The Closet Makeunder: Buying the New

Photo by paveita

When you last heard from me, I was digging my way through a bunch of clothes, trying them on one by one, and ridding my closet of the ones that no longer looked good on me.

After I purged my closet of the clothes that needed to go, I had more left than I thought I would. I should have known I had some pants and dresses that hadn’t seen the light of day in a long, long time. Some pieces surprised me, and now I could finally wear them.

It was absolutely essential to clean out my closet before I did any shopping, so I could see what I had and what I needed.

I did want to go shopping after all. I had enough winter clothes, but my summer clothes were lacking.

I don’t want to buy a lot of new clothes that will end up as part of next year’s closet cleaning. I want my clothes to work together as an ensemble, like what I would need for a two-week vacation.

I challenged myself with a shopping plan:

* Don’t buy what you already have.

Makeup artist Bobbi Brown said, “I am forever editing and cleaning out my closets in an effort to wean myself down to a few key pieces. But the truth is that I can never resist buying another navy suit or pair of black pants–after all, this pair of black pants might be “the one” that I’ve been searching for all along.”

Do you always gravitate to a certain kind of clothing when you go shopping, even when you are supposed to be looking for something else?

It’s easy for me to look in my closet and identify my clothing magnets: In the winter it’s gray sweaters. And white shirts in the summer. No matter how many I have, I feel like I can always use one more. I had to tell myself not to buy any more as I went shopping this time, no matter how appealing they might be.

* Choose summer colors.

Black may be a favorite color during winter, but in the summer there are so many happier colors to choose. Anything that reminds me of flowers, the sky, or ice cream. I want to wear colors that my daughter thinks are pretty, and that make me look fresher.

* No plain t-shirts.

Rocky territory for a stay-at-home mom. It wouldn’t be hard to find tops that are cute and comfortable, so I can dress up a little even while I stay home. This way I can avoid having different sets of clothes for staying home and going out.

* Rethink how many clothes you need.

It’s an old habit, from high school I guess, that tells me I need more variety when I already have enough. Even after I bought two tank tops, I was tempted to buy extras in other colors. I told myself to wait and see if I really needed them –I’m trying to keep it to a comfortable minimum.

(Bonus note about tank tops: I really like the ones from Lands’ End Canvas. The straps have better coverage than JCrew, and they’re not tissue-thin like Banana Republic.)

*Brave the bathing suits.

What happens to me most of the time I go clothes shopping is that I end up in a crowded dressing room pressed between a stroller, a baby, a preschooler, and the mirror. I try on a shirt and the baby is suddenly reminded that he wants to nurse. Meanwhile the preschooler tries on my clothes and acts like a dancing monkey, it’s way past nap time, and the only thing that might save the afternoon is a stop at Chick-Hooray on the way home. And I’m supposed to try on ten bathing suits in the fluorescent light?

Online shopping.

And I love the “modest is hottest” trend in swimwear this summer.

Coming up next: putting it all together — a peek inside my newly-organized closet!

What do you think about when you go shopping?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I don’t… go shopping that is. My husband buys clothes for me on-line (no joke) since most of our wardrobe is suitable for outdoor backpacking and such. You can’t just buy those clothes at the local mall.

    The only shopping I do is a trip to goodwill once every 8 months or so. Oh and my mom must take “pity” on me because she often has some new clothing item for me when I see her every six months or so. We also get hand me downs from time to time from other families for our kids but I am a small woman so I steal some of those from time to time. Keeps me trendy (smile).

    Other than that I have a little mental list of things I want and I will pick these up when and if I can (time and finances permitting) when we are out doing other things – a couple times a year maybe. Like new pants on our anniversary date last year. We were in a funky downtown area and I found a great pair of pants, just what I had been wanting… $10.

    In addition, my husband’s sewing skills are quite amazing. He loves to sew for me. So those new pj’s I needed… he stitched them up for me and they are the nicest tank and shorts I’ve owned for a long time.

    I love the freedom of this. I don’t have a lot of clothes and my husband loves the way I dress since he helps out a lot in this regard.

  2. Those are good tips. I tend to buy a lot of clothes second hand or get handme downs, so I have to go through the clothes often! And yes, I tend to gravitate towards the same clothes over and over also. How many coral button down tops does a girl need?

