How to Build a Wardrobe on a Budget


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
Nearly everyone I know loves fashion and shopping for clothes (including yours truly). But what I don’t love? Actually spending. Okay, it’s fun to spend. But looking at my bank balance the next day? Not so fun. But I think getting good clothes is a necessity in the modern world. Clothes are an expression of your personality. And when it’s time to start going to work, they can make you look professional and dependable – things you want people to see in you.

Luckily, I’m here to show you how to do just that without spending too much money, especially if you are still in college.

What You’ll Have to Give up

You won’t want to hear this, but the key to frugal fashion is to stick to the basics. If you already have trendy pieces, that’s awesome. But to build a wardrobe on a budget, you’ll have to forego buying expensive, “seasonal” pieces for ones that you know will remain stylish years from now. Avoiding buying expensive, luxury items is one of the best ways to how to change your wardrobe on a budget. And by luxury items, I don’t just mean designer shoes, bags, and fine jewelry. A pair of jeans you don’t need or a top with tacky graphics can be considered luxury items, too.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to look boring and not fashionable. You’ll just have to spend more wisely and be more selective about what you buy. There’s a concept for this: the capsule wardrobe. Let’s tackle capsule wardrobes in the next section.

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What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

If you’re asking “how to create a new wardrobe on a budget?” The best way will always be by starting with a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe sounds like something from the future, but the truth is actually simple: a capsule wardrobe is a collection of essential clothes and accessories that will never go out of style. They serve as the perfect base for you to add (or subtract) seasonal pieces. The key here is “essentials.” When you buy a staple, you can rest assured that it’ll still be stylish in a few years (or even a few decades!). And since they’ll be in style longer, you can use them more, giving you more value for the money you spent on them. And that’s a great step towards building a new wardrobe on a budget.

To make a great capsule wardrobe, it’s best to stick to the basics. I need to explain that “basics” doesn’t have to mean “drab” or “boring.” Quite the opposite, actually. I bought a vintage biker jacket that looks amazing. And since it goes well with anything – whether leather shoes or beat-up canvas sneakers – I consider it a basic. A pair of form-fitting jeans are also basic. But worn with the right top and accessories, they can complete your outfit. So don’t discount the basics! Plus, when you have enough basics in your capsule wardrobe, you can always add trendier pieces.

Here are a few affordable basic items that are perfect for a wardrobe on a budget:

A pair of Converse Chuck Taylors
A pair of Wayfarer or aviator sunglasses
Tops in neutral colors and designs
T-shirts, also in neutral colors and designs
A vintage leather jacket. (These aren’t expensive if you get them from a thrift shop)
A pair of slim-fit jeans
A blazer or jacket, for going to job fairs or passing your resumé around
A flannel button-down shirt, for dressed-down occasions
Crisp, black slacks
Dressier shoes, for going to job interviews
A pair of Chelsea boots or any suede pair of shoes
A leather satchel
A stylish hat
A crisp button-down shirt in neutral colors
A comfy sweater or cardigan
Sandals (appropriate only if you live near the beach – busy cities can be cruel on bare toes!)

All of the items I’ve listed above could be considered essentials, and they’ll look good whether you’re fresh out of college or striking a new path in your career. But best of all, all these items can be bought for cheap. Of course, there are pricey options for all of these, but you can go for affordable brands, and no one will even notice.

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Where to Buy Stylish and Affordable Clothes

Okay, so you’ve got a good idea what to stock in your capsule wardrobe. The next question is where to actually buy stuff? Look no further. Below are some of my favorite shops. If you’re looking to upgrade the wardrobe on a budget, your search should start with these shops.







WalMart, Target, and any other department store

Your local thrift stores

… there are many more shops to add to this list. But the key is to be adventurous. I’ve found some really cool pieces in places I least expected – particularly non-chic department stores.

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“Cycle Out” Old Clothes

Now that you’ve built up a great collection of stylish, but timeless, clothes, you have to think about what to do with your older clothes. It doesn’t make sense to hold on to stuff if they no longer fit you, or your sense of style. I usually opt to dispose of stuff if I haven’t worn them in two years. And to be honest, there’s absolutely no reason for a grown person to own a trucker cap and studded belt. Good options for selling old items are:



Local thrift stores

All the options I’ve listed above are great places to sell your used clothes. But in addition to selling to the shops I’ve listed above, you can also donate your used clothes. This is usually the option I go for. I like helping the less fortunate… plus, it can be a hassle selling stuff, to be honest. I’d much rather just give stuff away.

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