This post is from GRS staff writer April Dykman.

A couple of years ago, I had a Great Closet Clean-Out. My clothing racks and drawers were overflowing at the time, and some of it still had price tags. Hoping to accomplish that European knack for owning less and looking better, I donated, consigned, and gave away about 75 percent of my wardrobe. Today it’s 100 times more functional.

These are the best tips I picked up while going through the process, gleaned from fashion gurus, designers, and style bloggers. These tips are applicable to women and men, whether you’re a high-power attorney or a stay-at-home parent.

1. Make four piles.
The Great Closet Clean-Out is your first step. Tim “Make It Work” Gunn, fashion guru and author of A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style, advises you to divide your clothes into four piles: throw out, give away, repair, and soul-stirring. Get rid of clothes in the first two piles and take the clothing in the repair pile to a tailor.

It would be great if you could do it all at once, but letting go of the goofy tie you wore to graduation or the bubble-gum pink prom dress that you’ll never wear again takes time. Try to let go of personal attachments.

2. Think “meat and potatoes.”

70 percent of the clothes you own should be meat and potatoes. 30 percent should be icing and fluff — that’s colour, pattern, shine, accessories. Too many women get the proportions the other way round, then can’t figure out why they can’t get dressed. — Michael Kors, Times Online

Take a look at what you have left after purging. Make a list of any gaps in your wardrobe to keep you on track when you’re shopping. Jessica Schroeder, the fashion blogger behind What I Wore, says:

I like to take stock of what I have in my closet and think of pieces that can extend the lives of those clothes already hanging out in my wardrobe. Maybe its a new belt or scarf or tie — think of small ways to get maximum use out of what you already have.

If you don’t know how to identify gaps, look to wardrobe essential lists and see what you might be missing. I’m not usually impressed with most “must-have” lists, but Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen has great advice for both women and men.

3. Identify your dominant season.
You Look Fab gets the credit for this tip, which has helped this Texan curb her winter coat habit. Blog author and style consultant Angie writes, “It’s important for the largest part of your wardrobe and seasonal fashion budget to reflect the dominant seasons where you live.”

In other words, if you live in Iowa, you won’t get much wear from a collection of flip-flops. Some people live in places with four seasons, and in that case, it’s best to buy equally for the seasons.

Angie notes one exception. If you routinely travel to a climate different from your hometown, you’ll need to consider that when allocating your clothing budget.

4. Consider your lifestyle.
Your lifestyle dictates your clothing needs. Maybe you are a busy mom, are pregnant, or work from home. Age makes a difference, too. Someone in their 30s has different needs than someone in their 50s. If you buy the majority of your clothes for a fantasy version of your life, instead of the reality, you’ll end up with a lot of clothes to store and nothing to wear.

Jessica says, “When shopping, I’m always thinking, ‘Would I wear this today? Does it work with the pieces already in my closet?’ If I can immediately scream ’yes!’ to both questions, it’s a go.”

Also, reconsider items that only work for very specific occasions. The more pieces you own that can be dressed up and down, the more wear they’ll get.

5. Identify your personal style.
If you like soft fabrics and loose cuts, don’t get suckered by a shiny J. Crew display of wool turtleneck sweaters that would itch and bind. Instead, ask yourself if it fits your personality. Know what styles make you feel good. Look to your soul-stirring pile from tip #1 to identify the shapes and colors you gravitate to the most.

6. Repeat after me: Fit and fabric.
Before my Great Closet Clean-Out, I owned 15 pairs of jeans. I wore three pairs. Those three were high-quality denim and fit fantastically. The others were made of stiff fabric and didn’t do my figure any favors. Avoid buying 12 pairs of blah jeans by keeping in mind fit and fabric:

  • Only buy clothes that fit well. No gaping, no pulling, and no sucking in your stomach. No buying clothes that will fit you once you lose 10 pounds. If you lose the weight, have them altered. If the size on the tag bothers you, cut it off. Do not make excuses for a bad fit. Be brutal.
  • Have clothing altered. Most alterations are fairly reasonable in price, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend or family member who sews. (Hi, Mom!)
  • Buy long-wearing fabrics. A nice merino wool sweater will last year after year with proper care, unlike an acrylic one which may not last the season.

Remember that price doesn’t dictate style. If the perfect pants in the perfect color are $30, they are a better buy than the trendy, designer pants that cost $200 and work with nothing else in your closet. The bracelet I get complimented on the most was a trinket my mom bought me from Target. Jessica mixes thrifted clothes with vintage with self-sewn with Payless — and it works.

On the other hand, don’t be swayed by low prices. A piece that sort of fits but is on the clearance rack is not a deal, no matter what the price tag says.

Finally, if you buy an item and decide you don’t like it once you’re home and standing in front of your own mirror, return it as soon as possible.

7. Don’t buy something only because it fits.
What the —? Didn’t I just say it’s all about fit? Well, yes. But just because something fits doesn’t mean you should buy it. Only buy items that make you feel like a million bucks. That’s the best way to ensure you’ll actually wear what is in your closet.

If it doesn’t make your heart sing, it’ll probably never see the light of day. Even a white t-shirt has the potential to make you feel good when you put it on. It’s much better to wear something more often and look and feel great than to own a ton of so-so clothes that you only sort of like.

What about you? Do you have clothes you never wear? Or, if your wardrobe is streamlined, are there other tips you’ve used? How do you pursue fashion on a budget?

J.D.’s note: I’m not exactly a fashion maven, but I’ve always had a terrible habit of buying clothes I never wear. When we moved from our old house in 2004, I had stacks of shirts I had purchased but never taken from the packaging. I thought they were Good Deals. My current year-long clothing purge is helping me to see that what I need is not new clothes, but far fewer clothes; I wear only a small fraction of my wardrobe…and keep more of my money in my high interest savings account. Photo by Jessica Schroeder of What I Wore.

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