How to Shop Your Own Closet

wearing what you already own

The average woman spends $3,400 per year on clothes — and yet, a majority of us still feel like we have nothing to wear. And with over half the clothes in our closets not currently in use, it’s no wonder we can seemingly have so much and yet feel like we have so few satisfying options.

Running to your nearest retailer is one way to solve the problem. Or, you can shop your own closet to uncover some of its hidden, under-utilized treasures. Learning to reintroduce items you already own will save you money, while also forcing you to revamp your look and visually refresh. Here are six ways you can transform your wardrobe without draining your bank account.

A Whole New Outfit Awaits

A Whole New Outfit Awaits

The average woman spends $3,400 per year on clothes — and yet, a majority of us still feel like we have nothing to wear. And with over half the clothes in our closets not currently in use, it’s no wonder we can seemingly have so much and yet feel like we have so few satisfying options.

Running to your nearest retailer is one way to solve the problem. Or, you can shop your own closet to uncover some of its hidden, under-utilized treasures. Learning to reintroduce items you already own will save you money, while also forcing you to revamp your look and visually refresh. Here are six ways you can transform your wardrobe without draining your bank account.

Team Up With Your Tailor

Team Up With Your Tailor

We’ve all made purchasing mistakes, but often times it’s fit that keeps us from getting the maximum possible life out of our clothes. Perhaps you bought the item on sale, despite a less-then-perfect fit, or maybe your weight has fluctuated over time. It’s also possible they’ve hung idly in your closet so long that styles have changed, making your hardly-worn items look undesirably dated.

Your first instinct may be to purchase new, but a little nip and tuck at the tailor can give these items an attractive and affordable refresh. Or, sometimes you may enlist a tailor simply because you’re tired of a particular item. Whatever your motivation, channel your inner seamstress and start imagining some possible revisions: turn flared pants into slimmer legs, transform a trench coat into a shorter, sportier length, or have those oversized shoulder pads removed for a more natural silhouette.

Repair and Renew

Repair and Renew

A good night’s sleep and a long shower are sometimes all it takes to look refreshed. The same can be true for your wardrobe. But before you grab your credit card and log onto your favorite shopping site, take a moment to scrutinize the wear-and-tear you’ve inflicted on the items you already own.

Shoes are the easiest and most obvious place to start. Polish and repair scuffs as needed, and enlist your cobbler to replace heels that are worn down (do this regularly and be mindful not to let them wear to the point of scraping the leather — once that’s scuffed, it becomes very difficult to repair). Give your handbags a once-over and apply leather cleaner and conditioner to moisturize and keep the leather from cracking, while also adding a supple finish.

Even washing on cold can’t perfectly preserve colors. Black cotton will inevitably fade with time, so consider washing those items in black dye to deepen the color and erase years of wear. Soak a separate load of whites in bleach or Oxy to brighten them up (be sure to test fabrics before fully submerging). Finally, put the sparkle back in your jewelry by soaking in an ammonia/dish soap solution. Paying attention to these subtle details can radically elevate any outfit.

Accessorize Outside Your Jewelry Box

Accessorize Outside Your Jewelry Box

One of the biggest pain points I hear from my clients involves accessorizing. Daily adornment often feels like an irritating chore, and it’s easy for even the most creative amongst us to feel uninspired. But accessories are often a visual differentiator, adding character or even serving as a provocative conversation piece. They also have the power to give the entire ensemble an instant update.

It’s easy to throw on the same simple necklace, stud earrings, and watch each day, but most women own multiple striking pieces they rarely or never wear. Challenge yourself to step beyond your current accessory boundaries. Try layering pieces you already own, mixing bracelets or necklaces in different metals and styles for dramatic effect.

Hosiery can also improve an otherwise mundane outfit. Use your brighter, patterned tights to add a pop to a monochromatic look and infuse it with a visual point of interest. And scarves are the unsung heroes of accessorizing. Use them like necklaces and play with creative ways of wrapping and tying them.

Get Crafty

Get Crafty

Most of us don’t have the time or creativity necessary to remake our clothing, but playing designer can be easier than you think. Focus on a few pieces you rarely or never wear, but that are flattering and complement much of your existing wardrobe. A simple wool coat becomes a lot more interesting when you attach a fur collar (real or faux), and a beaded collar can embellish and transform the plainest of crewnecks.

One of the most dramatic ways to update an item is by changing the buttons. Plain, matching buttons can be replaced with larger, more dramatic buttons — think metallic, covered, or maybe even something with a little sparkle.

Mix and Match it Up

Mix and Match it Up

In fashion, as in life, we tend to put like with like. And little by little, you may find that much of your wardrobe is paired off into quaintly coupled sets: your business suit, that matching twin set, your go-to belt/shoe combo in complementary leather. Disrupt these seemingly made-in-heaven matches by rethinking sartorial compatibility. Your wardrobe is like a puzzle, and sometimes you need only to rearrange the pieces to project a whole new image.

Hang suit pieces in different areas of your closet to force you to think of them as separates, rather than a unit. Take the matching belt off your coats and dresses and swap in a contrasting piece of a different color or texture. Change out the matching leather shoes and belt and work in something in an animal skin or print. Curtail your propensity for color and pattern coordination by juxtaposing complementary clashes — red and orange, dots with stripes, and black with brown.

Strategically Reposition

Strategically Reposition

You can’t use what you can’t see. So make the most of the items you own by creating maximum visibility. Start by clearing out items you no longer wear (or should no longer wear). Simply creating more space can help you see your clothes in a renewed light. Move tired pieces to the back of your closet and drawers, and place forgotten and previously hidden items into plain sight.

Start rethinking categories: Move items previously assigned to summer or winter categories into the mix with another season, and start playing with layers and textures; downgrade “special occasion” pieces that don’t see the light of day often enough and pair them with more casual pieces.

Sometimes the most effective repositioning includes moving items into and out of entirely different closets. So enlist some friends and organize a clothing swap — “new” is relative, and the introduction of just a few different pieces into your closet can reposition the possibilities of your entire wardrobe.

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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