The Three-Step Capsule Wardrobe: Getting Started

I received a few requests after my wardrobe editing posts to write something more specific about why I purchased certain things, how I settled on a color palette, and how I coordinated items. I hope this answers those questions sufficiently and isn't just a rehash of previous posts, but I have to say, it was sort of an accident. I didn't do a spreadsheet or employ precise methodology, I thought about what I already liked wearing and what I wanted to wear.

For spring, take colors you feel good in and wear them together, whether they theoretically match or not. Try treating favorite colors or patterns as neutrals- for instance, you can mix red, green, purple, and leopard with anything- then add a few accents and statement colors for variety. Once you figure out what colors you like wearing, you can organize a functional capsule wardrobe. Note: This is not advocating capsule wardrobes necessarily. I myself don't have a capsule wardrobe, I just don't own many clothes.

I. Select Key Pieces

Before relocating, I got rid of clothes that screamed "I'm a tourist" and weren't practical for my new life- giant heels, loud prints, fragile coats and sweaters. Later, I gradually parted with things that didn't fit my changing body or new lifestyle, keeping favorite, "signature" pieces, pictured above. Key pieces are the ones you love best. For me, these are the items that fit well, garnered the most compliments, and were comfortable, versatile, and durable. Don't fixate on a particular number, only focus on everything you truly enjoy wearing.

II. Choose Complementary Basics

Fleshing out the rest of my closet took time. My clothes were pretty drab, so working off the colors in the sunglasses, I subconsciously lightened my wardrobe over two years, countering dark pieces with blush tones. To me, basics are all the clothing and accessories you need to carry you through everyday life. Whether shopping your own clothes or purchasing new-to-you secondhand items, select things complementing both your lifestyle and existing wardrobe.

I'm not going to preach about quality or investment pieces. Sometimes, you need a pair of shoes, and don't have the cash or time to wait around for "perfect" ones. I've bought less-than-satisfactory placeholders before, and so will you. Try to buy as little as possible with the object of wearing as long as you can. Brand names don't always guarantee quality- clothes are best when they're not overly precious anyway.

If the idea of basics doesn't excite you, define your own. Not everybody needs a white shirt. Look for items with variation in texture or detailing, well-constructed pieces in beautiful fabrics and non-neutral shades.

III. Add Extras

It's nice to have some pieces that serve no purpose other than to make you look and feel good. Here's where to experiment with new trends, or indulge in impulse items within reason. People think I follow some self-imposed ban on shopping, but I let myself browse and buy things secondhand. I allow more than ten items per season, I just know I won't wear anything else. My wardrobe already feels complete. 

This capsule approach isn't extreme. Many people don't have as many clothes as I do. Others have specific work clothes or outfits they wear regularly; I have friends with seemingly endless closets, who often repeat the same favorite pieces. My standard formula is a dress or t-shirts with a skirt and jeans, which I mix up by switching footwear and layering. I get the ease of a uniform, and the variety of a larger wardrobe. I like deciding what to wear every morning! To see my whole closet, click here.

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Minimalist Canalside Apartment, Amsterdam


We stayed in the best apartment in Amsterdam a few weekends ago. Our host was an artist who travels all over the world and leads a very full and active life, running around the city and spending time with children and grandchildren. She is the sweetest lady.


Housed in a former book bindery, Els's place is minimalist by anybody's standards. The warm, homey touches she adds prove simplicity doesn't mean sacrificing self-expression or creativity. I spent the whole weekend wondering how she keeps those white floors clean.


The loft overlooks a canal and was five minutes from Noordermarkt, where I sampled gluten-free truffles and fudge at the Saturday farmer's market. After our stay, she sent us the sweetest note marveling at the fact that we left no garbage in the apartment :) Thank you so much for your hospitality, Els!


