This post will show you free ways to improve your style without buying new clothes.
Let’s be real — these are tough financial times for most of us, especially as college students. As much as we love to shop, the no-spend movement is gaining momentum for a reason!
Today, I’m here to inspire you to update your style without buying new clothes. (I promise it’s possible.)
Read on for all of my tips and tricks!
Table of Contents
Are You in a Style Rut?
We all know that feeling. That “I don’t have anything to wear” feeling, standing in front of a closet with clothes that aren’t inspiring anymore.
A style rut is as common as it is frustrating.
We’ve all been there, and this sentiment is usually met with the classic, “But your closet is full of clothes!”
We know we have clothes. That is not the issue. Styling these items into an outfit that we love and feel comfortable in is.
Reasons for a style rut vary, but at the center is almost always a sense of boredom, of feeling like you’ve tried all possible combinations. And that rut makes us feel uncomfortable in our once beloved and trusted items.
What do we usually do to fix it? We shop.
We bring in a new, shiny item that brings everything back to life with its newness.
It works for a while.
Then, we’re standing in front of our closet again, wondering what to wear. Shopping didn’t help and now our wallets are lighter with no progress.
So, what else can we do to fix it — without spending money?
How to Freshen Up Your Closet: Tips, Tricks, & Hacks.
Before I get into the tips, let me clear something up. You do not need to determine why you’re in a rut to start.
Most of the time, we get stuck on the why and end up even more frustrated. Get it out of your mind for now; that part comes at the end of this post.
Now, here are some easy tips and hacks on how to bring your closet back to life (and figure out your rut in the process):
- Accessorizing can make or break an outfit. So, focus on those details while wearing one of your most worn looks. What accessory can you add or switch up? Maybe add something colorful, shiny, or patterned. Switch your usual shoes for a more stylized or bright pair.
- Play with your hairstyle. We all have that one hairstyle we wear almost every day. You could try experimenting with your hairstyle and accessories. Maybe add a ribbon or sleek gel, or just change the way you part your hair.
- Switch up your makeup. Just like our hair, we usually have one makeup look we always return to. Why not try a red lipstick instead of your usual nude or mauve? Or try a fun new makeup trend?
- Layer it up. Again, layers are your greatest to bring an item back to life. Or two. Try layering two pieces that you love but feel a bit tired of. Maybe a tulle skirt under a silk skirt. Or layer two jackets together to give them dimension.
- Turn it around. We all have that one piece we love but don’t wear because of a tiny detail in the front. Maybe the neckline is too deep or too modest, or it has a lot of details on the front that are tricky to pair with other things. Why not turn it around and wear it backward?
How to Freshen Up Your Closet: A Fashion Guide
Accessorize, Easy – Outfit #1
Let’s start with something easy.
While I love a good colorful outfit, I have to admit that on my laziest or busiest days, this is what I’ll probably land on. A simple T-shirt and my favorite jeans.
For this example, I’m wearing my favorite white cotton t-shirt. It is not too loose or fitted, so I wear it a lot like this. Then, I wore my medium-wash boyfriend jeans and did a French tuck to the t-shirt.
The outfit on the left is practical, yes. Inspired? Not so much. Makes me feel like me? Absolutely not.
Here, you can sprinkle some accessories and layers on, and it will change everything. I added a silk scarf that has different shades of blue, golden, and a bit of red. Then, since it was still cold outside, I threw on an oversized navy blazer. Finally, to give myself a bit of shape, I used a black crossbody bag.
As you can see, I just added three things and transformed one of my most worn outfits.
The best part is, nothing is new!
I borrowed the blazer from my mom’s closet (probably from the 80s), the scarf was my grandpa’s, and the bag I’ve had for years.
It is still a comfortable, practical look, but now I feel like myself and love how I look.
Accessorize, Easy – Outfit #2
Now, let’s tackle an outfit that is a bit more put together.
