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.
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:
- Many of my dressy shoes only work with skirts and dresses due to the heel height (pants not long enough for high heels).
- 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).
- 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:
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.
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:
- 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:
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!
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!