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Capsule Wardrobes Are Boring—Here's My Secret to Effortless, Functional Style

 Nikki ogunnaike.
Nikki ogunnaike.

The below is from editor-in-chief Nikki Ogunnaike's weekly newsletter, Self Checkout. Subscribe here.

Reader, I must confess: I hate the idea of capsule wardrobes. There’s an obsession with the concept that I don’t quite understand. While I am 100 percent here for shopping less, and shopping smart, capsule wardrobes, as they are often written about, are prescriptive, boring, and, for some reason, always minimalist in color. They rarely take one’s personal style into account, often suggesting not only an arbitrary amount of items but a random assortment of pieces (a maxi dress? a basket bag?) that may or may not actually fit into your wardrobe. Where’s the fun in that? Ultimately, I think your wardrobe should consist of pieces you love, make you feel good, and find yourself reaching for time and time again.

That being said, you have come here for a reason, so allow me to provide you with some tactics that can make getting dressed easier and nudge you closer to your true personal style.

First, a few housekeeping items: Do a wardrobe purge. Be ruthless and realistic about what you want to keep in your closet. I try to do this every other month, in an effort to streamline and become reacquainted with what’s going on in my closet.

Nikki Ogunnaike at fashion month
Nikki Ogunnaike at fashion month

Next, document some outfits. Mandy Lee, Old Loser in Brooklyn on TikTok and Instagram, is currently conducting what she’s calling the 75 Hard Challenge. Key rules are: Get dressed every day for 75 days, document your daily outfits, do not buy anything new. I find “getting dressed” (which I define as putting on a look you’d be okay being seen in) for 75 days straight to be incredibly ambitious, but I think aiming to document 30 days of looks will give you a good understanding of the silhouettes, colors, and pieces, you often return to.

Lastly, you know that age-old adage “Dress for the job you want”? Well, I don’t agree. I say dress for the life you currently lead. That means, take stock of what you do every single day, notice routines and habits, and then dress for those. For example, my general routine is as follows: wake up, work out, commute to the office (10-minute walk to the subway, 45-minute ride that could include standing up or sitting down), sitting in my cold-as-hell-office to read or edit copy, perhaps have a work lunch or coffee, head to an event where I’ll be standing on my feet for at least 30 minutes, commute home (generally by car). Rinse and repeat. When I think about what goes into my personal “capsule wardrobe,” they’re items that fit this current lifestyle.

At the end of the day, personal style is just that: personal to me and to you, and if you spend too much time trying to follow certain rules or obsessing over how to style items, it ends up feeling contrived and not at all fun. So, with that in mind, let’s get into the good stuff: ten items that are in my personal capsule wardrobe (but tbh, I think may work for you too.)

Banana Republic Amina Oversized Top Coat
Banana Republic Amina Oversized Top Coat

An Interesting-Enough Coat to Serve as the Whole Outfit

If you follow me on Instagram (which you should, I’m making an effort to post more of my day-to-day looks) you’ll see that one of my key strategies for winter dressing is a coat that feels like an outfit in and of itself. This Sea NY coat lands me a compliment, without fail, every single time I wear it. As does this JW Anderson x Uniqlo coat. They both are years old (sorry!) but are things to consider if you’re trying to approximate my look. Shop for a long coat that is roomy so it can work with thicker sweaters, and is in a pattern, bright color, or interesting shape so there’s instant visual interest.

I’m obsessed with this red J.Crew option, love the floral print on this Sea NY one, would immediately buy this Frankie Shop option if I wasn’t on a self-imposed buying coats ban, and I am shocked that this beautiful Banana Republic option (with more than 50% wool!) rings in at only $300.

COACH Grunge Floral Rexy Square Silk Scarf
COACH Grunge Floral Rexy Square Silk Scarf

A Scarf to Tie On When You're At an Accessorizing Loss

As a kid I’d watch my mom tie scarves on quite often and I find them to be incredibly regal, plus a lovely way to add a little something to an outfit. I’m an Hermès girly (bought myself this one last time I was traveling in Paris,) but also love this and this and this.

