Shopping, trying products, and finding the best items to recommend to people can take a toll on your mental health. I struggle daily with the thought that my clothes, my makeup, the items I have in my bathroom cabinet don’t measure up. Like many 20-somethings, I have city-expensive rent, student loans, credit card debt, and honestly just life to pay for—buying new clothes all the time doesn’t come anywhere near the top of my priority list money-wise. However, I’m surrounded by people—at work, in my life, and on social media—who always look nice, always have new pieces, and always seem to make me feel deeply inadequate (which is all by my own doing, of course).
Now that you’ve listened to me drone on, here’s why I’m really here: although I don’t have the money to buy into every new trend or invest in classic pieces, I’ve gotten pretty good at working with the items in my closet and making do with the money I do have to spend on clothes. Ahead, you’ll find all of my tips for making cute outfits while also affording rent, bills, and the occasional Saturday night out, along with some thrifty, sale pieces I’m adding to my cart RN.
1. Pay attention to the season
Our favorite sites have dozens of sweaters on sale right now as the season is about to change, but it won’t get warm in the Midwest for a very long time. So, I buy those in-season silhouettes in next-season shades to get my wear out of my favorite items through all seasons. For example, I purchased a bright pink sweater in December with the intention of it being super warm this winter, but also doubling as a trendy piece I can wear with midi skirts and light-wash jeans come spring.
2. Focus on timeless colors in trendy silhouettes
In a somewhat opposite situation, I also purchase a lot of black, white, and cream pieces in trendy silhouettes. Whether it’s a mesh-sleeve blouse, a puffy shoulder, a leather mini skirt, or a cardigan, I buy these kinds of garments in colors that make them last. A “classic blue” faux fur coat might sound like everything I want winter 2020, but the splurge might not make sense as time goes on. When weather isn’t a factor (like stated above), I choose classic neutrals for those pieces that I’ll want to wear over and over again, regardless of how many times I’m seeing them on Instagram.
3. Mix and match everything
Every Sunday night, I go to my closet and spend approximately 30 minutes planning my outfits for the entire week. OK, I know, it’s time-consuming and not exactly your post-brunch activity of choice, but it allows me to create new outfits from pieces I wouldn’t have thought to pair together. I try everything together. Pieces I bought to go out in are paired in a way that makes them work-appropriate, and vice-versa. I try different color combinations, different textures, different layers—I’ll pretty much pull out a pair of pants and try it with every top I own and go from there. Once I have my outfit ideas in my head, I’ll group them together in my closet to make getting dressed in the morning so much easier.
4. Every outfit has a statement piece
The trick to an outfit that looks like it was professionally styled is making sure every outfit has one piece that makes a statement. After years of working in retail (including personal styling at Anthropologie!), the #1 thing I learned was about high-low dressing. Make every outfit have one piece that’s high—a polka-dot blouse, a flowy skirt, a patterned blazer—and pair it with pieces that don’t compete.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever taken notes from street style, this rule can be manipulated. When you want an outfit to really come off as striking, focus on the tailoring of the pieces, even if both items are a statement. A suit has two statement pieces, but it’s striking and balanced because both pieces are tailored to fit you exactly. This also works for making outfits where one item is tailored and one isn’t—a common example being skinny jeans or leggings paired with an oversized sweater.
While this falls in the category of how to look chic moreso than how to budget, it proves that you don’t need to buy all new pieces to make your perfect outfit. This is something I struggle with constantly when it comes to outfit-planning, and it’s helped a lot to think of everything in my closet in a high versus low manner.
5. Don’t fall for the “out of season” trap
I’ve read it probably a thousand times: buy coats in the spring and bathing suits in the fall. I’ve found this tactic rarely works if you’re trying to create a closet of trendy, of-the-moment statement pieces. Most of the time, the products going on sale are trends—and by the time it’s actually time to wear it, you’re not into it anymore. Avoid having a wardrobe full of pieces that are last year’s top trends by avoiding the sale section when it’s an item you know you won’t wear for more than one season.
On the other hand, if you see a timeless camel coat on sale this spring, that could be a good item to add to your closet while it’s on sale. My sale rule of thumb goes as follows: if it isn’t something I’d want for reasons other than the price, it’s not worth it to pick up
6. Shop the same stores
If I see a pricey item that I love, I’ll check one of my other favorite retailers for something similar and cheaper before buying the expensive version. H&M, Target, Boohoo, Old Navy, and ASOS always come in clutch for trendy pieces as well as basics. Then, I’ll peruse the sale sections of Nordstrom, ASOS, and Anthropologie semi-often to find pieces I wanted on sale. Sticking to the same few stores as a baseline allows me to build a closet of pieces that all seem to work together. I rarely have to deal with pieces that are too fancy or too casual–everything can be put together. Of course, I try new retailers and brands too, but I keep it within the same wheelhouse as a way to keep my closet consistent and useful.
It’s also helpful to know what a brand has. Recently, I was planning an outfit, and I remembered I’d seen a pair of trousers that would work from H&M. I knew exactly where to go and didn’t have to do too much searching to find something I knew would be in my price range.