Capsules vs. Head to Toe

I think a lot of people come to these style systems in part because it simplifies your life. You can get rid of everything that doesn’t work, and have a carefully curated wardrobe that only has things you actually wear. Many want to create wardrobe capsules for their Kibbe type and season.

But there’s a problem with capsules, one I never really recognized until I started learning things from David Kibbe. In order to get a capsule wardrobe to all work together, it ends up being, well, boring. I got an email a few days ago from Net-a-Porter with a link to This page. All of the clothes in set are very well designed and expensive, but they’re all boring. This is what most capsule wardrobes on Pinterest look like. When you’re choosing items to match with a maximum amount of other items, it reasons to follow that nothing you choose can be all that interesting.

But this is the way most of us have been taught to shop. We are supposed to ask ourselves how many other things we can pair a potential new purchase with. David Kibbe, on the other hand, has an entirely different philosophy. He told us that we are supposed to shop in terms of “head to toe,” that we should buy an entire outfit at once. At first glance, this seems wasteful. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I often wear the same outfit over and over again. I don’t need everything to play well together. Perhaps instead of buying pieces, we would better served by buying things that create one special outfit. With a small wardrobe, you won’t necessarily get less wear out of a pair of pants that only works with a specific top if this is an outfit that you love and you’ll wear frequently.

I decided a while ago that I would write a sequel to the workbook focusing on the Three Levels of Dress. The reason why I have been a little quieter here lately is partially because I’ve been working on this new workbook. But it will also be a Head-to-Toe workbook that will take the wardrobe rebuilding idea from the original and expand it to something that will allow you to truly express yourself and your style.

Have you ever tried to create a capsule wardrobe? Have you tried head-to-toe dressing?

11 Comments on Capsules vs. Head to Toe

  1. Nikki
    June 14, 2016 at 3:42 am

    One of the problems I’m discovering since I started shopping head-to-toe is that all of the pieces out there are ‘blah’. Mix-and-match is so prevalent, it’s actually hard to find anything in stores that isn’t bland.

  2. Posey
    June 14, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Since capsules have not really worked for me I am eager to try an alternative. However I can hardly find anything to buy right now–let alone be able to put together a HTT in one go.

    I don’t know if that is a consequence of working with a specific color palette AND type. Once you get clear on those it automatically eliminates a lot.

    Especially if black is not in your palette and your type is not “the current fashion”

    • Nikki
      June 15, 2016 at 7:06 am

      That’s my problem, too! Especially, since Kibbe hasn’t gotten to the shopping post, yet. Here’s what I did this month:
      1) Stumbled on a dress that sung to me, fits my type perfectly, in a color I can cheat into, on clearance for $100 off (last in my size). Snapped it up, though I didn’t have anything to head-to-toe with it.
      2) Sketched out some ideas of how to style it.
      3) Stumbled on a $2 ring in a thrift store that sung to me again, and harmonizes with the lines of the dress. Also, realized that lace of the hat I’m already knitting does the same (though I will have to make a duplicate in a higher contrast colorway to really make it pop).
      4) Now, all I really need are shoes and a handbag.
      My conclusion in all of this, is that if you really listen to your intuition, you will find stuff to craft head-to-toe outfits, even if you’re doing it bit by bit. And I mean, seriously, who can expect to find an entire outfit from one shop, anyway?

      • Posey
        June 15, 2016 at 2:11 pm

        That is very inspiring. I have to be more organized about finishing my outfits instead of moving on the next thing…

      • stylesyntax
        July 1, 2016 at 11:22 am

        I’m thinking–buy something, put it away with something special in mind… keep a mental tally of the pieces as you construct outfits.

  3. Cory
    June 18, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    It’s funny, personally, I don’t actually think that capsule wardrobe is boring – I think it’s sleek, modern, and minimalist. Not my style, but I could see a yangy Classic Winter person looking really great in it. (I really admire minimalist style aesthetics and secretly wish they suited me, YMMV.)

    For myself, I don’t like head-to-toe outfit dressing. I easily feel fussy, overdone, and matchy-matchy, sort of the opposite of how I want to feel.

    Sidebar, I’ve come back to where I started with Kibbe, and I now think I’m an unusually tall Soft Natural person who because of her scale can wear some things from the Flamboyant Natural closet. I wonder if a person’s preference for “everything goes with everything” vs “head-to-toe” depends much on their archetype?

    I mostly wear “variations on a theme/uniform dressing” outfits. E.g. I have several skirts of a similar cut in different colors and patterns that I wear with a couple variations of tops. I do shop so that everything goes with everything, so it’s more whatever is at the top of the rotation goes with whatever else is at the top of the rotation. This is what I wear the vast majority of the time.

    However, for events, I have a couple of significantly more formal outfits that are head-to-toe. I bought them to be my partner’s plus one, so they are specific to certain events. Cocktail party; more formal dinner; black tie. I also designed them so that several of the accessories do double duty – the shoes for the formal dinner also work for black tie, the clutch for the cocktail party also works for the formal dinner, etc. Part of that was because of storage – I don’t have enough closet space to store multiple separate outfits I rarely wear.

