I will always feel a sense of promise from the Fall, maybe harkening back to my youth when it was time to go back to school; meeting new friends and learning new things.  Fall can also, if I’m honest, be a time of dread when it comes to wardrobe.  Shop windows literally purr at me with lush, cozy items that I can’t afford.  Magazines are frenzied billboards of what to buy, NOW. Everywhere I look are the words “MUST-HAVE!”  Being on a budget during a change of season can truly suck…but only if you let it!

Trying to put together cute outfits can be awfully complicated even for the Trustafarians (what I like to call those with unlimited bank accounts).  But being on a budget?  Yeesh.  How on earth can we keep up with trends and maintain our individuality?

There was a time when I bought every retail item that the mannequins looked happiest in (it was a dark time in my life), and I thought that individual items were going to solve my wardrobe (and emotional) dilemmas.  The result of that kind of impulse shopping is a sense of total overwhelm trying to translate all of the looks from shop windows and magazines into my own wardrobe – I had a closet full of interesting items, but no idea how to put them together.  Sound familiar?

One of the best tips my Mom has given to me with regard to wardrobe is actually remarkably easy.  Open up any website or magazine; Glamour, Lucky, Vogue, InStyle, More, etc.  You can do the same with catalogues – J Crew (Jenna has done amazing things with the company) Banana Republic, Barney’s, etc.  Instead of spending your focus drooling over the items, actually say out loud what the models are wearing.  It heightens our objectivity, so we can see past the beautiful expensive things and focus on how individual items can be put together.

Here are three examples from a J Crew catalogue:

Example #1:  A chambray shirt over a silk camisole, sleeves rolled up in a creative way and tucked into high-waisted wool pants that hit at the ankle; a velvet ribbon for a belt, no socks and shiny heels that hint at the color of the camisole.  Simple and delicate necklace and charm.  Newsboy cap, red lipstick.

I would never have thought of putting these things together in this way. Do I want a few of these specific items? You BETCHA, but I can also approximate them from my wardrobe and a good thrift store!

Example #2:  v-neck loose-fitting white t-shirt under a long, neutral colored cardigan, sleeves sloppily scrunched up.  Khakis that hit the top of the foot, interesting neutral heels and 3 strands of necklaces with different materials, held together with a big flower.  Metallic fingernails and possibly a fur accent.

*Grooming can really put an outfit together and make you feel better than almost anything.  If your eyebrows are shaped, your nails are attended to, your lipstick is bright and your hair has a fresh cut (or simply pulled back with a slim headband), you can pull off (almost) anything. And you can do it all yourself!

Example #3:  A washed and fitted button down shirt tucked into neutral pants with cargo accents that end at the ankle; menswear-inspired shoes with no socks; a fitted hooded sweatshirt over the shirt, and a nubby wool fitted blazer over that. Hat, red lipstick, one chunky bracelet.

Another thing to remember, while I’m at it, is that confidence and attitude is everything.  You hold your head high, honey. Smile at people you meet, suck in your gut, throw your shoulders back and face the world with gratitude and joy. If anyone judges you for how little you paid for what you’re wearing, well, they’re a booger in my book.

Now these three looks may be a little extreme for you (or a little tame, you tiger).  But no matter your size, body type or age, go through the glossies and find looks that you like, break them down into individual pieces, tear out the page (or take a photo), make a list, then get down to your local thrift store and try stuff on!  Look at it as a jigsaw puzzle with attainable pieces rather than as a look you can never achieve because you can’t afford the shoes.

Finally, a trick from the amazing Amanda Whitfield, a stylist I hired back in the day:  Once you have the inspiration, bring a friend over and try on a bunch of different fun combinations for different events – say date night, brunch with friends, social function and work.  Then have your friend take photos.  After THAT, you can even hang a few of the pieces together in you closet, complete with little Ziploc bags for your accessories, and VOILA!  You have an instant wardrobe that requires little to no thought when you reach in your closet.

See? Now it’s a game, and not a hardship that you have to overcome.

But please remember, dear TSC Comrade, who you already are is absolutely beautiful.  Now you’re just playing dress up, and shopping second hand to help out needy people and save money for the stuff you really need.