Over the years, several commenters have mentioned the “Four-by-Four Capsule Wardrobe” concept from The Vivienne Files as something that’s helped them to better manage their closets and get dressed more easily. I’ve read a few posts on this methodology over the years and found it intriguing, but that was about it. However, after the last time the four-by-four was mentioned here (thank you to whoever brought it up), I decided to delve a bit more deeply and dedicate a post to it.
What is the Four-by-Four Wardrobe?
The Four-by-Four Wardrobe is a sixteen-piece group of clothing chosen four items at a time. The first two groups are referred to as “cores of four,” while the third group is called “the mileage four” because it helps with combining the initial pieces (usually neutrals) and giving them more versatility. The fourth group is called “the expansion four,” as it expands the combination options further. It’s recommended to also integrate a number of accessories into the mix (jewelry, shoes, handbags, scarves, etc.) to up your style quotient and keep things more interesting. I’ll go into more detail about how to select each group below.
This type of wardrobe capsule can be helpful in a variety of ways. One could create separate four-by-four capsules for each season to either serve as a full wardrobe (for true minimalists) or as the foundation for a larger, more cohesive collection. Another great way to use the four-by-four wardrobe is for travel, as most of us could dress quite well with sixteen garments for even a lengthy excursion. Even if you don’t have a trip planned in the near future, taking the time to compile a couple of four-by-four capsules (i.e., for potential summer and winter vacations) could make it easier to pack for your next getaway.
There are lots of examples of the “four-by-four wardrobe” on The Vivienne Files website, and the concept has seen several evolutions over the years. The blogger has even used this capsule creation method to pull together multiple Project 333 wardrobes (selecting 33 items instead of just 16), which I may also opt to try and post about in the future (you can check out my previous adventures with the Project 333 minimalist fashion challenge HERE).
Now that I’ve told you a little bit about what the four-by-four wardrobe is, let’s move on to my first capsule compilation of this nature. Since the weather is still pretty cool where I am and likely will be for another month or so (hello, “May Gray” and “June Gloom”), I’m going to start off with a “not summer” capsule. However, I plan to revisit this concept in a month or so for my summer wardrobe (and it’s likely that I’ll take some sort of trip during that season so I can better test out the capsule that I pull together).
The First Core of Four
The instructions for selecting the first “core of four” are to choose two tops and two bottoms in a core neutral color. One of the tops should preferably be some sort of topper, such as a cardigan or jacket. If you’re familiar with me at all, you’ll know that the neutral I selected was black, as that’s the primary neutral that I wear all year round.
I selected a black duster cardigan, a long-sleeved ruched V-neck top, and two pairs of full-length black pants, as shown below. Both of the pants are made of a similar Ponte knit material, but one is a slim-leg style and the other is a bit fuller in cut. I wish I could have included a pair of black jeans in the mix instead of one of the pants that I chose, but I’ve had trouble finding ones that are long enough for me and in my desired silhouette (midrise straight-leg).
The Second Core of Four
The Vivienne Files recommends that the second core of four consist of two tops/toppers and two bottoms in a second neutral, or alternatively more items in the first neutral color. I decided to split the difference here and selected two more black pieces, as well as two pairs of jeans (with denim/blue being my second neutral). I chose a black knit blazer and a heathered black crewneck long-sleeved tee in addition to the jeans.
While one pair of jeans is pictured rolled up, I always wear them full-length, as that’s more in line with my style aesthetic (and I usually wear them with boots instead of sneakers). The jeans vary a bit in color and silhouette, but both pairs are midrise and either straight or boot-cut.
The Mileage Four
This third grouping should consist of four tops that coordinate well with the first eight garments in the capsule. Here is where prints, patterns, and accent colors can be introduced to add more visual interest and excitement to the collection. Since my primary pattern is stripes, I chose four tops in this print, but the thickness, placement, and color of the stripes varies. Two of the tops are black-and-white-striped, while the other two include a shade of blue. All of these tops can be paired with the four pairs of pants/jeans above, as well as with the two black toppers.
