About a month ago, I posted about my first time creating a “four-by-four capsule wardrobe,” which is a concept from The Vivienne Files blog. At the time, I thought I’d be dealing with at least another month of cool weather, so I put the capsule together with that in mind. However, I was pleasantly surprised that “June Gloom” didn’t really come to pass this year, and we’ve been blessed with warm and sunny weather most days. Of course, the downside of that was that I wasn’t able to give my four-by-four capsule a good tryout, but I’m sure it will still come in handy when fall and winter roll around. At least I got a better sense of my closet favorites and how to mix and match them for maximum versatility, which is a “win” in my book.
Since I enjoyed the challenge of putting a small capsule together and because capsule posts seem to be popular here, I’m going to give the four-by-four another try, this time for summer. I will likely take some sort of trip in the coming months, which is where this wardrobe concept can really come in handy. Additionally, the four-by-four is a great way to see how versatile one’s wardrobe really is, and it can serve as a nice foundation for a larger capsule. In fact, I will likely do a follow-on post soon expanding this capsule to a Project 333 for summer (focusing only on clothing piece rather than 33 total items).
The First Core of Four
As a reminder, the four-by-four wardrobe starts out with a first “core of four” of two tops and two bottoms in a core neutral color. My core neutral is always black, no matter what season we’re in, so I chose two pairs of black pants, a black short-sleeved top, and a black cardigan for this first grouping. While the pants may look quite similar, they’re actually more distinct than they appear in terms of fabrication, style, and silhouette.
The Farallon Weekender Pants are brand new, so I took a bit of a chance in including them in my capsule, but I think they’ll work out well for me. They’re more casual in nature and can be modified via the snap feature at the hem. Like all Athleta pants, they’re available in a wide size range, and they’re also offered in an off-white color. I usually shy away from light-colored bottoms, but I could see possibly purchasing the other color if the pants work out well for me in the coming weeks (I need to take my own advice about “test-driving” potential multiples first!).
The other three items in this group are tried-and-true favorites. I like that the black tee includes the cross-strap detail to make it more special than a plain tee (I have plenty of those, too, as I wrote about recently!). The lightweight black cardigan has been in my closet since 2010 and it’s still going strong! I wish clothing was made as well now, but I haven’t found that to be the case in most instances. The second pair of pants are from last year and are a basic style that can be easily dressed up or down. I own other black pants that I considered, but I thought these were the best ones to include in a small capsule, as they would likely be the first pair I’d grab when packing for travel.
The Second Core of Four
The instructions from The Vivienne Files for the second core of four is to choose two tops/toppers and two bottoms in a second neutral, or alternatively more items in the first neutral color. Like with my cool weather capsule, I elected to choose more black pieces here, as well as one pair of jeans. The black knit blazer (which is now on deep sale, but in limited sizes) was also part of my first four-by-four, as it’s a good crossover item between the seasons. It might be too warm to wear during the day, but it would work nicely for evening occasions or in an air-conditioned setting.
The black print pants have been a favorite of mine since 2018, and I still enjoy wearing them. It’s not easy for me to find non-basic pants in tall sizes, but Old Navy (a “sister brand” of Athleta) can be a good resource for that (and also for petite and plus sizing). The black side-tie top has also been in my closet since 2018. I like to tie it lower than is shown in the stock photo, to create more of a tunic silhouette. It’s lightweight and flattering on my shape.
The jeans are a bit too large for me now, but the adjuster buttons I bought from Amazon help to create a better fit. I’ve added the faux buttons to all of my jeans so that I can continue wearing them at my current weight/size, and it’s working well for me. These jeans are shown uncuffed, but I like to wear them with a large cuff to create a more casual and “summery” look. I usually pair them with heeled sandals or peep-toe booties.
The Mileage Four
The third grouping is where more exciting pieces are added to the mix. The instructions are to select four tops that coordinate well with the first eight garments in the capsule. This is where prints, patterns, and accent colors can be introduced, and that’s exactly what I did! I chose to include polka dots, stripes, a bold print, and a bright red tee here. These tops coordinate well with almost all of the pieces in my first and second cores of four (the printed tops probably won’t work with the pair of printed pants, though).
