How to Build a Kids Capsule Wardrobe

Back in early 2017 I was very pregnant with C (our now two year old son) and nesting like crazy.

Nothing was off limits, including my daughter’s drawers. They were jammed with clothes - we had been the very lucky recipient of hand me downs and gifts, and at almost two years old, had never really had to buy her anything.

But with all these clothes, we typically went for a few favorite outfits. It was overwhelming to weed through everything in order to find what we wanted. Prior to P (my daughter) coming along, I had been a big fan of a capsule wardrobe for myself (side note: I’m currently rebuilding mine!), so I figured why not try it for her.

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My main reason for creating and continuing with a capsule for two years is to spend less time dealing with her clothes. I only shop twice a year (I rarely buy anything outside of refreshes but it does happen occasionally), which saves me time. And she has way less clothing than she had before I did this so there is less time spent organizing / dealing with her drawers.

A side bonus is that my daughter also has been able to select her own clothes and dress herself since she was interested in doing so, starting around 2.5. This saves me time in the morning. After breakfast she usually heads upstairs and gets herself completely dressed, which allows me to finish whatever I need to in the kitchen. All I do is her hair (sometimes) and supervise her teeth brushing. Plus, I think kid picked outfits are the best and I love the autonomy this gives her. With the capsule she (mostly) looks coordinated and when she doesn’t, it’s fun.

My intention isn’t necessarily to spend less, but I’m guessing that I end up doing so because I’ve cut out almost all impulse and one-off purchases.

Six Steps to a Capsule Wardrobe

This is the process I used to create her capsule and how I go about twice yearly updates, typically March and September.

You can start this process at any time. I generally refresh for spring/summer and then fall/winter, but do what best fits your weather and lifestyle.

  1. Pile and sort. Take all your kids' clothes and dump them in a pile in the middle of a room. Make sure to grab everything - coats, swimwear, etc. I like to do this on the same day I do their laundry so that the only clothes that aren’t piled are the ones they are wearing. Now sort the clothes into smaller piles - the number of piles will depend on your situation, but here’s what my sorting looked like for my daughter’s refresh this month:

    • Still fits / good for next season

    • Still fits / store for next year

    • Pass on to friend

    • Save for little brother

    • Recycle with Goodwill (super stained/ripped clothes)

    • Not part of capsule (dress up clothes that had migrated upstairs, bathrobes, etc)

  2. Review future clothes. If you purchase and store clothes in larger sizes or receive hand me downs in larger sizes, review what you have and add in the pieces that fit and are seasonally appropriate. Pretty much the only shopping ahead I do now is when our favorite Hanna Andersson pajamas go on sale - I’ve bought too many things in the past that just don’t end up working out as I thought they would.

  3. Take inventory of what you have. Make a list by clothing type and write down how many you have of each. Doesn’t need to be fancy, but I find writing it down helps me quickly see if I have a good mix of clothes based on the season (i.e. for spring/summer I may have plenty of leggings that still fit, but we’re also going to need a few pairs of shorts and a skirt or two).
    I had high hopes of creating a template for you to use, but if I did that who knows when this post might be published. So it may come at some point, but for now just make a list and next to each item type write how many you have.

  4. Decide how much you need. How much clothing you have is your preference. What really works for me is to have two weeks worth of clothes, or 14 outfits. I do laundry once per week, so with two weeks worth we have enough for accidents of all varieties, skipping laundry day here and there, clothes that get torn/stained, constant outfit changes, etc.

    In general (there is a lot of art in this process, don’t get caught up in the science), I consider a top/bottom combo one outfit. Dresses are one outfit in the spring/summer but need a pair of pants to be a full outfit in the fall/winter (my kid doesn’t love tights but if yours does dresses could probably be stand alone).

    For all the additional items, like sweaters, hoodies, shoes, underwear, etc., I started with my best judgement and have adjusted as we go. We typically have a hoodie or two and three cardigans (we do a lot of layering in the Pacific Northwest), four pairs of pajamas works great (we tend to wear one set two nights in a row), and for shoes we’ve stuck with rainboots, sneakers, sandals, and one pair of “fancy” shoes (100% not necessarily for our lifestyle, but my daughter enjoys them). Again, try something and then adjust the next season.

    If you have more clothing than you want to keep, before passing along keep a few outfits aside for things like extra outfits at school or in the car.

  5. Pick colors and strategically choose patterns. Having a color scheme is what allows all the clothes to mix and match with each other. The first time you do this, it’s not going to be perfect since you are working with what you already have and hopefully only needing to fill in a few missing pieces. But as you collect more over time, you can streamline to a color theme. I suggest picking a base (gray, black, brown, navy), two main colors, and a third accent color. My daughter’s capsule is gray, blue, pink, and has pops of yellow.

    While a completely solid wardrobe would make coordination super simple, it would be boring. Plus, I love stripes too much to give them up in my kids’ clothes. What I’ve done to make it easy for her to mix and match her clothes is leave patterns to pants and dresses only and then keep the patterns to stripes and small florals. When I haven’t been able to find small florals, I choose small prints that match our colors - right now she has a pair of leggings with fruit. Whatever works! Thinking ahead to my son and what I see in the stores, I will probably keep his bottoms mostly solid and look for print tops, favoring stripes and maybe small animals.

  6. Shop! I like to do this entire process, from organizing to shopping at one time and in about an hour. So I will immediately take my list, usually with my laptop right in my daughter’s room, and complete the shopping. Because I keep her wardrobe minimal and don’t shop often, I don’t worry too much about hitting sales. You could definitely keep your list on hand and wait for sales before filling in missing pieces.

    I start by shopping for solid color basics at Primary then I add on patterns from usually Hanna Andersson, Old Navy, and/or Target. I keep things very simple by not straying from these stores. I know how the clothes fit my kid and the return policies so it’s easier for me not to stray. But if you enjoy shopping, I can see this being a fun project that takes more time.

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Here are a few of my favorite items that consistently make our capsule each season:

the dress

“The Dress” from Primary is probably our favorite item of clothing. We have it in sleeveless, short sleeves, and long sleeves depending on the season, but really they work year round with a cardigan.

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cat + jack leggings

These leggings are $5 each at Target, last through at least a season with kids, and come in great solid, stripe, and often small patterns that fit well with our capsule. My son is now wearing my daughter’s hand-me-downs so the price per wear can’t be beat. I find the selection is better in store than what I see online.

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the cardi sweater

We do a lot of layering in the PNW and these cardigans are perfect. We usually have pink, blue, yellow and gray (and they ALL get worn weekly). They are great as a light jacket in spring, to take a summer dress into fall, or to wear all day in winter.

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short + long johns

When it comes to pajamas, my kids pretty much only wear the Hanna Andersson short johns and long johns. The quality is so great that a pair lasts both my kids wearing them every week for one to two years. I grab whatever I think I’ll need for the next year when they go on sale for $20.

If you use any of these tips to streamline your kid’s wardrobe, I would love to know!