Maximizing Your Wardrobe: Looking Great for Less

If you are like a lot of people today, the economy is putting a real drain on your budget. Even though we want to look our best, the days when we could indulge in a little impulse buying are gone, and even though they are gone, you probably have a whole closet full of clothes you probably haven’t worn in years or not at all.

Styles change and we still want to look our best, but going out and buying new clothes may be out of the question. Luckily, you can look great for less. First, you can maximize your current wardrobe without spending a dime. But if something new is needed, it’s also possible to save a bundle.

Maximizing Your Current Wardrobe

The first thing to do is clean out the closet. Anything that doesn’t fit any more or is way out of style needs to go. Yes, the poodle skirts and those huge shoulder pads are out. Regardless of the fond memories you may have, they aren’t doing any good in your closet.

Of the clothes that still fit, you need to ask yourself: “when was the last time I wore this?” If you haven’t worn something in over a year, get rid of it. Chances are you won’t wear it again. Of course a few items may be an exception, like formal wear.

But don’t just simply throw the unwanted clothes away. Even though you may no longer have a need for these clothes, others might. That’s why you should consider donating the clothes to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other accepting charity. Beyond that, you might even be able to make money on those clothes. Some second-hand or consignment stores may actually pay you money for your clothes. Sure, it won’t make you rich, but emptying a closet out may provide enough money to buy a few new outfits. Now you’ve killed two birds with one stone’cleaned out the closet while not having to spend money on new clothes.

Finally, learn to sew. How many times have you thought a shirt or pair of jeans was ruined thanks to a small tear or undone hem? Or maybe your new diet shed a couple of pounds and now your favorite pants are a little loose. Being handy with a needle and thread can bring new life to your old clothes. If you don’t know how to sew or don’t want to learn, see if any of your friends know how. For just a couple of bucks they might be willing to fix you up. I’ve fixed a number of items thanks to a friend of mine who is good with a needle. I’d rather pay two dollars to rejuvenate a pair of pants rather than blowing at least twenty on a new pair.

Shopping on a Tight Budget

Before going shopping you need to decide how much to budget for clothes and stick to that amount. If you haven’t created a budget yet, you really need to because using a credit card and worrying about it later won’t do you any favors. You should also make a list of what you need. Don’t be swayed by the little black dress in the window if you won’t have a need to wear it for a long time, no matter how good the deal is.

Before you hit the stores you should make a note of what you already have in your newly streamlined closet. Even better, pull some clothes out and take pictures with your cell phone. Now, only buy what already works with your closet. If you choose a new top, it should fit with many of your existing pants, skirts and jackets. One item can literally create multiple new outfits if you shop wisely. Don’t waste money on a unique outfit that doesn’t go with anything you already own.

Try shopping at factory outlets. Factory outlets offer a wide variety of irregular clothes, which means there may be flaws that don’t meet the highest standards, but the clothes are still absolutely fine. In fact, I challenge you to find the flaws, because you’ll probably not even know what’s wrong, if there’s anything wrong at all. In fact, many times the outlet clothes are just overstock.

Don’t be afraid of the discount big box stores. Especially for undergarments. Honestly, do you need to spend $25 on a plain blue t-shirt that you’re probably only going to wear under another shirt? Of course not, so hit up your local Target or Walmart and get a shirt that looks the same, without the brand name, for less than half the price.

Try out some thrift and consignment stores. You would be surprised what you can find there. Some of it may not be the hottest new fashions, but a lot of things never go out of style, and many old styles are coming back. Just be smart and again only buy what you need, and choose items and fabrics that will last a while. Consignment stores often have newer fashions so if you’re looking for something a little more modern, this will be the place to go.

Another great way to expand and change-up your wardrobe is to organize a clothing swap with your friends. This is a great way to unload you unwanted clothes and change what you have in your closet every so often. This can also be done with children’s clothes, and it’s a great way to keep your kids in clothes that fit. Kids grow like weeds and it can cost a fortune to constantly buy new clothes. So, talk with your friends who also have children and you can save a ton of money. I know with our new son, we got trash bags full of 1-12 month clothes for free from a friend whose kid has since grown out of them.

In the end, you don’t need to spend a fortune to look like a million bucks. By making the most of what you already have combined with some smart shopping and a tight budget you can built up your wardrobe nicely without breaking the bank.

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Filed Under: Frugal Living


About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.


I love to mix and match my outfits. I know how to pull off different looks with just a few items of clothing. A think I developed because I don’t want to spend a lot on buying new clothes all the time.


I am such a hoarder of clothes thinking that I’ll go on a diet and eventually, the old ones will fit me. Haha. They ended up with my sister since they are not doing my wardrobe any good.  Yeah, I donated some too.  The ones I have, I make sure that they can be worn in multiple occasions. I mean why buy a dress that you can only wear once? We need to be practical here.

Barb Friedberg
Barb Friedberg

Hi Jeremy, Really important article. With an eye for value, sales and good prices can be found anywhere from top dept. stores, to outlets, to big box stores. Kohl's has 60-90% off racks with amazing buys.


I agree with Briana ... I'm a big fan of Ross, Marshall's & TJ Maxx. I'd also add Loehmann's, Forever 21 and H&M to the list of stores worth stopping by. Macy's also knows how to run huge sales. Marshall's and Loehmann's have shoe selections and brands that are hard to beat.

I think another big part of budgeting for your wardrobe is planning. I get a lot of wear out of my favorite outfits by simply wearing them over and over again, but in front of different people. It's great enjoying new compliments on your same ol' favorites without spending a penny more because you already own the duds!


Don't forget to shop Ebay as well! I've gotten many quality clothing items from Ebay.

Briana @ GBR
Briana @ GBR

I think way too many frown upon discount stores like Ross, Marshalls and TJ Maxx. They DON'T have out of season fashions. The commercials are true; the situations where too much inventory is ordered, or mistakes or made, the extra is sent to these stores. I've had clothes from there my entire life, and got the bulk of my compliments on those clothes. Go to your neighborhood discount store and go crazy (saving money of course)


Making sure new pieces coordinate with ones that are already in your closet is a great tip and one that has saved me quite a bit of cash over the years.

Unfortunately, most sewing (for clothes) is a skill that has always eluded me. I can hem pants but that is about it.

We just gave a bunch of clothes that our kids recently grew out of to friends who have a one year old daughter. They also go to garage sales for play clothes, where they've gotten items for as little as ten cents - quite the bargain!

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