This paper takes up Appadurai's suggestion that aspirations could be used as a key to unlock development for people who are economically marginalised, and that their capabilities could be increased by this approach. The notion of “aspirations” is theoretically and conceptually framed, and then Amartya Sen's use of the term capabilities as the space within which development should be assessed is explored. I subsequently describe a five-year programme in which economically marginalised women in Khayelitsha near Cape Town were assisted in voicing and attempting to realise their aspirations, while being assisted with access to some resources. Capability outcomes and constraints are described and analysed, and the question of adaptive preferences is addressed. I conclude that deliberate efforts to realise aspirations, accompanied by some facilitation, can increase capabilities, but that there are also structural constraints to capability expansion for these women that frustrate their aspiration of class mobility.