- Know what you have. This sounds like an utterly idiotic suggestion, but here’s a tip: if I’d gone on a thrifting expedition before last summer, I might have come away with eleven different dresses that I wanted. Now, though, I might grab two, because even though I’ve pared down my wardrobe a lot since then, the current dress count in my closet is more than I’d like to admit. [The same is true for my handful of white blouses, which I tend to forget about if they're not clean, pressed, and mended - like if they're missing buttons - and then I'm all "OMG! I have nothing to WEAR! WHINE!"] Knowing what you have is the counterpart to knowing what you need, because it tells you what you don’t need.
[A related side note: This is another reason why you should really be taking wardrobe pictures. Since my camera died on me last fall I wasn't as good about this all winter as I should have been, but now that I've got the Cybershot I'm taking them more regularly. It's superhelpful to have a comprehensive database of everything you own and wear at your fingertips whenever you're shopping. Keep it on your iPod or your phone, or at the very least bring a friend along who can say, "Dude, you already own eight striped tops. Do you really need another one?" This way, not only can you effectively imagine what goes with what…you can see, for instance, that instead of buying that navy blue dress in your hand, you should wear one of the three navy blue dresses in your closet. I used to be very, very guilty of this, and when I started doing wardrobe pictures, I got better.]
- Remember why you bought the things you bought. Remember when you got your red sweater? You bought it because it was neatly folded and brightly colored and displayed next to identical sweaters in green, pink, yellow, and purple. It seemed like a great addition to your wardrobe—it goes with neutrals! It goes with brights! It goes with prints!—and besides, it was chilly that day and you’d forgotten your jacket. It’s difficult to remember this, though, when that red sweater is now missing two buttons and crumpled in a pile on your floor. [Full disclosure: This actually happened to me, and I'm really ashamed. The sweater has since been fixed and is getting tons of use every day to ward off chilly days that are not quite chilly enough for a jacket. Which brings me to my next point...]
- Make it easy to use what you have. If your favorite shirtdress is missing a button on the day you need to wear it, you’re not going to be able to. If you only own two pairs of jeans [like I do] and one of them has a broken zipper, your sartorial choices are going to be severely limited. If you get an awesome broken-in vintage t-shirt and then later find out that it’s totally see-through, you won’t be able to wear it until you get a flesh-colored bra. If you forgot to take the darts out of your blazer when you hit the seventh month of your pregnancy, you’re certainly not going to be able to wear it at thirty-eight weeks. If every single pair of tights you own is waiting to be washed, you’re not going to have anything to wear under your pants on cold days, so you’re going to freeze your bum off. In short, make sure that everything you own is properly fitted, in good repair, and laundered, pressed, and hung or folded neatly, and that you have everything you need to make a piece work.
- If you can’t use what you have, turn it into something you canuse. Take the maxi dress you inherited from your sister and hem it to a cute cocktail length if you’re not a floor-skimming kind of gal. Have a friend replace the buttons on a cardigan if you don’t like them. Put darts in a blouse that’s cute but too big for you. Cut off the way-too-mini-dress and make a brand-new blouse. [Psst: Want some inspiration in this area? Check out A New Dress A Day. She's adorable, and she's making over one vintage dress a day for a year. Brilliant!]
- Use all of it. If you own a dress, two skirts, three blouses, and three pairs of pants, think about how many ways you can combine all of that. [Blouse 1 with Pants 1; Blouse 2 with Pants 1; Blouse 3 with Pants 1; Blouse 1 over Dress; Dress over Pants 2; Blouse 3 with Skirt 2...] Now think about how much that tiny wardrobe expands when you add in sweaters, coats, scarves, tights, socks, and shoes. Mix up what you have, and your wardrobe will go further. [Admittedly, this is a lot easier to do in the winter than in our current ninety-degree hellaciousness.]
- Buy smart. When you have to buy new clothes, don’t buy things you can’t use, or won’t use, or don’t want to use. Be consistent with your style [that's why we made a style inspiration guide, remember?]. Don’t buy things that are cheap, see-through, hard to care for, and difficult to wear more than one way. Opt for things you’ll wear a lot rather than things you only plan to wear a few times. You might have to spend more per piece, but the cost per wear might be lower.
How do you guys stretch your wardrobes further?