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A red-haired woman in a stylish hat, raincoat, and backpack walks on a trail through trees in autumn.

Build a Versatile Capsule Wardrobe

A truly versatile capsule wardrobe will handle travel, exercise, and outdoor adventures, but also daily wear and dressier occasions.

For Active Travel and Everyday

Cool-Weather Edition

In order to create a capsule wardrobe, you select a limited number of bottoms, tops, dresses, outerwear, shoes, and accessories, that work together in lots of combinations.

For a travel capsule, you want to select items that are wrinkle-resistant, lightweight and not bulky, that don’t need dry cleaning, and that dry quickly.

If you’re very active, you also want clothes that are sweat-wicking and suitable for exercise and outdoorsy activities.

If you build a capsule wardrobe based strictly on the performance qualities of the clothes (wicking, quick-drying, etc.), you run the risk of perpetually looking like you just came from the gym or the trail.

(As someone who so often has just come from the gym, dojo, or trail, believe me, I know!)

But to make a truly versatile capsule wardrobe, you need to select clothes that are also appropriate for daily wear, around town, a nice dinner out, visiting a church (to worship or as a tourist), etc.

It can be done, I promise!

As I mentioned in previous posts, I don’t care for all-neutral or monochromatic wardrobes. I love the Vivienne Files method of starting with a scarf.

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How We’ll Do It

For this post we’re going to build two capsule wardrobes: one that’s Strictly Sporty and one that’s Very Versatile.

We’ll build them both with the same kinds of items–3 pairs of pants, 7 tops, etc.–and with the same sports and outdoors needs in mind. But the end results will look very different.

For each, we’ll start with a scarf, to set the color palette and pull everything together. We’ll choose 3 pairs of pants, including one pair of hiking pants, one for the gym and yoga, and a pair of leggings. Then 7 tops, including a cycling jersey, a merino top, a flannel shirt, a fleece shirt, a dress shirt, and a couple more. A merino dress.

Then we need outerwear, layers, and accessories. Midweight and heavyweight fleece jackets, a puffy coat, and a raincoat. A warm wool hat, and gloves or mittens. Waterproof trail runners, a pair of slip-on shoes to dress up or down, and warm waterproof boots. We’ll finish up with a base layer top and bottom (a.k.a. “long johns”) to keep you toasty in the cold. Plus a small purse or pouch, a larger bag, and a backpack.

Here are the two scarves:

Strictly Sporty vs. Very Versatile

And here are the full capsules. First, the Strictly Sporty one:

Now, the Very Versatile one:

As you can see, when building a capsule wardrobe, color and style make all the difference when it comes to versatility.

Got a business meeting before you can hit the trail for a hike? Both wardrobes are equally good at moisture wicking, but the Very Versatile one looks nicer. 

Lunch with a friend after a bike ride on a chilly Saturday? You’ll be equally comfortable with either wardrobe. But the merino jersey, denim jeggings, black sneakers and fleece hoodie, and peacock scarf are more stylish than the neon yellow jersey, olive drab leggings, and yellow-and-green sneakers and hoodie and scarf.

Going for a walk in the park after church on a rainy Sunday? You’ll be equally warm and dry with either wardrobe. But the lovely black dress, leggings, boots, and raincoat will look far better than the tunic dress, camo leggings, duck boots, and neon yellow raincoat. 

No Need to Sacrifice Style for Performance

Every piece in both wardrobes has similar technical properties. Many brands are in both capsules. In fact there’s at least one item that’s in both capsules, just in different colors! Both capsules are ready for action, the outdoors, and trail and travel. The only thing that might be a bit lacking from the Very Versatile one is high visibility for walking or biking in low light, so I’d add a reflective sash.

But the Strictly Sporty one makes you look like you just came from the gym or trail, even if you didn’t. The Very Versatile one is also ready for sightseeing or everyday life, casual or a bit dressy, without looking like you just came from the gym or a hike or bike ride–even if you did!

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment below!

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