Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward us a small commission – at no extra cost for you.
There are a lot of reasons that you may find yourself in the situation of needing to build a wardrobe from scratch.
Significant body changes, moving to a different climate, accepting a new job, starting a “grown-up” chapter of your life, realizing your style has changed, or simply just wanting to start fresh. All good and valid reasons!
Just like fashion trends, life is constantly changing and our wardrobes should be an accurate reflection of who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to portray ourselves to the world.
For some people it’s overwhelming and others find it exciting! If you’re on the side of thinking it’s overwhelming, don’t worry. It’s not as daunting as you think and hopefully, this guide will help to make things easier for you.
But before you keep reading, you have to check out these posts. All of these are important in the process of restarting your wardrobe!
I tried to be very thorough, so this post is long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But let’s dive on in!
How to Build a Wardrobe from Scratch
When starting from the beginning, you have the chance to fill your wardrobe with quality pieces that you love. This won’t happen overnight, online shopping with a glass of wine. It may feel like a slower process at times. Especially on a budget. But it’s worth it to do it right.
Find the balance of shopping for who you are now, but also for who you want to be
You know the saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have?” You want your wardrobe to be a reflection of your goals and the future you envision for yourself, while simultaneously fitting your current lifestyle. Because what help is a wardrobe full of clothes you have no place to wear? No help!
If you’re a stay at home mom but plan to join the corporate world soon, you may want to stock up on a couple of pantsuits amongst the comfy sweaters and leggings.
If you’re in the corporate world but have dreams to quit to go backpacking through Europe, then you might slowly start buying hiking boots instead of stilettos.
Your hard-earned money should go towards clothes you can enjoy here and now, not in the distant future. Just keep that in mind. Ultimately, you know the right balance for yourself!
Dress for your body size
“I don’t have any clothes I like right now, but I want to lose weight.”
Have you heard that one before? Maybe you’ve even said it before.
There are a lot of differing opinions about how you should shop when you hope to drop a couple of dress sizes. Some people buy smaller clothes as motivation. In the end, you do what works for you. But here are my two cents: dress for the size you are now. Look good in the size you are now. Keep working on your fitness goals. And reevaluate when you meet them.
Maybe you don’t go all out on clothes now, but at least you’ll still have things you feel confident in.
When you reach your goals you can always sell off what doesn’t fit anymore and replace them.
I just think, why wouldn’t you dress your body you have now in the best way possible instead of wearing whatever pieces you can find, and thus feeling terrible until you “reach your goal”?
I don’t see how that can make you feel confident or excited to get dressed each morning!
If you’re totally against buying new clothes for your current weight, then you can make sure your closet is stocked with shoes and accessories. You can still have fun with your wardrobe and you’ll know they’ll always fit!
Try to make every purchase count
Don’t buy on a whim because you need something at that very moment. Did you go out of town and forget your suitcase? That actually happened to my husband once haha (okay, not funny).
Instead of getting whatever cheap clothes you can find, why not use that as an opportunity to pick up some things that would benefit your wardrobe and make you happy? After all, what’s the point of getting clothes you don’t even like that you’ll never wear again?
Resist the sales
Especially around a time like Black Friday or Cyber Monday when stores are boasting 50%+ off. Sales like this can quickly fool you into thinking you need all.the.things because ohmygosh it’s all so cheap. Be intentional. Don’t just buy to buy.
On the flip side, I think it’s a good idea to shop sales if you were going to get that item anyway. It’s actually very resourceful to wait for your dream item to go on sale and save $$! But this means having a list and sticking to it.
Once you have all your good basics (which we’ll get into) and you want to add some pizazz to your wardrobe, I think it’s okay to pick up some new pieces. But again, show restraint. Make yourself a list, such as you’re looking for 1 statement top, 2 fun new accessories, etc.
Related: How to Resist the Urge to Splurge
Now that we covered the mental foundation on how to build a wardrobe from scratch, let’s get into the actual pieces that you’ll need.
Shopping List to Build a Wardrobe from Scratch
In a nutshell, you’re looking for neutrals and pieces that you can mix and match with.
Before buying something ask yourself:
Do I like how it looks on me?
Is it comfortable?
Can I wear this more than once?
Would it go with other things in my closet?
Pick a color palette and signature print
Not only will knowing your colors make shopping easier, but you’ll also develop your signature style and eventually be known for something. Which is cool! It doesn’t have to be as extreme as Steve Jobs with his black turtleneck and jeans every day though. For me, it’s mainly neutrals with my signature print(s) being stripes and leopard print. Now when my friends and family see anything leopard print they send me a photo saying “that’s so you”.
Your base colors are what your key items (coats, tops, etc) are made out of. Your accent colors are how you like to accessorize or show interest. Your patterns are how you like to have fun and jazz it up.
I’ll show you mine below!
This doesn’t mean you can never stray from these colors, but it’s a helpful starting point.
When deciding on your accent colors, it’s helpful to know what colors suit you and what don’t. Use the below chart as a guide!
Your colors and seasons aren’t a foolproof science, nor are they meant to restrict you. Hopefully, they’ll help get you started and possibly explain why some things look better on you than others.
Over time you’ll develop your style uniform. Your own personal set of go-to looks. Here are some ideas to get you started!
1. white tee- probably your most versatile piece. Related: How to Elevate a Simple Tee and Jeans Outfit
2. black tee- classy color, can be dressed up or down
3. gray tee- it’s good to have options!
4. striped tee- one of my favorite tops for looking French and mixing with other prints… just everything!
5. white button-down- can work for the office or just out and about. Related: 7 Ways to Wear a Button Down
6. chambray shirt- great layering piece with sweaters or worn alone. I wear mine the most in the fall. Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
7. turtleneck- classy piece-you’ll get a lot of wear out of this in fall and winter.
