10 Steps to Building a Wardrobe

Recently I received emails from two readers asking for advice about how to build a new wardrobe and create a personal style.One reader lost a significant amount of weight and needs new clothing but doesn’t know where to begin. And the other reader wants to start a new wardrobe from scratch and make some big changes to her individual style.

Since beginning my blog over three years ago, my own style and wardrobe have changed quite a bit and they are still evolving. Though I don’t profess to be a style or wardrobe expert, I do love fashion and have become mindful of the importance of budget, versatility, personal style and trying new things when creating a wardrobe. And I think I’ve become a pretty good shopper over the last few years. Lots of practice, you know!

Here is how I would go about building a wardrobe:

10 Steps to Building Your Wardrobe

1. Assess your lifestyle

Ask yourself these questions:

~ Do you work in a professional environment or work from home?
~ Or are you retired, a stay-at-home mother or homemaker?
~ Do you live in a city, the suburbs or the country?
~ What’s the weather like where you live?
~ What do you like to do in your free time? What hobbies and activities do you participate in?
~ Do you want a small, minimalist wardrobe or a vast wardrobe with many options?
~ How often do you dress up?

Remember these questions and their answers when you’re shopping. You’ll have a better chance of bringing home items you’ll wear if you do.

2. Clean out your closet 

Get rid of everything that you don’t like, doesn’t fit, is beyond repair or you just don’t wear. If you’re serious about rebuilding a wardrobe, you’ll likely be parting with lots of things. Take your nicer clothing to consignment or sell them on eBay. You will want the extra money to put toward your new wardrobe. Take the rest to Goodwill or give away to friends and family.

3. Make a list of your core pieces  

Before you begin shopping, make a list of ten to twelve items that will make up the foundation of your wardrobe, your core pieces. They will be your workhorses and are the most important – and probably the most expensive – items you will buy.

The ten core pieces in my wardrobe are:

~ A great pair of jeans
~ V-neck or crew-neck sweaters in neutral colors
~ Black pumps
~ Blazer in a neutral color
~ The best fitting bra money can buy
~ A khaki trench coat
~ Quality tee shirts
~ A versatile dress in a solid color
~ White or ivory button-down blouse
~ The best handbag I can afford in a classic style and versatile color like cognac or black.
Focus on your core wardrobe pieces, then build the rest of your wardrobe around that with fun, colorful, modern and less expensive items.

4. Start a Pinterest account

Pinterest and Amazon Collections are both fantastic tools for getting style ideas and staying current on the latest fashions.

Once you create your style boards, don’t think too much about what you’ll pin or collect on them. Browse fashion images and pick out what you like, what speaks to you. This is an exercise in figuring out what you’re drawn to so don’t worry about your body style, age or budget right now. Find looks you like and have fun with it!

There may be several styles you’re drawn too, don’t feel like you have to stick with only one. Over time you will see patterns in what you’ve amassed. Notice lots of menswear inspired looks? Or maybe you’ve grouped together dozens of feminine and delicate looks. Take notice of these patterns as they are insights to your personal style.

5. Determine your budget 

Figure out how much you want to spend on building your wardrobe. The smaller the budget, the more selective and aware of spending you’ll have to be. If your budget is $1000 you certainly won’t want to splurge on a $900 coat if you’re trying to build a wardrobe.

6. Learn from your past 

You know that tangerine horizontal striped tunic with the pockets at the hip that you wore once, then gave to donation? Why didn’t it work for you? And that fabulous black sheath dress that you always get compliments on. What is it about that dress that turns heads? Examine the winners and the losers for valuable information about what works and what doesn’t work and use that information every time you try something on.

7. Try it on 

Curious about how that jumpsuit you pinned on Pinterest would look on you?  Love the color chartreuse but not sure you want to wear it? Be open! There is only one way to determine if something works for you or not and that is to try it on.

While you’re out there trying things on, be sure to pay attention to the labels that fit you well and the labels that don’t. Next time, you can skip trying on the designers that don’t work for you and head straight for the great ones that do.

8. Take selfies 

Snap pictures of yourself in outfits or ask a friend or significant other to take photos of you. You’re not being vain, you’re working on a project important to you and there is money involved!

There is nothing quite like seeing an outfit on your body in a photo. Mirrors are okay but they don’t really give you enough objectivity. Sometimes it helps to not look at the photo for a few days to gain even more clarity.

9. Take a stylish friend to lunch

We all know someone who has a style we admire. Invite her out for lunch and shopping one day. Tell her you’re working on building your wardrobe and ask her for some tips. Where does she like to shop? What are her favorite wardrobe pieces? Which designers does she favor? Chances are she will be flattered and more than happy to help you.

10. Ditch the style rules

There was a time several years ago when I steadfastly held on to many fashion rules:  No shorts after 35, tall women shouldn’t wear heels, only wear colors that are in your season, stay away from black, and so on. Yawn.

After a few years of exploring my tastes and personal style, I ditched those rules. I dress for me and wear what makes me feel good. Pay attention to how clothes and styles make you feel. If you follow every fashion rule out there, you’ll never buy a thing.

Give yourself permission to get creative. Try new colors and trends, mix a few patterns and revisit a style you once loved. Make it fun!

Fashions change over time as do our tastes, lifestyles and our bodies. We might move to a different climate or change professions. Our financial circumstances may improve or decline and let’s be honest: clothes don’t last forever, especially in today’s world of cheap, fast fashion. Even if you avoid fast fashion, all wardrobes usually need a tune-up from time to time.
For blogs with more information and tips for wardrobe building, check out The Vivienne FilesUne Femme d’un Certain Age and You Look Fab.
What advice would you give for building a wardrobe?
Make it a rich day!


