Wardrobe capsules

I’ve talked before about creating a wardrobe where everything goes with everything else.   I did it back in 2008 using the Sewing with a Plan concept, then making sure each time I added a capsule, I added one that went with the rest of the wardrobe.  I can go from a barbecue, to hanging out around the house, to an office situation to a party and always look appropriately-dressed.  It passed with flying colors just this past week by being more than adequate to handle a cruise.  Shell and broomstick skirt, and I was ready to walk in comfy sandals around Nassau or barefoot on the deck.  Straight skirt and shell with contrasting scarf with nice flats and understated jewelry and I was dressed nicely for dinner.  Pants, shell and jacket and I was ready to fly back to cooler New England.

Oh, and using this concept, you can pack for a week in a carry-on.  For the record, I didn’t for the cruise because I deliberately saved room to bring presents back to family.  But when I fly, I oh so prefer to carry on luggage!

Thing is, you can do this even if you don’t sew.  While in the sewing world it’s often called “Sewing with a Plan” or “Sewing with a Purpose”, in the fashion world, it’s called a “Capsule Wardrobe”.   To create one, you kind of have to sit down and think about what it is you regularly do and how you live.   I can guarantee you beyond a shadow of a doubt that my wardrobe won’t work for you.  We live different lives!

Some Basic Wardrobe Capsule Concepts


Separates are your friends.

You want separates. Yes, even if you like the monochrome look from time to time (I do!) make sure that you’re getting separates.  The whole point of a capsule wardrobe is to mix and match.

Pick a color palate and stick to it!

Ideally, you should have two to three basic colors that harmonize and are a bit neutral, then an accent color that goes with at least two of your colors.   I break this rule a bit.  My colors are burgundy, black, forest green, and deep purple.  Obviously the red and purple don’t go so well, but between the black and the print I chose, there’s a lot of anchor between the colors that I don’t mind this minor inconvenience.  It’s a pity I don’t like brown or gold, as it would have made a somewhat more harmonious wardrobe.

Minimize Prints.

I would only have one print in my capsule, and this print should go with all the basic colors.  This is where the seamstress <Hem! Hem!> has it easy.  You buy a print and make a few garments from that.   Boom, you’re all good.  Shopping makes it a bit more difficult.  When I buy ready to wear clothes (one of my sweaters is, as a matter of fact), they’re almost invariably solids.

Keep garments simple.

The design of the garments should be simple.  Solid colors, and design details that aren’t too fussy.  Are jeans a basic part of your lifestyle?  Then my goodness, jeans should definitely be a foundation of your wardrobe capsule!  You should have two or three pair that really fit well and flatter – all of them in a single color.  You can’t go wrong with basic black, but if black ain’t your thang, just pick another color.

If this is beginning to sound boring?  It’s the next step you should be thinking about.

The accent is in the accessories.

There’s a reason French women are so addicted to scarves[1].  I think we’d all agree that French ladies are known for dressing well.  They also generally do not have stuffed closets, but minimal pieces chosen with care.  Black slacks and a white shirt might make you look like a waiter, but add a fabulous scarf with well-chosen jewelry and you just look elegant.   I’m a big fan of scarves myself, just because they’re an inexpensive and versatile way to add color and interest to an outfit.

So, maybe elegant isn’t the look you’re going for.  That’s okay.  It’s not for everyone.  That basic canvas that is your separates can be dressed up or down according to your tastes with lots of funky jewelry, a single small necklace, or choice of hairstyle and bag.

The point of a capsule wardrobe, though, is a plan-ahead thing.  Once you’ve created it, you know instantly whether or not something you see in a store will go with your other clothes.   You never really have to rush to buy clothes for an event.

What’s in a good capsule wardrobe?

Oddly enough, you don’t necessarily need that many pieces.  I have 23 pieces in mine, though you can get by with a lot fewer than that.

At a minimum, you’ll need:

  • 4-6 bottoms (Skirts, pants or whatever mixture suits your fancy) in two main colors.
  • 3-5 tops in two of your main colors, a contrasting color that suits both of them, and possibly an accent print.
  • 1-2 jackets or cardigans that go with all of them.

When choosing tops and bottoms, make sure that a couple of them can be combined to be dressy, even if you don’t usually dress up for much.  It’ll keep you from panic shopping for events.  For me, this was easy.  Black fitted shell, black straight skirt, and voila, I have my Little Black Dress, all ready for my good jewelry and an updo.   It’s good for anything but a wedding or a ball, and I own[2] a formal-length dress.  (Though in my case, for a wedding, I’d just use a matching shell and skirt in a color appropriate to the season that’s not black).

