Putting Together a Dressy Wardrobe Capsule

Most of us closet pieces that we don’t wear very often, yet we keep them around “just in case” we may need them one day.   In many instances, these items fall into the formal or dressy wardrobe category.   In truth, it can be a good idea to retain a small capsule of formal items, as we generally do encounter such occasions periodically.  It’s easier to have some go-to pieces on hand than to have to shop on short notice and face the possibility of not finding what we need.

Dressy Wardrobe Capsule

Have you put together a formal/dressy wardrobe capsule?

When I shared my 2014 wardrobe “benchwarmer” update last month, I noted that many of my unworn items were too dressy for my day-to-day life.   My benchwarmer shoes in particular could be classified as such.   I continued to hold on to these pieces because they were still in good condition and I thought it would be good to keep a dressy wardrobe capsule in my closet.  However, I had never actually taken the time to compile such a capsule.  The dressy pieces were in my closet, but I hadn’t given much thought as to how they might work together or even if they would coordinate well.

Moving from Hypothetical to Reality

Upon the suggestion of several readers, I decided to actually compile a dressy capsule and consider which outfits I might wear for more formal events.   In today’s post, I share what I put together, as well as a few sample ensembles from my photo archives.   My capsule is probably larger than it needs to be, but many of the individual pieces can also be worn in more casual outfits, particularly the tops I selected.   None of this is set in stone, but it was definitely helpful to think about what I might want to wear when dressy occasions arise.

I actually created two dressy capsules from my existing wardrobe, one for dress/skirt ensembles and one for pants outfits.    There are several reasons why I decided to do this and my rationale may not apply to you and your wardrobe.   Here are the considerations that came into play for me:

  1. Many of my dressy shoes only work with skirts and dresses due to the heel height (pants not long enough for high heels).
  2. I’ve found that my shorter tops and jackets only look good with my skirts and dresses (but there are some exceptions to this rule).
  3. Conversely, my longer tops and jackets tend to work better with trousers, and my flat or low-heeled shoes are a better match for my pants as well.

Capsule #1 – Dresses and Skirts

Let’s start by looking at my dress/skirt formal capsule.   Here’s a snapshot of the items that I included from my closet:

Dressy Capsule #1 - Dresses and Skirts

This is my first dressy capsule – dresses and skirts with appropriate companion pieces.

In most instances, I choose to wear a dress or a skirt for more formal events (e.g. going out to dinner or a live performance, attending a wedding or funeral), yet I found that I don’t have as many suitable pieces as I thought.  Of course, “dressy” is a relative term and since I live in ultra-casual Southern California, it probably looks a lot different here than where many of you live.   Wearing knit pieces is perfectly acceptable for most occasions in these parts, so I included a few such garments in my capsule.   I likely could have added one or two additional dresses to the mix, but I opted to stick with my two black dresses to err on the side of caution and keep things simple.

I also selected three skirts that I feel can easily be dressed up as needed.  One such skirt, a pinstriped trumpet skirt, I’ve struggled to dress down successfully, so it’s probably best saved for dressier occasions.   The capsule was rounded out with a selection of tops, jackets, and shoes.   Here’s an overview of what I decided to include:

  • 2 dresses: black midi, black maxi
  • 3 skirts: pinstripe trumpet, black midi, black/white zigzag stripe
  • 4 pairs of shoes: black/cream sandals, black sling-back sandals, pewter sling-back sandals, red t-strap sandals
  • 4 jackets: black/grey knit blazer, black mixed media jacket, black/white striped knit blazer, coral knit blazer
  • 4 tops: black ruffle top, black/white printed top, floral tank, red lace-strap tank
  • 1 bag: black embellished evening bag
  • Total: 18 items

Yes, I know that’s a lot of items, but as I mentioned previously, almost all of them can be dressed down and worn in my day-to-day life.   The only pieces that I feel work only for dressy occasions are:

  • Pewter sling-back sandals (because of the shine)
  • Black evening bag (clearly reads “evening”)
  • Pinstripe skirt (looks more formal, doesn’t look right dressed down with a casual top and shoes)

I have worn the black midi dress with a denim jacket and the red patent sandals look less dressy when paired with one of my printed knit dresses.   Maxi dresses are commonplace casual wear in my town, but can also be dressed up with more formal accessories.   I’m not totally sure if the black and cream sandals can be worn for casual events due to their patent finish.   I think the red patent sandals work well in a dressed-down way, but that may be because of their bright color.  I may have to relegate the black and cream sandals to dressed-up events only, but I will see in time and as I play with different combinations.

Speaking of combinations, below are a few possible outfits I could wear using the dress and skirt capsule pictured above.  Please note that some of pieces shown below are not the same as what is in the capsule. For example, the shoes in the first skirt outfit would be switched out for the pewter sling-backs and the skirt in the second outfit would be replaced by the pinstripe skirt. Many of the outfit pictures are not recent and are only shown as potential combinations I could create using the capsule.  I know there are many other options, but I wanted to share a few examples just for fun.

Sample Dress Outfits

A few sample dress outfits using the capsule items above. 

Capsule #2 – Pants

My dressy pants capsule was actually easier to put together even though it includes only one pair of black trousers (the only pair of dressy pants I own at this point!).   With this capsule, I’m allowing for outfits for such occasions as job interviews, dining out, and going to the theatre.  Here’s a look at the capsule, followed by a list of what’s included:

Dressy Capsule #2 - Pants

My second dressy capsule includes black trousers and appropriate companion pieces. 