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We went to Amsterdam recently on a quick work trip, so I asked Nicky of Emma+John for some places to visit in her hometown. She recommended a bunch of great spots, including Delicious Food, a bulk shop; sustainability-driven stores Geitenwollenwinkel, Hartje Oost, Restored, Nukuhiva, and Charlie+Mary, plus vegan, gluten-free friendly organic restaurants DopHert, De Ceuvel, Venkel, and East57. We did Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, canal bikes and the zoo in one day; the Foam Fotografiemuseum, Kattenkabinet, and Anne Frank house take more time. You can see marks on the wall tracking how much Anne and Margot grew while hiding, and a gallery of pictures they created with American movie stars preserved under glass.

I loved dangling my legs off the canals, eating gluten-free ice cream cones while watching ducks and boats float by. Everyone sat outside barefoot, with the windows and doors flung open. In Paris, people close the shutters as soon as they get home, creating a subjectively "cozy" space in the darkness. Like me, A'dammers live a curtainless existence- my Dutch friend says this stems from Calvinist tradition. I can't wait for Soho House to open here!


Below are some of the places we visited. If you're looking for celiac friendly restaurants in Amsterdam, the blog Glutenfree Amsterdam was incredibly helpful! Click here for Yvonne's guide to zero waste Amsterdam.



Morgan & Mees
Tweede Hugo de Grootstraat 2-6
1052 LC
Limited gluten-free breakfast options; gorgeous terrace and dining room


Valkenburgerstraat 124, 1011 NA

Conscious Hotels

Vondelpark or Museum Square

De Hallen
Sleep, watch movies, shop, and eat gluten-free food at this multifunctional concept hotel.

Hotel the Exchange
Fashion boutique hotel


Wolvenstraat 23

Fashionable spot for gluten-free cake, delicious pizzas, and huge Asian fusion dishes

De Koffieschenkerij

Oudekerksplein 27, De Wallen
Gluten-free cake on the charming terrace of an 800 year old church

Cafe Wester

Krugerplein 23, 1092 KA
Late-night drinks with locals

Restaurant Moon
A'Dam Toren 19th floor
Revolving restaurant


Singel 385, 1012 WL
Homemade gluten-and-lactose-free sorbets and ice creams


Urban garden and plant workshop

Door 74
Speakeasy replete with hidden door

The world's first microbe museum in the Artis Zoo

Herengracht 497, 1017 BT
Depictions of cats by Picasso, Rembrandt, etc.


Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS
Contemporary photography museum in a historic former warehouse

Hortus Botanicus
One of the world's oldest botanical gardens and a sunny place to eat


Eerste Sweelinckstraat 21
Great secondhand shop in De Pijp

Borrow clothes at this lovingly curated fashion library

Van Woustraat 4, 1073 LL
Bar and cafe with gluten-free offerings attached to Kinfolk-twinged concept store

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The Simple Wardrobe, Part III: Pants

Like Lady Gaga, I didn't wear pants for years. I was anti-pants. Too much work- you have to close the fly, button the tab, choose a top, pull it over your shoulders, tuck the hem in. Exhausting! Dresses were easy. One zip, and I had a complete outfit. There's an old picture of me and a college classmate, garbage bags in hand, gloves on, cleaning the campus for our school's environmental awareness association. It was dirty, time-consuming work, but we're both wearing dresses.

When I came to Paris, this became the subject of several jokes. Friends hashtagged photos of me to reflect my aversion to pants. Some thought I forgot to pack them. Others knew the truth- I didn't own any at all. Before moving here, I bought four pairs at a thrift store (over a period of two years), inspired by Parisians walking to work in slim cropped trousers. As a corn-fed Midwesterner, I couldn't pull it off. I longed for the freedom and ease of a tailored skirt.

My faithful jeans, however, looked and felt better the older they got. I kept discovering new ways to wear them. When buying clothing, I try to look for blank canvases, items that interchange and transform easily from season to season. The denim wash is neutral enough to wear year round. The moderate flare tucks nicely into boots (people think I'm wearing skinny jeans) yet feels Emmanuelle Alt-ish on its own. The jeans don't sag or bunch, and a lack of rips / fades / embellishment makes them easy to dress up or down. I'm using the pronoun "them," but it's really just one pair. I don't need more.