The black polka-dot tank is another “oldie but goodie” that has been in my closet since 2017. The front of the top is woven, while the back is a black knit fabric. This top can easily be dressed up or down. I like that it has a nice high-low silhouette that I feel is very flattering. The striped tank is fun because of the varying stripes, and I like that white is more predominant in the print than black. That helps to give a “lighter” appearance that works well for summer. I bought this top in 2020, and it was a favorite of mine for the past two summers.
The navy print top is from last year, and it was a bit of a “wildcard” for me. I don’t usually wear such bold and busy prints, but the fact that it’s grounded in navy helps a lot. I like that the top also includes other colors that I like to wear, including teal, red, and black. Speaking of red, it’s become my favorite bright color to wear (besides cobalt, of course), so I wanted to include at least one red piece in my four-by-four capsule. I decided to select the scoop-neck tee from J. Jill that I picked up in 2020. It’s a very basic tee, but it fits well and can be made more exciting by the accessories that I pair with it.
The Expansion Four
The instructions for this last group of garments are less specific, but the point is to round out the capsule and make it more exciting and versatile. The recommendation is to include at least two more tops or toppers here, but one can also choose to add a dress or additional bottoms if desired. I considered adding a dress, but because I wear different toppers with dresses and skirts for silhouette reasons, I opted to stick with pants for this capsule. I ultimately chose to add one bright top and three bright or printed toppers as my final garments.
The top is in one of my longtime favorite colors, cobalt. I like that this top includes an interesting ruffle detail at the neckline, which adds visual interest without being “loud” or overwhelming. This top pairs well with all of the pants in the capsule. The three cardigans are all very similar in silhouette and were all purchased at J. Jill in 2020. Because I tend to run cooler than most people, I like to have a cardigan or jacket on hand even in the summer. I may not end up wearing it during the day, but I almost always wear some sort of topper in the evenings. I love the bright red and teal colors, and the black and white print is right up my alley.
This was the most difficult grouping to select, and I pondered whether or not to choose an additional top instead of one of the cardigans. If I would have elected to do so, it probably would have replaced one of the bright cardigans, as I definitely wanted to include the printed one in the mix to wear with my black tops and pants, as well as the two bright tops (red and blue). I will show some alternative tops that I considered below, and it’s possible that I might opt to switch something out as I wear the capsule (which I intend to do to test it out as a potential travel wardrobe).
Rounding Up All of the Garments
Here’s a look at the sixteen garments in my summer four-by-four wardrobe capsule:
Broken down by color, here’s what we’re looking at:
- 6 solid black pieces (2 tops, 2 toppers, 2 pairs of pants)
- 4 black-and-white printed pieces (2 tops, 1 topper, 1 pair of pants)
- 3 blue or blue printed pieces (2 tops, 1 topper)
- 2 red pieces (1 top, 1 topper)
I wanted to keep my color palette fairly tight to increase the mix-and-match capabilities. Of course, not all of the pieces can be worn with every other piece, but there are still a lot of viable possibilities available to me. Each pair of pants can be worn with at least four tops (and some with all seven tops), each topper can be worn with at least three pairs of pants (and most with all four), and each top can be worn with at least four of the toppers. I didn’t count up all of the outfit combinations, but I know I have at least twenty that I could work with, and that number will go up when I add accessories in (see later in the post).
Four-By-Four Capsule by Category
I think it helps to look at the capsule pieces broken down by categories. I did this as I was making my selections, which actually caused me to swap a few things out to make the capsule more versatile. My sixteen-item capsule consists of four pairs of pants, seven tops, and five toppers, which interestingly is the same composition as that of my cool weather four-by-four. As I mentioned above, five toppers might be too many for a summer capsule, so I might ultimately swap one or two of them out in favor of more tops. However, if you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I like my toppers, especially cardigans, so I’m keeping it as-is for now.
Here’s a look at my capsule pieces by category, starting with the pants:
You may wonder where the dresses, skirts, and shorts are. I actually haven’t worn shorts for years, other than for exercising at home. I have a lot of varicose and spider veins on my legs that I don’t like to show off, plus it doesn’t get so hot where I live such that cropped pants aren’t okay for summer. I do plan to have a procedure for my varicose veins (which are only on my left leg but are quite prominent) later this year, so maybe I’ll opt to wear shorts next year, even if just for going on walks on a hot day.
