How to Transition Your Summer Style to Fall

summer to fall wardrobe

New beginnings, fresh perspectives. Transitions of any sort are an opportunity to regroup and start anew. But when it comes to your wardrobe, starting over every season is costly and time consuming. And yet, practicality forces us to change up how we’re self-presenting when autumn arrives.

There’s no shortage of advertisements begging for your attention and instructing you to snatch up the latest fall trends — but what of all your summer pieces? Are they destined for your storage unit while your credit cards feel the weight of the seasonal shift? Reject that all-or-nothing mentality and instead embrace a seasonless wardrobe with this guide to what to keep wearing, what to pack away and what end-of-season deals are worth buying for the fall.

Style Isn’t Seasonal

Style Isn’t Seasonal

New beginnings, fresh perspectives. Transitions of any sort are an opportunity to regroup and start anew. But when it comes to your wardrobe, starting over every season is costly and time consuming. And yet, practicality forces us to change up how we’re self-presenting when autumn arrives.

There’s no shortage of advertisements begging for your attention and instructing you to snatch up the latest fall trends — but what of all your summer pieces? Are they destined for your storage unit while your credit cards feel the weight of the seasonal shift? Reject that all-or-nothing mentality and instead embrace a seasonless wardrobe with this guide to what to keep wearing, what to pack away and what end-of-season deals are worth buying for the fall.

What Clothes to Keep

What Clothes to Keep

Many of your staple summer pieces can make the seasonal leap with you. But the trick is to think beyond your current outfit selections. That tank top with your white blazer and multi-colored skirt, paired with sandals and turquoise jewelry, looks fresh and cool in warmer months, but doesn’t serve you as the days grow shorter. Before you retire the whole outfit, rethink each piece in relation to more fall-focused items. Perhaps the tank is now better paired under an open-weave sweater and the white blazer can be layered with a cream scarf and some dark denim.

Tan pants are one of the easiest items to transition. Swap out sandals for boots and focus on layers on top, to make just about any pair of tan pants look fall-appropriate. The same can be said for white blouses — anchor them with slightly heavier pieces (think chunky knits and oversized waist belts) to nudge them out of summer mode.

Most professional dresses are now seasonless and should retain prominence in your wardrobe (which makes it easier to justify the bigger price tag that often accompanies those items). Shorter sweaters that hit at or just above the waist are a great way to add warmth to sleeveless dresses, without losing your shape and falling into frumpy territory.

What Shoes to Keep

What Shoes to Keep

Peep-toe shoes, once relegated to the shelf most months of the year, have become acceptable year round. In the fall, wear them with slim pants or long, flowing skirts, and as the temperature drops, pair with tights. The safest way to pull this off is by pairing black peep-toes with black tights, which looks modern-yet-sophisticated.

Tan heels can also transition easily into fall. With or without hosiery, tan heels are largely seasonless. And tan is the most versatile neutral, pairing as easily with bright summery patterns as with more subdued shades of black and brown. Simple, sleek designs have the greatest longevity, not only into fall, but year after year.

Canvas sneakers (think those of the white Keds variety) can find a place in your fall wardrobe, as well. Paired casually with jeans or khaki pants, canvas sneakers are sporty and seasonless. Bonus: They are usually machine washable, so you can keep them looking fresh year round.

What to Store

What to Store

There was a time not too long ago when people would formally transition their wardrobe from spring/summer to fall/winter and retire half of what they owned into hibernation. And while it’s true that wool turtlenecks and bathing suit cover-ups aren’t often worn in the same season, the majority of your clothing can now be integrated year round.

However, a few pieces will inevitably scream sunshiny days and warm summer nights. So, instead of packing away everything and limiting the versatility of a huge percentage of your wardrobe, strategically pluck a few select pieces out of the fall mix.

While I advocate for wearing white year round, white linen and eyelet are particularly challenging to integrate in cooler months. Consider limiting their use, but pair your black linen with heftier fabrics to construct an ensemble with a diversity of complementary textures. Other white pieces, including white jeans and t-shirts, can stay in the mix: once it’s cool enough, pair the white jeans with a cozy cashmere sweater or layer the white tee with a sweater coat.

Sundresses should also take a rest once the leaves start to change. Anything frilly or in extremely lightweight fabrics, especially if it’s patterned or in bright colors, looks too beachy for fall. However, simple, neutral pieces can stick around, even if they reveal quite a bit of skin. Blazers, sweaters, and even blouses layered underneath can reframe those dresses and earn them a place in your fall rotation.

Strappy sandals start to look overexposed once October and November hit. Dark colors and metallics can still work for fall evenings and special occasions, but espadrilles and cotton wedges don’t retain the same seasonless versatility.

What to Buy

What to Buy

While the end of summer brings cooler temps and a mental focus on replenishing your fall wardrobe, that’s also when you’re able to snag the best summer deals. Buying a year in advance can be a good idea — especially if you purchase classic pieces with staying power, so you don’t need to worry about looking “last season” when summer rolls around again. Many summer items can not only be worn into the fall, but are best purchased during end-of-season sales.

Short-sleeved cashmere tops and other partially-exposed sweaters can be hard to reconcile in mid-summer humidity, so they are often left over in stores and drastically reduced as the season wanes. They are perfect transition pieces to integrate into your fall wardrobe. Worn alone or layered with other knits, they add a bit of warmth, without fully committing to wintry bundling.

Lightweight scarves can double as shawls or sarongs in the summer, but since many people develop a psychological scarf allergy after too many months of clinging to them out of necessity, they are often avoided post-winter and therefore linger on the retail shelves. However, even sheer, gauzey fabrics can offer enough added protection to allow you to forgo a proper jacket just a few more weeks, making “summer” scarves a smart fall purchase.

If you find a summer piece you love for a great low price — and it’s black — it’s probably a safe bet for the fall.  Even black shorts can be worn with boots or layered with tights to visually transition. Black dresses, tanks, tees, and shoes are all ripe for fall integration, regardless of the season they first hit the racks.

What to Avoid

What to Avoid

It’s easy for frugal shoppers to go into a psychological sale fog when prices plummet at the end of the season. Summer is the top season for trends, so take a moment to critically analyze any new items before you run to the checkout line. Anything in loud, colorful prints or with too many details (think an abundance of ruffles, pleats, zippers) deserves a second look before purchasing. These items can look dated before fall even arrives, so don’t be mesmerized by their rock-bottom prices.

Also pay close attention to quality when picking from summer sale racks. The quality of fall clothing can be easier to spot, so check labels carefully, looking for all-natural fabrics and reliable manufacturing locations.

And above all else, avoid purchasing anything that doesn’t work well with your existing wardrobe. Buying a summer steal that requires more shopping, defeats the purpose.  It’s fine to buy a few gems to tuck away until next spring, but too many closets are full of unworn sale items, tags still firmly intact, patiently awaiting their perfect apparel partners season after season.

Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the “thinking person’s stylist.” She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.

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