  • 1 pair of pants: black trousers
  • 2 pairs of shoes: black AGL flats, black suede sling-back sandals
  • 3 coats/jackets: black velvet coat, black hip-length blazer, black mixed-media jacket
  • 3 long cardigans: black open cardigan, burgundy open cardigan, cobalt open cardigan
  • 9 tops: black sheer stripe top, black/blue print top, black/white striped top, black/white polka dot tee, black/white print top, grey print tank, red tank with chiffon trim, black/grey striped tank, teal/black striped top
  • Total: 18 items

This is also a relatively large capsule, but two items are repeated from the dress/skirt capsule (black mixed-media jacket, black/white print top) and almost all of the pieces can also be worn in a dressed down manner.   The only items that are basically confined to more formal wear are:

  • Black suede sling-back sandals (due to the suede and the style)
  • Black trousers (suit material)
  • Black blazer (could maybe be worn with jeans, but I never do)
  • Black sheer stripe top (could also be worn with jeans, but I haven’t done that yet)
  • Black velvet coat (reads “evening”)

Of the items above, only the trousers were worn regularly last year.   The top was purchased during 2014 but was never worn, and the coat was only worn once (but has been worn once so far this year).   When I wore the trousers last year, I usually paired them with a different pair of shoes, but I think I’m going to pass those shoes on (due to discomfort) and replace them with the suede sling-back sandals.   That way, the sandals will be worn more often moving forward (which will make me happy, as they are comfortable and were an expensive gift from my mom).

Here are some example outfits using my dressy pants capsule:

Pants Outfit Examples #1

A few possible pants ensembles using the capsule items above. 

The shoes in most of the outfits shown above are the ones I will likely pass on.  The pants in the outfit with the red top are my black knit pants, but I would switch them out for the black trousers and replace the boots with one of the capsule shoes.   The black velvet coat could easily be worn with virtually every ensemble shown.

Of course, I could also switch out the accessories to create dressier – or less dressed up – looks when necessary.   In terms of a handbag, I could either use the one shown in my dress/skirt capsule (for a more formal event) or simply carry one of my standard purses, most of which would work just fine for the events I might attend.

A Worthy Exercise

It was definitely a worthy exercise for me to create my dressy wardrobe capsules. It’s comforting to know that I have what I need for virtually any event that might come up in my life.  Of course, if I get invited to a black tie occasion or score a seat at the Oscars (a “bucket list” item for me!), I would have to do some shopping.  But such events aren’t very likely to occur anytime soon.

I could probably do some more downsizing of my formal items, especially those that can’t really be dressed down to suit my standard lifestyle.  But I’m going to take things as they come this year and see what I do and don’t wear over time.   My “Love It, Wear It” Challenge (LIWI) is really helping me to realize both what I love and what I actually wear, which is what it’s intended to do!   I will likely do an update later in the year on my dressy capsules and how they’re working out for me.   I’ll do my best to snap photos of the actual outfits that I wear from the capsules so I can showcase them in my update post.

Your Dressy Capsules?

Now it’s your turn to sound off, both on my dressy capsules and your own.   If you have any suggestions for how I could improve upon my capsules, please share.   This is new for me and I’m open to learning from your experiences.  Likewise, if you’d like to tell me and your fellow readers about your dressy/formal wardrobe capsule, the information would definitely be welcomed.   We all have valuable perspectives to share and learn so much from each other!

“Flashback Friday”

As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon (I know many of you will receive the post on Saturday and I’m working on a solution to this issue), so it’s a good time to share a few “Flashback Friday” posts from earlier in the blog.   Here’s what I was writing about back in February of 2013 and 2014:

From February 2013:

From February 2014:

Have a wonderful weekend!  For those in the U.S. who have a three-day weekend, enjoy the extra day off.   I’ll be back next week with a new series for the blog and more posts on wardrobe management, shopping behavior and psychology, personal style, and more!

61 thoughts on “Putting Together a Dressy Wardrobe Capsule

    • Thank you, Wendy and Paula! I love the idea of a little purple dress, Wendy. I’d like to find a versatile dress in a color other than black. I have two blue dresses, but both are very casual in that they are cotton. They suit most of my life just fine, but wouldn’t work so well for anything formal like what you mentioned.

  1. Debbie,
    I love your skirts/dresses capsule and like how many of items are mixable for a variety of occasions. I liked both outfits on the very right as well, great mix of jewel tones with black. The only question I had was about the pants capsule. Have you considered a pair of grey slacks? I think they would work with the majority of your tops and jackets. I also really liked the outfits 3&4 (top right, lower left.) I also am in complete love with your velvet long jacket.

    My personal life is really different and doesn’t require dress wear. I work in management in food service so I rarely have an occasion to dress up. My dress wardrobe consists of a black blazer, a few dressier blouses and clean black dress pants (which double for work) for an occasional fancy dinner or family event. Although its not dressy/formal, I do tend to keep a signature item on hand for events I know will come up soon. IE: A peasant and a sheer black top with a black vest for renaissance faire.