As for dresses and skirts, I do still like to wear them, and I will include some of each in the larger Project 333 capsule that I’ll create for a future post. However, in order to keep a tight and versatile group of sixteen garments for my four-by-four, I decided to just stick with pants. Since I wear different tops and toppers with skirts and dresses versus pants (because I don’t like to tuck my tops on my very short-waisted frame), it would have gotten too complicated to mix things up. My “pickiness” regarding top silhouettes is part of why I’ve moved away from skirts and toward the simplicity of dresses in recent years. While I still wear alternate toppers with my dresses versus pants, things are still simpler in my closet these days as opposed to a few years ago when I was all about wearing skirts.
The Integration Four or More
The Vivienne Files doesn’t provide a hard and fast limit around accessories for the four-by-four capsule. While most of the examples that she presents include around eight accessories, I decided to double that number and select sixteen accessories, just like I did with my cool weather capsule. I did this because accessories don’t usually take up a lot of space and they also do so much to give our outfits variety and make them interesting.
I broke my “integration items” into two groupings, jewelry pieces and “other” items (which include shoes, bags, and scarves). Let’s start with the jewelry. I selected four pairs of earrings, two bracelets, and two necklaces for my capsule. All of the jewelry pieces are silver, and half of them also include black, which makes sense given the number of black garments in my four-by-four. The necklaces are both long, as that better suits the necklines of the tops in my collection. Here’s a look at the jewelry pieces I chose (two of these pieces were also in my “not summer” capsule):
For the “other” section, I chose four pairs of shoes, three scarves, and one handbag. Three pairs of shoes are black, but they’re all quite different. The other pair of shoes is a metallic sandal in the same style as one of the black pairs. The handbag includes both metallic and black, which makes it very versatile. It coordinates well with all of the garments and accessories in my capsule. As for scarves, I selected one solid black one and two prints that include black. These scarves can add visual interest to the outfits, especially when it’s too warm to wear a topper. They’re all lightweight and if tied loosely can be worn on all but the hottest of days.
If I were going on a trip, I don’t think I would pack all four pairs of shoes, as that can get heavy in a suitcase. Additionally, I like to pack my walking shoes when I travel because I try to get in a walk most days, especially when I’m in the Tahoe area visiting my family (walks by the lake are my favorite!). I would likely leave one of the black pairs of sandals at home, but I’m not sure which one (maybe the Tom’s Majorca since the heel is a bit higher and less conducive for walking). I might also opt to pack a small crossbody bag to use while I’m sightseeing. I’m still on the lookout for the right such bag for me, which is why I didn’t include this item in my integration group.
Other Items I Considered Choosing…
It’s not easy to put together a four-by-four capsule, especially when one has a larger-sized wardrobe. I hemmed and hawed over many of the pieces, but probably less so than I did for my initial cool weather grouping. It helped to have some recent practice in compiling this type of collection. I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the items that I considered including in my four-by-four but ultimately passed over.
Let’s start with the pants, as these provide the foundation for the capsule. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve struggled with my wardrobe, it’s almost always been my pants that were the issue. It’s difficult for me to find pants that fit and flatter me well, but after putting time and effort into that search in recent years, I now have a lot better options in my closet. This is true more for my summer wardrobe than for the cooler months, as it’s easier for me to find cropped pants due to my height (full-length pants are rarely long enough, but cropped pants can be more forgiving in that regard).
Here are the other pants that I considered for my four-by-four. Two of the printed pants (top row) are new this year, so they’re definitely not tried-and-true yet (and one pair is currently being tailored). The other pair is trickier to wear because of the wider hemline, and due to the length, I can only wear them with flatter shoes. I like the navy and olive pants (the olive ones are brand new, from Old Navy), but because I was working with a small capsule of just sixteen items, I opted to stick with just black and denim bottoms for the sake of versatility. The black Brooklyn Ankle Pants are great, but I chose the J. Jill pants instead because they’re more comfortable and I think more flattering on my backside.
It was difficult for me to select the best black cardigan for my capsule, as I have three similar ones (yeah, I know, but I wear black cardigans a lot) that all work well for me. I ultimately chose the most lightweight version, though, because it’s summer after all. I also pondered quite a bit regarding both printed and bright cardigans for my four-by-four. I almost chose the light purple cardigan, but I went in favor of the red and teal ones instead. The blue cardigan skews dressy so it’s less versatile, and the purple one is a bit heavier weight, so I left those two out.
