May 19, 2022
Last Updated:
May 23, 2022

Create Your Essential Closet: Three Tips for a More Sustainable Wardrobe

After closing the doors on my fashion collection in 2007, I moved to San Francisco with my 9-month-old and connected with a mothers' group. There, several women approached me because of my style sensibility and depth of knowledge about quality, fit, and color. Almost overnight, I became a leading fashion stylist and image consultant, working with more than 300 clients across the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and beyond.

While this was a fun and fulfilling endeavor for more than a decade and it gave me great joy to see my many clients grow in confidence and transform their forward-facing selves, I was also becoming acutely aware of the body dysmorphia, low self-image, and lack of self-acceptance my clients experienced. These very destructive embodiments were clearly propelling a toxic industry.

The reality of fast fashion

As data was becoming more transparent, it was clear that the “fast fashion” model was having drastic effects on the environment and its inhabitants, and I was helping to enable deep-rooted wounds by encouraging “retail therapy” and consumption. The fast fashion industry is driven by trends and has little regard for its environmental impact and the treatment of its employees, many of whom are underage child laborers. Decades ago, manufacturers worked around four seasons; today, fast fashion brands have as many as 52 microseasons per year. In order to maintain this incredibly high turnover, production has become careless and garment quality has been sacrificed.

At first, I attempted to slow things down and encourage my clients to purchase less, but this didn’t make for a productive personal stylist. Instead, I vowed to hold myself to a higher standard and to accept the gift that the universe was presenting: a new purpose as a life stylist and transformation life coach.

As part of my coaching practice, I work with my clients on style and presence. The way we show up in and engage with the world is integral to how we carry ourselves, and it can have a miraculous effect on how we attract and manifest success. As my clients learn to care for themselves with love, they begin to love the environment, too. We work within the scope of a minimalistic “essential closet” to both look stylishly put together and be responsible for and respectful of our beautiful planet.

What does the essential closet look like?

The essential closet, also known by many as a capsule wardrobe, includes all the basics one needs to create an abundance of classic and stylish looks. All these pieces work with each other seamlessly and can easily be coordinated to generate a number of outfits that are applicable across seasons and occasions.

Amazingly, as minimalistic as this capsule closet is, you can create hundreds of looks! Essentials can be dressed up or down and can transition from day to night or from casual to formal. Your essential closet is the foundation of any wardrobe and has incredible longevity.

Your essential closet should have a color palette of pairable neutrals such as black, gray, white, navy, and taupe. Choose a few base colors and a few accent colors that work well with your skin tone and complexion. In my closet, for example, my base neutrals are black, white, ivory, navy, and taupe, and my accent colors are olive green and camel.

The recommended essentials in this guide are timeless, and the styles shown are nonspecific to body shape. This guide does not cover body type or color (colors that look best for your hair and skin tone). When acquiring your closet essentials, choose the silhouette that you feel most comfortable in. If you’re not a fan of form-fitting shapes, opt for a looser fit.


  • White shirt
  • Denim shirt
  • Turtleneck sweater
  • Camisole/s in basic neutral colors
  • Sweaters in basic neutral colors
  • Short- or long-sleeve nautical/striped shirt
  • Blouse in a novelty print such as animal or floral
  • Long-sleeve T-shirts in basic neutral colors
  • Short-sleeve T-shirts in basic neutral colors


  • Dark-wash jeans
  • Light-wash jeans
  • Gray denim
  • White/off-white denim
  • Black denim
  • Black leggings
  • White linen pants
  • Black or navy trousers
  • Black novelty pants, such as in faux leather or velvet


  • Black or navy dress
  • Sweater dress
  • Nautical/striped T-shirt or tank dress
  • White cotton summer dress
  • Slip dress


  • Khaki trench coat
  • Camel or winter-white wool coat
  • Navy peacoat
  • Utility jacket
  • Puffer jacket
  • Sweater coat
  • Cardigan (deconstructed or buttoned)
  • Denim jacket
  • Black or navy leather “moto” jacket
  • Blazer


  • Beige boots or booties
  • Black boots or booties
  • Nude pumps/flats
  • Black pumps/flats
  • Nude wedges
  • Black utility boots
  • Tan sandals
  • Metallic sandals
  • Novelty sneakers
  • White sneakers


  • Tan or taupe handbag
  • White or cream handbag
  • Black handbag
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Black and/or brown belt
  • Winter hat
  • Summer hat
  • Stud earrings
  • Long pendant necklace
  • Short pendant necklace
  • Pearl necklace


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 Image via Sara Wener

Tips for Building Your Essential Closet

There are some key questions one should ask when creating a capsule wardrobe:

  • Do your pieces align with your style and aesthetic?
  • Does each item fill a gap, or does it just saturate your closet?
  • Does each piece easily work into at least four outfits?
  • Can you repurpose any of your older pieces and increase the life cycle of a garment?

In addition to answering the questions above, here are three major things to consider when creating a more sustainable closet:

Be more mindful of each purchase.

Take your time when building your closet ‒ this is a long-term investment, and it certainly doesn't have to happen all at one time. Do your research, set a budget, and plan ahead.

Shop secondhand.

If you prefer high quality but cannot afford the high-ticket prices, consider shopping secondhand, on The Real Real or at local consignment boutiques. You may even think about doing a garment trade or swapping with friends whose aesthetic and body type are similar to yours. Host a clothing swap with friends where everyone brings clothing they no longer wear. Any leftover pieces can be donated or consigned.

Focus on quality over quantity.

Unfortunately, many of us have become accustomed to cheaper textiles that shrink, shred, or degrade after a few washes. High-quality garments come at a higher price point, but they’re designed to last and are crafted with durability and longevity in mind. When looking to create this capsule wardrobe, consider spending a bit more on a higher-quality garment with an incredible fit. Buying pieces that are meant to last a lifetime ultimately supports the sustainable fashion movement.

The Bottom Line

Because clothing plays such an integral part in our lives, it is one of the most accessible ways to make a positive environmental impact. If each of us does our part to downsize and limit our consumption, we have the power to transform the fashion industry's current model of over-manufacturing.

By focusing on greater ecological integrity, we can aim to create a circular, symbiotic system that reduces the tragic effects of the fashion industry. We each need to carefully consider the impact we have on every decision we make. Our small choices, collectively, have major implications in a world so vast and for an industry so far-reaching, and each step we take toward sustainability helps to create a healthier world for the generations to come.

Author Biography
Sara Wener
IIN Content Writer

Sara Wener is an Integrative Nutrition graduate and has worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years as an accomplished designer and stylist.

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