8. lightweight sweater- a Parisian staple! Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
9. graphic tee- the perfect punch needed to jazz up an outfit or wardrobe. Related: How to Style Oversized Graphic Tees
1. dark denim- dark skinny jeans are your go-to!
2. white denim- can work year-round, yes, even in winter (like how I wore it here)
3. black denim- black jeans can be dressy or casual
4. light denim- it’s good to have options if you want to lighten up a look
5. dress pants- even if you’re not in a professional job it’s good to have
6. denim skirt- works for all season (just add tights or leggings)
7. straight leg denim- skinny jeans aren’t the only style out there! Related: How to Wear Jeans Like a French Girl
1. little black dress- one of the most iconic pieces!
2. sweater dress- perfect for pairing with boots in the fall and winter Related: 20+ Super Cute Fall Outfits
3. slip dress- more versatile than you think!
4. floral dress- perfect for spring, but works in other seasons too. How adorable is the one in this post?
5. wrap dress- the iconic and universally flattering wrap dress
6. casual maxi dress- not all dresses have to be dressy!
1. trench coat- the perfect spring and fall staple, but really, you’ll look chic anytime. Related: How to Dress Like a French Girl On a Budget
2. peacoat- the classy way to stay warm in the winter. Related: 5 Winter Coats You Need in Your Closet This Season
3. camel coat- the epitome of timeless! Related: How to Look Classy & Expensive
4. denim jacket- the perfect thing to throw over any outfit
5. check blazer- adds a sophisticated touch to any look. Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
6. cardigan- super cozy and a great layering piece. Related: 3 Unique Ways to Wear a Cardigan
7. blazer- get one in many colors…it’ll make any outfit look sharp. Related: 5 Ways to Wear a White Blazer, 15 Ways to Wear a Black Blazer, How to Wear a Light Pink Blazer
8. utility jacket- fall go-to, but cute with pink in the spring too! Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
9. moto jacket- a great way to add edginess to a look. Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
1. ankle boots- my most worn style of shoes. Related: 1 Pair of Ankle Boots, 3 Ways
2. nude flats- a nice easy thing to wear with any look. I’ve worn mine here.
3. black heels- not something you’ll probably wear every day, but when the occasion comes up you’ll be glad you have them. Related: Do You Have These Wardrobe Classics?
4. nude heels- very chic and they elongate the legs.
5. tall brown boots- the length of boots and “what’s in” is always changing, but tall ones will always come back so it’s worth having a pair
6. black flats- just like nude flats, easy and versatile!
7. loafers- very timeless. Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here, here, and here.
8. white sneakers- adds the perfect amount of casual to a look. Need styling ideas? I’ve worn mine here and here.
These are just the bare minimum, but what’s minimum will be different for each person. If you live in the midwest you most definitely want a good pair of winter boots, but that would be silly and a waste of money if you lived in a tropical climate. You get the idea.
Once the basics are covered, I think having a pair of fun extra shoes is nice! Something that speaks to your personality. For some, it may be leopard flats and for others, it may be combat boots. What would it be for you?
1. leather watch- you need the classic leather band to get the timeless effect!
2. dainty necklace- perfect for wearing alone or layering.
3. leather tote- it will never go out of style!
4. pearl earrings- adds classiness to every look
5. crossbody bag- the type of easy bag you can wear with any outfit
6. blanket scarf- from fall outfits to traveling…so versatile!
7. black sunglasses- instant chicness. I wear mine with pretty much every outfit!
8. silk scarf- my favorite accessory to add to any look. Related: 6 Stylish Ways to Wear Your Silk Scarf
9. gold studs- simple, but they polish up a look
If you really feel lost on what to get, why not just pop into a couple of stores and try some stuff on? No obligation to buy! Pick up some pieces you know you like, but surprise yourself with some new pieces as well. Go ahead, check yourself out in the mirror. How do these items fit and make you feel? What sizes are you generally? Take some pictures. Make some notes. Create your own personal resource for you to come back to.
Now you know what your style is. You know what you need. You know what you like.
Here comes the next big question…
but where do I shop??
I did some research and below is a list of places I’ve gathered that women like shopping at for their basic, quality pieces:
- French Connection– One of my favorite places, mostly to look at haha. Love the chic, timeless pieces. Can be a bit pricey, but they do have sales and ThredUP has a decent selection on this brand if you search for it
- Uniqlo– Basics galore!
- Loft– They do feminine style and workwear well
- Banana Republic– For your versatile classics
- Land’s End– Though there’s news that they’re moving in more of a fashion-forward direction, they’re not exactly known for their contemporary pieces. However, their pieces are made to last
- J.Crew– Love their outerwear
- American Eagle– Their denim is well-loved by many (also Levis for classic denim)
- Madewell– Known for their quality clothes
- Everlane– Loved for their ethically made pieces and quality
Don’t discount places like Poshmark, Ebay, Depop, or thrifting. Just because something is thrifted doesn’t mean it’s bad quality. In fact, sometimes I find brand new or hardly worn items. Worth checking out if you’re on a budget! Related: 10 Tips on How to Shop for Clothes at a Thrift Store
For those with a little bit more room in the budget, you can always try out personal styling services like Stitch Fix. Sometimes you just need someone else to pick out the items for you and tell you what to wear. It can be a good starting ground as you find your new wardrobe legs!
Whew. 2500 words later. If you made it this far you deserve some serious props. And probably a prize. Yeah, definitely a prize.
Psst! If you’re looking to start over and rebuild the wardrobe that you’ve always wanted, then my latest ebook is a must-have. With over 50 pages, I dive deep (even more than in this post) into helping you create and curate a wardrobe that will be timeless. Click here to learn more!