9 Easy Tricks to Maximize Your Wardrobe

Gabrielle Karol

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.

For more great tips on how to make your wardrobe work for your life, check out Dr. Baumgartner’s book, “You Are What You Wear,” or follow her on Twitter

More From LearnVest

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  • http://260daysnorepeats.blogspot.com Iris

    So many of these things are exactly what I have been doing on my blog for that past two years. 260daysnorepeats.blogspot.com :)

  • Jenna

    A variation on #2 that I have used for several years is hanging the hanger backwards on the rod, as opposed to hanging an item inside-out. At the beginning of spring (and fall), I turn all the hangers of seasonal clothes backwards. It’s easy to look at the rod and see what I haven’t yet worn as I’m deciding what to wear. My rule is that anything still hanging backwards at the end of the season gets donated.

    Something else that a friend does is that whenever she buys a new piece of clothing, she makes herself choose something in her closet to donate. One in, one out.

    • http://mischievouskitty.blogspot.com/ Stephanie

      I do the same thing as you!  The problem with this is that I rarely have any hangers still backwards at the end of the season.  Since I still wear practically everything, it makes it hard to pare down and make room for new pieces. :-P

  • Krahulec

    30 pairs of shoes and the same “uniform” every day?  How big is her closet?  I can only imagine how much she spent on those and accessories.  The best advice I ever got when it comes to organizing my closet is this: If you have not worn it in a year, it is time to go.  And before I pull out my wallet, I ask myself, is this a want or is it a need?  When in doubt walk away from the store.  If you second guess the purchase, then it will sit in the wardrobe.  Another great idea I like, is taking one hour a week, usually on a weekend, after laundry is done, is to go through my closet and layout my clothes for the week.  This includes shoes, undergarmets, accessories, jackets, etc and workout clothes.  With 6-7 outfits ready to go at any time, if I oversleep, or don’t feel like wearing one outfit, I know I have another pressed and ready to go at a moments notice.  It has saved my bacon more then once and kept me from having a “uniform” or having too much of one style or item in my closet.  Hope this helps!

    • Jenna

      Great point about getting your outfits ready ahead of time. Using 20% of my wardrobe isn’t just because I only like 20% of them…it’s because my other favorites need to be ironed!

  • Pamela Hay

    Love this article!

    Pamela (idahowildwoman.blogspot.com)

  • Sarah Finley

    WOW! This article is helpful and completely useful. I totally have a new understanding on how to organize my wardrobe better. Thanks a bunch!

  • Brianne Archer

    This is a great article. I like the idea of trying to add more color to my wardrobe. And I’m a big purger already, but I think I need to be willing to purge things I’ve purchased more recently if they’re just not working for me. 

    It also helps to go through your closet with a friend who may be more honest with you. Or have a clothing swap with a bunch of friends to help with the purging.

  • http://mamamuhely.blogspot.com/ Adrienn Csoknyay

    Quality over quantity is the key. And when you are expecting and nursing and expecting again then you really need a couple of versatile basic dresses which you can accessories with your favorite pieces and can wear over and over again depending on your actual size.
    Our fun giveaway can help you even more with organizing!

  • Lindsey

    Try this trick: On Sunday night I “shop my closet” and pick out 5 items I want to wear during the week ahead. This includes anything in there: a cardigan, a new pair of work pants, a pair of shoes I’ve been neglecting, a bold piece of jewlery, a pencil skirt, etc. Throughout the week, each morning, I take one of those items and build my outfit for the day around it. This helps me weave in new items I’ve just bought and older items I love but maybe haven’t been “bringing into rotation.” 

    I also find this approach makes people think I have a really extensive wardrobe as this approach lends itself to maximazing what I have, which leads to fewer “repeats.”

  • LaRubia

    I LOVE idea number five, “Choose Your Uniform.” It made me realize that I’ve been doing this unconsciously my whole life but always feeling like I shouldn’t. For a long time, I had a closet a third full of stuff I’d bought because I thought I should force myself to try something different.

    Thank you for such liberating advice!

