7 Ways To Update Your Wardrobe On A Small Budget

While most of you have already said au revoir to fleece tights and are ordering your coffees with ice, I’m stuck in Chicago and am in the midst of being threatened with snow clouds by the weatherman. It’s like he has our whole city hostage and we’re all nervously awaiting that last snowmaggedon that signals you’ve made it to spring! While I’m used to the dirty, black snow that refuses to leave our curbs, the one thing I can no longer ignore is my wardrobe. My transitional season fashion is starting to seriously lack.

I open my closet doors in the morning and immediately — calmly — reach for a pillow to scream into. For the love of god, please: No. More. Sweaters.

I can’t handle looking at knits and colors that don’t look like cotton candy — I’m completely tapped out. I’ve worn everything twice, three, four times over, and I’m at the point where I just reach in there and pull out a jean and cardigan outfit at random.

There’s no more excitement; there’s no more creativity. During the darkest of hours, I contemplate if I should just chuck the whole thing and figure out what to do later. Worst case scenario is I get to walk around in fleece all week, right?

Though I’ve gotten close to doing just that on more than one occasion, sanity intervened. As many of you can probably relate, I don’t have the money to overhaul my whole closet, but I can’t go on living this way, either. I’m settling into dark times here, people. So instead of being claimed as another victim by that beast known as “spring” in the Midwest, I thought of seven ways to transform our wardrobes without spending the equivalent of rent money on the task. It goes a little something like this:

1. DIY Pieces You’re Bored With

Do you have a few pieces in your closet that still have styling potential, but you’re just not feeling anymore? Maybe you have a dress that you haven’t worn in a while, but you still love the pattern. Or a vest that used to fit your style, but a detail or two is now off from what you like. Maybe you like the shape and fit of a dress, but the color isn’t something you like to wear anymore. These are all pieces with promise, but fail to make you feel that zing when you put them on. Well, transform them so they do!

Cut the hem of the dress and turn it into a top — or better yet, a crop top. If you like the pattern of the top half, you’ll enjoy wearing it as a shirt. Or if you still like a vest or top but it no longer wows you, try adding a new detail to completely transform it. For example, add fringe, tassels, or a pompom fringe to the hem or sleeves to give it a trendy kick. If it’s the color of a piece that’s putting you off, just fill water into a bucket and re-dye it. These are all little tweaks that have a lot of pull; they’ll completely change your pieces and make you feel like you have new items to play with in your closet.

2. Focus On Shoes And Bags

While it might be tempting to just chuck your whole closet out the window and start from ground zero, that might leave a few of us with eating Ramen for a good portion of the summer. But sometimes you just can’t make the pieces work with your style anymore. To make sure there is some grocery money left over, try just changing out the shoes and bags in your wardrobe. Those pieces can completely change the feel and look of an outfit, so if you focus on a few well-made sandals and cross-body bags you can breathe new life into those dresses and sweaters you’re forced to repeat.

3. Learn How To Layer

You’d be surprised what fun new looks you can get out of those pieces you’re bored with when you just combine them in clever ways. I was completely dazzled when I saw that you could layer skirts over dresses — and my closet just about doubled with that prospect. Frocks I was indifferent about turned into fun tops, and I had more to work with in terms of mixing colors and patterns. The same could be done in reverse, too: Pop sweaters on top of dresses to turn them into skirts.

If those types of ideas don’t come instinctively to you, then seek out inspiration! Follow blogs that focus on repeating pieces in new ways (like capsule wardrobe blogs), or create a Pinterest board that focuses on layering with pieces that you already own. This is crucial — don’t save pictures that style pieces that you don’t own yet. That’ll get you nowhere. Sure, that tulle skirt with a plaid shirt combo is amazing, but maybe file that away for now seeing as you don’t own said tulle skirt. Seek outfits that have elements you already have handy, and then get to experimenting and recreating!

4. Bite The Bullet And Go Thrifting

I know there’s a mixed camp on this topic. Half of women champion the idea of patiently digging through racks of hand me downs until they find their treasures, while the other half cringe at the thought of moth eaten sweaters and washed out dresses. I say, if you really want to add a few new pieces into your rotation, do it.

There’s an art to thrifting — one doesn’t just pop into a Goodwill and expect discarded Free People and French Connection dresses to run into your arms. There’s a strategy and a game plan that needs to be plotted out.

First, location is everything. If you want higher quality clothes, go to a more upscale neighborhood and root around through their charity shops. Rich people get bored of their clothes too, and they donate them to make room for the new season’s trends. Which means you can have those J. Crew sweaters and Madewell dresses. Second, stay open minded. Maybe you come across a wonderful dress but — ah! — it’s two sizes too big or small on you. That’s okay, that’s exactly why belts were invented. Maybe you come across a fun citrus-colored top, but it’s rather baggy and unflattering. If you’re savvy with a needle and thread, turn it into a boxy crop top. There are always solutions to these little problems.

5. Don’t Sell Your Clothes, Swap Them

You know that scene in Broad City where Abbi tries to sell her clothes at Beacon’s Closet? She has about a whole year’s salary worth of designer threads on the counter and the attendant boredly informs her, “I can give you $13,000 in store credit or $903 in cash…” Well, we’re going to choose that store credit. Free clothes for life!

Bring in some old pieces you just can’t make work anymore and swap them for new printed dresses and boho skirts and vests. It’s the best of both worlds — you get rid of the clutter in your closet, and you get rewarded with new things with which to play.

6. Identify Your Holes

Sometimes all you need to do to turn your wardrobe around is to identify its holes. While it would be amazing to have that structured backpack that you’ve been craving for the past year, or those suede booties you’ve been living without all season, I would focus on pieces that would be layering game-changers. Remember those threats of Ramen: We’re trying to spend as little money as possible and get the biggest results.

When you scoured those blogs and Pinterest boards, did you notice outfits built with pieces that you don’t own? For example, did you notice turtlenecks were used to layer underneath both sleeveless dresses and low cut tops? Or crop top knits were piled on top of flirty winter dresses or long maxi skirts? Maybe you never got around to buying a white collared shirt, or a simple striped cardigan? If you don’t own those pieces, let yourself invest in them so you can start building fresh new looks.

7. Polish Older Items

Sometimes you might have a favorite piece but it can start feeling a little… outdated. But don’t give up on it! It doesn’t deserve the back of your closet just yet. Instead try tweaking small details to help make it feel like new. For example, swap out old buttons on coats or dresses with types that are more polished and expensive looking. A gold button goes a long way. Just that small change can make your dress feel like you paid triple the amount you had. Or breathe new life into a dress by adding a show-stopping belt, like a gold plated one or a boho fringed one (which is in line with this season’s ‘70s revival!). Small tweaks can go a very long way.

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