Build a wardrobe on a budget

It may seem impossible to have a fantastic wardrobe without spending a fortune. However, with some planning you can build a wardrobe on a budget.

Take inventory

Before you run out to the shopping mall, you need to take inventory of what clothes you have. Start by going through your closet piece by piece. Make four piles – keep, toss, give away and fix.

If you have any clothing that’s beyond repair, toss it. Clothes that you will never wear again but are in decent shape, you can give away. If you are feeling ambitious, you can try to sell them on ebay or to a thrift shop. Take garments that need alterations or repairs to the tailor (or fix them yourself) as soon as possible. Don’t put it off or you’ll never do it.


In your “keep” pile, separate your clothes by category (shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, etc.) and then split them into color schemes (neutrals, brights and prints).

Start with the classics

After you take inventory, you should have a good idea what you need. To build a fantastic wardrobe, you need to have several classic pieces that are versatile.

Classics that never go out of style include:

  • Little black dress
  • Knee-length wool skirt
  • Flat front pants (light and dark)
  • Tunic-length sweater
  • Perfect blazer
  • White button-down shirt
  • Shirtdress or wrap dress
  • Black pumps

Find your colors

You should build your wardrobe around one or two colors that look best on you. To figure out what looks best, look in the mirror. Try on several outfits and find which colors complement your hair, complexion and style. Once you have decided on a color or two to build around, you can start thinking about shopping.

Get the basics

If you already have quite a few classic, versatile pieces, then you are off to a good start. If not, you need to make sure to buy pieces that can be worn a multitude of different ways.

For example, a knee-length pencil skirt can be worn with a blazer or sweater to work, but can also be played up with a funky blouse and boots on the weekend. Before you buy anything, you need to determine if it’s worth the cost. If it’s a pricey item, it needs to be timeless, versatile and good quality.


A great way to completely change the look of an outfit is with accessories. A different scarf, belt, bag or jewelry can change your look from formal and sophisticated to funky and fun.

Fashion jewelry is inexpensive. Pick out a few pairs of dangling earrings, a statement necklace and a stack of bangles or a cuff bracelet.

Select three handbags. An everyday bag that is roomy and stylish in a neutral color, a smaller evening bag that is a little glitzy, and a tote bag or oversized satchel in a fun color or patent leather.

Start with five fantastic pairs of shoes. You don’t need dozens of pairs of shoes to look good. Five pairs that you really love will get you started – a black pump, a dressy slingback, a classic boot, a low-heeled sandal, and a casual skimmer.

Shop the sales

The best way to save money is to shop when things are on sale. Search the internet for the best buys. Shopping search engines like and allows you to browse for items from a variety of different retailers all in one place. You can also use services such as Shop It To Me to find out when your favorite brands have products on sale in your size. You simply sign up online, select your favorite brands, and then you will receive a daily or weekly summary via e-mail with all the new items from leading retailers that go on sale in your size. It’s like a free personal shopper!

Buy clothing when it’s out of season. Boots and outerwear are on sale in the spring. Shorts and swimsuits go on sale in the fall. Go shopping once at the start of every season. Set a spending limit. Even if it’s only a couple hundred dollars, that’s enough to get a few versatile pieces.

Shopping tips

Select solid tops that can be worn with everything from jeans to a business suit. When picking tops, keep in mind the colors of the bottoms that you already own. Try to make sure that each piece can be worn in at least three outfits.

Steer clear of anything that is too trendy. Low-rise jeans looked great to everybody a few years back, but now high waisted skirts and slacks are in. If you will only wear something for a month or two, it has no business being in your wardrobe.

Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. A $100 business suit certainly is a good deal. But if you only wear suits a few times a year, it’s not worth it. Sheepskin snowboots at a 50 percent discount are a great buy, but not if you live in Phoenix.

Develop your own personal style. Instead of always following the latest trends, find your own individual style. For example, if belted tunics or wrap dresses are your thing, then there’s no reason not to have a few of them in your closet.

The most important thing about building a wardrobe on a budget is to make sure you like what you wearing. No matter how good a sale is, you have to wear the garment for it to be worth the cost. Even if it takes a little extra time or planning, find clothing that you really love.


Comments are closed.