These are the looks that you know you look good and are your go-to when you have to put together something *nicer* but still comfy in a rush.
For me, that would be something like this:
I’m wearing a striped, boxy T-shirt with a pair of pinstripe, loose pants. You know I love a good layer, so I would probably wear a black biker jacket to add a different texture to the look, then finish with Converse.
I love this look. I’ve worn it countless times, but not that often anymore because I feel tired of it.
To bring it back to life, I decided to add a bit of color. For this, I switched my usual gold earrings for a pair of big red and gold drop earrings. To finish the look, I decided to carry a red purse that has an interesting shape.
It’s the same outfit, but adding color changes everything. It gives it a bit more of intention since red pops when paired with black and white.
Now, instead of a lazy choice on my part, black and white becomes the perfect backdrop for a statement piece like this purse.
Play With Your Hair, Medium – Outfit #3
Matching sets are great and easy to just wear. The problem is wearing them repeatedly without feeling tired of the exact same combo every time you wear them.
I have a couple of beloved sets, but my absolute favorite is this one:
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while now, then you probably recognize this green set. It is a green shirt with a high neckline and loose-fit pants.
When styling this set, I usually go one of two ways for shoes: my Adidas Stan Smiths or a pair of off-white squared booties. Today, I went with the white and green Stan Smith Adidas.
The look on the left is very comfortable, I would wear this any day and call it a day.
Because I wear this when I’m uninspired or in a rush, I don’t do my hair with it that often.
So, to upgrade this outfit, I decided to do some space buns. And to add a bit more fun, I changed my usual gold earrings for a pair of green geometric ones.
These were very small changes, but they transformed the outfit.
Again, this attention to detail gives the look of intentionality. I’m still comfortable, but I don’t feel tired of the set like I did before.
If you have a set that you love, like me, but feel a bit tired of it, think of it as a blank canvas to add to or to play with your hair or accessories.
Play With your Makeup, Medium – Outfit #4
Now we have a very popular outfit combo that is a staple in everyone’s closet: A white button-up, jeans, and a black coat or jacket.
My version of this combo looks something like this. I’m wearing a white button-up shirt tucked into some loose-fit, high-waisted jeans. Then, I layered on a black suede coat for a bit of texture. I finished with my white Nikes.
Great look, I wear it, or a version of this, a lot. Especially if I’m going to the office.
Again, I just need more color or pizzazz to spice this up.
First, I styled my hair in a half ponytail and added a red ribbon. Then, I added more blush and highlighter to my cheeks and used a glittery eyeshadow. Finally, I switched my everyday mauve lipstick to red lipstick.
Hair and makeup are everything you need to change your outfit sometimes. They’re as important as choosing the right purse or shoes.
Remember that your face and hair are the first things we see in the mirror, so if you feel tired of how you look, try spicing up your makeup or hair first.
Layer it Up, Difficult – Outfit #5
Another common outfit combo we might all share is something like this, namely a striped button-up with jeans and boots.
I wear something like this when I want to give off that effortless, cool look.
On the left, I’m wearing a blue and white striped button-up shirt tucked halfway into a pair of black, wide-leg jeans. For shoes, I went with black platform Chelsea boots. If I’m going for effortless, I’m for sure putting my hair up with a hair clip.
I used to love this outfit. It made me feel exactly how I wanted: effortless, cool, chic. Now, I just feel tired and uninspired.
How did I change that for the outfit on the right? The art of layering.
For this example, I untucked the shirt and unbuttoned it a bit. Then, I threw on a black denim jacket and buttoned it up. I popped the collar of the shirt and pulled the shirt’s cuffs over the cuffs of the jacket.
Can you see how one item can change everything?
The little peeks of the shirt under the jacket make this look so cool and new. Especially since we don’t usually button up jackets like this, you could also switch the shirt with the jacket and make it a monochromatic denim look.
(For more details on how to layer like a pro, read my article on it here.)
