We've all opened our wardrobes, gazed at the packed rails, and concluded that we've nothing to wear. Many of us probably did it this very morning.
Renting is one way to scratch that "something new" itch without adding yet more clothes to already-full wardrobes, and seeks to tackle fashion's sustainability problem.
But a wave of brands is attempting to go one further, at least when it comes to work wear. It's hard to imagine that a tightly edited collection of just a handful of pieces could truly be the answer to all our wardrobe woes, but, by doing away with seasonal trends altogether, these labels are hoping that a versatile capsule collection of timeless, "seasonless" separates will be all you need for the working week.
It's an idea that echoes the dressing strategies of Karl Lagerfeld and Steve Jobs, both of whom famously wore the same "uniform" every day in order to avoid wasting time on unimportant decisions. In a corporate environment, it's easier for men to find a uniform, if only because they have less choice, but women use the technique too: IMF chairman Christine Lagarde sticks to dark suits worn with pearls and an Hermès scarf. In the fashion realm, Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Emanuelle Alt relies on an oversized blazer and jeans, while former Céline creative director Phoebe Philo favours menswear-inspired monochrome separates paired with the trainers that she had no small part in propelling to wear-everywhere status.
Misha Nonoo, a close friend of the Duchess of Sussex and designer of the "husband" shirt, which made headlines when Meghan wore it while dating Prince Harry, is one of the designers championing the work wear capsule. Nonoo has built her brand around a set of eight items that can be worn up to 22 different ways – so "you can spend less time stressing about what to wear and more time pursuing your passions and goals", she says.
Nonoo's collection includes a blazer that can also be worn as a minidress, a wide-legged trouser and a pencil skirt, as well as that famous shirt. As a collection, it's expensive, about $3300. But if you consider how often you'll wear each piece, the price is a bit easier to swallow.
Catherine Quin's new "Distilled Wardrobes" concept features 11 pieces that can be worn 30 different ways, with prices starting at $163 for a T-shirt, up to about $1500 for a suit jacket. The camel-aquamarine-white palette of her debut "London Suitcase" is ideal for the woman who doesn't do black. And there's a 25 per cent discount if you buy it all at once.
Meanwhile, Australian designer Lee Mathews is preparing to launch her "Workroom" line – the versatile cotton pieces, starting from less than $300, launch in early November and will be available year-round. "I am very partial to this shirt-dress," Mathews says of the versatile black button-down she's wearing when we meet, "as it's like a coat too". She also counts a pair of wide-legged trousers and a shirt-jacket among her favourites, and hopes people will layer the pieces together. "I like that tone-on-tone-on-tone kind of dressing," she says.
If you're wincing at those price tags, a capsule wardrobe doesn't need to be expensive. Since you'll be wearing these pieces on repeat, it is worth buying the best quality that you can afford, but you can apply the same principles on the high street.
The number 27 was the result of several years' research. It's actually 25 [classic items] with two trend pieces, and those can change monthly.
Everlane has become a go-to for affordable basics like flattering trousers and cashmere knits, while Charlotte Warburton, founder of fashion styling agency To Be Created, helps women edit their wardrobes down to 27 essential pieces. Her business was inspired by her mother. "She was always shopping with a designer budget, and I would try to replicate how she looked on a high street budget because that was what I could afford," Warburton says. "She taught me that looking stylish can be achieved by dressing in a clean, minimal, classical way."
The number 27 was the result of several years' research. "It's actually 25 [classic items] with two trend pieces, and those can change monthly," she explains. "So they allow the client to still feel like they're [engaging with] seasonal trends if they want to."
Those 25 essentials vary with each client, based on their budget and lifestyle, but Warburton says black jeans and a white shirt are among her wardrobe heroes. "Even if you're feeling horrible, if you put on a crisp white shirt, you just look great," she says. Indeed, a white shirt is the anchor of Nonoo's collection and a silk version features in Quin's capsule.
Warburton also swears by a good leather jacket. "I think Acne does the best leather jackets if you have a designer budget." And if you don't? "I got one recently from & Other Stories and it's the most amazing shape."
Everlane's vice-president of design, Sonia Martin, would add her oversized blazer to that list. "It looks good on anybody," she says. "I am relatively minimal, but I love this blazer so much that I now own three of them. I use it on the weekend with something casual like shorts; I like it if I'm heading into a meeting – it's great over a dress."
A newer addition to Everlane's line-up is the essential jumpsuit, a piece that the Duchess of Sussex has already worn twice. "It's a really beautiful fabric that I have travelled around the world with," says Martin. "You don't need to press it. It feels really cool so you don't overheat. And you can still dress it up, dress it down."
Imbuing a sense of confidence is key to the success of a capsule wardrobe, says Quin. "Clients that work in the art world or architecture, they're doing creative jobs, but they also need to travel and they have to be professional," she says. "They want everything to feel put together, but still have a little subtle detail that shows that it's something special. Most of our jackets are all lined with silk – they're meant to feel as good as they look."
Compared with Warburton's 27 and even Quin's 11, Nonoo's edit of just eight items seems extreme. I ask if it's genuinely all we need. "I think so – but I have always been a minimalist," Nonoo says. "I supplement the Easy8 with statement earrings, a simple handbag and killer boots or heels."
Whatever your magic number, even the process of creating a capsule wardrobe can have a positive impact on the way you think about your clothes, Warburton says. "It almost refreshes your mind as well."
Ultimately, the goal is to maximise the cost-per-wear of clothes, and to have absolute confidence that everything we own looks put-together, feels comfortable and transcends seasons and occasions.
Buy less, but buy better, and, in theory at least, you'll never have "nothing to wear" ever again.