    • I would love to find another pair of slack, Angel, and grey would be a good choice for me. I agree that grey would work with many of my tops. I do have a pair of grey pants, but they are too casual for the dressier occasions. Hopefully, I will be able to find another suitable pair of pants soon.

      I love that you include your renaissance faire items in your special occasion wear capsule. We all have very different lives and one person’s special occasion is different than another’s. The key is to understand our individual needs and cultivate a wardrobe that works well for them, and it sounds like you’ve done that.

  2. This is a timely post for me. Most of my dressier clothes are from at least six years ago before I had kids. I had a rare formal event in January and had planned to wear one of the dresses I already owned, but they all looked wrong. The styles were dated, looked too young on me, and, although they fit size-wise, weren’t flattering on my post-kids body shape. I decided this was the time to purchase something, and was lucky to find a dress that suited me and at half price was just within my budget. I also have several dressy skirts that do suit me but, surprisingly, I found I lack tops for them as most of my tops are not dressy enough and are too long for skirts. The tops I used to wear with them have been gradually purged without me realizing I was orphaning my skirts! I guess now I need to look out for a couple of tops that would work with my skirts. Hmm.

    • I agree with both of you, Kayla and Lynn, that dresses are easier and more versatile than skirts. I was more into skirts for a long time and have been gradually switching more over to dresses as of late. My tops that I wear with skirts are mostly too casual, too, and I struggled to find enough to include in the capsule I presented in this post. I would like to find another top or two that can be dressed up or down with the skirts I still enjoy wearing (becoming fewer and fewer over time). I’m glad you found a good dress for your January formal event, Kayla. It can be hard to find things at short notice, which is why it’s good to have a small capsule for the type of dressy or formal events that might come up in our lives.

  3. Not on topic at all but when I saw the pictures of you with dark hair (like the last pictures in the first two rows) I said “Wow!” to myself. What a gorgeous color for you! It very much compliments your cool skin tone and the colors you wear. 🙂
    I can’t exactly put my finger on it but it might come off a bit “edgier” or maybe you look more confident. Can colors make us look more confident? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that question!

    • I like my hair darker, too, Emmy, but went lighter in recent years because I’m so grey now. The photos in this post are from the past 4 or so years, so that’s why I have a bunch of different hair colors. The most recent photo is the one with the velvet coat, so that’s pretty much how my hair looks now. I went darker and less red during the summer and like my hair better this way. I do believe that colors can make us look more confident and I think it works in several ways. For one, if we wear the colors which best suit us (in terms of clothing, make-up, and hair color) we look brighter and that can translate to more confident. In addition, if we love the colors we’re wearing, I think we FEEL more confident and that comes through. I know that if I were to put on beige or pastels, I wouldn’t look very confident at all (not to mention sickly) because I don’t like those colors and they don’t suit me. Imogen Lamport writes a lot about color, so it you haven’t seen her site, I highly recommend it: http://insideoutstyleblog.com

      • I completely agree with what you wrote about color and confidence. I’ve been to Imogene’s blog a few times but will have to check out her “color guide” posts. Thanks for the referral, Debbie!

  4. I have to admit my idea of formal capsule was quite different. I envisioned wear appropriate for a funeral, or the opera, a final interview, or a 5 star restaurant in a big city. So when I saw 18 items it surprised me. But once I saw you were describing dressy items you could wear out to dinner, etc it made a lot more sense.
    I have a jersey LBD that’s for date night or going out, another sheath one for interview or funeral, a gray pant suit and a pair of nude pumps. Those are my very dressy items. I have at least as many items as you that can be for slightly dressier occasions, or dressed up or down. Some button down silky blouses, various heels, my leather pants, some red velvet pants, an off white blazer. I don’t consider these as a separate capsule but rather just on the dressier side of the spectrum. For me, that makes it easier to work them in to my every day without feeling like I need to ‘save the good clothes’. By contrast, the items in my formal capsule have all been worn 3 times or less, and I’ve owned them all about 3 years or a little more, so they really are ‘special’ occasion. I don’t need more of these, but am thrilled to have the ones I do for when I need.

    • I see what you mean, Mo, and that’s why I used the word “dressy” instead of “formal.” Dressy can be different to different people, whereas formal is usually reserved for the types of events you mention. I was originally going to put together a much smaller formal capsule, but then I realized that I almost never attend such events. I can’t even really remember when I last went to a funeral, a job interview, the opera, or even a wedding. My type of dressy events are much less formal, partly because of my life and partly because of where I live. I think there are few restaurants in San Diego that people can’t wear shorts and flip flops to and people wear those sorts of things to church here, too. Your going out wear sounds great and very versatile. I would love to find a few “special” items like your leather pants and red velvet pants are to you (for me, they would be different items, as I can’t pull off those sorts of things as well as you can, but I would want to have that sort of feel). This was an interesting exercise and I’m still thinking about it all. The comments are open my eyes to more wrinkles to the whole equation, too.

