Reader Request: The Virtually Free Wardrobe Revamp

new wardrobe for cheap

A lovely anonymous commenter popped this doozy into the suggestion box:

I’m not sure if you’ve covered this before, but maybe a post or two about how to revamp your style *without* shopping. Using what you already have. I feel like my clothes are frumpy and unflattering sometimes, but I don’t have the cash to add new pieces right now. What can I do??

Now you might think that a shopping lover such as myself would balk at such a question. But no! I LOVE it! Because there are a billion ways to retool your look without ever spending a dime, and I implement my favorites whenever I get bored with what I’ve got. Here are some easy, cheap ways to amp up your style without emptying your wallet.

Create thematic groups

We tend to parse our clothing very rigidly. This skirt goes with THAT top. Those shoes can only be worn with THESE pants. And yet, who makes those rules? Who’s to say that our clothes can’t bust out of their prescribed cliques and make friends with items from other parts of the wardrobe? To facilitate this cross-pollination, create some capsules. Color and era are both great jumping-off points.

Pull out all of your green garments and accessories. Create a green monochrome look, some analagous looks utilizing blue-greens and teals and purples, try putting green with an unexpected neutral like white or navy.

Pull out all of your 80s-reminiscent items. Take your neons and pyramid studs, your cropped tees and jelly shoes and construct outfits around them. Use only one retro item per outfit, and make sure to utilize clean, classic, era-less basics as the building blocks.

Explore belting alternatives

I know that belting isn’t for everyone, but still believe it to be one of the most effective weapons in the Fight Against Frump. And belting a dress or tunic or a layer beneath a jacket can completely transform your entire look. If you don’t have an arsenal of awesome belts at your disposal already, hit up the thrift store where you can buy several styles for just a few bucks. And, of course, scarves make wonderful belts … especially if you’re a little squishy around the middle and find that structured belts just reconfigure your midsection. For tips on HOW to belt, review Audi’s fantastic guest post.

Raid a friend or family member’s wardrobe

Moms and sisters who wear roughly your size are ideal. Friends and roomies, too. But really any lady you love is likely to lend a few key pieces. And if you’re the lone petite or plus in your family or social circle, hit folks up for accessories. Yes, you’ll have to return these items eventually, but they’ll tide you over until the cash starts flowing again.

Build outfits around closet orphans

To really get those creative juices flowing – and remind yourself that you DO have many lovely things to wear – haul out a few closet orphans. So long as you still love these items and they still fit, they are worth workshopping. Challenge yourself to build three outfits around each closet orphan, and see where this brainstorming takes you.

Overdye or rework

OK, this option isn’t technically free, since you may need to buy a package of dye or some buttons. But it’s cheaper – and better for the environment – than shelling out $4 for a new shirt from Wal-mart, and will breathe new life into your old clothes. If you’ve got an oyster colored skirt that fits beautifully but never gets worn, dye it black. If that blazer would be so much cooler sans those rounded gold anchor-printed buttons, swap ’em out. See if there are ways to rework or repurpose underutilized items.

Related posts:

Image courtesy jek in the box.

Originally posted 2009-08-10 05:55:00.

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36 Responses to “Reader Request: The Virtually Free Wardrobe Revamp”

  1. chic

    These are great tips, Sal! I love your approach to this!

    Another thing that's worked for me is to experiment with layering. Layer dresses UNDER tops to make them skirts or layer two dresses, etc etc. Just playing around with it and seeing what works! S.

  2. Waterstone by Lori Plyler

    What great tips! Very appropriate since so many people are trying to work with what they already have to cut costs.


    Great tips Sal!
    I like Raiding mom's wardrobe closet…unfortunately she uses mothballs in her older closets! ewww smell!

  4. Make Do Style

    Don't forget dye – dye an item to give it a new lease of life. Remember primary colour rules red+blue = purple,Blue+yellow +green, Red +yellow = brown.

    most whites, creams and beige colour items will take any dye pretty well. Most colours will go black too!

    different fabrics take better than others but if in doubt cold dye and it will be fine.

  5. budgetchic

    I like the idea of revamping pieces by changing the pieces with new buttons, removing or adding a collar or some nice piece of embellishments to an old coat or top just to give it a nice little edge. That way its becomes "new" to you and you're taken a store-bought item and make it uniquely your own.

  6. Anonymous

    GREAT post, Sal! I live in an area where we have four definite seasons. Until recently, I tended to categorize different garments for certain seasons. Well, I've stopped doing that as much where I can make it work. For example, I'll wear white jeans all year long but just pair them with different items to make them season-appropriate. I've layered thin summer tops over long-sleeved shells, too.