I'm not tempted to get duplicates, though I patch the frayed hems periodically, and air-dry / wash them inside out. There are lots of "perfect" jeans out there. After more than a decade of thrift shopping, I'm not traumatized when I wear an item to death or can't find another like it. First came Junya Watanabe jeans, $0.50 at Village Discount Outlet, with banded knees and a curved seam in the seat. They got too big, eventually; I've never seen them again, but I moved on to Current/Elliott Stilettos, then finally the Heartbreaker bootcut above. When clothes don't dictate your life, you adapt to new styles and silhouettes. In this respect, tiny wardrobes help you try different things and are more fluid and versatile than overstuffed ones.

The pants you choose might be very different from mine, depending on lifestyle, location, and occupation. I don't prescribe arbitrary numbers for other people's closets, but one logical ratio is twice as many tops as you have bottoms. I have three tops and two bottoms: these jeans, plus one skirt. This wasn't intentional. I looked at what I was really wearing, and these were the pieces I wore and loved. Not to preach "minimalism" or say you should only wear one pair of pants- less isn't necessarily better, although it works for me. The point of all of this is to just show it's possible. Lots of people have fewer clothes than I do, and they lead functional, happy lives. Jeans, J Brand. 

Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:

Paris to Go

The Simple Wardrobe, Part II: Tops

Linen t-shirts, Petit Bateau

I once went through a phase where I didn't wear- or own- a single t-shirt. I felt like I was above them or something. This was during that weird time in American history when every girl aged 18-34 wore a D.A.R.E t-shirt ironically and owned some variation of the "_______ Girls Do It Better" ringer from Urban Outfitters. Remember Quinn Morgendorffer's pink baby-T? From undergarment to medium to socially pejorative lexeme, no other garment is as accessible, versatile, and hard-working as the t-shirt. While some clothing items identify and bind the wearer to a certain subculture, t-shirts are a democratizing blank canvas. Since their inception, t-shirts were a staple in every wardrobe, it seemed, except mine.

For awhile I wasn't comfortable in t-shirts. On my first trip to Paris, I wore lace and silk blouses, high heels and ribbon-tied espadrilles (I didn't own any pants or sneakers, but that's a story for another post; no tank tops, either- thanks, abusive boyfriend from Voices Carry!). One night, I teetered down the steps of Le Pompon in a fancy dress and saw all the other girls wearing men's tees with skinny jeans, which they tucked into skirts for work the next morning. As soon as my feet touched American soil I ran to the thrift store and bought a J. Crew linen pocket tee, v-neck, olive green. Back then, t-shirts weren't too low-cut or sheer and didn't disintegrate after one wash.

It was magic. No more tugging at button-downs, which always seemed to gape at the bust. Washed in the sink at night, it'd be dry the next morning, no ironing necessary. After five years of near-constant use- under jackets, over tulip skirts, with jeans and shorts and suits or tossed onto maxi dresses- it finally unraveled during an intense tug of war with Kar and Toffel when they climbed onto a closet shelf, later serving as a DIY cat tent. It took nearly a year to find a replacement- hip-skimming, opaque, soft- and two years to buy a second t-shirt. My husband literally forced me to buy them :) In the meantime, I made do with tops I already had. Sometimes people ask if I buy duplicates in case I can't find a particular item ever again. I don't- secondhand shopping precludes this. It's not the end of the world if I never wear another linen tee. I certainly don't mind holding out for a good one.

Although I consider most of my clothes "staples," the linen t-shirt is a seasonless workhorse. To paraphrase Caroline de Maigret, it's like cashmere. It makes me looks like I have a neck. The slub jersey feels luxuriously cozy in winter, fresh and effortless in the summer. I like the way it slides on my shoulders and the way the subtle hue brightens my complexion. Worn with my skirt or jeans, under a cardigan and over a dress, it adds variation to a simple and minimal wardrobe.