The Expansion Four
The instructions for the final group of four pieces are less specific. This module is all about rounding out the capsule and making it more versatile and exciting. It’s recommended to include at least two more tops or toppers here, but you can also add a dress or additional bottoms if desired. Any area where you feel insecure should be addressed here.
This is where things got trickier for me. I wanted to accomplish two goals with this final group: to add more toppers and incorporate more color. I hemmed and hawed quite a bit about what to choose (I’ll show some of my “alternates” later), but I ultimately chose three cardigans in some of my favorite colors, as well as another black-and-white-striped top that “reads” more white than black. I wanted to add a bit of brightness and lightness to the mix with these pieces while still making sure that most items in the capsule mix and match well together.
The bright cardigans cannot be worn with every single top in the capsule, as some of the colors clash. However, each cardigan can be paired with at least five of the seven tops, which still gives me a lot of outfit pairing options. Wearing mostly neutrals with one color is an outfit formula that I’ve used a lot over the years, and it will come into play frequently in this four-by-four wardrobe.
The “Integration Four or More”
Of course, the best way to add some pizazz to our ensembles is through the use of accessories. This is what the “integration four or more” is all about. The Vivienne Files didn’t recommend a specific number here, but in most of the examples presented on the blog, the number tends to be around eight. This includes shoes, jewelry, scarves, and handbags.
Since I love jewelry and it doesn’t take up much space, I’ve opted to select eight jewelry pieces and eight other types of accessories for my four-by-four collection. Below are the jewelry pieces that I chose for my capsule. As you can see, they are all either silver or silver-and-black pieces. I did that to ensure that they will pair well with all sixteen of the clothing items. I enjoy wearing other colors in my jewelry, too, but since I was compiling a more minimal collection, I aimed for a high degree of mix-and-match potential. Although it’s not obvious from the pictures, the two necklaces that look similar vary quite a bit in size, with one being much longer than the other. I wear both of them often, which is why they are represented among my eight jewelry pieces.
In addition to the jewelry items, I also chose four pairs of shoes, three scarves, and a handbag for my “integration four or more” group. Most of these pieces are also either black or contain black, but I selected a pair of metallic shoes and a red scarf as well. The two printed scarves can add some visual interest to monochromatic black outfits, or I can pair the floral scarf with my striped garments for some fun pattern mixing. The metallic shoes bookend my graying hair nicely. I considered including two pairs of metallic shoes in this group instead of just one, but I ultimately chose another pair of black shoes because that’s what I wear most often.
Rounding it All Up…
Here’s a look at the clothing items that I chose broken down into categories. My sixteen-item collection features four pairs of pants, seven tops, and five toppers, as shown below.
And these two pictures show all of the clothing pieces in the capsule, followed by all of the four-by-four items, including accessories:
Almost a Project 333 Capsule…
After adding the sixteen accessories to the sixteen garments in my core collection, my item count stands at thirty-two, which is almost a Project 333 capsule. If I were going to do that challenge, however, I might opt to select fewer accessories in favor of some more garments. I’ve done Project 333 a handful of times, but I didn’t always count accessories among my thirty-three items. The first time I did the challenge, I only counted clothing, but I graduated to including shoes in my second iteration. Later on, I embraced the full challenge instructions by counting my jewelry pieces as part of my thirty-three items, which was definitely harder to do.
As I mentioned above, I will likely do a later post using the “four-by-four wardrobe” to pull together a cohesive Project 333 collection (probably for summer). If you’re up for a challenge and would like to give this a try in the meantime, check out the eight examples on The Vivienne Files (scroll down), which illustrate the process using varying color palettes and featuring outfit examples.
Some Items I Almost Chose
As you might imagine, I struggled a bit when pulling my “four-by-four” capsule together. There were quite a few items that I considered choosing but ultimately did not. I thought you might like to see some of those pieces and read my reasons for not selecting them.