      • Yes, the most important distinction is having actual outfits for actual events in your life, no matter what we label that! To that end, it’s also helpful to think in specifics. I found this out the hard way when I thought, ‘oh I have dressy items I could use to interview’ a few years back. Well, yes and no. Office interview, for sure. Food and beverage, not so much. Point being, it has to work for YOUR life. Period.
        I also think metallic doesn’t have to be dressy automatically. I wore my silver flats in FL with shorts a few times! It works. Part of the balance to make a t shirt snazzy kind of thing. You should try them out in a much more casual ensemble and see if they don’t act almost like jewelry would, as an accent.
        Oh, and not that you are saying so, but I hear so much fashion advice state that the right little black dress can cover almost any fashion base if accessorized this way or that way. I don’t think so, and I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on one article of clothing lol. 😉
        I hope you find your version of my velvet pants that feel like your special item. 😀

      • Thanks, Mo. I’m not sure yet what that special item will be, but I will know it when I see it. And I agree with you that the “little black dress” generally won’t cover ALL of our fashion bases. I believe in minimalism, but that’s a bit too much! However, it’s a good place to start and then we can fill in the gaps with what works best for us (and not everyone will want or need an LBD anyway).

  5. I really like your dressy outfits, especially the ones with blazers, and the one with the trousers!
    My ‘dressy’ capsule is composed of 3 dresses, suitable for all seasons (with season-appropriate accessories of course); one is a sheath dress in green, which is suitable for church occasions given its knee length. Then I have a shorter, lace dress in aqua green, which is for less formal occasions, then a jersey bordeaux one, which is very figure flattering and also can be played up or down with the right accessories, so I can wear it to a formal dinner, but also to a museum or to theatre! I also own a satin black pochette for very formal occasions… And that’s it, I suppose. I don’t have many dressy occasions, so these pieces suit me just fine.

    • Thanks, Maria. Your dressy capsule sounds very nice and like it works well for your needs. I don’t have many dressy occasions, either, and like I said, “dressy” can mean different things to different people. What matters most is that we give it some thought for ourselves and make sure we have what we need to feel appropriate, attractive, and confident in the the dressy situations of our lives. The colors of your dresses sound beautiful and are among my favorites!

  6. I like this and I think it will further gel things for you. I especially like the comment you made about the pinstriped trumpet skirt, that you’ve struggled to dress it down successfully. That’s a great realization! It’s not the fault of the skirt, it’s just probably best saved for dressier occasions. I do like having some items set aside for special occasions as it makes the occasions (and me) feel more special!

    For me, in a normal year I get invited to one or two uber-dressy events of the “black tie optional” level, so I keep at least one or two fancy dresses on hand at all times. That works. Otherwise I have a few toppers and dressy sweaters and blouses I can mix in with regular wardrobe pants for a trip to the ballet or theater. That works. I have a handful of dresses I can dress up for a wedding if one comes up but I don’t have that happen too often, so that works. I usually wear darker office attire to a funeral though for a close family member I would want to choose one of my dresses with a dressy topper. But right now I think I’d be hard-pressed to marry a dress and a topper for a family funeral. So this is definitely something for me to look at.

    • It sounds like you have the perfect dressy wardrobe capsule for you, Holly. I very, very rarely attend anything that is black tie or black tie optional. I wore the black dress with the sparkly wrap and shoes to one such event and a red dress that I no longer have to another. If I had more of those types of events, I’d probably want to add another dress or two to my capsule. My events are more like the other types of occasions you mentioned. I think that if a funeral came up in my life, I would struggle in the same way that you mentioned. My toppers are mostly too bright or too casual for such an occasion. I might wear the black and grey jacket with the black dress, but I think I need to give this some more thought. Hopefully a funeral will not come up (the last one I went to was in 2008), but one never knows with that sort of thing.

  7. You are so organized and list-y it makes me smile. My small wardrobe has “good” (not cotton wrinklies) black pants, one skirt (summer outdoor weddings), one top, one jacket, one pair shoes. I use husband’s pocket for a bag and could use more tops, but it does tfuneral, wedding, bar mitzvah job passably. remember, this is part of an under-40 item (by 333 rules) year-round total, so it is proportionally large.
    I love your writing and self-exposing honesty. You are mentally healthy, I would say. Thanks.

    • I love how minimalist you are with your wardrobe, Helen. I’d like to move more in that direction and it’s happening in time. Most of the items I showed in this post are worn in my day-to-day life in addition to the dressier events, but it was fun to consider the various combinations I could make. You seem like you’re covered pretty well for the more formal events in your life (including having your husband’s pocket as a bag – love that!). Thanks for the mentally healthy comment. I’ve been working on it, so hopefully I’m getting there!

  8. Debbie, you look fantastic! I hadn’t given much thought to putting together a specific dressy capsule – I have several statement pieces (mostly skirts) that I wear for really dressy, mostly holiday stuff – a night at the ballet, or theatre, or all-out holiday party.

    Have you considered wearing those silver sandals in summer? I think they would look great with white shorts and a thin denim top (or thin denim bottoms + white top) for very hot weather. I think the casual fabrics would pull down the dressy factor to something more everyday.

    I really LOVE the idea of having a designated capsule, with outfits that are planned in advance – kind of a fallback outfit. At some point I’m going to sit down and make out a list.

    What is everyone’s feelings on black for weddings? I have two knockout dresses in black that I LOVE, that I have worn to late afternoon/early evening weddings. I always feel very sophisticated and elegant when I wear them. I never feel so good as when I wear something sleek in black. But I’ve also read about what black signifies (disapproval of the couple, mourning, and, in really old-fashioned terms, what the governess or servant might wear). On the other hand, hello, Coco Chanel’s LBD.

