Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms – Which is Right for You?


There has been some fascinating discussion between my 7 Step Style Sisters this past week or so about Uniforms, Wardrobe Capsules and Outfit Formulas.

Each is a different concept, all can work for you and can work together, but some may feel more attractive to your way of thinking and doing than others!

Wardrobe Capsules

A group of garments that work together and can be worn to create multiple looks as they easily mix and match.  I’ve got an easy wardrobe capsule guide here you can download if you want to explore this concept further.

Here you’re looking at between 10 and 20 garments that all mix and match – ideal for travel and for those who want a small, curated wardrobe.  They may be built around a small palette of colours.

Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms - Which is Right for You?

You can have multiple capsules in your wardrobe – they may be for different occasions, colour groupings, season or just built around different outfit formulas.

Here are 5 great reasons to build a capsule wardrobe.

Outfit Formulas

This is a concept where you create a formula to put together outfits that work for you – they may include figure flattery guidelines and preferred accessories.  An example of an Outfit Formula could be:

  • Jeans + Knit top + Patterned Scarf + Boots
  • Dress + Cropped Jacket + Ballet flats + Necklace and Bracelets
  • Jeans + fitted tee + Kimono/Duster + Wedges

You may have multiple formulas  – here is a post on how to create your own fabulous fashion formulas.

You may think of a formula relating to colour – such as my 60/30/10 one – which helps you get a balance of colours in your outfit, based on your own colouring and contrast.  

Or a formula surrounding personality dressing styles:  60% classic garment, 30% relaxed garment and 10% dramatic garment/accessories, reusing this same ratio!

A style recipe formula could be another option – with a style recipe of Dynamic, Independent Professional – you could decide that you want your outfits to have a base or Professional (think structured garments, smooth fabrics, neutral base colours) with a good splash of Dynamic (bold colours or larger scale accessories or garment details) with an element of Independent (creative or unique design elements or accessories).Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms - Which is Right for You?

You may decide you have different formulas for different seasons as the requirements of your location and make what you wear quite different.

You may have different formulas for different aspects of your life – such as a work formula, a social life formula and a casual formula.

Your formula could be directly related to your figure flattery guidelines.  If you’re not sure what they are, you can find out as part of my 7 Steps to Style program, or just use all the information here on the blog to define them including my Body Shape Calculator Quiz.

A formula dresser may have multiple formulas and can get bored wearing exactly the same formula day after day, so may opt for different outfit formulas to stop this from happening.  A uniform dresser will not find wearing the same formula every day boring in the same way.

Here is another example of a possible outfit formula you might apply to your own style.


Here we are meaning self-imposed (rather than externally imposed) garment choices.  For some, the idea of a uniform makes getting dressed really easy and simple.  Some uniforms are basically the exact same thing (think Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg as two examples of this), or may just be similar sorts of garments (think Ellen Degeneres, Anna Wintour, Jackie Onassis) who created their own identifiable looks based around wearing similar sorts of outfits each day.  These outfits change much less than a formula style of dressing which is more likely to include a greater variety of looks. 

Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms - Which is Right for You?If your formula is basically the same, you have taken your formula and turned it into a uniform.

For example, Anna Wintour’s patterned dress with Georgian Collet necklace (and she wears the same necklaces with EVERY dress) and sunglasses is a self-imposed uniform that varies very little from season to season and year to year.  In fact, summer and winter the formula changes very little.  In winter she wears boots, in summer some mules.  It doesn’t matter if she’s in the office, at a fashion show front row or being interviewed … or even out more casually, her outfits really don’t change, which is why I’d include her style in the Uniform category rather than just a formula, as most people have multiple formulas for different aspects of their lives and seasons.  She does not.  In winter, she just adds a long coat to her dresses to keep her warm.

When you think about traditional men’s business wear:  suit, shirt, tie … this really translates to being a uniform of sorts!  Yes, there is some personality and leeway expressed by the choices of colours and patterns in shirts and ties and suits, but you are limiting choices to just a few similar styles of garments and one silhouette.

Uniforms are more restrictive than formulas (though they are usually based on some sort of formula).

They do express a personal brand most clearly, so if this is important to you, you may want to think about developing your own uniform as an expression of your brand.  It should align with your style recipe and how you want to express who you are and how you want others to perceive you to have the most positive impact.

Those who prefer uniform dressing will often describe it as being freeing and it simplifying their life.  They don’t want to have to make decisions around what to wear each day, so wear a version of the same thing day in and day out.   They like to concentrate their energy and creativity in other directions.  

If you’ve got image burnout – a uniform may be the right way to go for you – even if just for a period of time until you feel inspired to do something else!

Capsules, Formulas or Uniforms – Which is For You?

Do you have a preference for one of these?   

Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms - Which is Right for You?For me, given that I work with a colour palette in my wardrobe and can easily create lots of capsules at the drop of a hat when I’m travelling, and because I am a mood dresser and like to have a more varied wardrobe, capsules are great only when necessary, but not something that I work towards creating.  But for those who are building a wardrobe from scratch or have some very different lifestyle/wardrobe needs, this can be a great option.

Prefer multiple formulas over Unforms or Capsules

Uniforms feel constrictive to me as they don’t allow for mood dressing and variety, which is something I personally need.  

Formulas are my go-to, they allow more creativity and outfits can be built around so many different kinds of formulas as I’ve mentioned above!

I’ve often been asked how many clothes you need in your wardrobe.  The answer to this may be related to which of the options you choose, whether you have a need for variety or not.