You might find that you very well already have close to a capsule in your closet already, but only need a piece or two to complete it.  If you want to try this out, I’d encourage you to go over your wardrobe, toss what you don’t love and doesn’t fit, but then build your capsule around what you already own and love.

[1] And I blame many of the French teachers at a job I once held for passing this addiction on to me by bringing me back lovely scarves from Paris and Lyon.

[2] Thanks, MOM!

Day Four: To Have and Have Not

IMGP3607We spent the fourth morning touring Nassau.  This is where I really wish I’d had a chance to do my research.  My knowledge of Nassau (or more correctly, New Providence) begins with about 1716 and ends in 1720.  Yes, the end of the Golden Age of Piracy, Ned Teach, Anne Bonny, Jack Rackham, Mary Reade and Woodes Rogers.  An interesting time, but a whole country can hardly be defined by a bunch of murdering thieves, no matter how romantically they’re painted.

So, I was quite excited to get to see some of Nassau and learn some history.  Obviously, in a three hour tour, you’re not going to learn too much, but we saw some forts and got an idea of how Bahamians feel about their home, how proud they are of being a young and independent country, and found myself a bit concerned at how depenedent they are on tourism. (Though, what in hell can one expect from an island 7 miles wide?  The fact that it’s beautiful is their resource!)

The areas I saw were more well to do than I’d expected. One of my strongest memories of a Caribbean island was Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic back when I was fifteen and cruise ships were still going there.  We didn’t see any tin can roofs -just homes appropriate to the climate, narrow streets that would have scared me to drive on, but were fine for the people who did it every day, and lots of government buildings and banks.



We toured Paradise Island, saw the Atlantis resort and some homes of the wealthy ex-pats.  I felt kind of weird about how that was emphasized in the tour.  However, the driver left a local talk show on, which was awesome, as I got to hear what people who lived there were thinking about, at least a gloss over of the politics of the place and was really impressed by how the host was really breaking bad on rudeness.  I think at least in the public arena, a certain graciousness of behavior is more valued, and I think we could take a cue from the Bahamians that I heard on that show.

The driver had not been told that we needed to be back to the ship by 11, so we were quite late, and would have held up the ship sailing.  (If you book a shore excursion through a cruise ship, and the party is late, you don’t get left.  You book it on your own and yes, you’re on your own).

We spent the afternoon laying by the pool after we sailed out of Nassau.  Dinner was shrimp and lobster with a mushroom pastry appetizer and a dark rich chocolate souffle with cream for desert.  Ummmm.

After dinner we had the best time dancing at a 70s party.  Now our cruise director (His first name was Jimmy and I THINK his last name was Rhodes) had enough energy to power New York.  He was very invested in people playing, which was so cool.  All the 70s disco favorites were featured with dancers, singers, and Jimmy in a police uniform from the Village People to do some favorites from that era.  He was great at getting people up and out on the dance floor, doing conga lines and all that.  We had the best time.

Day Three: I Will Never Forget Nassau, A Most Educational City

We were able to sit in the bow of the ship eating lunch while The Enchantment of the Seas docked at Nassau.  It was awesome to watch.  There’s a dock that can take about four cruise ships. To give you a general idea, a cruise ship that is full has about 2,500-3,000 passengers.  The port area of Nassau really isn’t that large, so you can do the math in terms of the activity around the port.

CIMG0023We decided that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to go snorkeling.  It was great.  We sailed out on a catamaran out to a reef and played with the fishies for about an hour — seeing the most amazing variety of tropical fish and coral reef with brain coral, delicately-colored blue, or zebra fish (among MANY others) and enjoying the tropical sea.  We sailed back drinking rum punch, though  and I limited ourselves to a cup each even though considerably more was being urged on us.  Oh we were being sooo smart, weren’t we?

Yeah, right.

I was 15 the last time I’d been in the Caribbean, and had been with my parents who are pretty experienced travelers.  So, while I knew that people who make their living from tourists can be pretty aggressive salesmen, I’d forgotten how much so!

After we got off the catamaran, we wandered briefly around an open air market.  I wanted to buy a sarong, and did, from a woman who gave me $5 off because I was such a sexy lady <snerk>.  Yes, I probably could have bargained her down, but considered the price I paid plenty fair for a sarong.