    But all of that aside, I feel I want something with some color for weddings – but the dress I’m saving up for is a HUGE splurge, and probably not something I would wear more than twice a year, which makes me hesitate to pull the trigger.

    • Loved several pieces you chose for dressy: Long black dress, short black dress, black pants, shawl, black velvet coat, mixed media jacket, striped lace tank, red tank, pewter sandals, black flats and sling-backs. The black long blazer looked like a good addition as well and would look great with the pants and a statement necklace and maybe a white blouse. Before I paired down my wardrobe and decided what looked best on me I always had too many choices. I think you might be including too many pieces, but that’s just me! Some great looks!

    • Mary Beth, these days for weddings it probably depends in part on your community and the couple, but I’ve seen everything at weddings – from cocktail dresses to cargo pants. I think that if you feel comfortable and you are showing respect to the couple by dressing thoughtfully (ie NOT cargo pants and Birkenstocks) you are probably fine.
      I don’t think most people worry about the symbolism of black as long as the dress itself is appropriate in other ways. But in certain parts of the country or in certain families it might be different. But then again, even if it is, as long as you’re not offending anyone you are close to, I wouldn’t worry that much. If a few old biddies whisper behind their hands about the color of your dress (and plenty else about everyone else) that’s their problem. But then again, if you’re worried about it you won’t be comfortable.
      I never get the wedding clothes quite right – always just a touch too casual or dressy compared to everyone else. Maybe I’m not a good person to give advice! 😉
      (I’m from New Zealand and now live in the western US. We don’t stand on ceremony. People wear ripped jeans and tshirts to every imaginable occasion here, even/especially the tech millionaires. So there’s that. But I believe you should dress respectfully and allow all the attention to go to the happy couple, where it belongs.)

    • This is a great discussion here! Mary Beth, thank you for your kind words about my outfits and your suggestions for the silver sandals. I hadn’t really thought of ways to dress those down, but it’s worth giving it a try to see what I think.

      Leane, I appreciate your compliments, too, as well as your ideas for possible combinations. You’re right that it’s a lot of pieces and it would be FAR too many if I didn’t also wear most of the items in my day-to-day life. If I was doing a true formal capsule, it would definitely include fewer than 10 items, but I really don’t have any actual formal events in my life (maybe every 3 years or so). I may do a part two of this post later and show more outfit photos (recent ones – most of the photos in this post are older), as well as any changes I decided to make to the capsule based on feedback I’ve received and my personal experiences.

      Regarding black at weddings, I didn’t really think about that, as it’s been SO long since I’ve been to a wedding (I guess there are fewer of them when one gets into their 40’s). I think the “rules” against wearing black are somewhat more relaxed now, although I think it’s still considered a faux pas to wear white. I think I would probably wear the black dress to a wedding, but with a printed or bright topper to lessen the all-black effect. The accessories we choose can make a difference, too. That said, I would be more likely to wear one of my other dresses that I didn’t feature in this post. They are a bit more casual, but would probably be fine for a daytime wedding in San Diego (everything is more casual here). I would eventually like to find a dress in another color that reads more dressy and that’s on my list at present.

      Joanna, I loved your input on wedding wear. I agree that cargo pants and Birkenstocks are no-nos for weddings, but I’m sure there is a lot of that around here (it’s been so long since I went to a wedding that I don’t remember). Your comment about the “old biddies” gave me a chuckle 🙂 As an aside, I didn’t know you were from New Zealand. I spent a month there for my honeymoon and loved it so much. I hope to make it back before too long!

  9. I was drawn to your ‘dressy pants’ capsule (as I always wear pants) and I thought it looked great! My ‘going out’ capsule was the least well thought through area of my wardrobe, and I was in a mild panic before the Christmas break with several social events in my diary. However a bit of thought and a few new purchases have helped a lot.
    I noticed that two key items were very useful; some tapered pants in a wine colour, and some flared ones in dark olive, in both cases the fabric having a slight sheen. They both look good with simple, dark tops. I’m going to keep an eye out for other pants of this type; not too bright, but with the slightly ‘lux’ fabric making them different to my work or casual pants.
    I don’t normally suggest things for you but it seemed to me that a second pair of pants in a colour other than black might get lots of mileage out of your lovely tops and blazers.

    • I’ve just noticed Angel suggested the same thing……yes, grey, or perhaps a silvery pewter colour, would be really nice with the black and coloured tops.

    • I totally agree with you and Angel, Alice, that I need another pair of dressier pants in a color other than black. It’s on the list, but pants are very hard for me to find! I love the idea of burgundy or grey for me with my color palette. Your pants sound lovely!

  10. I have a black dress, black and white dress, and a pair of wedge heel nude sandals that I would only wear for a dressier occasion. In my “regular” clothes I have three knit black dresses that can be dressed up or down, a pair of cropped black pants in a nicer fabric that pairs with tops on the dressier end, and a pair of black sandals. So for the warmer months I’m good. For the colder ones I need to buy a few things next winter. I sent my one long sleeve dress to consignment and my black pants died a horrible death, so I will need to replace them.
    I love the picture with the black dress and pewter shoes and shawl. It looks very glamorous!

