How to Complete the Five Piece French Wardrobe Challenge

What made my style experiment with the challenge successful.

Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

Imagine being on a quest for the perfectly tailored to you closet. Where every time you open it, you only find what you love. Where there is a system in place that limits regrets: items with tags still on, overwhelm, and time wasted. Time that could better used on your morning practice of self-care and calm.

For years, I found that system in capsule wardrobes. However, as time went on, I wanted to relax the rules of when I could shop and really take the time to find the right pieces.

I found a good compromise in the Five Piece French Wardrobe. It’s a closet system that has given me the freedom to curate and create on my schedule. It’s also been the way that I’ve been building up my long-term wardrobe over the past year.

The Five-Piece French Wardrobe has been around since the early 2010s. It is a way of organizing and strategizing your wardrobe that includes basics and statements. The challenge usually lasts 6 months. The goal is to continue to build a solid base for your closet while only buying a few extra pieces per season.

The pros of doing the Five Piece French Wardrobe

  • Saves resources: the Five Piece French Wardrobe cuts down on waste. It limits the amount of “impulse” purchases made per season. The challenge lasts for six months, so every purchase should be carefully thought out.
  • Saves money: Much in the same way, it saves money as there is less purchasing going on during the season. The format requests overlooking fashion’s 52 micro-seasons in favor of having two long seasons during the year.
  • Encourages personal style: While there is not a lot of room created by the Five Piece French Wardrobe, what your closet actually contains is largely determined by you. It encourages looking into what you prize over what the fashion world will try to push as “in” or “trendy”.
  • It saves space: Depending on your closet preferences, the Five Piece French Wardrobe is friendly on space. You’re storing your basics plus extras. It doesn’t increase much in size over the six months and may even diminish as things wear out.

The Difference Between a Capsule and a Five Piece French

If you come from a more minimal lifestyle, you’ve most likely heard of or embraced the capsule wardrobe. While the Five Piece French Wardrobe can be used for many of the same purposes, there are large differences.

Season Length

The capsule wardrobe usually lasts 3 months and at the end of the season, you select your next 3-month set. The Five Piece French Wardrobe is a six-month challenge.

Number of Pieces

The capsule wardrobe usually advocates for 32–37 pieces of clothing. Depending on the format, it may or may not include accessories. The Five Piece French Wardrobe does not have a set number of pieces and accessories are always allowed.

Shopping Window

Many capsule-wardrobe enthusiasts only shop at the beginning of the season to complete or change their wardrobe for the upcoming season. The Five Piece French Wardrobe is more open to your own strategy. While you could buy all five statement pieces upfront and just utilize them for the full season, it’s just as possible to break it down throughout the six months.

The 5 Rules of the Five Piece French Wardrobe

  1. Basics don’t count and are always allowed
  2. Accessories don’t count
  3. Shoes do count
  4. Socks and Underwear Don’t Count
  5. All the Rest Counts

The rules leave a lot to the participant’s own strategy and decision. For example, how many basics are enough?

A basic is usually defined as the “base of your wardrobe”. It’s the neutral items that you can wear again and again until they fall apart. They go with everything and support the statement pieces while also being able to be mixed and matched on their own.

For example, my own basics for spring/summer:

  • shoes: light and dark pairs of sneakers
  • Bottoms: grey pants, black pants, grey skirt, black skirt, white skirt.
  • tanks and tees: white tank, grey tank, black tank, yellow tank, white tee, grey tee, black tee, striped tee, graphic tee.
  • sweater: black or grey
  • jacket: grey, white, denim, black

When I was setting my own wardrobe, I googled and searched Pinterest to find out other’s lists for basics. However, it is up to what you consider basic when creating your list. You’ll see that I included yellow, a striped shirt, and a graphic tee. To some, those may not be considered basics. I have yellow because I live in Pittsburgh and my husband is obsessed with the Pirates.

What happens if the five pieces aren’t worn out by the end of the season? You can keep, donate or sell the pieces. I prefer to pick my pieces with the long term in mind. That way I can just build on each season. If I discover that a piece REALLY wasn’t for me though, I let it go.

