how to shop your closet

even prior to “new normal”, there was a renewed emphasis placed on slow fashion and shopping your closet.  the idea is simple:  cut down on shopping by reusing and recycling what we already have.  that can be difficult, as many if not most of us are not involved in the fashion world full-time.  over the years one of the purposes of this blog has been to provide classic style inspiration that never goes out of style.  just this past week, we’ve talked about my top 6 American classic must have’s  and 10 classic essentials that transition to spring. my hope is that posts like these will help you establish a classic wardrobe full of timeless items that can be reused well into the future.  with that in mind, today, we’re going to talk how to shop your closet.  we’re going to start by picking a target outfit.  i’m going to show you what i came up with, and walk you through the process step-by-step with reference outfits i’ve featured over the past few years.   and if find yourself looking for more inspiration, be sure to checkout my new YouTube video, posted below. 

pick an inspiration outfit

whether it’s a friend, fashion blogger, celebrity or someone else, pick an inspiration outfit.  that’ll be your target outfit and serve as a reference point for you when you go to shop your closet. 

the target look

i’ve chosen one of my personal fashion mavens the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.  i’ve loved her style for a long time and featured it many times across my socials.  here’s my target look for today.   

let’s break her outfit down.  

  • a classic dark blazer
  • dark ankle denim 
  • gingham shirt 
  • wedges 

what i came up with

and now for what i came up with, just shopping my closet.  pretty close, right?  blazer, shirt, and denim are pretty spot on.  belt is close, but the wedges are pretty different.  so let’s talk through how i arrived at this outfit.  

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a lightweight blazer, gingham shirt, skinny jeans, espadrilles and wicker handbag

similar denim | similar shirt | similar blazer | similar espadrilles | similar handbag

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a lightweight blazer, gingham shirt, skinny jeans, espadrilles and wicker handbag

 

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a lightweight blazer, gingham shirt, skinny jeans, espadrilles and wicker handbag

back to the basics 

i’m a big believer in building a timeless, classic wardrobe.  and any such wardrobe is going to be replete with the basics.  if you’re looking for guidance on how to construct one from the ground up or retool the one you have, i’ve got you covered.  over the years i’ve put together a back to basics series. 

all of the items in Kate Middleton’s outfit are classics that i’ve accumulated some variation of over the years and featured on the blog.   let’s walk through each step-by-step with pictures from my archive.  

gingham shirt 

a gingham shirt.  such a classic.  so preppy.  one of my favorites.  just like many of the above looks, i’ve brought in a brown belt as a cute little accent piece.  notice the block-heeled sandals i’m wearing.  they give this outfit just a bit more sophisticated elegance than it normally would have.  love.  

[see how to style gingham…]

blue gingham

low comparable | medium comparable | high comparable 

gingham

 

white denim skirt & gingham shirt

blue blazer 

if you have followed me for any length of time you know i regularly sing the praises of the mighty blazer. my personal style is decidedly preppy and the blazer is the cornerstone of preppy style. having a few blazers in your closet is not excessive at all! see how i’ve styled dark blazers over the years.  

[see where blazers rank on my classic items list…]

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears J.Crew striped tee, chinos, Ralph Lauren navy blue knit blazer, and white sneakers

low comparable | medium comparable | high comparable

animal print from banana republic

 

blazer blues

dark denim 

roughly speaking, the “wash” of a jean refers to the extent to which a pair of denim has undergone a washing and treatment process prior to sale.  again, roughly speaking, that washing and treatment process affects the color and softness of a pair of denim.  below, i’ve put together a scale of various washes beginning with “raw denim” and ending with “bleach wash”.  raw denim is very stiff, dark and has not been washed to soften and remove dye, whereas bleach washed denim is very soft and light, as most of the dye has been stripped away.  most of us are probably going to stick in the rinse-to-light wash region of the below scale, but some of us may deviate to either end of the spectrum.    

raw denim < rinse wash < mid wash < light wash < bleach wash

i’m such a big believer in dark denim. dress it up.  dress it down.  it’s probably the most flexible wash of denim you could own.  see how i’ve styled it over the years. 

[read women’s denim guide…]

over 50 fashion blogger, ann taylor sailor denim, j.crew denim shirt, talbots white pique blazer, tory burch espadrilles, wicker bucket bag

low comparable | medium comparable | high comparable 

laced

 

blazer, sweater, blue jeans

wedges

wedges are wonderful.  perfect for spring and summer. here’s a few ways i’ve styled the same pair of wedges over the years.  remember, though, my pair of wedges didn’t match Kate’s at all.  we’ll get to that in a moment.  

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a monochromatic white outfit. white tunic trimmed in blue, white jeans and gingham espadrilles

how to shop your closet

ok.  so, we started with a target outfit.  we broke it down.  and a trip down memory lane revealed that i’ve purchased many comparables to that outfit throughout the years.  if you’ve worked to construct a classic wardrobe built on the basics, shopping your closet becomes a lot more doable.  blazer?  check.  white tee?  check.  dark denim? check.  a pair of brown loafers?  check.  and on and on and on. easy enough, right?  not so fast.  i’m under no illusion that this exercise is really this straightforward.  so let’s dig a little deeper.  

don’t forget to swap out the pieces 

oftentimes, after you’ve picked out your target outfit, you’ll realize that you have some similars but they’re in a totally different color.  or maybe your jeans are in a different cut.  or maybe, well, you get the idea.  don’t let things like the “wrong” color scheme throw you off.  target outfits are inspirations only.  we’re not going for a 1-1 match per se.  ultimately, we’re just looking for new ways to wear our old items.  

