One of the best ways to reduce the environmental footprint of your wardrobe is to simply not buy new clothing. Sometimes, though, it can feel like you have nothing you want to wear even if your closet is brimming with clothes. Taking the time to look through the clothing you already have with fresh eyes — or “shop your closet” — will help you rediscover hidden gems and revamp your style.
“Not only will shopping your current closet save you money in the long run by not having to purchase new pieces, but it also is the more sustainable and environmentally conscious choice,” said Hannah Martin, founder and creative director of the Fashion Cookbook in Portland. “Chances are you have hidden gems that can be worn in ways you haven’t yet.”
Plus, shopping your closet is a great way to refresh your style on a budget.
“Shopping within your own closet gives you possibilities of creating a brand new outfit without spending any money,” said Anya McGuckin, owner of Dress With Anya, a personal styling and wardrobe consulting company in Portland.
Here are some tips from style experts on how to shop your closet so you can feel stylish while also staying sustainable.
Clean out your closet
The first step to shopping your closet is to clean your closet of items that you no longer wear.
“I suggest starting by clearing your closet of items you haven’t worn in the past year,” Martin said. “If it’s collecting dust it needs to go. It’s important to ask yourself ‘does this piece make me feel confident’ or ‘am I comfortable when I wear this?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ then you should add it to the donate pile.”
Chelsea Ray, a wardrobe consultant and blogger based in Portland, said to divide your current wardrobe into three piles: the “keep pile” for pieces that fit well and are in good shape, the “donate [or] consign” pile for anything you haven’t worn in a year (though you should be conscious not to donate unwearable items to thrift stores) and the “unseasonal pile” for pieces you intend to keep that are suited for a different season. Out-of-season clothes are best kept separate from your wardrobe for the current season.
“By doing this, you’re not looking every day to that summer dress in wintertime [but also if you] put it away [and] take it out in May or June, it will feel like a brand new piece of clothing,” McGuckin said.
Catalog and organize
After you have donated clothes you don’t wear and boxed away out-of-season pieces, the next step of shopping your closet is to take a detailed inventory of the pieces that you have.
“That’s a very important step,” McGuckin said. “When I go to my client’s houses, I put everything on the floor or on the bed and go through each piece.”
McGuckin said that cleaning and cataloging are especially good to do at the beginning of a season.
“It’s the time that the weather is changing in Maine and it’s a good time to see what you need to keep and what you need to get rid of,” McGuckin said.
After you have cleaned out your closet, you also want to keep your closet organized in order to keep things clear in your mind and make the experience of shopping your closet more enjoyable.
“Keep clothes in a nice, clean condition, iron in advance,” McGuckin said. “Buy hangers that look exactly the same. The easiest way to explain that is to put the clothing in your closet the way they usually do in the store, so the clothing looks really attractive to you, so every time you walk in your closet you feel like you’re wearing something new every day.”
Look for new pairings
Once you know what you have in your closet, try pairing items in ways that you haven’t before.
“Sometimes we tend to wear the same combination of clothes, and it’s really hard to think we can put those pieces together with other pieces,” McGuckin said. “This is where the inventory really helps when you put all of the clothes together. You can see different combinations of clothing.”
Martin said that for items you keep, you should “challenge yourself to wear it in more than one way.”
“For example, instead of wearing a T-shirt with your favorite jeans, maybe try pairing it under a dress to switch things up,” Martin said.
Layering different clothing items is a great way to try a fresh look.
“Right now, tying your layering piece over one shoulder on one side and under your arm on the other side is an easy way to look fashion forward and always have a warm layer with you,” Ray said.
As a tip, Ray said to consider items with contrasting fits.
“Balance is always key,” Ray said. “If you’re wearing a fitted top, balance the look with a more straight bottom, or add a layering piece to avoid a head-to-toe tight fit. Same with looser items. If you’re wearing a flowy, bulky top, balance the bottom with a tighter fit.”
If you have a live-in partner, it might be fun to look in their closets for such a size contrast.
“I like to steal from my husband — his white button down shirts and crewneck sweaters — and I wear them with my skinny jeans,” McGuckin said.
McGuckin also said to try color combinations that you might not have thought would look good together. Also, pair fancy and casual elements.
“For example, if you wear your dressy pants with a button down shirt and heels to the office, you can take those dressy pants and wear them with a white T-shirt and sneakers and it will be a very fun business casual kind of outfit,” McGuckin said. “Same with blazers. Combine a blazer with jeans and sneakers and put a T-shirt underneath it, and it’ll be a brand new outfit as well. Or vice versa, you can wear heels with jeans that you usually wear with just sneakers and it will elevate your outfit, too.”
If you need inspiration, Martin said you can look to social media.
“Pinterest and Instagram are great free tools to pull inspiration for pulling outfits together that you may have not considered before,” Martin said. “You can search by keyword of the item you’re looking to style.”
Make small, trendy adjustments
Styling trends come and go, but you can make simple updates to your current clothes to make them look new.
McGuckin said that the “French tuck,” where the front of the shirt is tucked into your pants and the sides and back are left loose, is currently popular and easy to achieve. You can also roll up the sleeves of a button down shirt, or add trendy accessories like sunglasses or scarves to classic items in order to elevate them.
Try simple sewing adjustments as well, like hemming your pants to fit current trends.
“Right now, shorter hems on pants are trending,” Ray said. “If you don’t want to buy new pants with cropped hems, rolling or cuffing the bottom, is a great way to update your look.”
You can also add even more personalized elements, like patches or simple embroidery.
“I created a whole picture of patches on the back of my vintage denim jacket and I get compliments all the time,” McGuckin said.
Taking a few steps to make yourself feel good in the clothing you own can make a huge difference for your psychological state.
“What we wear influences our psychological state,” McGuckin said. “Instead of thinking and going and buying something new, why don’t we use what we already have?”