  7. down pillow

    Absolutely genius! There are so many suggestions that I could be using here. Thank you for the most helpful blog I've read in a really long time!

  8. Kirsten

    Great post Sal!
    I'm with budgetchic and Make Do Style on this one. Although not entirely free these options work for me too. Dye items colours you actually will wear, black dye is also great to extend the life of black items that have gone a bit dull from wear.

    I often add, change or remove buttons/sequins/ribbons/embellishments to make 'almost there' items into something I would wear. Hems can be done by hand although admittedly, it is a bit tedious. I have 2 sale skirts on the go at the moment – both a weird (on me) three-quarter length. One I'm cutting shorter, the other I'm adding fabric to the bottom to make them 'better'.

    Love, love. love this post! You really don't need to be stuck with things you don't like. Just because it comes like that doesn't mean it has to stay like that.

  9. K.Line

    I love your capsule idea – smart for people who just want to make better use of a wardrobe (or see where the gaps are to buy a well-considered new piece!)

  10. fromsneakerstostilettos

    I like to change shoes with different outfits. Like I might wear flats with something I have only worn heels with before or vice versa. I also like to add different jewelry to items. Belting and layering also work wonders for different pieces. I also like taking pieces that are supposed to be worn one way (earrings, pins, hair accessories, etc…) and wear them another way. Earrings make great pins, pins can be put with belts, hair accessories can be worn with belts or as a pin, or attached to a necklace.

  11. Hanako66

    these are all wonderful tips….awesome post, seriously awesome!

  12. Christina Lee

    all sound ideas. I also agree with chic who talked about layering- since I began doing that I have worn stuff I havent in awhile – it's unlocks ideas for you

  13. Oranges And Apples

    GREAT POST! I'm with everybody on the dyeing! I've still to find dye here in the Uk that dyes synthetic fabrics, but as long as the natural fiber content is about 70%, dyeing is the way to go.

    Also, changing buttons and the like, is a great way of completely changing a garnment for almost nothing – especially when get the buttons in charity shops/off another item.

    I posted about updating an old jacket with dye and buttons a while ago actually:

  14. lisa

    I find that layering helps me get the most versatility out of pieces I already own. For example, take a strappy or strapless sun dress: Wear a cardigan on top or slip a tee underneath to make it office-appropriate, or pair it with tights or leggings and tall boots for colder seasons.

  15. fleur_delicious

    ach, everyone got to "dye!" before me. Well, I'll third or fourth the motion, but add that everyone should CHECK FIBER CONTENT of the clothing they want to dye (and any linings, etc.), and make sure it can take the type of dye you want to use. And avoid RIT, if you can. I've had it work really well – about 10% of the time. Ugh. I've been really happy with this fairly new line called iDye. They even have an iDye poly for polyester fibers, though I haven't used it. Also, for a few bucks more, investing in a bag of soda ash (fairly cheap) and some procion acid dyes will get you far better results, if you're serious about dyeing your clothes.

    also, what about adding vintage clip-on earrings to shoes as shoe clips, to change up a look?

    and of course as an amateur seamstress, I'm all about DIY, shopping friends' closets, etc. (Hey Sal; would you ever consider arranging a virtual clothing swap via your blog?)

  16. Sal

    fleur_delicious: Oooh, I don't know, doll. The shoe swap was an unbelievable amount of work for me, and life is just PACKED right now. I'd love to organize a swap, but just don't think it's in the cards for the near future.

  17. Lorena

    This was genius, as soon as I am back home I will definitely pull out my greens!!
    In fact after I am done with my vintage week I will do a color scheme week….

  18. Courtney

    Great suggestions as always!

    For the "shopping in other people's closets" category, I would add organizing a clothing swap. Get together a few friends/coworkers/relatives to swap the clothing items they no longer want or that no longer fit them. It takes a little bit of organization–you need to make sure that no one is "stranded" size wise (the lone size 16 or size 4 gal amid a group of size 10-12 groups isn't going to have fun.)

    Also, even if you don't sew, you might be able to barter skills or chores with a friend or relative who does. Most people have a skill they need or a chore they would do anything to avoid.

  19. Pearl

    Mostly I find resources in stuff I simply forgot I had, or had neglected to wear for some time. I'll pull out shirts, jewelry, scarves, or jackets–all of which I have a lot of–and plan a week of wearing 1 daily, in a new way. And anything that I can't bring myself to wear goes in the Goodwill pile, by the way… two goals in one!

