Rebuilding your Wardrobe on a Budget: What to Buy First
So you have made the decision to hop off the fast fashion train. You want to stop wasting your money on bargains and impulse buys and reserve your closet for high-quality garments that perfectly fit your style from now on. Great! But, what if your wardrobe needs a major overhaul and you can’t afford to buy all the clothes you need at once, especially if you want to avoid low-quality brands?
Here’s what I recommend: Put together a ‘starter kit’ of about 3-6 great pieces that have a big impact on your look and that you can pair with your less-than-ideal pieces while you work on the rest of your wardrobe. If chosen well, your starter kit should already give you much more wardrobe confidence and plenty of outfit options that express your personal style. It will also buy you time to save up some money to further upgrade your wardrobe and reduce the temptation to go back to old habits and buy a couple of cheap pieces from Forever21 and the likes, just so you have more to wear.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to putting together your own starter kit, based on your style and lifestyle.
Step 1 // Analyse your lifestyle
Before you can select items for your starter kit you first need to know exactly what kinds of activities you need outfits for and in what quantities. Here’s how to analyse and visualise your wardrobe’s lifestyle requirements:
- Make a list all of your regular activities: Work, meeting friends, date night, time at home, etc. Group activities for which you wear the same kinds of outfits together.
- Go through your calendar for last month and count how many days you needed an outfit for each activity (group). Educated guesses are fine too!
- Express your findings as a little pie chart like the one below. That structure is what your final wardrobe and also your starter kit should be tailored to (more on that in the next steps).
Step 2 // Sketch out your ideal wardrobe
Your starter kit pieces should all be part of a bigger framework you are working towards: your ideal wardrobe. Check out this, this and this post for some advice on how to define your style and then write down some notes on what your ideal wardrobe would look like. Feel free to go into as much detail as you like here, but don't feel like you need to have every single thing planned out. Concentrate on the overall look you are going for and the most important elements of your style (key colours, fabrics, proportions or details for example).
Step 3 // Choose versatile, maximum-impact key pieces
Now that you have a better idea of your lifestyle and the wardrobe you are working towards, you can use these two pieces of information to figure out which types of items a) would have the biggest impact on your look right now and b) could serve as corner stones for your future/ideal capsule wardrobe. For now, try to only focus on which types of items might be good candidates for your starter kit (e.g. ‘black leather brogues’ or ‘light-wash skinny jeans’), don’t worry about where you might find those items. Here are some guidelines for choosing your starter kit pieces:
- Go back to your lifestyle analysis from step 1 and rate each of your three biggest activity groups on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how happy you are with it at the moment. For maximum impact the majority of your starter kit should be tailored to the one activity that you are least happy with.
- Style-wise, choose pieces that really signify the key idea of the overall look you are going for, whether that is a leather jacket, a pair of brogues or a fitted pencil skirt. If you find it hard to think about it that way, go back to the individual key elements you want your wardrobe to consist of (colours, proportions, fabrics, etc.) and try to come up with a set of pieces that express those. For example, if you want your ideal wardrobe to contain lots blazers and slim-fitting jeans because you love that combo, choose a single pair of jeans and a versatile blazer for your starter kit. Or, if chunky knits and jewel tones are key elements for you, include a burgundy knit sweater and perhaps an emerald green skirt, and so on.
- Select items that you will get a lot of wear out of i.e. can wear several times a week and several times between washes. Think jackets, shoes, bags and versatile separates that you can wear everywhere in lots of different ways, rather than a lightweight bright t-shirt for example.
- Choose pieces that are neither too dressed up nor dressed down, but really smack in the middle (whatever that means for your style). Plain basics won’t make enough of a difference to your look and statement pieces are usually not versatile enough to be worn for different occasions.
Step 4 // Find the best quality your money can buy
Once you have figured out which types of pieces you want to include in your starter kit, the next step is to go out and find a version for each item that fulfils your criteria and is in your price range. Make it your goal to hunt down the best quality your money can buy: that includes the quality of the garment itself but also how well it fits your individual body and style concept. Here are a couple of pointers on finding good quality garments on a budget:
- Price is not a reliable indicator of quality, that’s why it's a good idea to study up on how you can assess the quality of a garment yourself, especially when you are on a tight budget. Check out the garment quality series for lots of advice on how to do that.
- As a general rule, you’ll have much better luck finding simple, unstructured pieces at more affordable stores than pieces that are very detail-rich and tailored. So, for pieces for which tailoring and details aren’t a crucial component, consider going for a simpler version.
- For things like jackets and coats or any other item that you can't find at a good quality in your price range: Go the second-hand/vintage route! Successful second-hand shopping usually takes up quite a bit of time, i.e. time to browse through thousands of online listings and clothing rails. If you are prepared for that, definitely give it a go!
Step 5 // Continue working towards your ideal wardrobe at your own pace
Once you have your starter kit all set, you will undoubtedly already be a lot happier with the general state of your wardrobe and hopefully will also be extra motivated to stick to your newfound style resolutions from now on. So: Set yourself a flexible budget and continue to work towards your ideal wardrobe, however fast or slow your budget allows.
Instead of five new pieces a month, you may only be able to afford one or two new pieces now. But if chosen well, those two pieces a month slowly but steadily add up to something bigger: A cohesive, high-quality wardrobe full of pieces you love and can wear for many seasons to come.
For lots more advice on how to rebuild your wardrobe from scratch: Check out the INTO MIND workbook.
Main photo// Leather jacket: mbym, bag and boots: & other stories, jeans: Levi's. Sample starter kit// Coat: Topshop, shirt: Witchery, skirt: Petit Bateau, bag: J.Crew, loafers: Sam Edelman.