8 simple tricks to make the most of your wardrobe

| On
Friday, February 05, 2016

Now that I'm officially more than one month into my "no new things for a year" challenge, I'd like to step on to my soapbox for a moment and tell you what I've learned over the past four weeks of controlling my impulses to shop and living with what's already in my closet. It been much easier than I anticipated, and I love that it's a built-in excuse to wear things that I bought, love, but never wear.

In no particular order, here are the eight tactics I've been employing to find fresh ways to style my closet:
#1 Rethink seasonal clothing

When I considered starting this challenge, I did a little bit of "stocking up" on winter basics. After several weeks of styling my J.Crew tissue turtlenecks, I'll admit that I started to get bored. Fortunately, it dawned on me that half of my wardrobe was boxed up in another room under the "spring/summer" category. Pulling that out and considering what could be added to my winter wardrobe really helped me. I added white jeans, lightweight shirt dresses, and tees and tank tops to my closet without spending a dime.

#2 Use your suits in new ways

My closet has an entire section devoted to "business formal" clothing, and re-thinking those items has been a game-changer for me. I've changed out the buttons on an Italian wool double-breasted blazer and have been wearing it casually with tees and jeans. A formerly "office only" Brooks Brothers A-line skirt went casual with lace up booties and a tee shirt for a Saturday night on the town. I've also started traveling with one suit each week, forcing myself to use it as the base for my Monday through Thursday outfits. It's made my packing much easier, and I honestly think committing to four suit-based outfits has made me better dressed for work.

#3 Do a coat or bag of the week

This tactic has made me much more creative about styling my winter outfits: I've been selecting one coat and one bag to use for the entire week, and building my outfits around it. My totes are getting much more face-time, and I'm learning which of my coats are truly timeless versus the ones I can live without (and will donate or sell once the weather warms up in Chicago).

#4 DIY instead of buy

One of the biggest trends that hit my wardrobe this January was the distressed black jeans look. I've had my eye on them for a while, and old Colleen back in November would have just paid $200 for a designer pair. New, smarter Colleen stopped by her local neighborhood thrift store, picked up a pair of $2 black skinny jeans, and went at them with an Xacto knife.  Seriously, I cannot tell you how many people have asked me where I got these.

#5 Just fix it

If you're anything like me, you have a small collection of things that are damaged, broken, or missing a piece. There have been several pieces of broken costume jewelry that I've held on to for years, thinking that I'd fix them but never making the time to do it. On a Saturday afternoon that I normally would have spent mindlessly shopping for new costume jewelry, I decided to stop by the craft store and pick up earring backings, links and all of the bits and pieces I'd need to bring my beloved old pieces back to life. It was incredibly satisfying to get these pieces back up and running, and also inspired me to try making some jewelry from scratch while I was at it!

#6 Rethink your "dressy" and "casual" classifications

In addition to rethinking the "business formal" section of my closet, I applied the same principle to my "dressy" section. In the past month, I've worn a silk-and-feathered dress with a tissue turtleneck to a house party, teamed a blue "work shirt" with leather leggings, and paired a gilded skirt formerly reserved for cocktail events with a Breton stripe tee and heels for a dinner. Getting past the internal rules I've created for my clothes jump-started my creativity, and taught me the important lesson that rules are made to be broken - it's something I think most stylists intuitively do, but is harder for us common folk because we love clinging to rules…

#7 Tap unconventional resources

My husband's closet is a treasure trove of perfect pieces, like gray wool sweaters that drape perfectly and oversize, crisp white dress shirts that look amazing with leggings and booties. Sharing this challenge with my friends and colleagues has led to some great trades and plans to borrow and rotate. One stylish lady on my project has offered up her black wool Ted Baker blazer coat in temporary exchange for my herringbone Vera Wang number in a similar style. My friend Ashley with amazing taste and my same shoe size is going through her collection for me to "shop" in exchange for a few things that I should have given to her long ago!

#8 Rotate your basics

This is a really easy one that has paid huge dividends for me. I spend some time organizing my closet and dresser into "basic pieces" (simple shapes, quality fabrics, goes-with-anything styles) and "spicy pieces" (wild patterns and colors, short hemlines, out-there styles, feathers, etc.) and have been rotating my basic pieces to add more variety. I tend to default to the same basic tee shirts, sweaters and jeans, so I've imposed time limits on wearing the same item. After a couple of weeks of the same basics, I've been boxing them up out of sight and putting rarely worn items on display to force myself to add variety and treat my pieces equally. It's been a fun challenge, and is also helping me to identify the specific reasons why I love a particular piece so I know exactly what to look for when I want to buy something similar (instead of just buying every pair of black mid-calf booties on the market, for example).