  1. October 8, 2013 / 8:20 am

    Great post, Adrienne, and thanks! What I’ve also learned is that building a wardrobe requires some time and patience. You might not find everything you want/need in one season.

    • October 8, 2013 / 11:19 am

      Agreed. It’s a very long process that does require time and patience. It takes time to figure out what you need and what style really speaks to you for the long haul.

  2. October 8, 2013 / 11:56 am

    Wonderful post. I love the part about not following all the “rules”. : >

    • October 9, 2013 / 1:01 pm

      Yeah…rules, shmules, right? 😉
      It’s way more fun to make your own or break them all!

  3. October 8, 2013 / 2:54 pm

    It is funny how our styles evolve over time.

    I agree with Patti… the best bit was not following any rules but going by what looks good on you.


    • October 9, 2013 / 1:05 pm

      I pay a lot of attention to how clothes make me feel. Rules just frustrate me and make me feel like I am doing something wrong all the time. Plus, following fashion rules is exhausting!

  4. October 8, 2013 / 4:27 pm

    A fabulous post.
    I struggle with only “one” pair of jeans. Do you actually own and wear more than one pair Adrienne? I have 4, but am wondering if I need fewer…..
    Thank you

    • October 9, 2013 / 1:08 pm

      Hi Joanne,
      I have several pairs of jeans because I live in them in the fall and winter. I think it’s good to have more than one pair – actually lots more with all the great styles out there right now (boyfriend, skinny, straight, wide-leg) – but have *at least* one great pair that makes you feel confident and fits you really well.

  5. October 8, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    Great advice! I agree about not following rules 🙂


    • October 9, 2013 / 1:09 pm

      Yay for not following all those silly style rules!

  6. October 8, 2013 / 7:48 pm

    Great advice here Adrienne! I need to work on the wardrobe again! This post will remind me what I need to think about! I agree about the rules too.


    • October 9, 2013 / 1:10 pm

      Thanks, Kim!
      We can work on your wardrobe next month when we go shopping in the city again 😉

  7. October 9, 2013 / 6:08 am

    Great post and advice. I think the one huge thing I’ve learned from reading your blog about wardrobe is the taking a photo of the item on you. I had always used only a mirror before and somehow that can be misleading. The selfie or whatever is a big tool I use now, even with accessories. And for sure, I buy for my real life, not some imagined one.

    • October 9, 2013 / 1:13 pm

      Photos help so, so much. And showing them to someone else even makes taking selfies more useful.
      A dose of reality always helps that’s why it’s so important to assess your lifestyle. While I love dressed up clothing, I just don’t have much use for it in my day-to-day life.

    • October 9, 2013 / 3:05 pm

      I no longer buy “dressy” clothing unless I need it for a special event. I used to buy things “in case” and then I’d find that they weren’t appropriate for the event anyway, and I’d want something else.

  8. October 9, 2013 / 6:16 am

    Good morning Adrienne,
    I’m just running out to work but I took a quick peek and I’m loving your suggestions here. The selfie idea is brilliant. I’m just going through my closet and creating some core collections for a post on fall fashion. You have some great tips. ‘The best bra money can buy’ Yes! I’m sharing this on google plus.
    Have a great day girlfriend!
    xx, Heather
    PS-I emailed you about SF 🙂

    • October 9, 2013 / 1:16 pm

      Establishing a core wardrobe isn’t always easy but it’s so helpful when trying to create a new wardrobe. I find the core pieces the hardest to find and the most expensive but also the clothes I wear the most and last the longest.
      Have a great time on your trip! Can’t wait to see you in SF next month!
      xo, A

  9. October 9, 2013 / 9:06 am

    On my way out… but had to leave a quick comment…FABULOUS POST!! I have learned much from you in regards to wardrobe building… most importantly… to be INTENTIONAL about it. Before finding you my dear… I was way to easily swayed by passing siren songs while out shopping.

    Thank you for doing what you do… and sharing what you know!

    Can’t wait to come back and take in more of your wardrobe building wisdom!!

    • October 9, 2013 / 1:21 pm

      Thank you, Tamera!
      I am mostly intentional but I like to be spur of the moment, too. But usually I do my impulse shopping at the thrift stores so they don’t overwhelm my wallet.

  10. October 10, 2013 / 5:53 am

    Great post and I agree with everything you’ve said here. My thing is buy less, style it more! I have so many things in my closet that I’ve just forgotten about and when I’m feeling like I have nothing to wear I like to pull pieces out and get styling just to get the ideas flowing. XO, Jill

    • October 10, 2013 / 4:46 pm

      Yes to buying less, styling more. I should add that in and make it 11!

  11. October 10, 2013 / 7:23 pm

    My problem is that I always overbuy. My wardrobes are always chock-full (I sell things I haven’t worn in a while every 6 months or so), yet I STILL have too much! So hard to try and balance xx

    Find me on bloglovin:

  12. Karen D
    June 2, 2014 / 2:46 pm

    “Learn from the past” is my favorite piece of advice! There are a couple of items I wear that ALWAYS get compliments. (Of course it matters who is giving that compliment.) Also, ditch the items that make you feel like, “I am NEVER wearing this again, I feel horrible!” thanks for your always-fun blog!

  13. July 19, 2014 / 11:06 pm

    I know it’s super old, but love this post! Been trying to invest more in a quality wardrobe and figure out how I can wear things that can work for both the office and free time on the weekends!

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