Which of these options appeals most to you?

More Tips on Putting Together Outfits

Is There a Process for Putting Stylish Outfits Together?

All My Best Tips and Inspiration for Putting Together Stylish Outfits

Defining and Refining Your Personal Style

Wardrobe Capsules, Outfit Formulas and Uniforms - Which is Right for You?

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I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • Definitely a formula dresser here! I hadn’t thought it out this clearly, but I’m definitely a one who would be categorized as a formula dresser. I know what lines go together on my body to be flattering and usually that is the primary factor, quickly followed by color and comfort (though I’m always willing to try something else on, especially as my body shape/style/lifestyle needs have shifted recently); but I have also really liked to mix elements from different eras and see how well I could make it work — i.e. mixing a ’90’s jacket, a ’50’s skirt, a ’70’s blouse, with ’80’s shoes and modern jewelry; or mixing a Victorian flair with a streamlined early 2000’s look, etc….. πŸ™‚ I don’t have time for that level of detail in getting dressed now, beyond just a couple specific outfits, but I’m finding that that really was a large part of one of my previous formulas: “mixing eras” — although at the time I probably thought of it as “inspired by history.” πŸ˜€ I also use the “capsule” thinking, but it is secondary. I don’t have a philosophical issue with owning an outfit or two that nothing else goes with…but I definitely don’t want my whole wardrobe to be like that! That would get boring rapidly…..

  • Thanks for this post Imogen. As part of the concussion recovery process, I am trying to reduce decision fatigue. But as I still like variety and as there is a 10 degree celsius variation in highs and as much as a 15degree diurnal variation, I think I like the outfit formula set up. Kind of an if this, then …

  • I’m definitely a formula kind of person.
    Thank you for this great post, Imogen. I love the outfits you’ve styled for the dynamic professional..

  • As a person who has known my “colours” since my early teens I have been through many formulas and experimented a lot. Since becoming a mother I have gradually settled into a Uniform for winter. I hate to be cold and love to be comfortable so my uniform is dark Jeans, single colour leather sneakers, Navy long sleeve t-shirt, navy, grey or plum cashmere turtle neck jumper, a long cardigan and multi-coloured scarf. For variety sometimes I blend the colours from along one side of the colour wheel, some days are mono navy or grey and others I want contrasts like plum and green. When the weather is too hot for jeans I wear a dress. I have 6 scarves, 3 pairs of jeans, 12 long sleeve t-shirts, 7 short sleeve t-shirts and 5 sleeveless tops, 10 cashmere jumpers, 4 cardigans, 3 pairs of sneakers, 10 dresses and 3 pairs of sandals. These are the clothes I wear all the time. I do have some other clothes but they don’t get worn often. For evening events I have one navy cashmere dress and three pairs of grey wool flannel wide leg pants in different sizes (for the 3 sizes I have ever been.) Sometimes I do get bored! But overall it saves me a lot of decision making time.

  • While I love the capsule wardrobe concept in theory, I find that I really struggle to make it work for me in real life. Trying to pick shapes of tops that go with every bottom and the like are extremely stressful to me since I like different silhouettes. I do like the idea of working towards having groupings of clothes that can mix and match, but I really prefer to think of it more in the outfit formulas concept. So, dark bootcut jeans + dressy blouse + cardigan + wedge sandals + coordinating jewelry is one of my go-to formulas, but sometimes the blouse is a print or sometimes the cardigan is a neutral instead of being colorful. Finding print blouses that work with many different cardigans is a way for me to mix things up. It feels a bit like a uniform but not as restrictive, I think, since I could also easily sub in a knit top for the blouse, a scarf in lieu of the jewelry, and boots or heels for the sandals.

  • Thanks for making this all make sense. I have tried for years to put together a capsule wardrobe and it is too complicated. I have tried to wear a uniform and that is too constrictive. Formulas for different occasions is the perfect middle ground for me. Finally I have a clear picture in my head of what works best for me. Again, thank you.

  • Imogen ,isn’t this fun. There is an absolute wealth of information on your Pinterest posts.
    Most helpful, particularly since I am never confident about my style.

  • I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe in theory but every time I struggle with it in practice. If I have X shirt that looks BEST with Y bottoms, then I don’t enjoy wearing it with Z bottoms instead just because it “technically” matches.

    I would say I’m a formula dresser but maybe it’s more of a uniform? Because I use essentially the same formula for every situation, the specific pieces just vary by situation and weather.
    Bottoms + fitted shirt + layer (in summer I just keep on hand in case of cold buildings) + neck accessory
    Layer = hoodie at home, cardigan or jacket at work
    Bottoms = In winter: jeans, but sometimes dress pants for work (I have a casual dress code but sometimes I just feel like dressing nicer). For summer it’s generally maxi skirts, but occasionally pants/jeans.
    Neck accessory= scarf when cold, necklace when warm

    Then I choose shoes based on functionality and level of dress (it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower since each of my 11 pairs serve a unique function–O feel like it’s too many because some can cross over for SOME outfits, but if I got rid of any, there would be some outfits with 0 shoes to match).
    And, if winter, I put a coat and gloves on. Those are NOT stylish, but I’m not willing to sacrifice warmth for style. I live in the Midwestern US, so there can be relatively mild winters, but there can also be painfully cold ones like this past year. I have a canvas hunting-style coat for extra cold weather and a short down puffer for normal winter.

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