A Minimalist Approach to a Killer Closet How to Build a Frugal & Fashionable Wardrobe

Updated: October 15, 2012

Iris Barzen

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Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets. ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960
You're standing in front of your open closet and wondering why you don't have anything to wear. Sounds familiar?

You're not alone, if you're a woman at least.

A recent study has shown that the average woman spends about $104,000 on clothes in a lifetime. Yet 60% of women still feel like they don't have anything to wear. That's a bit odd, right?

Even though most of us have a closet that's overflowing with clothes we don't feel like we own enough clothes. But the problem isn't really the amount of clothing that we have, it's more likely the type of clothing. You might have a full closet, but not very many staple items.

80% of your outfits are put together by 20% of your clothes. These 20% are the clothes you pull out again and again despite the amount of choices you have.

Imagine if those 20% of your closet consisted of great quality and versatile basics, easy to combine and appropriate for nearly any occasion. Your life would be a whole lot easier. Because you're using just a fraction of your closet, you don't have to get a complete wardrobe make-over, just replace your old 20% with some staple pieces to build a wardrobe that gives you plenty of options.

Step 1: Decide on Your Wardrobe Staples

Before you go shopping you need to know what items to look for. Grab a pen and create a list of all the basic pieces you always wanted to have in your closet. The key is to only put basic items on the list, meaning classic pieces in neutral colors that can be worn on many occasions. A typical list for women would include a pair of dark denims, a little black dress, a white button up top, a neutral cardigan, and so on.

Depending on the length of your list you can either narrow the list down to a number of pieces that you're comfortable spending money on right now, or you can keep the list and work your way down in the coming weeks and months.

Step 2: Pick 1-3 High Quality Brands That You Love

This is a very important step as you'll be purchasing your wardrobe staples from these brands and these brands only. If we want to create a fashionable wardrobe, we'll have to do quite a bit of shopping so we want to be strategic about it. Narrowing down the number of stores to shop at is a very important step in simplifying the process.

Pick brands that offer high quality clothing. You'll be wearing your basics a lot so you want them to last long and feel great. Also don't be shy to pick brands that you'd usually find a bit over your budget, we'll talk about a way to get your clothes cheaper in a minute.

Make sure that the brands you choose fit your fashion taste. You shouldn't pick a brand solely on pricing and quality, you need to enjoy the clothes they offer or otherwise you're never going to wear the pieces you buy. That would defeat the purpose of our mission.

Step 3: Go Clothes Hunting

This is when the real work begins. It's also the fun part, especially if you're a woman. :)

To make sure that you suceed it's important to operate acording to some rules. What does your average shopping trip look like? Do you go out to buy one specific item and end up with a few items that have nothing to do with your mission but looked "oh so cute"? Yeah. That shouldn't happen if you follow the strategies below.

Rule #1: Only Do Online Shopping

Online shopping is fast and convenient. It elliminates the time you'd spend driving, walking around and eating pizza on a traditional shopping tour.

It also minimizes the risk of impulse buys as you won't be able to take the clothes home immediately. You'll have to wait for them coming to you in the mail. Maybe that pink pair of high heels won't look so compelling anymore after a few days of waiting.

Be sure to check the delivery options of the online shops you chose. Sometimes you'll get free delivery if your order is big enough. Some stores offer free shipping for their VIP customers. Some have a reward system that will get you reduced prices after you've spent a certain amount of money at their shop. To become a member you usually have to hand out your email or your mailing address. Since you're only purchasing your clothes from 1-3 stores this shouldn't flood your inbox.

Important: Check the return policy to see how much time you have to return the clothes you don't want to keep. This is critical as you might otherwise end up with a bunch of unwanted clothes that you have to pay for.

Rule #2: Always Buy on Sale

Buying on sale allows you to save a lot of money and buy more and better quality clothes. I haven't paid full price for a clothing item in a year. It's not as complicated as you might think and once you get the hang of it you won't want to do it any other way.

Most people think that buying on sale means going through the leftovers of the last collection. The truth is, you can get items from the nearly all the current collections on sale. In fact there's nearly always a sale going on, whether it's a mid-season sale, some special offers for valentines day or an exclusive pre sale for their newsletter subscribers.

Shopping on sale is not as convenient as paying full price, but the the extra effort is definitely worth it, especially if you're on a budget. If you have $30 to spend on a new cardigan you can either buy a cheap one for the regular price at Forever 21 or get a good quality one on sale at Ann Taylor -for the same price. If you're willing to accept the quality of the Forever 21 cardigan as good enough, you could get yourself two cardigans for your $30 if you bought them on sale.

Sure, you won't get the hottest trends right when they come out, but you won't have to wait long either. Besides, every collection includes some staple items which makes it less important to buy from the current collection.

Before you finish your order, check coupon sites, apps and newsletters for additional discount codes or free shipping.

Rule #3: Look for Clothes with a Twist

Even though you're shopping for basics, that doesn't mean you should buy plain and boring items.

In fact, it's important to look for clothes with a twist, that have little details that you like about them. This is important as you have to really like the pieces so you'll want to grab and wear them whenever you see them sitting in your closet. Otherwise you'll end up with a ton of clothes that you don't really want to wear. You'll end up where you are now, spending a lot of time in front of your closet struggling to pick an outfit.

Hello stressful Monday mornings!

Rule #4: The Love it or Leave it Test

When you shop online you'll get the order delivered right to your door steps. While this is convenient it runs the risk of keeping pieces you wouldn't normally buy just because it's so easy to hang them in your closet. To prevent piling on a ton of unwanted clothes I came up with a little test that I do whenever I get a package in the mail. After I have tried on all of the clothes and have put back the ones I definitely don't want to keep, I put the box and all the clothes out of sight for three days.

If I think of a specific item several times during that time I take it as a sign that I really want it, and I allow myself to keep it. If I don't think of an item several times I have to send it back.

Make sure that you don't go to long before reevaluating your order, otherwise you might forget about it and miss the return deadline. This happened to me a lot in the beginning and I can tell you, it sucks.

Rule #5: Only Keep Pieces that Fit You Perfectly

You'll never want to keep an item that you don't feel fully comfortable in, whether it be because of it's material, style or fit. If you do you're not going to wear it and you'll end up tossing it out after a year of trying it on and hanging it back into your closet.

Even if you'd decide to wear something that doesn't really fit you that won't make it better. Wearing clothes that are two sizes too small or too big never makes you look good. A piece that fits you like it was tailor-made on contrary has the nice side effect of making you look very polished.

If you follow this guide you should have a fashionable wardrobe in no time.

Build from there and you'll never experience any "I have NOTHING to wear" moments ever again. I promise. Even if you don't use all of the exact strategies shared here, you'll still experience a good level of improvement.

Do you feel like your closet is stuffed yet you still have nothing to wear? Have you ever tried a strategy to change that? If yes, please share in the comments and if not, just tell us your worst "What should I wear" moment.


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