How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe on a Budget

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how to create a capsule wardrobe on a budgetSponsored by Nuffnang

Most women want a well functioning wardrobe, but aren’t sure exactly how to go about getting one.  They want to stop wasting money on clothes, yet shop in a random fashion, without a list and then wonder why they have a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear.

Out of these few garments from the Emerson at Big W range, you can create 72+ outfits!

If this sounds at all like you, I have the answer (and also a chance to win a $200 gift card from Big W, but more of that later).    If you follow my Capsule Wardrobe formula, you’ll have a fabulous wardrobe that mixes and matches easily and allows you a myriad of options to wear.

The formula I like to use is:

  • 2 x jackets or cardigans (top layers)
  • 4 x bottoms (skirts/pants)
  • 6 x tops
  • Each jacket must work with all the tops and bottoms.
  • Each top must work with all the bottoms.

Now these 12 garments will easily make 72 outfits!  1 extra top will take your outfit options to 84 or  1 extra cardigan or jacket to 96 outfits!] Let’s have a look at this capsule on the next page.

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  • I’m a bit of a dress girl so I think I’d start with the Emerson Bird print belted dress and a coloured cardigan and jacket. I do think that snakeskin tshirt looks amazing though too!

  • Your formula is so helpful! Great starting place for forming functioning wardrobe that is versatile and bullet-proof.

  • Imogen – you have written often about the wardrobe capsule and it is not a difficult concept to understand. But for some reason this post & photo have made it easy and practical to implement. thanks! Paulene

  • I went to BIGW today to look for that jacket. They did not receive the pink at my local store but the charcoal followed me home 🙂

  • I love the idea of creating wardrobe capsules. I did it once using a blue blazer and a black one.
    Not sure I can be entered to win since I’m in the US but just in case I’d start with the textured fine print. It’s different from what I’d normally wear and I need a new wardrobe now. Especially since I’ve lost 26.4 pounds and counting!

  • I would totally start with the grey emerson cardigan and a skinny coloured belt. Because from Imogen I have learnt to highlight my wrist’s and waist to draw attention away from my A shape And considering I am also now desiring the Emerson Heart Pullover in grey/pink I have nailed my neutral as grey!

  • Thank you, I love this post and have pinned it to Pinterest. I love the pink ponte knit jacket and think it would be a great pop of colour for the cooler months when wearing all those neutrals. I really need to work out a capsule for my wardrobe as I have lots of clothes but have the typical “what shall I wear?” moment every morning.

  • Thank you so much for this blog! I am blown away by this concept and so glad I came across your Facebook page. It has changed how I look at my wardrobe and has stopped me buying one off items that won’t go with other items in my wardrobe. Better yet the price at Big W are so budget friendly. I am definitely going out to buy the Pink Ponte Jacket to start my new capsule wardrobe off.

  • Thank you for another inspirational post about wardrobe capsules. The concept of “making more with less” is very appealing, yet having multiple options makes it all the more interesting. Hooray for mix & match formulas!

  • Wow! How simply gorgeous and easy to implement. The best part is the chic look for the small price-tag. Anybody who is budget conscious as well as fashion conscious will love this idea of a capsule wardrobe. Thank you for sharing!

  • I love the Emerson range – I’ve been buying it for a few seasons and have saved a fortune! $14.98 for coloured jeans compared to designer ones for over $100, and the Emerson ones are more comfortable, and a flattering fit! I love the Emerson jackets – the stretch fabric makes them comfortable, but takes you out of the “mum zone”. Big W also have an amazing range of affordable scarves. I’m always topping up my accessories!

    This is a great post, and although it’s sponsored (which can be off putting for some), I think this is a great example of endorsing a really worthwhile product! People are often amazed at how much of my wardrobe is Emerson, and how little is designer!

  • This is a fantastic post and at the perfect time for me! I have been stuck in the rut of a full wardrobe, but having nothing to wear. The idea of a capsule is really appealing, so many outfits with a few pieces of clothing. You have made it look so easy – I can’t wait to put together my own capsule and being able to do it on a budget is even better!

  • I’m amazed!! I’m in awe!! Those outfits look amazing… and I can’t believe the total cost!! I am in the process of losing the excess Kgs (no more babies for me!). And when those kilos go… I will need an entire new wardrobe. It will be my reward to just donate all the ‘fat’ clothes and replace everything. I am now bookmarking this page. And I have Big W up the road. So I will use your outfits as a guide. I love the capsule concept.

