Capsule Wardrobes for Kids

Maximizing yet minimizing your child's wardrobe

With changing seasons often comes a wardrobe overhaul - especially for younger children who grow out of their clothes so quickly! Capsule wardrobes are quickly gaining popularity as a strategy to declutter our closets, reduce textile waste, and make our wardrobes more functional. They can also be applied to our kids’ closets, with the added benefit of teaching them how to dress themselves in clothes they like and that match. A lesson best learned, I would suggest, at your local paint store.

Building a capsule wardrobe -- either your own, or one for your child -- has everything to do with really looking at, and understanding colour -- and then living with less. Let’s take a look at how the capsule wardrobe can be applied to kids’ clothes.

While you work together in their closet, talk with the kids about colour names and descriptions that go beyond basic primaries:  Is that “pink” really peach, magenta or fuschia? When you wear warm colours you look like fire! What colours does Elsa wear to show that she’s “cool”? Learning to put together outfits that “go” starts with learning to really see, describe and compare colours. Pick up a selection of design brochures from a paint store, and let your child help choose which groupings appeal to him/her. The beauty of this plan is that the work of figuring out which combinations “go” has been done for you!

Make a plan to redistribute your unneeded clothes responsibly. As the owner of a children’s clothing resale shop, I love the idea of finding new families to love the things we no longer want or need. With resale, consignment and charitable donation and textile recycling options in every community, there’s no need for anything to go to waste.

Here are three great ways to approach the capsule wardrobe concept, for kids:

Method 1:  Eliminate Outliers - Which of these things is not like the other?

Neutrals are the workhorse of any capsule wardrobe

If your kids already have racks, drawers and piles of clothing, their capsule wardrobe may be hiding inside the collection already. Like Michelangelo, you need only chip away and find the statue already hiding inside the block of marble. Identify a core colour grouping among pieces your child already has, and then purge those stand-alone pieces that don’t play well with the others. Here’s how:

First, push all the neutral coloured pieces to one end of the closet, or for folded pieces, place them together on the bed. Neutrals are the workhorse of any capsule wardrobe. They work well with any colour palette and are, within reason, “keepers.” Neutrals include: black, grey, taupe/beige, white, cream, navy blue and, of course, jeans. Pack up anything that no longer fits your child -- no matter how neutral, attractive or functional -- and box it up for either resale or donation.

Next, organize the remaining clothes into outfits. When an item could be paired with multiple outfits, place those together as a set. The idea is to create sets of clothing with overlapping connections -- like a Venn diagram -- so that every item has two, or even three other pieces that work well.

Finally, identify “outliers” -- those random tops or bottoms that have no ideal partner. You should also weed out the stand-alone outfits that have to be worn as one, and don’t mix and match with other pieces in your child’s wardrobe. These can be added to your resale or donation box. A closet full of only mix-and-match pieces means you’re child will be able to:

  1. Dress independently (and still look presentable);
  2. Learn to live with less, and use things more effectively;
  3. Allow your family to go longer between laundry days. With a capsule wardrobe, your child works through his/her whole closet each week with lots of possible combinations.

Method 2:  Pick a palette

Paint companies have spent a long time figuring out what colours look great together, and representing all the colours of the rainbow. Build a collection of 5 or 6 colours that you love on your child, and work well together, using paint chips from your local home store. Using a single-hole punch and a brass brad, create a palette fan that you can carry in your purse. When shopping, compare any item you're considering against your paint palette. It doesn’t need to be a “match” but it needs to blend rather than fight with the colours guiding your capsule wardrobe.

Paint chip samples on corduroy pants

You can easily build your own palette of favourite hues at any local paint store. The key to building a highly functional capsule wardrobe this way is to select your favourite of these looks, and take a pass on the pieces from other colour families -- at least for this season. The solution to a closet full of pinks that don’t work well together? Choose one hue and stick with the lighter and darker versions of it, like a paint chip.

paint samples of pink and oranges

Here are some suggested colour families, or palettes that make great capsule wardrobe themes:

  1. Fall Colours - mustard yellows, burnt oranges, browns and forest greens;
  2. Jewel Tones - emerald, fuchsia, ruby, royal blue and purple;
  3. Pastels - soft colours of Easter and spring;
  4. Primary Colours - all the rainbow bright colours create an active, friendly palette;
  5. Muted, or pale greyed-out colours are a very sophisticated palette for little ones. This is a very European palette favoured by many French and Quebecois children's boutiques.

Method 3: Choose & build around a favourite piece

Can’t pick a palette? It’s hard! I bet you have a favourite piece in your child’s closet. Choose a piece with pattern that you love and take a photo of it (in good, natural light) on your phone. When you’re shopping, consult it and choose pieces like sweaters, leggings, tights, skirts, tops, etc. that pull those colours out of the fabric pattern.

Here are some examples of great focal pieces that lend themselves to this technique. On the left, we have a primary colour scheme on a neutral grey ground. There are at least six great colours to be pulled from this fantastic thrift store find, making it a strong (and environmental) choice as the focal point of a capsule wardrobe. The floral skinny jeans featured on the right (also a secondhand score) suggest a palette of muted aquas and teals, with peachy ballet pink accents. Growing this wardrobe with taupes, soft greys and lavender would be a cinch.

The advantages of capsule wardrobes for kids mirror our own: minimalism is great for the environment, helps us learn to be happy with less, decreases family laundry and makes getting dressed in the morning a snap.  Add to that the learning to be had around colour theory, and about caring for our belongings, and “less” is definitely more.