How I Craft My Strategy for Success

I start each season with an audit

Before even pulling out my off-season goods, I make my list of basics. I update it if there’s been a major change- like favorite neutral colors or cuts.

Once everything is out, I start to go through and check off items. on the basic list. I note anything missing as these are the priorities for the season.

I also consider what I have as a budget for the season. If you’re working with a yearly budget, that could mean cutting the budget in half or allocating the bigger amount for the season you know you’ll need it more.

For the first month, I only buy basics

Giving myself that first month allows the celebration of the newness of the clothing that has come out of storage. When you use off-season storage, part of your closet remains hidden for part of the year. Not only is this a good time to evaluate items you’re on the fence about, but it also gives time away. When reopening those boxes, it feels similar to receiving new clothes.

Giving myself the first month to reconnect with what I had in storage lets me experiment and find new ways to wear what I already have. It also helps me to identify any holes in my existing wardrobe.

I prioritize a list of incoming items

Once the first month is over and I’ve done both the audit and the re-evaluation, I begin to write my list. Basics at the top and statement pieces I might want to try under. I consider the upcoming season: do I have any events I’m going to, any concerts, anything that needs a special addition?

Purchase Pieces

Everyone who tries this challenge will have their own way of purchasing the pieces but three ideas:

  • buy everything at once and enjoy it for the whole season
  • buy a piece per month for the rest of the season (one per month with one month off).
  • buy in a seasonal format: three pieces purchased at the beginning and then two later on.

I’ve found that I’m more of the first one. I tend to buy everything at once and then mix and match for the rest of the season. I usually have a crystal clear idea of what I want (Pinterest style boards are great for this) and can easily pick out pieces at thrift stores and then buy what I need that I can’t source sustainably.

Ways to Avoid Boredom

Avoiding boredom is key during this endeavor. Here are a few ideas:

Have a creative goal

For anyone who views fashion as a creative outlet or form of expression. There are so many ways to get the same fix. From taking a course in a subject you want to learn to do a photo challenge or creative challenge. Maybe the creative goal is learning how to sketch a series of images or learning calligraphy. Or take on a writing challenge like writing a post every day for a certain amount of time.

Learn to style differently

Even if you’ve been doing smaller closet challenges for a while, it’s easy to get stuck in a slump. Challenges like a 10x10 where you mix 10 pieces of clothing 10 ways or having a set number of days where you won’t repeat a single outfit. I recently learned of a challenge where you use your entire closet to create 100 outfits with no repeats.

Accessories don’t count in the challenge. What value can they add in adding dimension or making a plain outfit pop? For example, a black pair of pants and a white tee-shirt look completely different when paired with simple minimal jewelry than if mixed with a spiked collar or studded cuff. Even a pair of sunglasses can add a whole different feel to an outfit.

Follow accounts on social media. Pinterest offers the option to type in a piece of clothing and see multiple ways in which it was styled. Instagram has hashtags like #capsulewardrobe and #project333 which allow participants to post and be inspired by others who are working to remix their closet.

Focus on Appreciation

This challenge creates a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude for what you already have. A smaller closet lends itself to more, not fewer options. For pieces that are not new, it’s a homecoming and they feel better the second season. For pieces that you’ve had for a while, chances are good you have good memories in them, and putting them on allows you to relive those moments.

See What Works and what Doesn’t

The Five Piece French Wardrobe is a good opportunity to try something new in a small dose. Whether that’s a different piece of clothing or a different style.

If it works, you’ve found something that can be added to. If it doesn’t work, it was just one purchase over one season. If the piece is still serviceable after the season, it can be donated. That won’t always be the case as clothes these days are easy to wear down and wear out. However, it’s a lesson of what doesn’t work. It’s an easy way to try out a new style with very little risk.


The Five Piece French Wardrobe is a great alternative for capsule wardrobing as it lets you access everything while still maintaining a lean wardrobe. It’s a challenge that can be difficult depending on the tendency to buy without a plan. However, it is worth it in order to gain a leaner more cultivated closet. What made my challenge successful was to plan well and get creative.

Writer, wife, lifelong learner. I write about personal development, emotional wellness, relationships and lifestyle.

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