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How You Can Save Big Money by Shopping in Your Own Closet

Here are the old styles that are trendy again.

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illustration of woman grabbing yellow blazer from armoire in bedroom
Josie Norton
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I have a relatively small New York City apartment-sized closet. Still, a few weeks ago, when I was searching for a black blouse, I came across a long-sleeved black linen shirt that I swear I’d never worn — reaffirming my belief that there are gems to be had when you "shop your closet."

They say that the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, holds true with wardrobes. Eighty percent of the time, most of us wear only 20 percent of our clothing. Spring is here so it's time to get out of that fashion rut!

In a world dominated by trends that shine fast and then fade quickly, shopping your closet is a sustainable approach that allows you to rediscover the timeless treasures hidden in your wardrobe. Shopping your closet can get your creative juices flowing as you experiment with layering, different color combinations and finding new ways to breathe life into forgotten pieces. It’s also one of the best ways I know to give yourself a wardrobe refresh without breaking the bank. Let’s get started.

· De-clutter: Put away all of your winter clothes, as you don’t want to be reaching for a pair of wool pants in 70-degree weather. I store my winter clothes in airtight plastic tubs sprinkled with cedar balls at the top of my closet, to protect them from moisture, mold and dust.

· Edit: Separate your clothes into piles. First, pull out all of your favorite things. Then, make a pile of your rarely or never-worn pieces — you know, those things that make you wonder why you bought them in the first place. Finally, make a pile of items you’ve always liked but haven’t worn much because you’re not sure how to make them work.

· Keep editing. Re-try on all of your favorite things as well as the items you haven’t worn much but have always liked. Is that sweater faded or stained? Are those pants uncomfortable? I finally capitulated and gave away a skirt that I loved because every time I wore it the waistband cut into me. Ask yourself: "Is it a bad fit for my current lifestyle?" This is a bit of a trick question. Many experts would tell you to get rid of that navy pantsuit if you’re no longer going into the office — I’d say see if you can re-invent the look. Try on the blazer — would it look cool over a spring dress? (We’re seeing short and hip-length blazers this spring, and that’s a fresher look than throwing on a cardigan.) Do the pants fit well? Monochromatic dressing is another trend for spring — so perhaps if the pants are navy you have a navy blouse stashed in your closet. But if not, a white shirt always looks good with pants.

· Get Rid of Unusable Clothes: Plan on donating or selling everything from the pile of clothes that you don’t like or that no longer suits your style. Sites like Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace and thredUP make it easy to list any clothes you have for sale. Clothing donations are usually welcome at your place of worship or at organizations such as Goodwill and other thrift shops. If a dress is riddled with holes or leggings are ripped, use a site called Earth911 to find a recycling center near you. Do not leave unwearable clothes in your closet.

· Gather inspiration: OK, now you’ve identified some of your favorite pieces as well as those that you like but aren’t sure how to wear. Now check out pictures in magazines and on Pinterest and Instagram to see what styles you like on celebs and friends. Oversized cotton shirts; striped Rugby polos; and neutrals, always a canvas for versatility, are all trending this year. The bestselling book, Caroline Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion, celebrates the 90’s fashion icon’s luxurious, understated look. This mirrors the "quiet luxury" fashions made popular recently in TV shows like Succession. But wait — other styles like metallics and anything with bows are trending too. Which is why I’m glad I saved a 70’s blouse with a bow tie and a sparkly metallic skirt. But this time around, instead of wearing the skirt with a sexy black leotard, I’m opting for a refined, white button-down top, reminiscent of the Gap shirt and satiny skirt Sharon Stone wore to the 1998 Oscars.

· Pair things up: This is your chance to get creative and break out of your clothing rut. If you have the time and energy, you can try pairing up every top in your spring wardrobe with every bottom. Overwhelming? Then try at least 10 new combinations you’ve never worn before. (I lay them out on my bed, or pair combinations and hang them on my closet door.) Try matching neutral items with others that feature a pop of color (red, wine, green and lavender are this year’s "it" colors). Play with prints — match a floral skirt and a subtlety striped shirt in the same color; try layering an open tailored shirt over a sheath dress. If you’re a fan of a monochromatic look, try to vary the textures of those pieces — perhaps a silk top with linen pants. Or how about a T-shirt under a spaghetti-strapped dress (one of my go-to looks)?

· Document your discoveries: When my friend Ursula was breaking up with a boyfriend who was style-challenged, she did him one last favor: She pinned color-coded tags on all of his pieces of clothing that looked good together. This was before cell phone cameras or apps. Today it’s easier to take photos of the outfits you love and store them in a folder on your phone. Or go to free apps like Save Your Wardrobe or Acloset, which allow you to digitally organize your clothes.

· The power of one new thing: These may already be in your closet. But if not, why not buy one bold accessory to dress up your spring 2024 outfit? Trending this year: Big statement earrings; sculptural silver necklaces; a hobo bag. Get some metallics into your look with a pair of glittery Mary Janes or ballet flats. Hair bows were all over the runways and have been worn by celebrities from Kate Middleton to Sarah Jessica Parker. The latter has even launched a line of vintage bows. You can find bow scrunchies, bows attached to a clip or barrette or go old school and tie a piece of ribbon around a ponytail. Most importantly, pick and choose outfits and accessories that make you feel good and that lift your spirits.

Gladiator sandals are making a comeback this year too — but frankly, I don’t think any of us, including Gladiator star Russell Crowe, need to revisit that trend.

How often do you clean out the clothes in YOUR closet? Let us know in the comments below.

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