Capsule wardrobe 2021: the 13 pieces to ensure that you look stylish WFH or in an office

The rules of dressing changed this year, so we’ve come up with the stylish capsule wardrobe 2021 needs

Included in this guide:

A selection of street style pictures depict items that make up the perfect capsule wardrobe for 2021 include a midi skirt, loose-fitting trousers, elegant flats, leather totes and relaxed blazers
(Image credit: Edward Berthelot / Jeremy Moeller / Raimonda Kulikauskiene / Getty Images)

Creating a capsule wardrobe for work may not have been at the top of your list of priorities over the last year. However, with a semblance of “normality” finally on the horizon, now’s the time to start thinking about creating a capsule wardrobe 2021 can handle. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro in working from home via Zoom and Slack, long for the structure that comes with office life, or have been based in your workplace throughout, chances are your outfits are beginning to feel a little stale. And while many of us (ourselves included) have largely curated our looks around the best black gym leggings, a return to a more traditional working routine—whatever that looks like for you—doesn’t mean you have to forgo comfort.  

Gone are the days when your capsule wardrobe for work had to consist of a restricting two-piece suit and shirts buttoned up to the collar. Of course, if that’s what you feel most confident in then, by all means, embrace it. But, if workplaces were edging towards a relaxed aesthetic pre-pandemic, we’re predicting things will be even more laid-back when things resume. That said, striking the perfect balance between professional and comfortable is easier said than done. It’s important that you feel good about yourself—we’ve found that a stylish outfit has the power to shift our mood and boost our productivity in the process—but the last thing you want to feel is stuffy or overdone.

It will come as a relief, then, that we’re not suggesting you need to invest heavily in pinstripes, court shoes, pencil skirts, or any other stereotypical office attire to look the part. Instead, it’s about finding refined pieces with relaxed silhouettes that you can wear together in a multitude of ways. That means you have an array of outfits at your disposal, with minimal effort required on your part: think slipping on a roomy midi skirt with your favorite working-from-home knitwear or switching out your well-worn slippers in exchange for a pair of equally wearable, but significantly sleeker, flat shoes. It’s these little pick-me-ups that can make all the difference in the long run and will help you transition from your comfy loungewear back into something slicker, but no less appealing. 

What is a capsule wardrobe?

The term capsule wardrobe was coined in London in the 1970s by wardrobe consultant and author Susie Furst but according to Business of Fashion was brought to the masses after Donna Karan made the idea of condensing a wardrobe into its most essential components popular—making the idea of fashionable and classic clothing more accessible to everyone. 

A capsule wardrobe is a curated selection of pieces that fundamentally all compliment each other and can be put together to create separate outfits. Essentially, the practice of editing down your favorite pieces and wearing them in several different ways. 

When it comes to capsule wardrobes, trends are not so relevant. You ideally want it to consist of timeless pieces. You might opt for, say, a classic item such as a cream roll-neck, rather than a heavily embellished or logo print top. 

So, to help you get dressed and look stylish, whatever your professional situation may be, we’ve assembled all the pieces you need to create a chic, practical, versatile, and, above all else, comfortable capsule wardrobe for work. The only thing we can’t sort for you? Those pesky deadlines. Sorry about that!

Your capsule wardrobe checklist

1. The midi skirt

Erika Boldrin wears black sunglasses, a silver chain pendant necklace, a black t-shirt, a navy blue oversized bomber coat, a high waist beige with black / red / blue houndstooth pattern slit / split midi skirt, black shiny leather fringed asymmetric toe-cap pumps heels shoes, outside the Stella McCartney show, during Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear Spring Summer 2022, on October 04, 2021 in Paris, France

(Image credit: Getty Images / Edward Berthelot)

Whether it’s winter or summer, midi skirts make for an ideal change from trousers or dresses. During the colder months, add a pair of tights or knee-high boots, and you'll be sure to stay warm despite low temperatures while feeling like you actually put on a thought-through outfit that day. Come summer, your midi skirt will add instant polish to casual-looking sandals, too. 

2. The relaxed blazer

A model (L) wears a dark green with red and white print pattern sweater, a brown long blazer jacket, matching brown suit pants, a brown shiny leather handbag from Dior with red and yellow embroidered flower pattern, a model (R) wears a pale blue with feather collar and black pattern pleated / accordion dress, a black shiny leather cropped biker jacket, a brown shiny leather shoulder bag, outside Chanel, during Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear Spring Summer 2022, on October 05, 2021 in Paris, France.

