The paper explores the behaviour of compacted soils throughout the (dry density–water content) compaction plane by means of a conceptual framework that incorporates microstructural information. The engineering properties of compacted soils are described by an initial state in terms of a yielding stress, soil suction and a microstructural state variable. Microstructure is defined by the ratio of microvoid volume to total void volume. The pattern of variation of the microstructural parameter within the compaction plane has been determined, for some compacted soils, by analysing mercury intrusion porosimetry data. The microstructure of wet and dry compaction conditions can then be quantified. To ensure consistency, the framework is cast in the form of a constitutive model defined in terms of an effective suction and a constitutive stress that incorporate the microstructural variable. The model is shown to be consistent with a number of experimental observations and, in particular, it explains the intrinsic collapse potential of compacted soils. It predicts, for a common initial suction, a higher collapse potential for dry of optimum conditions than for wet compaction. It also predicts in a natural manner the observed evolution of soil compressibility during drained or undrained loading. Model capabilities are illustrated by application to a testing programme on statically compacted samples of low-plasticity silty clay. The compression behaviour of samples compacted wet and dry of optimum and the variation of collapse strains with confining stress have been successfully reproduced by the model.