Let’s start with pants, as those can be my most challenging pieces. Here are five pairs of pants (three black, two denim) that I left out of the collection after consideration:
I opted to go with medium-wash jeans instead of the darker-wash options shown above. Because there was already so much black in my capsule, I thought it would be nice to lighten things up a bit with the less-saturated denim. I decided not to include the three pairs of black pants for silhouette-related reasons. I tend to wear different shoes with the black ankle pants and the black pants with metallic trim, and I usually pair shorter and/or more fitted tops and toppers with the wider-legged black pants. I wanted to stick to a small number of silhouettes within my sixteen-piece collection to make sure that they all paired well with each other.
I considered six other top options for my four-by-four before going with the ones that I ultimately selected:
I originally thought it might be nice to have a few short-sleeved tops in the capsule. But since I tend to run colder than a lot of other people, I decided it would be better to stick with long-sleeved options. If I were using my collection for more of a “shoulder season” (such as October/November) or for a trip to a warmer place, I would definitely incorporate at least one or two short-sleeved tops. I would also do so if I were choosing more than sixteen garments for a Project 333 collection.
I love the black and olive color-block sweater, but it had limited mix-and-match options within my four-by-four capsule, so I left it out. As for the two long-sleeved black-and-white tops, I simply decided that I liked other similar shirts more. The marble print top is also quite lightweight, which makes it less versatile during the cooler months (I’d likely have to keep my topper on all of the time).
Below are eight toppers that I thought about choosing for my capsule but didn’t. As you can see, I own a number of black toppers, but it makes sense since I wear so much black. They also vary in terms of fabric and silhouette, so they’re all worn fairly regularly.
I considered including at least one vest in the collection, but like my short-sleeved tops, those tend to be worn more when it’s less cold outside. My long black vest (in the center of the picture) is quite dramatic, but because it’s so long, another topper cannot be worn over it. I can wear a topper over the other two black vests (one of which is short and the other mid-length), but they look best when paired just with a long-sleeved top.
In terms of the three non-black cardigans, they all would have worked well with the pants and tops in the collection. I could have easily selected any or all of them and been served well, but other pieces won out in the end. Burgundy has long been one of my favorite colors, but I’ve been leaning more toward red in recent years, as it looks good with my (salt-and-pepper) natural hair color. I like the red J. Jill cardigan in my four-by-four capsule more than the more rust-toned Old Navy cardigan shown above, as it suits my coloring better and also looks more polished. I thought of including the teal version of that same J. Jill cardigan, but I went instead for the longer and more dramatic Athleta Canopy wrap, which is also a more saturated green tone.
Overall, I’m happy with the pieces that I chose for my four-by-four wardrobe capsule, and I could see myself happily dressing in them for a trip or a minimalist wardrobe experiment. If I were traveling to a location that’s much colder than where I live, I would swap out the open-toed shoes for more boots (I actually don’t own many closed-toe shoes, though, because I live in such a temperate place). I would also have a warm coat or jacket on hand to wear over my mid-weight cardigans.
I didn’t take the time to figure out exactly how many outfits I could create using the collection I compiled for this post, but I think there are at least forty options. Switching out toppers and accessories provides a lot of versatility, especially because my color palette is pretty tight. Some of the ensembles will look fairly similar to each other, but that’s okay because I likely wouldn’t be seeing the same people every day, whether I’m on a trip or at home.
Doing this exercise provided a lot of food for thought related to what I own, how versatile it is, and how I might improve my wardrobe in the future. That’s something I might delve into in a future post, but the main purpose of this one was to introduce you to the four-by-four concept and illustrate it using my own wardrobe. I’m always looking to learn more about how to shop smarter and work better with the pieces that I own, so closet challenges like the four-by-four appeal to me.
I hope you found this post interesting and helpful, whether or not you had ever heard of the four-by-four wardrobe previously. If you’ve actually taken on the four-by-four exercise and would like to share your experience, I welcome your input. If you haven’t done it but would like to weigh in on what you might select from your own closet for such a collection, I’d love to read about that, too.
I wish my blogging platform (WordPress) allowed for images to be included in comments, but can always to images elsewhere (i.e., on Pinterest or via Imgur or another similar image tool) if you want to share examples. It would be fun to see what others might choose, as I know we all have different preferences and varied lifestyles.