Then this woman wandering around the market came right up to and put a necklace around my neck and said, “Now you a Bahama Mama, honey.” then turned to , putting another necklace around his neck, pronouncing him a Bahama Papa.  She asked for a donation “for the children” for the necklaces.   Yeah, we’re suckers.  We gave her a ten spot.

Did that put us on our guard enough?

Hell no!

CIMG0027I got a lot of offers to get my hair braided.  Now, I’ve always rather wanted to try some of the more elaborate cornrow styles and figured this was a good chance to do so.  So I asked how much it would cost, and the woman charged $7.00 a braid.  I don’t even go to the beauty salon to get my hair colored, so I don’t know how much this type of thing is worth in real life, mind you, nor did I realize how MANY braids my hip-length and very thick hair would take.   I was figuring she’d do maybe ten or twelve cornrows, not a series of microbraids in the back and cornrows in the front.

I have nearly fifty braids in my hair.  Yes, I have a hairstyle that I paid over $300 for.  I could have argued, but I didn’t.  Why?  I haven’t the faintest idea what the going rate really is, and I didn’t want to cheat her out of pique.  However, it took her about two hours to do it, and I’m not really sure that most hairdressers charge $150/hr to work in an open-air market.


20100923110129That said, she did a great job on the hairstyle.  It looks good and is damned convenient for a cruise, especially the wind.  In fact, if I find out this is really cheaper to get done in Stateside hair salons, I’ll probably get it done like this again for cruises and/or beach trips.

I had tilapo for dinner on a bed of Japanese ratatouille (meaning they put ginger in it.  Yes, it was delicious).

After dinner we went to a show with movie themed music and dancing.  The concept was goofy but damn the performers were outstanding.  The female singers especially had some pipes, let me tell you what!

Cruise Notes: Day Two, at Sea

On  Day Two, our first full day at sea, the swells were still in the 2.5 to 3m range, so we were finding that many of our fellow passengers were pretty seasick. Neither Peter nor I were effected, which was something of a surprise.  Both of us have been seasick before.  Peter on a fishing boat and me back on my first cruise in quite flat seas.  (Not, throwing up in  my case, but certainly mildly queasy and not feeling like eating anything).

We had breakfast at the Windjammer again, and were able to get a seat right in the bow.  Since it was on Deck Nine, we started calling it Nine Forward.  We sat there for breakfast and lunch almost every day.

The Enchantment of the Seas does have a library, so we snagged a couple of books and headed over to the solarium for some sunning, swimming, a drink and reading.  But, the noise of the belly flop contest got us curious, so we had to go inspect it.

Here’s the thing about cruises — if you go prepared to play, you’ll have a great time.  The cruise director for the Enchantment of the Seas is quite the party guy, so there were constant games, silly contests, good shows… you name it.  He had a real sense of fun and theater as well as a talent for getting people to play along with him.

After the belly flop contest, we hung out in the main pool. Remember those rough seas?  Well, even though the ship wasn’t really equipped with a wave pool… we had a wave pool.  The pitching of the ship was enough to make the water slosh back and forth in the pool enough that you could body surf nearly the length of it.  While we were doing so and laughing our fool heads off, we met a lady from Fairfax, VA who was also on her 20th anniversary celebration.  She’d gotten married Sept. 15th, the same as we had.   We gushed a bit about that, how beautiful the weather was on our wedding day (and it was gorgeous that day!), and had a good time chatting.

CIMG0019Dinner was formal.   and I clean up good, if I do say so myself.  He wore a tux and I wore a simple black gown with pearls.  At dinner, I had escargot just because I’d never tried them.  Mostly they tasted of butter and garlic and I can think of other foods as a butter and garlic delivery system I’d like better.  Peter has duck for the main course and I had prime rib.  They used a hint of nutmeg in the potatoes.  Amazingly, it really worked.

We got in one dance before seeing a goofily written show with some very skilled performers.

And dammit, I’m NOT on a boat now.  🙁  I wanna go back!

[Edit: There have been complaints that there was not a pic of both of us.