  • You have made capsule dressing so clear! Thank you. I’m going to go through my closet and make some capsules. Maybe I’ll even hang the capsules together. Plus, like you mentioned, how great to finally know what to pack for a two week vacation.

  • Love this post!! I’m just curious how long it took you to go into one big store and put together an entire capsule! What was the first item you chose? What was your strategy?

    p.s. I don’t live in Australia so I’m not entering the contest, but this is one of the best sponsored posts I’ve ever read on fashion. Well done!

    • Thanks! To tell the truth it took 3 stores (they all had slightly different stock, or sizes in stock. Took me around 3 hours of shopping to do it. I started with the Pink jacket and Navy cropped pants and worked from there. Once I’d decided on these the rest was a matter of finding other pieces that all went together with them.

      • Imogen, how recent is the pink jacket? I’ve not seen it in our stores, but I NEED one!! My local store only has the grey and navy. Wondering if I’ve missed the boat, or need to be a little more patient!!

  • sadly I am not an Australian and therefore cannot enter. Excellent article thank you SO much for simplifying my wardrobe needs right now. I’ve lost 55 pounds and have 13 to go . . . . .

  • I’m another overseas fan, so sadly not eligible for this competition! What I love about this is that, unlike some capsule wardrobes that I’ve seen, there is plenty of colour in your capsule. I haven’t worn pink for years, but plan to try on a couple of pink garments inspired by your post. I suspect though that I will be rebuilding my summer wardrobe using turquoise and coral, which seem to flatter me the most.

  • Love this post! I had my first baby 6 months ago and have gone up in sizing so this will help me so much to get a new wardrobe to get out of my maternity clothes 🙂

  • As a busy mum, i would have to start with the emerson bootcut jean, i know it will suit my body shape,
    i have always wanted to own a wardrobe like this, i cant begin to imagine how much money i have wasted on clothing that doesnt go with anything i own. thanks for the fabulous advice!!

  • I would start with the Emerson cardi that is in the pale neutral colour and work from there. It’s soft and feminine and looks to be useful as a transeasonal garment.

  • Imogen- Thank You.

    Finally a Wardrobe Capsule I totally get!
    Love the formula. I haven’t worn a skirt or dress for years but I can see this formula working for me.

    I am off to Northern Europe, for 5 weeks, in the middle of the year. I need to start practising now so I only need to pack 12 pieces (plus something dressy to wear to dinner?)

    One question. I notice all your pants and skirts are all very close in colour. Would this still work with shades of Grey or Taupe ( my favourite neutrals)?

      • I am medium blonde with greenish eyes. I have a chocolate jacket and jeans, then have a camel cardigan, wheat jeans and camel pencil skirt. Do you think it would be better to use dark brown as a base and buy a brown skirt, or use camel as a base and look for a camel jacket?

        I have some brown print, teal and emerald tops and turquoise jeans that would work with brown or camel.

  • I don’t usually go for Big W for my clothes, but I think they provide some good basics at a cheap price point. I like the pink jacket and would probably start there and definitely add print tops, because I love patterns and lots of colours.
    Since I’m going away on tues, I now have to consider what I will put in my capsule wardrobe for Queensland! I think I will create a post around it!

  • Thank you so much! This is fantastic! This is easily the best post on the capsule wardrobe, yet! (And I really do thnk I’ve read them all by not–even your free e-book on the subject!

    I am in the process of losing weight–so this will definitely keep me on track. I don’t have 4 bottoms I can wear–so now I know why I feel like I’m always wearing the same thing. I am!

    The photos of you in the outfits are also great examples, in some cases, of how to dress something “up” or down. I think you have the same jacket and top on with two different bottoms–and with the skirt the outfit is nice and polished and with the cropped pants, it’s breezy and casual. Thanks again.

  • Love this post and the way you explained it. I feel like I could actually do it! I’m thinking a mixture of classic denim, navy and some red jeans! There’s a cute navy and white striped skirt that I spotted in a BigW catalogue yesterday that I think I’d add too.

  • Thans Imogen for explaining this mystery science I now realize why I have so many clothes I dont wear – none of them match!! I have style confusion disorder ( just made it up but it feels like that). This is the first blog I have read that explains how to achieve a coherent look rather than just showing the finished product. I removed everything that didn’t go with much else. Can I wear pajamas to work?? At least they match…..

  • You make it all seem so easy and do-able Imogen.

    I love all the outfits.

    Think I’d start with the bright blue Emerson blouse and navy skirt and add a charcoal cardigan.