    Jena (Organizing Mommy)´s last post…blogger is back up!

  3. i love lands end canvas : )

  4. Renee–I love that you stick to what works for your lifestyle, but that your husband has input so you know that you are in clothes that he likes as well.
    I definitely get into the rut of tee-shirts and shorts but have recently started shopping with my husband and given him veto power. He loves me enough not to push the boundaries of what I like too far, but my closet has definitely taken a softer, more feminine turn and I’ve discovered that dresses with pockets are just a comfortable and practical as shorts or pants and a ratty tee. We’re both happier with this situation (because I have half the items to launder when I’m doing dresses rather than separates!)

  5. Sandra Gonzales says:

    When I used to go shopping and I found something I liked, I would buy it in every available color. I have stopped myself from doing that in the past year and am happy with not overspending or overstuffing my closet.

  6. I once read a good tip that I found very interesting (and useful):

    Buy what you already have!

    The blogger pointed out that if you have a million gray sweaters (which, like you, I do) don’t go and buy a blue one just because you feel like you shouldn’t buy any more gray. Go ahead and buy the gray. That way, you know you’ll wear it. It’s so true. I have so many shirts that I keep because I love the fit, but never wear ’cause I don’t like the color.

  7. Great tips! I never go clothes shopping with the kiddos. Way too hard. I go when my hubby can watch them, but if that’s not an option, two other things you can do are:

    1. Buy at thrift stores. Around here, the independent charity ones are cheaper than Goodwill. You can grab what you think will fit and try it on at home. If it doesn’t work, you’re not out much money and you can donate it back and consider it a charity donation. This is especially nice if the store is run by a charity you believe in.

    2. Order from someplace like Newport News that has a generous return policy. I’ve ordered a dozen swimsuits there, kept the two I liked and returned the rest in the packaging it came in. They make it SUPER easy.

  8. I totally agree with your bathing suit statement! I actually find Target to be the place for me when it comes to bathing suits. I’ve got a cute blue tankini with a skirted bottom and just bought a black one piece with crunching around the tummy and a skirted bottom as well. Not only do these keep you covered, they’re way cute and way more comfortable to run around in.

  9. I’m guilty of buying white tops all the time, but it’s a habit I’m OK with. My favorite look is the classic white-shirt-and-jeans, then built up with accessories, shoes, bags, etc. It takes the guesswork out of one part of my morning! And white shirts are great in the summer because (1) they look fresh, (2) they don’t turn into a solar panel like a black one would, (3) bleach pens are my friend, and (4) if you’re a mess after running around outside after your kids, they don’t show sweat :)

    But I agree about online shopping being the way to go. My daughter (now 3 years old) has always been a great shopping companion. My son (8 months) is a true boy and HATES stores. He’s had too many dressingroom meltdowns for me to brave them for a while. Luckily there are sites like that give codes for discounts or free shipping, so I’m not shelling out much more than I would’ve if buying in a regular store.

  10. Hi! I just found you blog a bit ago and just have to say I love it! I always dread going clothes shopping. It’s not that I don’t like having new clothes (I’m actually in desperate need of a wardrobe replenishing), it’s just that I feel I’m horrible at picking out something that looks cute along with being functional. Since I recently got a job at a place where I cannot just wear jeans I have to find new dress clothes this summer. The stuff I currently have is from college and no longer fits right or looks nice. I think it’s time to find a shopping buddy with more class than me!

  11. Rachel,
    Thanks for the tip on Land’s End Canvas tanks. Do you feel they are modest enough to wear alone or do you have to wear a cami underneath it? I’m curious because in the photo on the internet it shows a bit of cleavage and that’s not quite the look I’m going for. It’s so difficult to find a modest tank that doesn’t need to be layered!

    Shilo´s last post…I Love Being a Mother

    • These are layering pieces, so I wear a second tank with it for extra coverage. They are sized to be a close fit. I don’t think they are as low-cut or droopy as they look in the photo. The picture on the striped tanks is more accurate for how they fit, and they don’t show any cleavage on me. So I’d say it’s not modest enough to wear by itself, but more modest than other brands I’ve tried.

