Do you remember the show What Not to Wear? and how each participant on the show got $5000 to spend on a new wardrobe?  This element of the show always drove me crazy because $5,000 falling from the sky wasn’t realistic for the average woman out there.  Quite often, a woman in need of a wardrobe update doesn’t have that amount of cash just lying around ready to be spent on new clothes.  Plus, very few women actually need an entire shopping spree to fix what’s wrong in her closet.  I always wished for a more realistic approach on the show so the viewer could learn how to make changes with her own wardrobe.

How to do a Wardrobe Update When You are on a Budget

If you are in desperate need of a wardrobe update but don’t have the funds on hand to make a huge change, here are ten realistic and easy things you can do to give your style the boost it needs without breaking the bank.

Go back in and rework what you own and look for very clear needs

Here’s what I know.  I know your wardrobe isn’t as bad as you think it is.  I know this because I have seen the inside of the closets of hundreds of women and know for a fact that there are outfits in there you don’t see.  This happens all the time when I help clients put outfits together.  What is plainly obvious to me as an outfit isn’t so obvious to my them.

Even if you can’t afford an expert, taking some time to get in there yourself and try some new options is something that will provide you with tremendous value.  What it also does is aid in helping you identify specific holes and needs.  If you are on a budget for your wardrobe update, then you need to be incredibly focused on where you will spend what little money you do have.

Can’t afford a stylist to come in?  I get it.  I couldn’t afford myself if I needed to hire me.  Thankfully, I don’t have to.  For you, even the objective eye of a helpful friend or family member can make a huge difference.  Offer her (or him) a bottle of wine with the promise of an evening of fun if she would be willing to come by and help you work through what you already own.  Work on putting outfits together to help you drill down on what are the most obvious needs.  Make a list and order the needs based on priority.  It should go without saying, the person you entrust to help you should be someone whose style and expertise you appreciate.

Shop consignment shops in better neighborhoods

I’m not much of a consignment store shopper simply because I really don’t like shopping.  I know that sounds totally counterintuitive considering this is what I do for a living.  But let me ask you this. How much do you like doing your job when you’re not at work?  This is why they say, “The cobbler’s kid needs new shoes.”

Consignment shopping can be a great way to get good clothing at a fraction of the price.  To make your shopping trip efficient and fruitful, consider consignment stores in more affluent neighborhoods to find the best stuff.  You can also consider online consignment shopping sites like  Don’t forget, if you do have anything of value in your wardrobe that you don’t like any longer you can try selling or consigning it to make some money back.

Add one new piece

It may sound surprising, but you would be amazed by what adding one new piece can do to your wardrobe.  Often this piece is that much needed connector or item that will work with multiple pieces.  This is why the closet reworking is so important in terms of helping you identify clear holes.  It’s hard to believe that one new item can have just as much of an impact as a whole new wardrobe can have, but it’s quite possible.

Once you buy the new piece get in your closet and work it into your wardrobe and create as many outfits as you can.  Take notes on the new looks you create.

Avoid duplication

Be aware of buying too much of the same thing when you are doing a wardrobe update on a budget.  Once you have a particular category covered, move on.  Having too much of the same thing in your closet will actually give you less variety, not more, because you will be allocating many of the same pieces into the same slot of use, restricting the ability to mix-and-match as well as you could.

Add colorful shoes and accessories

This leads me to my next point.  Being able to change up your looks with accessories can make the same old, same old look different and a lot more unexpected.  You’d be amazed what a colorful pair of shoes can do to a simple uniform look or how a fun scarf can make a type of outfit you consistently wear look different.  When you are on a budget, having a go-to look that varies slightly can be helpful.  You can keep your wardrobe tight by focusing on the changes being in how you accessorize.

Think it terms of mix and match and building a capsule

I give a lot of tips on creating wardrobe capsules on my blog.  You can read them all here.  Capsules help with learning ways to get more with less when you have limited funds for a wardrobe update.  They can teach you how to look at your wardrobe differently, find wardrobe holes in a purposeful manner and work with what you already own.  When creating a capsule, focus on what you want the goal of the particular capsule to be as your start.

Keep it classic

The more classic your wardrobe pieces are the more longevity they will have.  I have many pieces in my wardrobe that have lasted over a decade because they haven’t gone out of style.  You can pepper in some fun trends through your accessories and a few inexpensive wardrobe pieces, but when shopping for your wardrobe update, be sure the majority of what you buy won’t expire in a season.

Buy better and be mindful of sales

It may be hard to wrap your mind around the idea of buying better when you are on a budget, but cheap clothing hardly lasts and can potentially waste you money.

Shopping sales are hardly ever a bad idea.  One thing my mom does is review the offerings from her favorite stores at the beginning of the season, earmarks what she likes, and then goes back after the pieces have been discounted.  You can also follow your favorite stores on social media or sign up for their newsletters to stay on top of when things go on sale.

The one word of caution I  have about shopping sales is to be careful not to get too swept up in inexpensive prices.   There is also a poverty mindset that can come along with being on a budget that can cause you to buy more but spend less.  What often winds up happening is most of these cheap unnecessary buys hang in the closet with the tags still attached or fall apart after a few wears.

Treat your clothes with expert care

When you can’t afford regular wardrobe updates it is important to take expert care of what you do own.  Make sure you check your the heels of your shoes don’t get worn down, treat your suede clothing, follow care directions on labels and don’t over dry clean your clothes.  The last thing you want is for your clothing to wear down or get shabby and not be in a financial position to replace it.

Ask for help

Asking for help is often seen as a weakness.  God forbid we can’t  handle life on our own, it seems to imply we’re some sort of failure.  But everyone has been down on their luck at least once.  The next time life is a struggle for someone else, just remember, it could be you next.

If you have an event, interview or situation where you need clothing that you don’t own and don’t have the budget to buy something new, consider asking a friend if you can borrow something they own.  Just remember to return in cleaned and in perfect condition. You can also gather a group of friends together to do a trade or swap type party.  Even if you feel you don’t have enough to contribute, you’d be surprised how others see what you have been tired of looking at in your closet.  Lastly, going back to my first tip, ask for help from others who you feel might have more expertise in this area.  Not only can they help you work with your wardrobe, they might be able to help you become better at shopping, hunting down sales or consigning.

Being budget conscious is often a temporary time that doesn’t last forever.  It might be tough when you are drooling for new, but it also can be very enlightening.  You can better focus on what you really need, not just what you want, and what will provide you with the most value in your closet.