    So many great clothes to choose from and such unbelievable prices.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills with us.

    Jenie Yolland

  • I would start with the charcoal jacket and the Emerson stripe belted dress.

    I’m terrible at buying clothes that go with other things I own so would really love to put together a proper capsule wardrobe.

  • I just did this and shared with my friends (as well as your fun blog). Very cool! I was going to attach a pic of my capsule but not sure how to post it in comment. Thanks! Glad I came across your blog.

  • I would love to win this so much. I love your blog and read it all the time, it has helped me in so many ways. Winning this would be wonderful as I need a new look and new clothes as I slowly change my lifestyle and get fit again. Thanks for the blog – it really makes a difference in my Life. Cheers rachel

  • Would also like to add a thank you for including the posts of you in each outfit, which really help it sink in. Thanks again for your blog!

  • Prints on the TOP ONLY! So that’s why I’ve been having trouble matching outfits. Thanks so much- yu just never know what little comment will make so much difference!

  • You make this look so easy, Imogen! I think this will help me when I travel to the US later this year – I hate carrying heavy suitcases. Of course you need to know the right colours for you to wear – lucky I’ve had my colours done.

  • Hi Imogen

    From an overseas fan:

    Thank you for demonstrating this inspiring capsule wardrobe. I also have some ideas for the upcoming “style a skirt”.

    Kind regards


  • Fantastic post, Imogen! The visuals are invaluable. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to create a capsule only to end up frustrated. I’m excited to try this out today and see what I can come up with in my own closet. I know I have the pieces. I think it will also help me weed out some closet orphans. I think once I do it and get my head wrapped around the idea it will help me become a better shopper and traveler! Woohoo. So excited. Thanks. (I’m not entering the drawing–I’m not is Australia.)

  • This is a fantastic post and so great that you’ve done it with Big W clothes! While I love your polyvore sets, I’m often disappointed that the items selected are expensive or from brands not available in Australia.Heading to Big W for a peek today…

  • I’m working on the capsule concept after years of buying one off “orphans” the pictures bring this post to life and I’m hoping that the navy striped jacket I spotted on the big w website is still there when I go.
    Happy capsules everybody.

  • Fantastic post, Imogen! I am currently a full-time student, so doing something like this would be great for my budget, without limiting the amount of outfit choices I have. And because I’m studying education, I work as a student teacher, and need to look the part! I have been a fan of the Emerson brand since it first came into Big W stores here in Brisbane. There’s usually a good mix of classic and fashion-current styles to choose from, at a price I can afford.

    I just visited Big W near me & put together this list to make a capsule with (everything is from ‘Emerson’):

    Navy (solid) blazer
    V-neck button-up open cardigan in orange-red

    Off-white shirt full placket business wear (Sheer collared shirt with 2 breast pockets & gold buttons)
    Shirt ‘smart’ white with black polka dots
    Animal print beige & black peplum sleeveless top ‘smart’
    Beige lace frill t-shirt
    ¾ sleeve plain navy boatneck tee
    Short sleeve embroidered neck tee navy and white stripe- casual t-shirt

    Navy Pointe Jean Leggings
    Navy smart skirt (straight skirt)

  • Fabulous post, Imogen – one of the best capsule wardrobe posts I’ve ever read! Love having the photos of the items and the outfits you’ve made – sometimes I think the Polyvore capsules some people do work ‘on the screen’ but due to sleeve lengths, necklines etc, don’t actually work in reality.

    I woke up really early this morning, and started planning capsules in my head!

  • I am really interested in creating a capsule and this was great advice plus very inspiring to see we can use the Big W range in such an effective way. I loved the pictures and will be off to check it out in person as soon as I can!

  • What a wonderful post. I always love looking at capsule wardrobes but so often they are full of expensive clothing that I could never afford. Not only is yours budget friendly but from a shop I can get to!
    I already have some navy items in my wardrobe so my picks would have to be the Pink Ponte Jacket to brighten up my days and the Heart Pullover that would be cute for weekends.

  • Thanks heaps Imogen, I have not visited BW for a while now but I will be heading in this week. Lus the idea of the capsule wardrobe, just wish I had this knowledge year before, as I have a wardrobe full of corporate stuff, that I didn’t need to buy.

    Love all the colours too…
    Cheers and Thanks again.

  • I’ve recently discovered the Emerson range, all my basic summer tops are from their range. This post has inspired me to visit to look beyond their basics & see how I can expand my wardrobe as a student without breaking the bank!