    • The size of your dressy capsule sounds perfect for what I know about your life, Tonya. I think it works very well when pieces can be dressed up or down, especially for those of us whose lives are mostly casual in nature. When you mentioned that black and white dress, I thought that I would love to find something like that. I am liking dresses more than skirts these days, so I will keep my eyes open for a black and white dress this spring, ideally one that can be dressy or more casual depending upon accessories. So sorry about your pants dying a horrible dress (and curious, too…). I hope you find a suitable option soon. Thanks for the compliment on my black dress with the shawl outfit. I actually wore that outfit to a holiday party probably 4 years ago, but it would still work this year. I wish I had more such occasions in my life, as I did feel glamorous in it.

  11. That wrap-top looks amazing on you :-). The pants and dress outfits are my favorites and I’m not sure why… The proportions are just so gorgeous. Could be the longer tops with the pants? Anyway, you look really happy in these outfits :-). And I was really surprised by one thing. The level of dressy here is less dressy than I would wear to work, so no wonder you struggle in San Diego! I have only one dress that is too dressy for work and almost everything in my closet could work for a dressy event except for one of my sweaters, I guess, so I never considered creating a dressy capsule wardrobe. I am, however, starting to realize that capsules have a place in this world, so I just might give it some more thought from this inspiration.

    • Good to see you commenting here, Mette! I’ve really been enjoying your “7 Steps of Style” posts. Thanks for your compliments on my outfits. I do like to wear longer tops with pants, and yes I was happy in the outfits pictured (some of the photos are from a few years ago, though). Yes, it is VERY casual in San Diego, so there are very few true formal needs here. That’s why I said “dressy” capsule instead of formal, and dressy is a very relative term. If I had an office job, I probably would wear many of the outfits shown to work (sometimes I actually wish I had an office job so I could wear more of my clothes, but that’s a different topic). It was fun to try to put together a dressy capsule and I learned a lot in the process. Maybe it would be a fun blog post for you to do, with your own unique twist? 🙂

  12. Some super looks, I particularly like the dresses, I’ve found that a capsule of occasion outfits is really useful and helps to prevent last minute impulse buys which are never worn again. It’s worth checking the outfits once a year to make sure they fit, haven’t dated too much – or developed moth holes! Not what you want to find out 20 mins before the event. And it’s worth photographing the whole outfit ( and variations) for reference.

    • You are so right about those last-minute impulse purchases, Lynn. They really are rarely worn again! I remember when I moved some years back and a formal event came up before some of my belongings had arrived in my new location. I had to really scramble to find an outfit and then those items languished in my closet for years afterwards. Of course, that time wasn’t really my fault, but it is so much better to be prepared for whatever might come up. You’re right that it’s a good idea to go through the outfits – and try them on! – once a year so we don’t get blindsided. And photographing the looks is a good way to go. I plan to play some more with my proposed looks and take some photos (the ones in this post were old).

  13. Those photos are fab! I agree with Mette’s comments and won’t repeat them here. One question: you have lots of sandals and open toe/heel styles. I only see one adorable but casual (?) black flat. Do you need a closed toe black low heeled formal shoe? I’m suggesting this because of weather: what if your event happens when it’s raining, or chilly?

    Also, the shawl you are wearing is wonderful.

    • Thanks, Amy. You raise a very good point about closed-toe shoes. I did have a pair of black Coach pumps, but I got rid of them not long ago because the heel was too high and they were uncomfortable. It does get cold here sometimes, though, and my feet would be chilly in the sandals. I wouldn’t be very happy, to say the least. So closed-toe black heels are now on my list!

  14. Are you distinguishing between “dressy” and “formal”? I’d classify almost all of your photos as lovely “nice casual” or “business casual” wear. The second picture may be formal depending on accessories (can’t make them out). And the third picture is definitely more formal: black + shine = no fail combination!

    • Yes, I’m definitely referring more to “dressy” (in the manner in which each individual might define it) rather than true formal, Amy. I was going to do the post only about formal wear, but then I realized not only how little of it I have but also how very infrequently I ever attend a highly formal event. So I cast a broader net so I would have more to show and more to write about.

      You’re right that most of my outfits shown are more “nice casual” or “business casual,” but I pretty much only ever get that dressed up here. If anyone is reading this (you, Amy, or someone else) who would be interested in writing a guest post about true formal wear capsules, I would be open to it. I’m not the most qualified person to write that one! But my main point in writing this post was to get readers to think about the dressy events in their lives and how they might put together a capsule wardrobe for them by shopping their closets. Of course, some of us may need to do a little brick and mortar or online shopping to fill in the gaps, but that’s usually where we start and it doesn’t have to be.

  15. Debbie, the collection of clothing you have assembled is lovely and you look radiant. If you wanted to continue shopping you could expand, refine and add a few more pieces. But I don’t think you need to buy anything else right now. What you have already seems to cover your basic needs. Perhaps just wear these outfits for the next year each time a dressy or formal event comes along, and the process will let you know what is working and what is not. You can always shop later if you discover a key item is missing.
    My entire wardrobe is divided into small capsules, and I’m working hard to keep my wardrobe small because I really don’t need a lot. I have a tiny capsule for very dressy occasions—2 dresses, shoes and one fabulous jacket (that can be worn in all four seasons) and these cover all of my formal and dressy needs. I don’t have any special occasion fancy eveningwear currently, because it has been years since I have needed any. I also have a small smart casual, or nice wear capsule, which dubs for business-wear. ( I work in a fairly casual environment). And a small casual-wear sporty capsule, and my biggest capsule of all is my home-wear collection, because I spend a great deal of time at home working, playing and socializing.