Cruise Notes, Day One

CIMG0013We got to the airport a bit too early, but that was okay.  The shuttle took us to the Port of Baltimore without a hitch and we were among some of the first to board Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas.  We were scheduled to go to Bermuda, but due to Hurricane Igor, we were re-routed to Nassau in the Bahamas, and we were given a significant shipboard credit to make up for the inconvienience.  Oh pity us… 🙂

It’s been a little over 25 years since I’d been on a cruise,  and when I went, Daddy had handled all the details.  I was a bit nervous about making sure we’d gotten all the paperwork done, and everything arranged properly.  It was, so getting on board was no problem.  We walked up the gangway and I was so excited I about cried.  Have I mentioned I love cruises?

We had to wait to go to our staterooms, which makes sense, since it had probably been less than three hours since someone else was in them. So we went to the Windjammer Cafe, the ships buffet-style dining area, for lunch.  The food was better than you usually get on a buffet, but that’s pretty much par for the course on a cruise.

After that we kind of hit the wall and went to our stateroom for a nap.  Since we’d gotten up at four in the morning, this proved to be a good idea.

When we got up, of course we had a pre-embarkation lifeboat drill.  This is not actually a joke, and they’ll hustle you to your assigned lifeboat station if  you don’t go. I heard a lot of snark about how women and children first was no longer in effect from fellow passengers.  (It’s not about equal rights, you nitwits.  It’s about survival of the species… Jesus!)   A lot of people wandered off after some instructions but before the Captain dismissed them.  That got under my fingernails, even though I know a cruise ship isn’t exactly military discipline.  It made me feel a little cold to realize that in a real emergency, some people would have gotten some harsh lessons damn fast.

Then we watched the ship set sail.  The Enchantment of the Seas is about the usual size these days for a cruise ship, which means less than a meter of clearance under the Key Bridge.  I found out later that the Captain finds sailing out of Baltimore an irritation because of that.  (No KIDDING.  Makes a ship even more a slave to tides than usual).

First afternoon was pool and Jacuzzi.   The Enchantment of the Seas has a solarium where young kids aren’t allowed (not that there were many on this cruise), and was a great place to relax, hang out and watch the Chesapeake go by as we headed to the atlantic.

We had dinner at the late seating, and oddly enough were the only people at our table the whole cruise.  While this didn’t exactly destroy our fun, I was mildly disappointed as a lot of the fun of a cruise is getting to know other people.  We had a great dinner.  I had watermelon gazpacho (which I’d never tried before) and sea bass.  Peter had a shrimp appetizer with quesadillas.  I adore the hand and foot service you get on a cruise, but it’s especially nice in the dining room, and we had a fantastic waiter.  We went to bed right after dinner because we were dead on our feet.  Because of Hurricane Igor, the seas had quite signifcant swells (2.5-3 meters), but it felt like we were being rocked to sleep.

Have I mentioned I love being at sea?

Gladware Bento

My husband just had a medical checkup and the doctor says not only is he in fantastic health, he is healthier than he was ten years ago.  Being a very kindly and appreciative partner, this is being credited to the fact I make bento for his lunches.  Now, you know how I laugh at the whole And It’s GOOD for You, Too! attitude towards hobbies, but I found that cute.
Gladware BentoSo, today’s magic, immortality-granting bento is pasta, chicken drumstick and some veggies. No fruit, because I’ve been lazy and haven’t been shopping.

But that thing about not having been shopping?  That’s  something that has a  lot to do with how I approach the whole bento aesthetic.

Sure, you can have the perfect containers, and make the perfect recipes and make some perfectly beautiful food art.  I’ve done some cute food art myself — piggie onigiri, seascapes and all kinds of stuff.  It’s fun.

But even non-perfect can be kinda cool, if you put a little thought into presentation.  Again, I used Gladware containers to make these bento.  In addition, a lot of the bento included leftovers.    Yes, I paid attention to color and presentation, but these meals were not planned.  They were put together with what I have on hand.  Yes, I regularly have fresh veggies on hand, but so should anyone if they can swing it.

I’ve been presenting these to show that while yes, the cute Japanese boxes are fun, and making Japanese food for your bento is also fun (Onigiri are awesome), Gladware and Western-style food works just fine.  If you want to make bento, you’re really only limited by your imagination, not your pocketbook.

I’m not the only one who seems to have given up on the cute little boxes without having given up on bento, though.  Many people on the Lunchinabox forums have bemoaned the expense of the well-sealed, sturdy, microwavable bento-specific box and are turning to Rubbermaid, Tupperware and especially Lock-n-lock boxes.  They’re not as pretty, but they’re sturdier and cheaper.