Building a Capsule Wardrobe: How to Dress by Alexandra Fullerton

Fashion Director at Large of Glamour Magazine, Alexandra Fullerton is also a freelance stylist, writer and brand consultant. Alexandra has shared excerpts from her new book: How to Dress: Secret styling tips from a fashion insider

Editing your wardrobe is essential to make your morning routine as smooth as possible and for eliminating any tricky decisions about what to wear. Building a capsule wardrobe around these ten trans-seasonal pieces will mean you are covered with a solution for every occasion. Choosing a tonal palette, where the colours of all the pieces work with everything else, is key - as is memorising the formula of what goes with what. These pieces <can> be tweaked to accommodate your personal style. Perhaps you’re just not a trouser person. But the goal of this capsule closet is to make a variety of outfits that all work together instantly and let your brain get on with other things. Disclaimer: You will need a few seasonal updates; a warm coat for winter plus another jumper. Maybe add in a leather trouser. When it gets warmer bring in a light cotton summer dress plus of a couple of camisoles or vests. if you go out <a lot>, perhaps you will need an evening dress. You can’t survive on ten pieces alone despite what some minimalist style bloggers believe. However for the majority of the year these are the items you will turn to again and again for the refreshing ease with which they go together (they will ALL go together) and they will <all> alleviate morning wardrobe rage. Guaranteed.

Alexander Fullerton wears Jigsaw

Good jeans

Ignore whatever is in fashion, whether it's spray-on skinnies or the recent craze for cropped boot-cuts. Your perfect jeans should flatter and fit your lifestyle. I've found that boyfriend styles suit most body shapes and look perennially cool. But work out what your most flattering fit is and stick to it. Choose a mid to high waisted style for longevity and pick a pair that finishes above the ankle, whether hemmed or when rolled. This will give the most versatility when you're choosing your shoes and will let you work a heel, flat or trainers. Darker denim shades are always smarter and can take you through to evening with more dash than a snow-washed ripped pair. Paler washes always look more casual, even when they are pristine, and they are certainly more Summer-y. Your perfect jeans can even do double duty as dressed-down workwear if you choose immaculately pressed indigo and team them with the blazer or reworked shirt.

The Jumper

A sweater that you can throw over t-shirts is a layering must and, as knitwear goes, a jumper will always be more useful than a cardigan. The vagaries of fashion have thrown logo sweatshirts, cut-away shoulders and embellished cashmere into the style spotlight recently but as you are building a capsule wardrobe that you can wear to infinity, classic should be your watchword. A crew neck with full length sleeves and ribbed cuffs and collar is the ultimate buy. Bigger busts don’t necessarily need a V neck style to flatter as long as the knit isn’t too heavy. Pick a colour that will lift your mood go with every other item in your wardrobe. Cobalt blue, rust or emerald green are shades that are one step away from being a neutral but give your look a little boost. Choose wisely and you can wear this piece with jeans at the weekend, at night with a statement skirt or to the office with tailored trousers.

The Statement Skirt

This is the piece I rely on when I need to make an entrance or do the straight out from work dash. It always feels special and considered but isn't as flashy as a 'going out top' or cocktail dress. Depending on your personal style, a laser cut leather mini, brocade midi skirt or lace pencil will work best. Mixing something fancy like this skirt and something casual - like the t-shirt - is the ultimate in High-Low dressing and every stylist's secret method to looking pulled together without trying too hard, which is my personal style nightmare. 

Alexandra Fullerton wears Jigsaw2

The Biker Jacket

It's the shortcut to ultimate cool. The leather 'Perfecto' style jacket (as named by American brand Schott and first manufactured in 1928) is the last word in versatile outerwear. Worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, The Ramones and every rock star worth their riffs, it will make a ball gown look modern and give your downtime outfits streetwise style. Right now embellished, embroidered and slogan-smeared styles are having an on-trend moment but I recommend you invest in a classic leather style - in navy, black, dark chocolate or khaki - and you'll be covered for every eventuality. 