Why linen? Until that tapenade-colored J. Crew t-shirt, most of my things were made by young girls in India or China earning only a few cents a day. Cotton came from the US, China, or Uzbekistan, the looming shadow of slavery casting a pall over any usefulness. Hundreds- maybe thousands- of gallons of water went into the lint, not to mention pounds of fertilizers. Cultivation is no picnic for even US laborers; after braving wind, pests, storms, and volatile international markets, farmers painstakingly harvest the bolls before sending them to ginning mills, where workers inhale hazardous particulates. The fabric takes several gas-guzzling trips and chemical-laden baths before settling into a closet. What did Karl Marx say about cotton? "Without cotton, you have no modern industry." Petit Bateau production methods may be grim, but linen cultivation requires less energy inputs, and buying secondhand is even more rewarding.

Most of the women I see in my neighborhood walk around in tunics, loose-fitting blouses, drapey knits, and sharply tailored button-downs. As for t-shirts, generally speaking, curvy Parisians wear scoop or v-necks, Jean Seberg-types prefer jewel and boat necks, and neck-skimming tees look wonderful on broad shoulders. I like open necklines- I don't know my "body type," though I was recently compared to a wonton by a barber with a face tattoo in Amsterdam. Anyway, this isn't a fashion blog, but I thought I would share the rationale behind every item in my closet (it won't take long, there's not many). The nice thing about not having a lot of clothes is that every object represents something, a story or memory or event, something I won't forget.

Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:

Part I- Lingerie
Part III- Pants
Part IV- Dresses and skirts
Part V- Coats
Part VI- Accessories

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10 Piece Spring Wardrobe

This spring, I didn't do much wardrobe editing. I used to stress about each upcoming season, worrying about the "must-have" pieces I needed to fill some imaginary wardrobe gap. Now, my closet is ready with a few quick and painless adjustments- no planning, no harried shopping trips. I sold two synthetic sweaters that made me look like a flight attendant, and added a secondhand red dress, trading my silk-wool sweater for a beige cardigan. Everything else is old and still beautiful to me.

10 Piece Spring Wardrobe


  1. Petit Bateau pink linen t-shirt
  2. Petit Bateau white linen t-shirt
  3. Beige cardigan


  1. J Brand jeans
  2. Wool skirt


  1. Pink dress
  2. Dior dress
  3. Dior dress
  4. Shirtdress


  1. Trench coat

Accessories (not counted as part of total)

  1. Bag, Longchamp
  2. Watch
  3. Wedding ring
  4. Sunglasses
  5. Heels
  6. Pumps
  7. Sneakers
Weekday uniform: Dress and cardigan or skirt / t-shirt / cardigan
Weekend uniform: t-shirt / jeans
This isn't to say everyone should wear ten items per season. It's just an example of what I wear without feeling deprived or sacrificing my lifestyle. Don't take this as a guide for your next trip to Paris! Ninety-nine percent of Parisians will be wearing coats- nay, doudounes- boots, and scarves until mid-July. I included my raincoat here- a waterproof cotton mac with camo lining, which peeks out when I roll my sleeves- but haven't worn it much this spring. It's too hot. Where I come from, 40°F / 4.4°C is bikini weather.

Parisian style is about sharply tailored blazers, pants cropped just so, and layers, but I'm more comfortable in dresses, a cardigan, and little heels. Still, I never feel out of place. My outfits are almost always appropriate. The pieces are simple- their visual interest comes from color, texture and cut- so they don't detract from my work. They are versatile, so I enjoy variety in my wardrobe. I may not have many clothes (relatively speaking), but what I do have, I love more with every passing year.