  12. Love the tips, and that last paragraph is a great description! My mother loves to remind me of the time she went shopping in Nordstroms (a RARE event and to look for a party dress) when I was a toddler when she saw in the mirror I was peeing right through my “big girl” panties. I’ll never live that one down!

    Working full time at a pretty causal job, I too am trying to find things that are a bit nicer than tees without being super business-like or formal. I’ve fallen in love with this summer’s dresses beause its as comfortable as pajamas but can look polished with a blazer and heels.

    Kait Palmer´s last post…My Seatmate, Ethel.

  13. Oh, to be able to wear dresses again . . . but not for me while my sweet girl is still nursing. I’ve been surprised how much less I needed in maternity wear when I was pregnant, and I’ve tried to maintain that # as I’ve gotten back into my regular sizes. I’m in the process now of weeding out work clothes that haven’t transitioned well into my SAHM lifestyle. This summer I purchased 3 tops, 1 pair of cropped jeans, and a new easter outfit. I’ve been crocheting or sewing special items instead of shopping for a new dress, sweater, or accessory. It gives me a creative/critical thinking outlet and satisfies me much longer than any purchases I’ve made at a store.

  14. Re bathing suits: I’ve found lands end is great for this too. If you are near a sears, you can return them there too. But with their virtual models, and mix and match styles the process is a lot less painful, and returns are easy (just don’t lose your receipts!). A friend of mine ordered a bunch online, tried them all on at home, then returned everything except the couple she liked to Sears. Perhaps questionable, but a lifesaver for a situation like yours.
    I hear you on the plain T’s! It’s very hard to resist, but I’m trying to incorporate pattern whenever I buy new things, and it does make me much happier to open the closet and see some pattern and variety rather than a sea of solids.

  15. IF I can actually get out the door to go shop, I’m usually busy chasing a toddler around the store or searching for a place to nurse the infant!!

    IF I can go shop without the kiddos (which to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve even had this opportunity yet!), I’d be searching the sales rack! I have a lot to learn in the shopping arena, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is that if I don’t feel comfortable in something or love the way it looks, feels, etc. (even if a friend or my hubby does love it), I won’t wear it once I’m home. I’ve made that mistake WAY too many times!

    ps…I am TOTALLY guilty of buying too many tanks — my staples. But is it REALLY that bad? I wear them all the time — under sweaters in the winter, long sleeves in the fall, by themselves in the spring. I don’t think I could survive without my tanks! (*Sigh* — Someone please give my closet a makeover!!) :-)

    Erika´s last post…Startin’ to Shoot (pictures that is)

  16. Chick-Hooray…that’s awesome! :)
    Thanks for letting us all peek into your closet for decluttering and shopping tips. I have tons of plain t-shirts in a variety of colors, but it pretty boring. I’m trying to branch out when I can!
    I agree with shopping with kids. It is difficult to make wise decisions when I’m with them because I’m just trying to survive the trip/dressing room/grocery store with a couple sippy cups, snacks, mini notebooks and crayons, all before the baby wakes and gets really hungry…. its WAY too stressful for me.
    So……I grocery shop at night, and wait for Grandmas to babysit so I can clothes shop (or run other errands) during the day. Online shopping is good too.

    The peacefulness is worth it. Thanks for your blog – it is good reading!

  17. Rachel,

    One of my biggest problem in my closet (I am redoing it, with you), is my pregnancy and baby clothes, what to do? I am thinking I should keep them in storage just in case there is 3rd one on the way or I can share with my sister in law when she gets pregnant. I am torn to get rid of it, as there are lot of maybes.

    How are you tackling that? I sure can use some tips.

    Zengirl @ Heart and Mind´s last post…Are we honest with family and friends?

  18. I’m just curious. I live in a country where it’s sunny all year long. Do your clothes color match the seasons; like gray and black for winter and blues and pinks for summer? Do you wear a bright red t-shirt in winter(except Christmas)? I know shops are selling with color according to season. Isn’t it lifts your mood when you’re wearing a baby blue t-shirt in a gray, white sky? Even though it’s sunny here, I always gravitate towards darker colors and always have to remind myself to buy more colors. How about you?

  19. I’m so glad you plugged Lands’ End Canvas. I’m loving their clothing live and have bought many pieces — all of which I’m pleased with.. I’m also liking the LL Bean Signature Collection.