  20. Francesca

    Look at old clothes to see whether you can update the silhouette and make it more current & wearable. I had the side seams taken in on an old maternity dress and the neckline lowered from its high crew to an open crew and voila! It looked like one of M. Obama's ubiquitous shift dresses.

    I had a charcoal gray boring mannish blazer from the 80's. Had the shoulder pads made smaller, narrowed the sleeves & nipped in the waist a bit. Now it's my new boyfriend blazer!

    Look at your full skirts to see if they can be taken in at the sides to make pencil skirts or shortened to make cute mini's.

    Shorten the hem on a coat to 3/4 or 7/8's length. Chop the sleeves to 3/4 length so you can layer long sleeved striped tees underneath for a more interesting look.

    Jeans can be taken in or let out at the waist to accomodate weight gain, bootcuts or flares can be tapered at the leg to make skinny or straight leg jeans. Pants can be made to capris.

    There's so much you can do when you re-work old clothes (that's why I'm loathe to give them away) that the small cost of alterations more than pays for itself. I've done all of the above, and it's like getting a brand new outfit for mere pennies! Best of all, you can brag… what, this old thing? I've had it for 12 years and it still fits!

  21. Francesca

    Oh, and I totally second stealing hubby's ties (make sure he doesn't want them anymore). You can jazz up many a skirt/shirt or pant/skirt combo with a man's colorful silk tie. Play with it so you can tie it in a bow and wear it on the side of your waist (not smack dab in front).

  22. Sharon

    Shopping from your own closet can be really fun and rewarding, but it's easy to get overwhelmed and give up if every other thing you try on is damaged beyond repair, doesn't fit, or is something you just don't like any more (or never liked to begin with). Getting those items out of the way before you start seriously shopping will yield much better results. BUT… if the only thing "wrong" with a particular item is that you don't think you have anything to wear with it, just set it aside instead of giving it to Goodwill. You don't want to run into, "Oh, this jacket would look great with that green miniskirt… that I just gave away. Whoops."

    And to all the people who suggested having a swap with your friends: I'm a little fatter and a lot shorter than most of my friends, so they probably won't fit into most of my clothes and vice versa. If you ask people to bring more than just clothes– i.e. jewelry, shoes, accessories, maybe even stuff like perfume and hair products– your swap will be more welcoming to all sizes.

  23. Someone

    Fab post Sal!!

    I have a black skirt I had already planned to jazz up with some embroidered craft store trim to make it different from other black skirts that I have. Tryin' to keep it fresh…!

    (Lemme be a grammar kvetch though and note that "proscribed" = forbidden, while "prescribed" = recommended — its opposite! Can't help it, yo.)

  24. Eyeliah SS

    I am definitely trying your color mixing suggestion, thanks Sal!

  25. Maegan

    such a great post …you know I'm all about remaking what I already have …and it's just so much more fun! ..super great fabulous tips!

  26. AsianCajuns

    Fantastic, fantastic post! You know what always inspires me to revamp my style? The lack of money, of course! Usually I just try to get more creative with pairing items or I focus more on wearing the items that I never seem to wear.

    I also love looking through catalogs and Lucky magazine to get outfit styling inspiration. I try to recreate a look with clothing I already have.

  27. Pranita

    Definitely try out unexpected groupings and colourings, as well as layering.
    Reconstruction is my favourite, though I need to get a lot better at it! Recently, I've changed a full length maxi-dress into a knee-length halter dress.
    You can use leftover material to add pockets to another garment, or make a flower brooch.
    I've cut the lace from the bottom of my leggings (I don't like it there) and put it onto a neckline.
    I'm going to dig out my old keychains and see which ones I can use as pendants, with ribbon necklaces.
    Also, it may help to try out different hairstyles, and subtle but sparkly jewellery. (Try Sal's funky brooch necklace!) 🙂 All the best, "Reader with the request"!

  28. Meli22

    I do love those ideas! I would never take to hacking an item with scissors… but I think it's just that i'm not into the frayed casual kind of look. I like more polished pieces. The belt idea I really need to try more! I tried it once over a cardi and a friend didn't like it, so I never did it again…

  29. Missa

    This question seems very much in the spirit of the wardrobe_remix flickr group. I find it inspiring to see how other real people mix the items in their wardrobes and often come across ways of pairing items that I may already own but just never thought to combine.