    From your pick I would choose:
    Navy Cardigan
    Green 3/4 T-Shirt
    Navy Skirt

    That would make a nice starter outfit that would suit my style.

    From the website:
    blue blouse “Emerson top $19”
    the checked shirt on the model on the first page of the “check mate” section to compliment my boyfriend’s “lumberjack” style of dress
    the blue jacket & the necklace from the first page of the “go faster stripes” section

    I’m popping into Big W on Wednesday to check it all out in person, hope they’ve got a decent range at my local one!

  • I love the pink jacket! I’m making an effort to move away from blacks and (well…) blacks. I moved to the beach late last year so am trying to make a few changes!

    I’m not working at the moment – taking a break – but will soon need to do something about it, so the pink jacket and pink shirt and blue and black trousers from your collection. I was on the site and would also love to update some of my housey accessories a bit with some colour.


  • Thanks Imogen for some inspiration and introducing me to Emerson. Wow.. great value for money!
    Who knew you could get a great wardrobe from BigW. Thanks Again.

  • What a fabulous post! I think I’d start with a Ponte Jacket as I don’t possess one then build from there. Love the pics makes it so much easier to understand. Thanks!

  • Love the idea of the capsule wardrobe … now I have a WIR it should be easy to pick outfits too.

    To begin with I’d go with the ponti jacket in grey + striped 3/4 sleeve tee and a printed tee to funk up my weekends. Don’t have many dresses and like the look of the Emerson print dress with a bright cardi Lastly I’d pick a pencil skirt in a neutral – hoping they have it in grey too.

  • Wow! At these prices, it almost beats shopping 2nd-hand!!

    I’m surprised how much they can reduce the price without making them tooo cheap in quality (I can’t handle the processed plastic smell in Kmart). I was a bit disappointed that their website didn’t list the colour variations available in each style, so I’m taking a stab in the dark from what I could see, but bearing in mind what would fill holes in my closet and extend what I already have.

    I really like the bird print dress and hope it is a navy base rather than black, but would certainly consider other colours if there were options. I’m thinking this is sleeveless, so will double nicely as a skirt. I like the slim belt too, as I am trying to work more belts in on my shortish waist.

    I’ve also been on the hunt for a v-neck cardi for quite some time, so provided the fit was good, would probably buy a couple of these, including the cream shown in the catalogue.

    Finally, I’d have to try one of the ponte jackets – which would probably be either the plain Navy, or the striped. I’d love to go a pop of colour, but both dislike and look ill in all shades of pink. It would be great to have a better idea of what might be available colour-wise (I try to keep clear of the shops unless I NEED to go).

    As I normally shop most at the 2nd-hand stores (both for the green-ness and cost savings for a tight budget), I rarely check out the ladies fashion in BigW, however I will make a point to look when I am there next. On you and in the catalougue there certainly is enough variety to make the thought of a voucher a most exciting chance.

    Fingers crossed – but good luck to all. (I’d love to see what the winner selects)

      • Oh no, I understand your colour selection completely, and was simply re-voicing my thoughts that BigW could have marketed better for the non-browsing shopper by showing the colours on their website.

        Thank you for letting me know that they have good colouring for me, it is a pity BigW didn’t consider that they would be more likely to draw me in-store if I could see online that they have some of these great value items in my colours. (And I love that you know colours so well, of course, to pick that I am warm by my exclusion of pink)

  • Cobalt jeans would be on my list. I’ve just tried to use the capsule idea when packing for 3 weeks in the UK. Hoping I can stick to it which means more room in my suitcase for shopping whilst there!

  • I am amazed at how a little money spent with purpose at Big W, can translate into so many fabulous & on trend outfits! Great shopping on a budget, Imogen! Thanks for showing us how!

  • I had not heard of the Emerson range at Big W, so I will be looking into that. I loved this post – great, doable ideas.

    I would definitely start with tops. I always have a problem finding a few different tops that fit well and look good for all occassions. So I just end up wearing the same one or two everywhere. Boring. So I would be starting with that.

  • To build my Big W-ardrobe, I’d be tickled pink to have the fuschia ponte blazer. It’s the perfect balance of sophistication and fun. I’ve just had a baby, so this jacket would take my minimalist post-maternity wardrobe from drab to fab!!

