — unlike any body, ever.

"The expectation is that [items in your capsule wardrobe] will be worn regularly over an extended period," Mair says. "Changes in body size can alter the fit and comfort of clothing, making them uncomfortable or even unwearable. This can add to the emotional toll of grappling with body image issues or feeling frustrated by clothing that no longer fits."

And you know what feels sh*ttier than clothes that don't fit? Expensive clothes that don't fit after you specifically splurge on them with the intention of wearing them forever.

They make you feel like, well, a mom.

No matter how much effort we put into curating our capsule wardrobes, they're never quite as evergreen as we hope. See, next season, if your highly edited collection of ~couture~ even fits your ever-changing body (and more on that later), it will almost definitely make you feel like a dingy old mom who's totally out of the know.

Think about it: Trends in pant leg width, waist height, and leg length change, what, every season? (Remember skinny jeans? RIP. And don't even get me started on the Amazon jacket and millennial pink…) When it comes to fashion, there's no such thing as evergreen, timeless, or always "in" — as much as clothing brands and fashion influencers might want us to think otherwise.

They're not even close to kid-proof.

Of course, changing size and styles aren't the only variables that can throw your capsule wardrobe out of orbit. Let's say your kid smears your one nice white tee with avocado, blueberries, vomit, or human feces, as children are wont to do. "NOW WHAT?!" I would scream into the abyss if I owned but a single white top.

They trigger toxic perfectionism.

If the idea of editing down your wardrobe — or perhaps starting from scratch — triggers immense anxiety and maybe even a sprinkle of obsessing, you're not alone.

The fewer pieces I have to work with, the more quality, fit, and style really count, and the more pressure I feel to find items that are 100% perfect. Who has the time to shop for that, or the budget to spend on it?! (The bulk of my shopping time and money goes toward keeping my growing kids in clothes that fit… and the limit does exist.)

They're another source of mom shame, FML.

When we get sick and tired of rotating the same old items in our capsule wardrobes, feel moved to expand it, or outgrow it altogether, it's normal to feel like a failure. "I don't need a guilt trip if I have a capsule and nevertheless impulse buy a fun top," wrote Virginia Sole-Smith, author of Fat Talk, in her Substack, Burnt Toast. She's even gone so far as calling capsule wardrobes "diet culture for your closet" — and I couldn't agree more, given they are restrictive by design.

For this reason, Mair agrees that capsule wardrobes aren't for everyone. "The wearer might feel restricted by the limited selection of clothing, especially when their clothing choices are impacted by changes in body shape and climate," she says.

Moms feel enough guilt. We don't need to feel bad about expanding our wardrobe or replacing items because they don't fit or don't align with the image we're looking to project in any given season.

They're the antithesis of dopamine dressing.

Dopamine dressing, for those who missed the memo, is "intentionally selecting garments that spark positive emotions to harness the mood-enhancing effects of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure in the brain," Mair explains. "It encourages consumers to use fashion as a form of self-expression and self-care to uplift their mood and promote overall mental wellness."

Because dopamine dressing often calls for bright colors and bold patterns, and such statement pieces could become tiresome if they landed in a restricted rotation, dopamine dressing and capsule wardrobing don't really go hand-in-hand.

The Bottom Line

While there's a time and a place for a minimalist wardrobe (i.e., on vacation, when you have no room to pack much more than you actually need), an everyday capsule wardrobe ultimately chips away at a mom's sense of self and mental health. There, I said it!

Instead of self-imposing restrictions on what we wear, let's take a cue from our kids, like my 4-year-old, who stands up a little taller when he wears his fire chief rain boots.

Let's choose clothes — as many as we want! — that make us feel good, whether they're old or new, cheap or expensive, black or white or neon or rainbow, perfectly tailored or exclusively elastic. Let's let go of the guilt, the rules, and restrictions, and embrace change in our bodies, our style, and our wardrobes.