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Zero Waste Perfume


This DIY is so quick, simple, and rewarding, I hesitated posting it for fear of sounding patronizing. A few weeks ago, my husband's co-worker sent us some gorgeous flowers, which the cats ate. Some blooms were beyond saving, but smelled too good to be composted. I whipped up homemade perfume using the petals.

There are several ways to make your own perfume, using water or vodka. The first method is to place a handful of carefully washed blossoms in a jar and cover with one inch vodka. I use bulk vodka from En Vrac. Steep for 2-6 weeks until the perfume reaches desired scent. Strain and store in a spray bottle to use as fragrance, or a zero-waste air freshener. For a lighter blend, steep petals in water instead of vodka. I left this for two weeks, then dabbed some on my wrists today- the scent lasted about five hours. Try using other plant matter, such as citrus peels, evergreen needles, etc. I added eucalyptus to mine.

Alternately, wash 1 1/2 cups material and place in a pan with 2 cups distilled water (for DIY instructions, click here.) Bring to boil, then simmer two hours. Allow to cool. Line a jar or bowl with ├ętamine and strain before storing. The resulting floral water makes an excellent facial toner, linen water, or tonic.

Each homemade perfume takes on a different, lovely color, from citrine to light pink to amber, depending on the ingredients. After making it, my friend Ketty said she loved my perfume, and I hadn't even put any on yet! Despite many assurances to the contrary, I swear my home, hair, and personage smells like cider vinegar, so I spray it on homemade gifts and around the apartment before people come over. If you prefer solid perfume, some French people still perform traditional enfleurage at home using leftover animal fats. This results in the longest-lasting fragrance, but it's a long, tedious process, splitting up glucosides with animal-derived enzymes. I tried making soap with animal fat once, and the judgmental looks I got from my cats were enough for me. Plus I smelled like bacon the whole time!

Visit The Rogue Ginger (who was just featured in Beth Terry's Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too) for an essential oil perfume DIY. If you'd rather buy than DIY, Le Labo offers refills in-store.

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My Vacuum-Free Life

Click here to read an update of this post

Could you live without a vacuum cleaner? We thought ours broke because it wouldn't turn on for weeks. Just for kicks, I plugged it in yesterday, and the vacuum suddenly sprang to life, startling and nearly sucking up a nearby cat. I decided to just put it away. I like not vacuuming. It's peaceful, and at 68dB, ours is too noisy for apartment living anyway (just shy of a Hollister store). I took some photos of our home in its resting state; I haven't vacuumed in over three weeks, and I haven't steamed the sheets lately, either. There's a single tuft of cat hair in one picture. I think it looks okay.


I'm not convinced vacuuming is better than sweeping. Many Dyson homes are dustier than mine. Vacuum cleaners spew particulate matter, leaving a lingering smell behind. They don't kill or remove mites (we have bare hardwood floors, lots of sunlight, and good ventilation anyway). Even the most thorough vacuuming doesn't beat hand-dusting- a flour sack towel slightly dampened with cider vinegar removes grime better than suction. My grandma makes me stick a blanket under my knees so this doesn't cripple me later. I wipe furniture, shelves, and household objects, then scrub baseboards and floors in the direction of the wood grain. This takes less time than dragging the vacuum out, fumbling with the cord (think Kirby from Brave Little Toaster), and comforting a terrified Kar afterward. Who needs a mop or duster?

When we first got the cats, my husband really wanted a Roomba- there was enough fur flying around to knit companion cats. He soon discovered the cat brush removes lint better than plastic disposable rollers, and frequent bathing and grooming prevents shedding. Some of my friends have severe cat allergies, yet none experienced reactions during our vacuum-free period, even when one forgot to take her medicine. It may come in handy should fleas ever enter the household; for now, the vacuum languishes in the closet. My socks look incredibly clean after ditching it! They used to collect big lint balls on the soles, left behind by a high-end, glowingly reviewed canister model. These days, it's like they just came out of the wash. What about you? How do you keep bare floors clean: vacuum or broom?
Paris to Go