  • Imogen,
    I read your website regularly. Most of your ideas are really good but this is honestly your best work yet! I say this because it is so useful.
    1.Sometimes I add up the prices of your polyvore collections and they are equal to a mortgage payment or down payment on a car. I spend quite a bit on clothes but the price of some of your suggestions amazes even me. It is just not sensible to spend inordinate amounts on clothes. Big W is the lower end of the price spectrum but there are many price points in between Big W and high-end designers which have good quality at a reasonable price e.g. Sportscraft/Country Road/ Regatta/Zara/Mango etc.
    2. This post shows people how to organize a functional, flattering wardrobe which provides a consistent, polished look.

    • Hi Michaela
      I don’t look at prices when I put together a Polyvore as they are about explaining a concept and are an example of a style or colour I could find on Polyvore. You can always take the idea and look for something in a price point that suits you.

  • Thank you SO MUCH for this. I tried to create my own capsule wardrobe a year ago before I found your blog – and now I know where I went wrong. Two things: 1) not enough color punch/contrast and 2) buying multiples in different colors – and of course like you pointed out I feel like I’m wearing the same damned thing everyday! lol. I’ll be amending my capsule wardrobe according to your tips.

    Anyway, thank you once again. I’ve learned TONS from your blog and I also discovered Jill Chivers’ blog thanks to you 🙂

  • Such helpful advice. I have a tiny wardrobe and am unable to store much in it. Love the concept and will start now to set up my capsule so I can manage my clothes easily. I am downsizing everything as I am getting up in years, and want to have a simple life!!! The fun part will be choosing my accent colours – I was a warm/soft autumn, now with greying hair and fading colour, this may be a bit of a challenge – whether to go for bright colours or more muted ones. Thanks Imogen

  • Will think smoky and sophisticated regarding colour! Having worn burnt orange and khaki so much, I positively cannot stand them any more. Maybe pale salmon and soft green, also turquoise and aqua will substitute. Will have fun searching and experimenting. I envy you with your colours, I love cobalt blue and bright pinks, but they do not flatter my skin tone. After reading your posts, I could have them as an accessory, say a handbag or scarf. Thanks for replying.

  • Hi Imogen

    I’ve been following you for years and have learnt so much! My goal is to one day fly to Victoria to do one of your colour courses :-). I am also really loving your clips with Jill, you two make such a great team!!

    Would you consider doing another budget capsule wardrobe for Fall/Winter 2014? We all loved reading your last one so much, especially your stay-at-home mums on a single income… we love looking nice too! Pleeease?

  • I nave never heard of the Emerson brand of clothes from Big W, but I intend to look into it. The prices are incredible.
    Also, I have never been able to coordinate my wardrobe with so few clothes. We travel a lot, and this idea appeals to me. I would start with a navy, grey or pink coat, and build my wardrobe from there.
    I am going to pass this information onto family members who are starting university.
    Thank you for taking the time to put this together.

    • It’s hard to get everything from one store – but if you work with a specific colour palette in mind and shop around you can easily create a capsule wardrobe yourself!

  • I love the capsule idea; but my dilemma is finding the stores that cater to my style and lifestyle and then picking the tops that go with the bottoms. For instance the majority of my lifestyle is “casual” and the tops I get to go with casual pants and shoes don’t often look well with the dressier bottoms. Because I don’t wear that many dressy things, the dressy things I’ve bought seem to go out of style and or don’t work with the other tops.

    Formulas are good; but it is the execution of shopping for the details that make the difference. I’m not a shopper; yet I realize for these beginning capsules to work one must spend a lot of time focused on getting the foundation pieces that go together. Add that to a body which is not “perfect” and the whole thing becomes a major chore.

    I’m interested in your tips for the non shopper and those with physical special needs.(example: wardrobes that need to be built around feet issues or weight issues)

    Thank you so much. I love your blog and have confidence in your suggestions.

  • I’ve only just seen this site and want to say a big thank you. I’ve been browsing capsules all afternoon and was thrilled to finally find one for real down to earth women – and budget conscious as well. Fantastic!

  • Does this capsule wardrobe advice change at all depending on one’s body shape? I have a very pronounced V-shape body (my shoulders stick out at least 2″ past my hips on each side) and I’m fairly self-conscious about it. I’ve been using the other tips you’ve written for V-shape bodies and have been gradually switching to darker tops and brighter/lighter/patterned bottoms to lend more proportion to my body. So how would someone like me do a capsule? Do I go with patterned tops or bottoms? What would my neutral be? Tan? White? I’ve tried to get away from navy/black/dark brown on the bottom since it makes my small hips look even smaller. Thanks for any clarification you can give.

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