  • Steph

    I’ve done a few things recently that have really helped me maximize my wardrobe.  First, I purchased matching hangers.  It seems silly, but having everything on the same kind of hanger made it all seem much more clean and fun to “shop” my closet.  They are also skinnier hangers, so more could fit in the small space.  I also organized my clothes into rainbow order, following ROYGBIV and going light to dark for each color in there.  Also make it easier to find things, which means I mix up my outfits more often.  Finally, I know that if I can’t see something I forget about it, so putting my items in full view is important, particularly with accessories.  I hang my necklaces on the wall and have my earrings in little trays so they’re all right there for me to easily find.

  • Casggp

    I have everything for all seasons in one place…..lack of storage issue, so I feel that I have too much stuff all the time.  My major challenge is letting go of older clothing.  It seems like the newer clothes are of lesser quality than in the past and I don’t want to give the old ones up!  For example, I still have the classic bootcut Gap jeans from maybe 10 years ago…they definitely don’t make those anymore.  Great quality, nothing like what they make now for 30X the price!

  • Jujuju

    Keeping track of what you wear is a bit ridiculous! Who has the time?! Oh well, to each his own. I think living minimally and controlling impulse buying are the best approaches. Really take a look at the items that you LOVE in your closet and get rid/donate the ones that no longer serve you. IF there are items that are too sentimental to give away, store them in a closet. I also think that shopping for a purpose and choosing items that you know will match something in your wardrobe will help reduce unnecessary purchasing. Definitely, helps me maximize as well as organize my wardrobe; and save cash. 

    • Sheila

      Agreed, keeping track of what you wear is ridiculous!  I think most of us would remember if we’d worn something in the past couple of weeks.

  • laura B

    im surprised noone has mentioned the wear and tear factor. As in, keeping favorite items even though they are worn and need to go, for me this means white tops only get worn a few times before they get thrown out as they always get stained really fast. Also I hate when people weear jeans frayed at the bottoms where they have been dragging on the ground. 

    • Claire

      That’s a little excessive to throw out everything that gets a little bit damaged. You can just cut the stray threads off the bottom of jeans & rub yellow stains with a combination of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide & water. It’ll be less stressful on the environment & save you money.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6IWW3WM5OPC2DOCUA4XCLAEQZ4 Tanya

    This is a very helpful article. I want to also thank you for giving us the information in this single-page format rather than having us go through a series of slides. I almost never bother finishing the article when I have to click through several web pages. Much appreciated.

  • Ahlize

    how helpful. loved every piece of advice. definetly going to use this as a refrence.

  • http://www.closetsnbeyond.com/ closets Bergen

    This is really one amazing post. Thank you for sharing all these thoughts because these will definitely help me out to become a more organized person in terms of the closet and be able to enjoy all the clothes I have. I do have lots of stuffs that I think are being left out and so this will give me chance to really decide which clothes should stay and which will be given out. Thank you for this post.

  • vjvj

    I’d also point out using tools such as http://www.whatdoiwearwith.com and using this methodology on life hacker – http://lifehacker.com/5896747/keep-your-closet-full-of-clothes-that-match-to-save-money-time

  • Emilia

    I kind of been subconsciously been using that rainbow technique! Number two, too (the remote placement part)! And just in general making my mind up to wear something I usually don’t helps to give every closet piece showtime.

    I did start doing number three, mentally. I should probably get to writing them down for better reference.

    That’s a nice friend quoted in number four. All people tell me when they look at my wardrobe is that I need to throw half my stuff away and go shopping.

    A cousin of mine does and was telling me about number five and six (the latter I do just a tad). It certainly seems to work for her; though I haven’t seen her too often to think she wears the same shirts or pants all the time.

    That pyramid scheme is interesting! Mine has certainly downgraded since I transitioned from school-oriented life to work-oriented lol.

    I was almost about to recommend number eight to a friend! He’s in the same scenario as Mark, but he doesn’t seem to embrace technology :-(

    I think I need to do number nine, but I’m such a hoarder…and I don’t even have much stuff (besides clothes, maybe)! But I really like that last punchline! So many things, even if seemingly insignificant, can use and possibly waste mental resources–especially when an individual is looking to grow or change in other arenas (as I’ve been reminded recently at a Jesuit organization).