(Image credit: Edward Berthelot / Getty Images)

Every work wardrobe should feature at least one blazer, but they needn't be sharply cut or made from rigid fabrics. Instead, look for fluid styles that will elevate all your office attire to chic new heights. We always keep one slung over our desk chairs for last-minute meetings (both virtual and in real life). 

3. The well-cut basics

A young woman is pictured in a street style image, she is wearing a well cut basic vest top with a relaxed sweater

(Image credit: Getty Images / Raimonda Kulikauskiene)

If blouses and shirts aren’t your thing, fret not. Basic jersey tops such as T-shirts and long-sleeved tops can look professional, as long as they’re cut correctly, and you style them with the appropriate pieces. That’s where the relaxed blazer and wide-leg trousers come in. 

4. The summer dress

An image of two women pictured wearing summer dresses during Stockholm fashion week

(Image credit: Getty Images / Christian Vierig)

It won't be long until we're unpacking our tailored coats again but for now, we are layering lighter and more comfortable pieces of clothing. Whether you’re having a puffball sleeve moment or keep things classic in a slip, the best summer dresses are back. From Scandi-style maxis to cute mini dresses and trendy midis they add an element of fun and keep you cool. For the more adventurous, this is the perfect time to play with prints however a simple color-palette of black, white and the odd feature color—like an olive green—is always a safe bet.

5. The loose-fit trousers

Linda Tol wears black sunglasses, from Tol, a white t-shirt, a brown purple long oversized blazer jacket, matching brown purple large suit pants, a green shiny leather embossed logo handbag, white leather pointed loafers / derbies with gold buckle ; Chloe Harrouche wears black sunglasses, a black leather necklace with a gold heart pendant from Chanel, a pale pink pleated / accordion knees dress with green / brown / pink embroidered V-neck, a black long oversized coat, a black shiny leather handbag, black pointed pumps heels shoes from Prada, outside Miu Miu, during Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear Spring Summer 2022, on October 05, 2021 in Paris, France

(Image credit: Edward Berthelot / Getty Images)

While fitted trouser and jean silhouettes will always have a place on the style agenda, 2021 is the year when wider, looser strides are set to make a comeback. This is excellent news for us, as they’re just as comfortable as the leggings and joggers we’ve been living in. Worried they'll look oversized? Pair them with a fitted top and belt them at the waist. 

6. The soft blouse

Isabelle Hartmann wearing a beige trenchcoat and pants, a white blouse, a beige chanel bag and beige heels on September 27, 2021 in Paris, France.

(Image credit: Jeremy Moeller / Getty Images)

When you think about work clothes, starchy white shirts probably come to mind. And while we’ll always be fans of the classic shirt, lightweight blouses in silky fabrics look just as slick but feel significantly more effortless and less rigid. Neutral colors will, of course, serve you well, but don't feel obliged to play it safe—prints and bright hues will make an impact.

7. The elegant flat shoe 

A crop of a woman wearing the Chanel chunky sandals during fashion week street style

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jeremy Moeller)

If your job calls for you to be on your feet for a lot of the day, or the thought of not wearing slippers fills you with anxiety, a pair of flats provides the solution. A pointed toe never fails to look fancy, but the flat sole makes them almost as comfortable as your trusty Uggs. We're not fully into the throngs of winter, so a simple sock/sandal combo works. Why not add a sheepskin insole for maximum cozy appeal? Yes, they do exist, and they’re game-changing. 

7. The stylish sneakers

A woman is pictured walking down a street wearing a black loose fitting suit (blazer and trousers) and white fashion trainers

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jeremy Moeller)

Fun fact: it was recently revealed that when it comes to sneakers, it’s now women that are making more purchases than men. With comfort firmly on the list of requirements, no capsule wardrobe is complete without the addition of a stylish pair of sneakers. You still need to keep things looking smart, so no tatty running trainers here please, we’re talking sneakers that stay in the fashion lane. Whether you’re into the chunky aesthetic of the Eytys Angel’s, prefer the minimalist approach of a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths, or the sustainable options from Veja, make sure sneakers find their way into your shopping baskets this summer.