Camper Niki Boots
Camper Niki Boots

Boots You Can Get Around In (By Which I Mean: Easily Walk at a Good Pace, No Teetering)

For me, that means low-heel ankle boots that I can wear with jeans, trousers, and maxi skirts. I haven’t stopped thinking about these black Camper boots since I first saw them, wear something similar to these Khaite boots at least three times a week, and appreciate a suede or patent leather option too.

Mejuri Croissant Dôme Ring
Mejuri Croissant Dôme Ring

Personal Jewelry

It doesn’t have to be much, but something that is a signature or everyday piece you can always reach. For me that includes Mejuri’s Dome ring, Mateo’s malachite necklace and initial necklace, and gold hoop earrings (mine are from XIV Karats in Beverly Hills, but friends and industry folks are obsessed with Jenny Bird).

MAISON MARGIELA Black Tabi Ankle Boots
MAISON MARGIELA Black Tabi Ankle Boots

One Wild Card Item That'll Do Heavy Lifting on the Days You Just Can't

It could be a bold piece of jewelry, it could be a weird shoe! But the idea remains the same, something that’s a little off kilter. Margiela Tabis are not for the faint of heart, but they do embody this idea to a tee.

a.l.c. Inez Satin Midi Dress
a.l.c. Inez Satin Midi Dress

A Tried and True, Go-To Look for Any Formal Occasion

Two weeks ago, we discussed how this was a suit for me; but if you feel like that’s a black dress for you might I suggest this option from ALC? It will work across seasons which means you can wear it to summer weddings and on New Year’s Eve (I’m thinking ahead here).

Mulberry Small Pimlico Satchel
Mulberry Small Pimlico Satchel

A Carry-All That Can Hold at Least Your Phone, Wallet, Keys, and Small Ear Buds/Wired Headphones

While discussing this newsletter with my boyfriend, he noted that the hallmark of good design is when you don’t have to think about the item. I think this is especially true when it comes to bags. Sometimes you have to pay more for it —there’s a reason Chanel and Hermès bags cost what they do—but the LL Beat Zip Top Boat and Toat (long straps that won’t slip!) is just as iconic. I’m also a big fan of this Mulberry satchel (you can wear it crossbody and it fits all the aforementioned items plus it has a pocket on the back) and this Madewell bag (under $150!) or this Beis sportpack you can wear while running errands.

J.Crew Kate straight-leg pant in four-season stretch
J.Crew Kate straight-leg pant in four-season stretch

A Bottom (Pants, a Skirt, Up to You) That Works With Three Genres of Shoes in Your Closet

If you’re an avid fashion newsletter reader, you’re familiar with the kick flare from High Sport. I haven’t tried them personally, so instead I’m suggesting this pair from J.Crew. Wear them with sneakers or sandals on the weekend and with heels or boots for more dressy occasions. If pants aren’t for you, consider skirts that are easy to maneuver in (ie: you can sit, squat, bend over without showing off your goods.)

G.H.BASS Weejuns Whitney Loafer
G.H.BASS Weejuns Whitney Loafer

Flat Shoes That Serve As a Sneaker Alternative

Loafers! Brogues! Ballet flats! It’s always nice to have something in the arsenal that isn’t a sneaker, again on those days when you want to be comfortable but polished. I’ve logged more than 10k steps a day in these G.H. Bass Weejuns loafers and Gigi Hadid and Zoey Deutch have been spotted wearing these Mansur Gavriel ballet flats (that I also own and love).

Uniqlo U Crew Neck T-Shirt
Uniqlo U Crew Neck T-Shirt

A White T-Shirt

This is the only highly specific, prescriptive item I will put on this list. For me, it's the Uniqlo U Crew Neck. Perfect weight, perfect for layering, perfect perfect perfect.


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