    • First of all, the LBD and metallic shawl outfit is fantastic, and you look so confident in it.
      Secondly, I agree with Terra, you could add some things, but I don’t think you need to. Your capsules look cohesive and seem like they are all 8+s. Did you try on the outfits, or just pick them out? If you tried them on, did you feel like they were in 8-10 territory?

    • You’re probably right that I don’t really need anything else right now, Terra. The suggestions I’ve received have been great, but they are more “nice to haves” than absolute musts. I have other priorities to purchase that are more in line with my day to day life. I love the idea of having a bunch of small capsule that work for our wardrobe needs. Like you, the largest capsule in my wardrobe should be my at-home wear. That’s not currently the case, but I’m getting there.

      Heather, thanks for your compliment on my outfit. All of the outfits pictured were ones I actually wore, but some were from a couple of years ago. I think they were all “8”s or higher, but I need to try them all on again to be sure. I’d also like to create additional outfits from the capsule items. There may be a part two to this post at some point.

  16. I’m so glad you are happy with your dressy capsule wardrobe. I really like the first 3 looks. Dresses really are so much easier than separates. I hope to find more dresses this year. I have two formal outfits , 1) black dress & jacket/ metallic thread 2) black embellished jacket & tank worn with black pencil skirt. Both jackets and the skirt can be dressed down which is nice ,since I have very few formal events to attend. I have five cotton dresses for special occasions in the following colors… black, white, hot pink, black & white print, multi-color print. I have one pair of pale gray pants I wear with a white top and flat silver sandals. I’m currently searching for nude pumps & sandals to wear with all of the dresses. I usually wear flat sandals. I no longer want to have multiple colors & styles (wedges etc) of shoes for dresses when I can have one or two pair of nude shoes that look great. I prefer nude shoes with dresses because it elongates my legs. Since it can be very hot and humid at the beach in Florida I hope to wear more dresses and sandals this year.

    • I agree that dresses are easier than separates, Jan. I’m starting to really prefer dresses over skirts at this point. Your two formal outfits sound great and like they really meet your needs. Your other dressy items sound wonderful, too. I like your idea of finding a nice pair of nude pumps and sandals. Nude shoes are flattering on most people and with most outfits. Bridgette Raes has often raved about them, but I don’t have any nude shoes as of yet. They definitely do elongate the legs and even though I’m tall, I still like that effect. Best wishes with finding shoes that will work well for you.

  17. My ethnic Indian clothes, which I wear only in India, are what I wear for wedding receptions, etc. here. They are different and elegant, plus I usually purchase them directly from the person who tailored/wove/embroidered them, so they are meaningful to me.

    For funerals, I have my black/navy dresses. For summer weddings, I have a couple of silk tunics with silk scarves and pants. All these times can be dressed down with denim or casual cardigans.

    • How wonderful that you have those Indian clothes, Nutrivore. I always love how beautiful the saris and other garments are. It seems like you’re pretty well covered for dressy/formal wear. I think it’s great that you can dress down many of the items so that can get more wear.

  18. My formal capsule is terribly non-functional right now, I’m afraid. Luckily I haven’t had an occasion where I’ve needed it lately. Because of my weight fluctuations, I’ve been holding off on updating it until I reach my goal weight later this year – weight loss sure does kill your budget! I did just have to buy a new pair of dress pants for an interview this week, but that and some tops are probably the only things that fit me correctly right now in terms of dressier wear. I’d love to work somewhere where I can wear dresses, slacks, and heels! Like you, Debbie, I love dressing up.

    • I’m sure weight loss does kill the budget, Sarah, but I know you’ve worked hard on dropping weight recently, so you should be very proud of yourself. I hope that your interview goes well and that you find a job you love very soon. Yes, it’s fun to dress up, but I don’t live in the right place for that. I need to find more occasions to do it, though, even if I do live in the casual capitol of the country!

      • I know how you feel! My current job is in a factory (even though I work in the office area) so everyone dresses casually. (Even calling it “casual” sounds too formal- everyone is pretty much dirty and disheveled all the time!) I always feel overdressed even if I’m wearing jeans and one of my casual tops! If all goes well, in 18 months I will be moving to either San Francisco or San Diego, so I might have the exact same problem as you!! (If living in the sunniest place in the country is a “problem” haha!) I’m thinking I should hold off on buying too many clothes since they might not work in my new environment, but I do have wardrobe needs right now…hmm…

        One “trick” that works for me right now – if I feel too overdressed, sometimes I will just remove my jewelry and style my hair casually. I think that helps to bring the dressy vibe down quite a bit and lets me continue to wear the clothes I love even if they are a bit dressier than the people around me. I’d rather be a bit overdressed than under-dressed, just a personal preference.