9. The leather tote

Capsule wardrobe 2021, tote bags from Wandler, Madewell and Coach

(Image credit: Wandler / Madewell / Coach)

Remember when bags were an integral part of your daily ensemble? When you do find yourself leaving the house for work, replace the flimsy canvas carryalls you’d usually pack your laptop and essentials in with a leather tote bag. It's a small detail that'll make your work outfits feel more pulled together. 

10. The wrap dress

Betty Bachz was photographed during fashion week wearing a printed wrap dress

(Image credit: Getty Images / Christian Vierig)

Our workwear has featured lots of stretchy materials of late, but we’ve also found dresses to be some of the comfiest pieces we've worn since working from home. Our advice? Look to wrap styles. Not only can they be worn loosely if desired, but they also look cool layered over t-shirts, thin knits, or even over tapered trousers for a fresh take. 

11. The comfortable clogs

A woman wears comfortable clogs teamed with a floaty skirt and statement bag

(Image credit: Getty Images / Christian Vierig)

When it comes to changing up your look, accessories are the easy way to go. The humble clog, famed for practicality and comfort over style is back—and yes, they’ve been around forever but they haven’t always been as covetable. This season, clogs came clomping down the catwalk having had a makeover at the hands of everyone from Bally to Stella McCartney, so it’ll come as no surprise then that a pair of comfortable clogs is firmly on the must-have list.  They tend to sit in two camps, minimalist (think: sleek lines) vs maximalism (think: more is more) but it’s key to remember that keeping things in a similar color range will ensure that everything still matches.

12. The pared-back sweater 

Jeanne Damas pictured wearing a paired back sweater and relaxed black blazer

(Image credit: Getty Images / Hanna Lassen)

We’re all for statement knitwear but, when it comes to your workplace, we think it’s best to keep your sweaters and cardigans sleek and fuss-free. Simple crewnecks will look expensive worn with tailoring, as well as soft, thin roll-necks. Avoid bulky weaves as they tend to look scruffy. If you're worried about being cold, consider layering a seamless top or vest underneath. 

13. The timeless accessory

A close up of jewelry on a woman includes layered soft necklaces and shell jewelry, a woman is wearing them over a t-shirt and pink blazer

(Image credit: Getty Images / Christian Vierig)

Never underestimate the way well-chosen jewelry—especially from the best sustainable jewelry brands—enhances your outfit and your mood. A pair of simple gold hoop earrings can make you feel more in control (it works for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, after all). Additionally, a chain necklace is ideal for Zoom calls and for injecting a bit of your sartorial personality into your work outfits.

Why you should have a capsule wardrobe

The biggest reason you should embrace this idea is to spend less money on clothes. It'll also take you significantly less time to get dressed while still ensuring you look good. The closet is a reflection of an easy-to-understand framework that makes your mornings easier. Besides, it frees your wardrobe from clutter.

How to start a capsule wardrobe

While there are no hard and fast rules, we have a few helpful tips on building the best capsule wardrobe. Overall, it's more about personal style than it is about fashion trends. Your closet should help you feel confident. If you want a capsule full of bright colors and lots of accessories, don't settle for less.

To start, clear the closet. Take every piece and note the last time you wore it. If it's been six months, it should find its way out of your wardrobe. It can be tempting but don't be too lenient as you might end up saving everything for the capsule.

If this makes you nervous, you don’t have to get rid of them yet. At the very least, bring them to a different room. 

The idea is to have 37 items in your closet which you'll wear for the next three months. In this period, you won't shop for new clothes until the last two weeks of the season. This is when you'll plan for the next capsule.

Capsule wardrobes operate on the idea of less is more, so the idea is to buy fewer, higher quality items. This is where sustainable fashion comes in. By buying clothes less often, while also shopping consciously, you’re freeing up your closet while also being more eco-friendly.

Choose and arrange every item according to its usefulness and versatility. The ultimate test should be how well each item fits on the go. If you feel like you won't wear something soon or during the season, don't hold it in the capsule. This calls for a lot of honesty with yourself and you will need to consider letting go of some items. 

Take Away

There you have it—how to build your capsule wardrobe while reflecting your style. Choose the items in your capsule carefully, remembering that the selection should be as slim as possible. If you can't quickly pair something with other items on the list, it probably doesn't belong there.

You'll have a lot of trial and error when building your capsule wardrobe. Keep it simple and enjoy the whole process without being too hard on yourself.