Ok, getting off my soapbox now. There are several of you who have joined this challenge in part, and have been working with what you have for the past several weeks as well. I'd love to hear any styling tricks and tactics you've picked up along the way!

14 comments on "8 simple tricks to make the most of your wardrobe"
  1. Happy weekend Colleen!

    I really enjoyed these tips, they are so useful and fun, thank you so much! the #1 tip is especially useful for me as I live in the california mild weather, I can often use piece from different seasons. I think this no buying new things is not only helpful for saving money and resources, it's also more fun and challenging for our creativity, it's truly meaningful and life changing!

    I must admit I have not been very good, I have bought new things, but definitely not as many as before, I also tried to get things from thrift stores more than the regular stores(do the used item/thrifted items count?), and think more before I purchase.

    Also, I created folders as my "monthly purchased", I took pictures and wrote down the price and number them, that way I have a very visual way of seeing/knowing how much exactly I spent every month and how many pieces(new and used) I get every month, it helps me and reminds me constantly.

    I will try to be more disciplined this month :-) I want to thank you again for being my inspiration and my great example.

    I do have one request: I want to see more pictures of your creation! They sound so interesting and fun can I copy them?

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Echo, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! Your idea about tracking your items and price paid is genius and has got me thinking about how to do literally make an inventory of my wardrobe and start tracking usage, and then having another tab for 'wish list' items that can become a purchase tracker once I start buying new again. Thinking Excel would be best for this but then wouldn't be able to have pictures so I might try to create this in OneNote! Also, saw your DIY distressed denim on Instagram and saw almost identical ones this weekend for $98. So smart! Will definitely share more of my creations, will do my best to do a "monthly recap" in a post so you don't get inundated :) Thanks for the great ideas!

    2. Hi dear! thank you for your messages! Right now, I create "Monthly Purchased" on Pinterest, for every month. I have the pictures, # of each piece and the price so that way it's very clear(and somethings scary) how many I bought and how much I spent. I wrote down in my journey at the end of every month the total #s of pieces I purchased, but I think excel sheet is a great idea, it presents a better and more numeric view for me. I gotta try the ONENOTE.

      I am so into this ripped jeans DIY project now, I am going to do more to my less favorite jeans. Thank you so much for the encouragement.

      Have a great week dear!

    3. Hi Echo, thanks for your comment! Using Pinterest is a great idea... that is one area that I haven't explored but I think having the visual is important. Definitely check out OneNote, I'm going to see about inventorying my wardrobe with pictures and will let you know what I come up with! Looking forward to your ripped jeans pictures :-)

  2. I've been trying to follow and doing ok do far. Genius tip of one bag and coat per week. I never change bags as day to day it's such a hassle, and I just end up sticking with one for weeks. I will try this! I've also resisted some fast fashion which I'm very proud of.

    1. Is this Kerrie from IG? Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and for your thoughtful comment! Really glad to hear that you're joining the no new things bandwagon for awhile, would love to hear/see what you learn from doing it. I'm like you where I default to carrying one bag for weeks, and starting to do the coat + bag of the week thing is really making me appreciate what I already have AND will help my bags last longer because they're getting cleaned out every week! Thanks again for reading and hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future!

    2. It is Kerrie from IG :) Thanks for the lovely, and personal, comment. Not sure how you manage a serious job and a blog but I'm very glad you do! I will have to start IG-ing what I wear and getting in my eBay groove for classics. My coat choice for this week was scuppered by a crazy winter storm so the parka came out. I did change out my bag to a black leather tote. Mini victory!

    3. Hey Kerrie! Sometimes I'm not sure where I find the time, but I love writing so I make this blog a priority and eliminate things that normally eat time (like TV) in order to write (and it helps that I also pre-plan outfits, take pictures in advance, and use time-saving apps like Latergramme...) Anyway, looking forward to seeing your eBay steals and Instagram pics of your coats and bags of the week! And kudos for upgrading your bag, you are inspiring me to carry one of my "fun" bags instead of my usual travel tote next week!

