Whether you live for shopping the latest trends or wish you could spend every day in your favorite pair of jeans and a white t-shirt, your clothes project a message about who you are.
The great thing is that you have the power to control that message entirely—as long as what you already own isn’t standing in your way.
From having a wardrobe that’s bursting with every item of clothing you’ve had since childhood to owning a ton of pieces that you never wear (the definition of wasted money), there are many ways your closet can stop you from being the most stylish version of yourself.
To cut through the clutter and help you get the most from the items you already have, we polled everyone we know—including all of the LearnVest editors, who are definitely invested in looking their best on a budget, and one fashion expert—to come up with nine easy, inventive ways for you to make over the closet you have without spending a ton on new trends.
At least one of these strategies will dramatically change the way you feel about getting dressed in the morning.
1. Follow the Rainbow
This strategy comes courtesy of LearnVest reader Erin Greenbaum, who has used this technique for years with great success. Every day for a week, make sure that your ensemble includes an item of a certain color: week one is red, two is orange, three is yellow, etc. This will encourage you to search through your closet and actually wear the pieces that have been languishing, unloved, underneath your go-to items.
2. First In/Last Out
In her new book, “You Are What You Wear,” Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner says that the majority of people wear 20% of their closet 80% of the time. There are a number of variations on this “first in/last out” wardrobe strategy, which prevents you from wearing a few pieces non-stop.
Instead of wearing the same small percentage of your closet every week, do what Assistant Editor Alden Wicker does: After wearing an outfit, she hangs it in the most remote corner of her closet, which forces her to see only pieces she hasn’t worn frequently. If she’s totally uninspired by a piece staring her right in the face, she has to decide whether to consign it or not. Another approach (which might be better if you like to organize by item type—dresses near dresses, shirts near shirts) is to hang each item inside-out after you wear it (assuming you don’t have to wash immediately). This way, you can easily see which pieces you’ve recently worn, and which items you may have forgotten about.
3. Write It Down
Keep a journal of what you wear each day, and how it makes you feel. This will help you identify which shapes, fabrics and styles work best for your body and lifestyle, and will prevent you from making purchases that aren’t perfect for you. One reader has been keeping a journal like this for years and says, “Along the way, I got to know what I should and shouldn’t be buying. As cute as a babydoll top was, and as adorable as the fabric may have been, I learned that the style didn’t make me feel great and would be a waste of money for me.”
This strategy is ideal for those who have a ton of clothing but feel like they haven’t yet hit upon a cohesive style.
4. Have a Friend Consult
Sometimes, all it takes is an objective eye to take your wardrobe from fine to fabulous. LearnVest Account Executive Morgan Holland has her most stylish friend come over once a season for dinner and a styling session. He raids her closet, puts together head-to-toe outfits, then photographs each outfit for easy reference. Morgan says, “His fresh eye always gets me wearing stuff that has been sitting in the back of my closet, and each time he leaves, I’m armed with 20+ new outfits that I wouldn’t have come up with myself. In return for his services, I thank him with dinner and lots of wine!”
5. Choose Your ‘Uniform’
Tiffany Cowley, LearnVest’s Creative Director, looks great every day—but not because she’s wearing new ensembles Monday through Friday. She’s more or less developed a “uniform”—black skinny jeans; solid t-shirts in white, grey and black; wedge heels—that works for her. She’s always liked accessories like shoes, jewelry and scarves better than actual clothing items, so she keeps her clothes simple and spends her money on accessories. (She has three shoe racks and, she estimates, around thirty pairs of shoes.)
Look through your closet and think about what you wear all the time. While your uniform might be two or three basic types of ensembles, rather than just one, having multiple versions of these go-tos will free up time in the morning. Since you won’t be spending money on different clothing trends each season, you can play around more with shoes and inexpensive jewelry.
6. Use Magazines as Inspiration—But Not as Spending Manuals
Women’s fashion magazines often inspire us with their stunning photo shoots. But trends resurface so frequently you probably already have items in your closet that are “in” this season. LearnVest’s Chief Marketing and Product Officer Ainslie Simmonds rips out photos from magazines then compares them to items in her own closet. Even if she doesn’t have all of the components, she’ll know she only needs one or two small items to complete the look—not a new head-to-toe outfit entirely.
Dress for the Job You Want
Where do you find inspiration for work fashions (not to mention affordable pieces)? Readers weigh in. SHARE
7. Downgrade Your Wardrobe
Do you have dressy items in your closet that you deem “too fancy” for everyday wear, or that you’re just waiting for the right occasion to use? If that occasion hasn’t happened in the past year, chances are it’s not going to happen next year.
In another tip from her book, Dr. Baumgartner suggests you think of your closet as a pyramid, with dressiest clothing at the top level and the most casual, lazy weekend clothing at the bottom. If you “downgrade” how you think of your clothes by one step on the pyramid, she says, you’ll get more use out of them–which could really help you if you tend to underdress, or need to amp up your look on a daily basis. This could mean wearing that beautiful silk blouse to the office or wearing that structured blazer to a weekend brunch (even though you were saving it for a work occasion). Reimagining items in a new light will give them a new life.
8. Document Your Duds
Are you a collector? Maybe you have what seems like hundreds of necklaces, or maybe you’ve got a ton of little black dresses. Let’s set aside whether you need so many variations on the same item and make sure you’re actually putting your collection to use! LearnVest’s Director of Audience Development Mark Bufalini has a serious collection of sneakers—over 100 pairs. To stay organized and ensure that he actually wears all of them, he has a photo of each pair of shoes on his computer. When he’s choosing which pair to wear each morning, he can quickly go through the album and decide, without rifling through boxes or just choosing the first pair he sees.
9. Use the Golden Wardrobe Ratio
For chronically cluttered wardrobes, Dr. Baumgartner advises using the golden wardrobe ratio: For every three items that stay in your closet, two must be thrown out, donated or consigned. While it might be difficult to part with so much of the clothing you’ve collected over the years, you need to examine why you’re hanging on to so many items—especially if they’re not actively in use. Once you pare down your wardrobe to the essentials (and lose the ratty t-shirts and mismatched pieces of yesteryear’s Halloween costumes), you’ll have the momentum to tackle the other important projects in your life—and look great while doing them.