I was tempted to choose the black-and-white striped cardigan, but I like the other printed version a bit more. They’re different enough to have both in my closet, but when I was choosing the small wardrobe capsule, it didn’t make sense to have two black-and-white printed cardigans in the mix. I’m not sure about the two marled cardigans, as the sleeves are a bit short on both. That was a case where buying multiples was not a good idea, but I fell for the allure of a deep sale (that can be a minefield for sure!). I may try to stretch the sleeves when the cardigans are wet, as that has worked for me in the past.
Finally, we have the tops that I pondered including in my four-by-four capsule, which were a lot! I have quite a few black and black-printed tops, so it was challenging to pick the best from among those groups. I’m not entirely certain that I made the right choices, but I did take the time to try most of them on to gauge my reaction to the fit and feel of each item.
All of the tops below are good and still deserve a place in my closet, but they’re all slightly less versatile than the tops I included in my four-by-four. Some of them don’t work well with all of my pants, and others don’t coordinate with all of the toppers in the capsule. Others are a bit tighter-fitting and/or less breathable, which makes them less appropriate for super-hot days (we don’t get too many of those, thankfully, but they do happen). Since I could only choose seven tops for my small travel capsule, I had to make some hard choices, but I still think I’ll wear all of the tops shown in the coming months.
I think it’s helpful to go through the exercise of putting together a capsule wardrobe, whether it be the four-by four, Project 333, or something else, even if you’re still going to wear other pieces in your closet. For one, the capsule can come in handy during travel, and it’s much easier to pack when you’ve already gone through the trouble of compiling a mix-and-match capsule. Additionally, creating a capsule can help you to see both areas of duplication (I have at least a few…) and areas of need in your closet. If you find yourself wishing you had a <fill in the blanks> for your capsule, that may be a good item to add to your shopping list.
Going through this exercise showed me that my “pickiness” around my wardrobe is part of why I have a lot of items and multiple areas of duplication. I have a lot of “rules” around how things should fit and which items do or don’t work with each other. For that reason, I think it’s a good idea for me to just have a small number of silhouettes and outfit formulas to work from. Otherwise, it can get exhausting to try to figure out what to wear with what.
I’m placing a lot of attention around buying and having “standalone” tops that don’t need to be worn with a topper for my emotional comfort. In the same vein, I want most of my tops to be special enough so as not to need a “third piece” in order to look pulled together (I wrote about my third piece challenges here). Basic tops can be helpful during the cooler months for layering, but they can become boring when worn on their own on hot days. I wrote a lot about this subject in this April post, and I’ll be revisiting my categories of tops and how that’s all going for me in a future essay.
As I get dressed for out-and-about occasions in the coming weeks, I’m going to work from my summer four-by-four capsule as much as possible to see how versatile and workable it truly is. That way, when I travel later in the summer (nothing is scheduled yet, but I’m sure I’ll be going somewhere), I will hopefully be able to easily pack and be happy with my outfits on my trip. Doing this will also help me to round out a Project 333 wardrobe using my four-by-four capsule as a foundation. I’ll report back on that process later in the summer.
Your Thoughts – and Happy Independence Day!
I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of my summer four-by-four capsule wardrobe. I’d love to get your thoughts on what I shared, as well as your own experiences with capsule dressing and packing for travel. Here are a few questions to help you formulate your thoughts, but as always, feel free to chime in however you’d like.
- Have you ever tried the “Four-by-Four” wardrobe or a similar capsule challenge?
- What do you like and dislike about capsule wardrobes?
- What challenges do you experience with dressing for the summer versus other seasons?
- How many pieces (clothes, shoes, and accessories) would you pack for a summer trip? How does the amount you pack vary based upon how long you’ll be gone?
- How many pairs of shoes do you pack for a week-long summer trip? Do you need more shoes in the summer or the winter, or does it not matter?
- What are your favorite pieces to wear for summer? What outfit formulas work best for you?
- Does your color palette vary based upon the seasons of the year? In what way?
I look forward to reading your thoughts on the above topics and more. I’d like to wish my readers in the United States a Happy Independence Day (and a wonderful Canada Day today for my Canadian readers)! That day is special to me for two reasons, as it’s also my wedding anniversary (21 years on Monday!). I hope that however you spend the day, you find it enjoyable. For everyone else, I wish you a wonderful weekend. I’ll be back soon with more wardrobe challenges and musings.