    4. Hi Colleen! Thank you for the blog and Instagram account! You did inspire me NOT to think about shopping and I did very well with the challenge for over six weeks. I now had a small relapse as I had to buy bikini for our honeymoon! Good enough reason, but the bikini turned into a dress, pants, shirt and a bikini (all on sale, to my defense)... Putting my vacation anticipation aside the challenge has been relatively easy, suppose it helps that being winter I don't really feel like bothering with outfits too much. I also happened to invest in a couple of quality pieces in autumn that still feel very fresh. We'll see how I feel when the spring finally comes...
      My tip: when you feel like you really need retail therapy, buy nail polish.:D(@marieliisapii IG)

    5. Hi there Mari! Thank you so much for reading and for your comment! So happy to hear that you have joined the challenge, and needing a swimsuit counts under one of the 'exceptions' (for workout clothes)! But hopefully the other things you bought will have long lives in your wardrobe :) Isn't it amazing how much mileage you can get from a few investment pieces? I am also a little apprehensive about springtime... your comment inspired a post that I'm about to publish today! Also, genius suggestion on nail polish as substitute for retail therapy! Will definitely be doing that. Thank you again for your support and thoughts! :-)

  3. Great tips, Colleen! #3 is especially on point for me. I love bags, and have plenty of them, but I tend to get stuck in the rut of carrying the same bag for long periods of time. I have to make a mental note to try to do better in that department.

    I'm pleasantly surprised at how fairly easy this challenge has been for me so far! Not that I haven't been tempted to go online and check out my favorite retailers from time to time, but I'm limiting myself as to how often I visit them and instead get busy doing other things - you know, like reading the pile of books that have been sitting on my nightstand table, gathering dust. Actually, the realization of how much time I've been spending on online browsing/shopping only to neglect other hobbies has been seriously eye-opening. (I am lucky, I guess, that B&M shopping is rather limited in the small college town where I live, so there's very little lure for me there.)

    Old habits are hard to break, and one that I'm struggling with on a regular basis is not planning my outfits in advance. With no new things to feature, getting ready in the morning is even more difficult and requires more forethought if I don't want to wear the same look over and over again. This is definitely something I need to work/improve on in the upcoming months.

    1. Hello Ivanka, thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Your point about time savings from shopping is so true, and something I hadn't thought of as a benefit but is actually one of the biggest takeaways for why to do this challenge: it refocuses time, energy and resources on the things that really matter. (Will need to hear about the pile of books and what good ones you've got... going through a book per week on my flights and need to restock my Kindle!)

      You are right about old habits being hard to break, this challenge has been surprisingly easier than I anticipated... up until this weekend when I visited some out-of-town girlfriends that share my love of shopping. Saw some lovely tuxedo pants that truly tempted me (I've added them to my list of '2017 buys' and will hope they'll still be around in my size). In terms of your outfit planning struggle, I have a suggestion: next time you are in a line, in traffic or some other typical "delay," use it to think through your outfits for the week. I do think while 'de-planing' on Thursday afternoons - while everyone else is bustling and tapping their fingers, I am in a zen-like state considering what to pack in my bag for the following week. Then I go home, unpack, and organize my outfits for the next five days. (I recognize how 'Type A crazy' that sounds, but it works for me... probably because I am Type A crazy!) Anyway, hope you have a great week!

  4. I don't think you're type A crazy. You just sound more disciplined and organized than most of us, which, I'm sure, is a necessity for someone who travels this often. Using the time that would be otherwise wasted for outfit planning seems like a great solution and I'll definitely give it a try.

    As for my recent English reads (though *not* recent books), I loved "The Book Thief" and I became enthralled with an old book that touched me on every emotional level, "The Education of Little Tree." In fact, later, after finishing the book, I became so fascinated by the author's disgraceful past that I continued to read/watch just about anything I could find on him.

    1. Your books are officially on my iPhone 'Books to download' list and I'll let you know what I think about The Education of Little Tree - it sounds intriguing and right up my alley. (Once you get through your current stack, consider "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. It's another old one (1930s) that fascinated me and led me along a path of research on the author.) As for the discipline and organization... that is a good way of looking at it and I will use that as my descriptor going forward! Hope you have a great weekend, thank you again for reading and all of your support :-)