      • If you end up in San Francisco, Sarah, you’ll be able to dress up there. I’m from the SF Bay Area originally and people dress up more there (although not as much in Silicon Valley). If you come to San Diego, maybe we can get dressed up and go out together. It’s better when more than one person is overdressed! Like you, I’d rather be overdressed than under-dressed and I’m used to people asking me, “Why are you so dressed up?” As long as I live here, I think I’ll always be at least a little dressed up. I like your trick to “casualize” your outfits. I’m always playing around with my jewelry to try to dress things up or down. That’s part of why I don’t wear necklaces that much, as I think they make an outfit more dressy. I wish you the best of luck with your job hunt and your move process! I think you should probably buy a minimum of new clothes now, as your needs may really change in your new environment. I was just talking to my husband the other day about wardrobes and moving. We moved here from Lake Tahoe (I only lived there 1.5 years but he was there around a decade) and if we moved back there, our wardrobes would have to be vastly different. They get lots of snow there and a “cold day” here is around 60 degrees 🙂

  19. I like your updated style, but now I’m pondering your outfits in terms of our different regional definitions of “dressiness” and I’m thinking that where you live must be really a lot more casual than where I live! Or maybe my lifestyle is different…

    With the exception of the two ensembles the black maxi dress, and the one with the beautiful metallic green wrap, every outfit you show is comparable to what I would choose to wear during business hours to the office or a meeting. I dress more casually when I’m working at home, but I never really don lounge wear unless its evening and I’m not going anywhere.

    My definition of dressy is probably more formal, such as a cocktail dress or black tie. When I first read the title of the post, I thought OH GOOD! Debbie’s going to talk about how to pick out formal wear! Which is something I’m not good at, so I was eager to read your ideas. As I read along, I felt confused, and then I realized that what you are defining as dressy, I consider normal daily professional attire! How different we all are!

    • Deby, the little sea-side community where Debbie lives in San Diego is extremely ultra casual, laid- back and informal. It is even far more casual than where I live in Santa Barbara and we are well-known for being ultra casual here. In downtown San Diego and in downtown Santa Barbara there is opportunity to dress up. But no one dresses up near the beach, where we both live. Beach life has its own style and its own culture.

      And I agree with you – with the exception of the two ensembles the black maxi dress, and the one with the beautiful metallic green wrap, every outfit shown is comparable to what I would also choose to wear during business hours to the office or a meeting. But you rarely see anyone dressed like that in near the beach where Debbie and I live. People change their clothes after they get home from work and dress casual for a walk along the harbor or dinner at an (often outdoor) ocean-side restaurant. Yet we do have the level of dressy that exists within many cities in the US, but it is found only downtown.

    • Terra said it better than I probably could, Deby. Thanks, Terra! I would love for someone to address true formal wear, but I don’t think I’m the right person to do it. As you can see, my version of dressy is more like office wear in most instances. It’s just where I live and what my life is about at this point. That’s why I used the word “dressy” instead of “formal,” but dressy is really relative based upon a person’s location and lifestyle. San Diego and Santa Barbara are probably very different from most other places in the country/world. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area originally and people dressed up a lot more there. But I’ve lived here for almost 13 years and I guess I’m a true San Diegan now. I asked if anyone wanted to write a guest post about formal wear in my latest post, so hopefully someone will want to do it. Failing that, I will round up some great links around the internet and share them in a future post.

  20. I think you’ve assembled a versatile group of dressy items. I would not be surprised in a year of you re-visit these sets and pare them down. I think identifying the capsule will help you edit this wardrobe group more effectively.

    • I totally agree, Ginger. I think that identifying the capsule was just the first step of the process. Now I need to work with it and see how it suits me for my life occasions. I will probably have another post or two to follow up on this one at some point.

  21. You look very smart and well put together! I have not been a regular reader. The last time I looked, you had started working with Bridgette Raes. WOW!!! Good for You!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Irene! Working with Bridgette helped me a lot and I’m thinking of my wardrobe and style in a lot of new ways now. I definitely feel like I have a stronger sense of my style and I’m happier with my outfits as a result.

  22. Hi Debbie, I am catching up late on my reading but wanted to comment here and say that I think this is a great post. I guess I get the confusion over dressy/formal/etc. terminology, but I think your approach here is quite applicable to creating a capsule for infrequent events, whatever those events/their dress code may be in an individual person’s life.

    Like you I live a casual lifestyle in a casual city. I do like to wear dresses and skirts, though, so I find that I am pretty well covered when I have a professional event that I need to dress up a bit for. And I don’t require truly “formal” wear. But I’ve been thinking that my “date night” capsule could use a little attention. I notice that I have a handful of really neat pieces (a vintage chinoiserie jacket, a black fringed flapper-esque tank, etc.) but don’t seem to be able to put them together into outfits. So when I go out with my husband or friends I just end up wearing something everyday and feeling sort of blah. I like your approach of beginning with what is already in your closet so I think I’ll play around a bit and see if I can come up with something workable, and perhaps try to come up with a couple of targeted purchases that will help me get more use out of those special items. This seems like the exact opposite of buying things “just in case” or buying for a fantasy lifestyle. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • I’m glad you liked the post, Sarah, and found it inspiring. Your special date night pieces sound beautiful, but I understand how items like that can be difficult to style. I think it’s common to think in pieces instead of outfits when we shop, but then we end up with beautiful garments that become wardrobe orphans. I’m guessing that if you take some time to “play” in your closet, you’ll be able to create some lovely date night ensembles. When we are in a hurry to get ready to go out, we usually default to the familiar (which can be “blah” like you mentioned), so it pays off to spend a little extra time when we don’t aren’t in a time crunch to get creative and plan ahead. Best wishes and enjoy those special items!

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