in re-fashioning our target outfit today, we could’ve just as easily swapped Kate’s gingham shirt for a solid.  we could’ve kept the dark denim, but instead of a blue-on-blue blazer/shirt combo gone with red-on-red or black-on-red or red-on-black or, well, again you get the idea.  

don’t be afraid to get creative.  don’t be afraid to swap out pieces liberally as needed.  that’s exactly what i did with the wedges.  i didn’t have an identical pair, but i did have a pair that worked in the context of the outfit.  and swapping out my wedge’s for Kate’s put a new, albeit slight, spin on the outfit.  but it works. 

old with the new 

shopping your closet doesn’t mean you’re never going to buy new items for your wardrobe again.  of course.  but going through the exercise of identifying target outfits serves as a forcing function to shop your closet and to determine what exactly you’re missing—what gaps exist.  shopping your closet in the way outlined here will make you a smarter shopper in general, because it will help you avoid redundancies in your shopping.  you’ll know whether you have a classic blazer or not.  and if you do, you can focus on obtaining the pieces that you don’t.  seems simple, right?  it’s not.  being an organized and focused shopper takes work, but it’s my hope that today’s how to shop your closet will help you become a better shopper in the long run. 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Andrea wrote:

    Wonderful idea! I have, like many, been pinning ideas, but I think I’m going to take it one step further and print pics of fab target outfits to have available at a moment’s notice in my closet. I have been taking a leaf out of my mum’s book, and trimming my wardrobe down quite a bit. As we age, our lives change, so does the balance in our clothes. She always had a well coordinated, high quality range of classics with modern accessories..all within a relatively small number of actual pieces. She was always admired by our friends and her’s as she set a high bar, but on a very tight budget. Silver lining – you can buy that special item, because you’re not wasting funds.

    Posted 4.19.20
    • there’s always a special item that belongs in our closet. most likely, it will be passed down to the next generation which makes it all the more precious. xo

      Posted 4.19.20
    • Yamila wrote:

      Hi Beth, I just recently suscribed but I follow all your outfits by Pinterest. I am 42 and i feel that your style matches perfectly with my personality. You look always great! Congrats!

      Posted 4.24.20
  2. Frances wrote:

    I love the classic style. Thank you for breaking down how to shop your closet. Good timing when a lot of us need to find ways to save money and still have fun with fashion.

    Posted 4.19.20
    • shopping your closet has never looked so good! have fun!

      Posted 4.19.20
  3. Chris Illius wrote:

    BETH!! I loved this post today! Gives me inspiration with my own closet! While I don’t have the money to buy new based on your posts, It gives me new ideas to at least “shop” my own closet – and maybe swap out some older-more tired items :)!
    The outfits I loved the most are the ones where there isn’t too much going on – they look very sophisticated! Thanks again – PS love seeing Kelly on your site too!

    Posted 4.19.20
    • glad you liked today’s post! xo

      Posted 4.19.20
  4. Eve wrote:

    This post is so helpful to me. I’ve just realized that although I experimented a lot when I was younger with various fads, as I get older I prefer the tried and true pieces in my closet. They can get me through any event or gathering I have in my life.

    Posted 4.19.20
    • classic style is always on trend. but don’t forget to keep it fresh and modern with a few trendy pieces. xo

      Posted 4.19.20
  5. Elizabeth McDaniel wrote:

    THIS is one of my most favorite of your blogs; I love classic clothing! I hope that we all learn to be more thoughtful and responsible consumers during and after this fragile time. Thanks Beth for your continued inspiration!

    Posted 4.19.20
    • i’m so happy you liked today’s post! xo

      Posted 4.19.20
  6. Pam wrote:

    Beth,
    What a fabulous post! I have a closet full of clothes but often struggle with putting an outfit together. Thank you for the confidence builder. So many excellent ideas.

    Posted 4.19.20
    • it just takes time and a bit of effort to bring your outfits to life. xo

      Posted 4.19.20
  7. MaryFrances wrote:

    I fully support the theory behind “slow fashion” but will suffer learning to give up shopping and the fun of wearing somethng new. I’ve always viewed classic dressing as missing out on all the fun. lol But I do love my madras shirts and shorts and just bought a gingham shirt. Just need somewhere to go!

    Posted 4.19.20
    • au contraire. classic style doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to fun! keep your eye on the trends and mix them into your existing wardrobe to stay fresh and modern. xo

      Posted 4.19.20
  8. Suzanne Smith wrote:

    Some great tips here for shopping in your closet. I have been realizing more and more that I really do have tons of things I can vary in numerous different ways, and so I’ve been really being creative with what I already have, and the looks seem new when you do this. And I have shelves and shelves of pretty scarves and belts that I find can change a look in a second if I pair them with the right things. I could probably go for a very long time with what I already have, but here and there, I do love something new. It does help to figure out where you have any gaps in your wardrobe to maximize the possibilities of each item.

    Posted 4.19.20
  9. I have started a purge of some of my least worn items, should I revisit them before donating them. I thought having more than 400 pieces might be to much clutter to make a sound decision. It was cluttered and I could not locate items because of the clutter. My question is should I possibly go down to 200 pieces that are classic and in good condition to be more efficient in shopping my closet .?

    Posted 4.20.20
  10. Elsa wrote:

    Hello Beth, I love this page, you are very creative and elegant and I affirm that you make us feel motivated with so many tips that fill us with wisdom, all the time we are learning valuable things that you teach us, from practical and good clothing. You are admirable, a greeting and my best wishes.

    Posted 4.20.20

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