    Erin´s last post…My future daughter-in-law: Breck Girl

  20. Great post. I am a (mostly) SAHM and I can relate to the “no t-shirts” rule. I recently told my husband that I wanted to start dressing cuter, but I’m not quite there yet. I really have a hard time dressing up even a little if I am staying home most of the day.

    Are there any blogs out there with simple fashion tips for women like us?

  21. I love the fact that you referenced the good old t-shirts. I’m so famous for ending up with a closet full of them because what else would I wear around the house all day? When I shop I have to remind myself that there are many other colors out there than black, even though it’s very slimming!

    Tina@RideonToys´s last post…The Razor Rip Rider 360 – The Ultimate Souped Up Big Wheels

  22. Rachel P. says:

    It is so hard not to buy a bunch of plain tee shirts in several different colors. I have tried very hard to fill in the gaps in my wardrobe with more feminine pieces. I always find myself drawn to very plain items and the color blue. I really am in a rut. I have never had the problem of an overfilled closet and I usually end up wearing what I have until it’s far past expiration. The fortunate thing is I know exactly what I need. Unfortunately, I hate spending the money on new things and end up agonizing over the decision to buy the things I really do need to purchase.

  23. Oh dear! I totally failed on the comfy t-shirt part when I went out shopping yesterday! I totally got sucked in on the price! hahaha!

    My tips for shopping (other than NOT getting sucked into cheap t-shirts)
    * If you haven’t been out shopping in a while, go out scouting first. In other words, go out without the pressure of buying anything and just look around at what styles and colours are out now. If you find something great! If not, just be ok with immersing yourself in fashion again ;)

    * My next tip is. Make one of your purchases “I feel hot” pants/shorts, if you do not have a pair already. There is nothing better than having a good foundation in a great pair of pants/shorts that flatter you. You may need an objective friend or hubby to help you. ;)

    Happy shopping everyone!

    Meeks´s last post…“Out of Order”

  24. Great tips! I really cleaned out my closet this past year. I also let my husband give the nod on what to keep. I have about a fourth or less of what I used to have and I still don’t wear everything. Thanks for the tips on Lands End tanks. I want to buys some of those. I’m always looking for clothes that are reasonably priced, comfortable, cool in the summer and look good. I go with the casual look most of the time too. My goal is to buy more comfortable, cool and cute dresses for summer. Any suggestions on good places to buy them?

    Michelle Traudt´s last post…Resting

  25. Hi,

    I had not heard of Lands End Canvas. What online sites and stores do you and others recommend for clothes at good prices. I too am a solid color, conservative dresser. I prefer to shop online because I hate going to the store and trying on clothes.

  26. I don’t really go clothes shopping anymore; I work my wardrobe around basics; gap t’s and jeans with a jumper/cardigan in the winter and then add some jewelry to jazz it up; since I did my big wardrobe clear out last year and limited myself to 30 things, I’ve found the whole dressing process so much easier.

    Hope you are well Rachel :-)

  27. LOL… loved this post! I can identify with Bobbi Brown’s search for the perfect pair of black pants…alas, I just bought another new pair 10 days ago, and unfortunately, no, they are not the perfect pair. The only upside is that I give them to charity when they are still close to new, thereby hopefully helping someone else :)

    angelvalerie´s last post…controlling the world…

  28. Love this post.. I did something similar last winter and it was a blast, being able to wear clothes that I had all but forgotten and buying new clothes as well.. Really like how you’ve suggested not buying plain t-shirts. Completely agree with that!

  29. Rebecca says:

    Because we line-dry our clothes, we always see exactly how much we have, and it makes it much easier for me to edit stuff out. It’s tedious to have to drag everything out and hang it, and take it down once it starts to pour rain, and then hang it up again to let it finish, and then take it down again. So, we try to keep things simple. My daughter’s summer wardrobe is 4 shirts and 3 pairs of shorts. My son’s is more because he’s much messier and I’m down to 3 skirts and 3 shirts (I could actually use some more). Unfortunately, my husband prefers more clothes, but he does go to a professional (low-paying though, don’t hate) job where he works under florescent lights, so it’s understandable.