The Denim Dress

A personal favourite, I have about thirty denim dresses in my wardrobe and it's become my signature piece. But even without my overt dedication to denim (and I admit, I have an addiction) you need a denim dress in your wardrobe. Layered over a t-shirt it looks relaxed at the weekend or sharpened up with a blazer, bold belt and a handbag that means business, it brings an unexpected edge to your working wardrobe. My favourite styles have a Sixties A-line silhouette that are easy to layer. Denim shirt dresses are particularly versatile but just steer clear of floor sweeping maxi versions that can look a little too festival ready, unless you are actually heading to Coachella.

Alexandra Fullerton How to Dress book

The T-shirt

Where would we be without the humble t-shirt. The classic gender-free cotton cover-up only came to prominence in the free-thinking Sixties - before then it was considered underwear - but the t-shirt’s sheer versatility means it wins a place in our capsule wardrobe. Choose V neck or crew, as suits your body shape, and pick a neutral colour that will both enhance and counter balance your other choices in this edit. I particularly like wearing my gauzy linen t-shirts under a blazer with jeans, inspired by French Vogue Editor Emmanuelle Alt, or with a statement skirt as a surprising take on the eveningwear dilemma (with a little extra sparkle from my jewellery box.)

Polished Trousers

When I want to look chic, my black Balenciaga cigarette pants (found on eBay for £18) are the only answer. They work hard as a professional saviour with shirts and blazers as well as looking elegant after dark with the sparkle of costume jewellery and a half unbuttoned silk blouse, inspired by Helmut Lang's iconic images of Yves Saint Laurent's tuxedoes in the Seventies. Choose a slim fitting pair for the most long lasting style. Wide legs will date faster than a fit that skims your body while cuts that stop above the ankle are the ultimate in flattering silhouettes. This will also give you the freedom to choose any shoe shape instead of worrying about excess fabric draping on the floor, which is not chic. 

The 18-hour Dress

Once you've found the one, it will change your life. This is the dress that you can throw on without a thought at 6am before dashing out the door for a day of school runs, coffee runs, supermarket runs. With just a change of shoes and perhaps an earring swap, the right 18-hour dress will take you through cocktails, dinner and even dancing. This dress should almost be a blank canvas as you will need it to be ultra-versatile. Some of my favourites include a khaki twill cap sleeve knee-length version from Zara with drawstring ties at the waist and a black broderie anglaise shift style from Warehouse.

The Blazer

Far more effective than a cloak of invisibility, slipping on a perfectly tailored blazer will give you infinite power and polish. Psychologically I always feel more pulled together in sharp tailoring and even if your jacket isn't bespoke (whose is?) you can fake it incredibly easily. High end designer pieces are always impeccably cut but err on the small side. Taking a high street jacket to have the sleeves nipped in is an affordable short cut to demi-couture style. Double breasted designs are having a moment thanks to Alexa Chung's seal of style approval, but a single breasted blazer will be eternally chic. Find a style with slim, detailed lapels in satin or leather - in the same shade as your jacket - so it doesn't feel like you're wearing a split-up suit. 

The Reworked Shirt

Crisp and clean, a shirt is the ultimate hardworking piece. Tucked into sharp cigarette pants and worn with point toe stilettos, you mean business; untucked over jeans with bare feet, it's a Calvin Klein perfume campaign on the weekend; pop the collar, add chandelier earrings and a ball skirt for the clever way to do Black Tie. Designers have been looking for clever ways to transform the classic button down and give it extra edge (Look to Palmer // Harding, Monographie and In Grid for the most intriguing versions.) Your shirt should go with every item in this capsule wardrobe (even the dresses if they are layerable) so while there are a huge array of belts, cut-outs and lengths to choose from, keep the styling relatively simple. I would always choose white to get the most mileage from this piece.

Alexandra Fullerton's book How to Dress: Secret styling tips from a fashion insider is out now. 

Author: Jigsaw