Many of us dream of having a beautiful outfit with the perfect pairing of shoes and accessories to wear every day. In pursuit of this we often buy inexpensive clothing with the thought that the more choices we have in our closets the more stylish we will be. All the fashionistas on Instagram are always sporting a new outfit, so we have the expectation that we should do the same.
The reality is as real people, we wear only 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Except for the gown for special occasions, or the clothes made for a specific activity (think ski pants), that means a majority of what we own is just collecting dust.
If you want to simplify your closet, look fabulous, and curate a sustainable wardrobe that lasts for years, these tips are for you.
Tip #1- Get to Know Your Style
First things first; you have to get to know your actual style. This is much different than your aspirational style. If you’re like me, you have several pieces of clothing that you really want to wear, but you somehow never do. Maybe they don’t fit quite right, or the color is a little off, or each time you try it the piece feels forced. Start with going through your closet and setting aside those pieces that never leave the hanger/drawer. It may be hard to let go, but if you haven’t worn it in the last year, you probably never will.
Next will be articles of clothing that are on the fence. Maybe you forgot they were in your closet, or you just had been in a rut. If you want to be methodical about it, keep these a little separate from your mainstays, but if you start putting them back into your rotation, move them over to your go-tos. If not, it's time to donate them.
Now that you have your 20% of the clothes you actually wear in front of you, take stock. Here are some things to consider moving forward
- Color Themes
My main color staples are black, cream, navy and red tones. I’ve realized that if I go much outside the box from those colors, I just don’t wear them. Use this as a guide for future shopping, but not an absolute. For example, I love green so when I find a piece in that color, no problem. On the other hand, anything in pastels or any shade of yellow is a no-go for me.
- Styles that fit you best
By looking at what you wear, you will probably notice a theme. In my case, most of my sweaters are turtlenecks and warmer weather shirts are scoop or V-necks. I also have lots of clothes that are fitted through the middle (I have big shoulders and big hips). These are the clothes that feel good and look good on my body type. By looking for some themes, you’ll have a better idea of the clothing that you’ll actually wear when you buy it.
- What’s missing
After your audit, take stock of what is missing in your closet and make a list. It may be a great blazer, a pair of high end leggings or wide-legged pants or just a crisp white blouse. Keep the list with you so when you shop you can pull it out and see if you NEED it. On my list right now is a simple black turtleneck, a thin neutral belt, nice wide-legged pants, and a tulip skirt.
Tip #2 – Build in Layers
When shopping for clothes, or even looking at how you can put your clothes together, think about a strong base and build on that. For example, you may have a great graphic tee but by itself it may need something else. Take stock of your closet and think about what could layer over it. Try a button down shirt tied in front (you can even steal from hubby’s closet), a jeans jacket, a sporty blazer or a cardigan. Keep in mind that if the base has lots of color/pattern, the layers on top should be muted. One graphic tee with different pairings of layers on top then turns one outfit into several.
Tip #3– Buy with Mixing and Matching in Mind
One of my favorite looks is a monotone outfit with a splash of color or elegant jewelry. No matter if you’re wearing joggers and a sweatshirt or a silk suit, it looks instantly classy. The great thing about style however, is that you can pair things with LOTs of different items. My closet has lots of neutrals because I can put them together multiple ways. Try different things together that you already have and you’ll start to understand the idea. A jeans button down top looks great with faux leather leggings with one part tucked in. Pair a simple black dress with heels for a night out or with sneakers and a jeans jacket for a Saturday outing. Don’t be afraid to take your nicer clothes and pair with causal, especially in our newer, more casual world. You can even take a long cardigan and belt it to make a dress. When considering a purchase think about how many outfits you make with it pairing with what you already have. You may love that lipstick red skirt, but if you don’t know how it will go with the rest of your closet, substitute a neutral color that plays well with your existing clothes.
Tip #4– Buy a Few Specialty Signature Style Items
Everyone has a wild jacket, skirt, or out-there top that speaks to you. Maybe you don’t wear it everyday, but when you do, you feel amazing. These pieces are the base definition of your signature style. Learn to identify what it is about that piece and when you find something that sparks that same feeling don’t hesitate to buy it. It’s okay to spend more on something that’s going to last you for decades and that speaks to YOUR personal style. I have a few timeless pieces that are older than my children that I love. (See tip #3 and don’t be afraid to pair it with lots of things)
Tip #5- Buy More Tops than Bottoms
The rule of thumb for tops to bottoms ratio is about 70/30. Women have the advantage of wearing skirts so that may tip the ratio closer to 60/40. You can do a patterned bottom here and there, but keep your bottoms pretty neutral so they can go with most tops. If you feel like your closet needs an update, a few shirts go much further than bottoms. I once bought a pair of neon yellow corduroy pants. They looked good with white and one other top, but they mostly gathered dust in my closet. The pants were just too specialty to wear with many things and I regret the purchase.
Tip #6- Create One Focal Point
You can get a lot of traction out of what you already have by knowing how to create interest in your outfit. When putting things together (or trying to remix what you already have) think about one statement piece. Don’t put too many patterns or big jewelry together or you’ll create a confused look. There are some people who can pull off crazy combinations but it mostly it only works in Gucci ads. Here are some ideas for creating a great look with one showy item:
- Big earrings
- Chunky necklace
- Printed/funky shirt
- Patterned skirt/pants
- Great pair of colorful shoes
- Bright scarf
Tip #7- Avoid the Cheap Fashion Temptation and Buy Quality
It’s really easy to get lured by an ad online for a great dress for $12. The problem with those items is they are usually cheaply made with less-than-ideal materials that won’t last. After a few washes they lose their shape, shrink, pill, or start coming apart at the seams. Having to replace cheap items not only costs you more money in the end, it's also harmful to the environment. Fast fashion practices are notorious for being made with little regard for planet or the people who are making it. Instead, invest in high quality and (ideally) sustainably made clothing. It will last much longer, look good longer, and in the end save you time and money.
Tip #8- Take Care of What You Have
Once you have a wardrobe that works for you, take good care of it. Wash your clothes only when they really need it, keep them folded nicely, and use good hangers. I’m no Mommy Dearest, but that mom was on to something about not using wire hangers. If you have an item that gets damaged or doesn’t fit right, think about repairing it. If you aren’t handy with a sewing machine, it’s pretty easy to find a local seamstress that can mend or alter favorite pieces. If it isn’t worth spending the money on repairing, consider ways to remake it or donate it to someone who makes things out of used clothing.
Tip #9- Change Your Shopping Mindset
Become a proactive shopper and shift your perspective when you venture out (or online). Think about how each piece will fit into your closet and if you will wear it at least 30 times. Do some research into the companies and materials you’re buying. Textile waste is one of the largest contributors to landfills and poor production is detrimental to water, soil and exploits vulnerable populations. Once you have done a bit of research on good companies, you can rest assure that they can be trusted. For other brands, weigh the benefits of satisfying a shopping itch verses the potential adverse consequences of unnecessary buying. It will help you realize you can get by on much less than you think, and it will force you to be more creative in your styling (which will hone your skills and up your style game).
Tip #10- Buy What Has Already Been Made
Today thrifting is a mainstream way to shop. You can still visit your local Salvation Army and dig through items, or you can select high-end designer wear online from stores like ThreadUp or PoshMark. Brands are also popping up that are making great new pieces from existing clothing. Casual brands include Graphic Revival and SoJara, or funky fashion from UK brands like FanFare are just a few examples. Anyway you like doing it, there are multiple options available to you and tons of good finds to be had if you’re willing to search. You may just find your signature piece that is unique to only YOU!