    The upside is that it’s easy. If I have to go to a fancy cocktail party, I know exactly what I’ll wear. What I find the downside of this is that these are outfits I feel like I can only wear once in a specific setting with specific people.

    I must say, as a tangent, that trying to shop for black tie was the death knell in trying to cram myself into Flamboyant Natural or Soft Dramatic. It was really instructive trying to find formalwear that looked good and still felt like myself. I wonder if it would work that way for all archetypes, because black tie is so extreme?

    • stylesyntax
      July 1, 2016 at 11:21 am

      I think on a very limited segment of the population, it would perhaps look exciting, but still even a DC Winter in Kibbe would have some more statement pieces mixed into their wardrobe that would create a “WOW” effect.

      I would say that if your scale is unusually large for SN, you would indeed be FN. It seems to be a lot more common for smaller people to fit into larger types than vice versa. But types with the same base are more similar than people think, and a lot of what is shown as being SN in various sources is FN, anyway. That’s the trouble–the representation of the types is way, way off from reality.

      David dresses people with the same level of impact regardless of type. He always carries a theme throughout the outfit, and maybe it’s no as obvious in some outfits as it is in others, but everything should connect. I think perhaps the aversion to being too matched or overdone is a cultural thing, where it’s almost frowned upon to be dressed *too* well, because most people now just seem to roll out of bed and throw on some athleisure 🙂

      • Cory
        July 1, 2016 at 8:10 pm

        Re: FN – maaaaybe, but I really don’t think so, and I’ve explored it a lot. You seem really into the idea that I must be FN though! I just don’t have a flamboyant aspect or much drama in my physical presentation, and my absolute scale is tall for SN, but I don’t look particularly tall in photos or to other people. I have to adjust much more of the FN book guidelines to be more yin and less yang than I do if I look at the SN guidelines (which I basically only have to adjust to have longer hemlines) to look normal. I feel pretty comfortable at this point thinking that I’m a yin-leaning Natural person- as a practical matter of shopping and dressing and choosing jewelry and makeup, keeping the SN keywords in mind is useful, and the FN keywords aren’t.

        I hear you on Kibbe’s take on outfits – but I think that’s where I part company with him. To be honest, I just don’t share his aesthetic preferences. I see what he’s going for and why, but I just don’t like it. It isn’t for me.

  4. Shawna
    June 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    I have fairly recently figured out that boring is absolutely okay with me. I don’t dress for excitement, I don’t dress to be noticed, I don’t dress as an outlet for my creativity. I have very specific likes and dislikes and am happy to have a uniform approach to dressing. I can rarely find the right clothes for my body type and worrying about this, looking for these, buying and making mistakes has been exhausting and expensive. I have a casual lifestyle now, so I mostly wear jeans and have a variety of tops-tee shirts, blouses and sweaters which I think are flattering enough, suit my preferences and are comfortable. Getting a dress that fits and flatters is nearly impossible (I’m taller than average so proportions are always off), then getting it also in my fabric and colours of choice just add to the impossibility. I don’t sew. So, I rarely wear dresses. I used to wear a lot of skirts but as my body changes with age I don’t like how most of them look on me. With a thicker middle I prefer not to emphasise the waistline. I don’t make capsule wardrobes because I only want a small set of clothing that fits easily into my closet and only needs minor tweaking as the seasons change. Thus, I have about four sweaters I won’t wear between May and September but I don’t pack them away. I don’t aim to wear every top with every bottom, as I don’t always like every potential combination. I wear my favourite combinations but for the most part my wardrobe is designed to be jeans + top + cardigan/jacket + boots/shoes. I have a few skirts, a few dresses and a few pairs of shorts. Overall I have about 50 items of clothing that I draw on year round not counting pyjamas, underwear and exercise leggings. My aim was simplicity and ease, not a specific number or any rules to follow and no putting things away for a season.

    • stylesyntax
      July 1, 2016 at 11:15 am

      I think Kibbe’s approach is more that you can have a uniform, you can have a limited wardrobe–but what you have is spectacular. He does not want any woman to be a wallflower. 🙂

  5. Arletta
    May 2, 2021 at 10:07 am

    Apparently, what I like to do best is something in-between.
    Which is, to go to stores or sort through catalogues/sites and put together one really great outfit. Then, to find a change of blouse, bottom or jacket that will make it look also good on me, but, very different. And, work at it, until I end up with a few blouses that go with most or all of the bottoms and most or all of the jackets. And, where most or all of the jackets and bottoms go together. It is a little hard for me as I need to wear darker on top and lighter on bottom, which is the exact opposite of most clothes marketed to most women. But, that is precisely why I work at it so hard. Sometimes, I can go to someplace like Ross or Avenue, H &M, Walmart, Target, even a thrift store, and make up at least the majority of a capsule wardrobe in one go. Other times, the picking is so slim, there is no point in trying.

    I really don’t buy clothes that often. To me, it is more of a puzzle game that pays to play on the rare occasion I need it.

    I find this approach, as detailed above, works best for me. When I buy just one head to toe outfit, I may never find anything else to go with the pieces and that drives me crazy. And, when I try to plan a capsule wardrobe without finding an outfit first (even though the outfit may change in the process of building the rest of the wardrobe) I find that my personality is less likely to shine through.


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