Layer it Up, Difficult – Outfit #6
Again, we all have that one dress.
It’s the one that checks all your boxes: fits perfectly, goes with everything, and is 100% your style. You’ve probably had it for years.
And now, you feel like you’ve worn it too much and have exhausted all possible combinations. Me, too.
In my closet, that item is this one.
Again, if you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll probably recognize it. I’m wearing my lovely black and white floral midi dress.
I wear this piece year-round, with booties and sneakers, casually or dressed up. This time, I’m wearing it with a pair of black sock booties.
How do I bring it back to life after wearing it non-stop for four or five years? Layer it with a recent favorite, of course!
I love a good mix of patterns, so I layered a leopard print dress under the floral one. Then, I added a brown crossbody bag to bring in more of the leopard print’s color palette.
The mock neck of the leopard print dress, longer sleeves, and skirt are the perfect length for a peek-a-boo moment. Since both dress palettes are neutral and share black, they work together.
I know this is not a combination for everyone. But I love it. I think it’s really fun and playful without being too loud.
You can try something similar with polka dots and stripes, for example. Or a big floral print layered with a smaller one.
(For more details on how to mix patterns, read our article on it here.)
Turn it Around, Difficult – Outfit #7
Now, let’s cover those items that are *almost* perfect. They would be if it weren’t for the neckline or details on the front.
Or maybe you just feel tired of how your piece looks.
For me, those items usually come in the form of a V-neck. I love the idea of a V-neck, but it doesn’t suit me very well. Since I have a small chest, I feel like V-necks don’t fall where they’re supposed to, and they just look awkward on me.
One example is this beautiful red knit v-neck dress.
This piece is comfortable, and I usually wear it like this, with just a pair of white sneakers. Or I layer it with a sweater. Because it already has buttons on the front, I don’t love how it looks with a button-up shirt.
To solve both these problems, I just turned it around. Now, I have a higher neckline and a cleaner look to work with in front.
The dress’s new high neck is perfect for pairing with a striped button-up shirt. Then, to tie in with the stripes, I layered on a black suede coat. Finally, I switched the sneakers with red booties to continue the red theme.
Wearing items backward can really open up the possibilities of your closet. I love a deep-V in the back, so this is a hack I use often.
A lot of you might be wondering whether the buttons on the back look weird, but I feel like they’re an interesting detail to have in the back while having a cleaner, simpler look in the front.
Turn it Around, Difficult – Outfit #8
For my final example, I’ll tackle one more challenging item for me: wrap dresses.
Again, I love the *idea* of them, but they usually don’t fit me right. I have the same issue that I have with the V-neck items: they usually don’t wrap where they should, so I have to pin them where I need.
This gorgeous navy and red floral wrap dress is a prime example. Since it is so pretty, I try to make it the star of the show and keep my shoes and accessories toned down. For example, I would normally wear it with black sock booties and a black purse.
I love this dress, so I do like to wear it, but when I do, I’m never 100% comfortable with the neckline and where the ties end.
To fix this, I wore it backward.
I love how the open back looks; I feel like it brings a sexier vibe to the look. Then, I decided to lean into the color, added a pair of red tights, and switched the black shoes for a pair of red booties. Finally, I swapped the black purse for a red purse to just really make this a colorful outfit.
Again, a tiny detail changed my outlook on this item. I’ve never worn it like this before, and I cannot believe it has never occurred to me. Wearing it backward opened up my creativity and made me feel excited to wear it.
A style rut can be challenging. I get it. I’ve been through it countless times.
Maybe you are having a hard time in school or work, your personal style has changed so you feel disconnected from your wardrobe, your closet doesn’t match your lifestyle anymore, or your body might be changing.
Personally, I’ve gone through all those reasons at least once in my life.
The latest one (style rut related to body changes) happened for me a couple of months ago.
Before I realized what it was, I tried shopping for new things. And they didn’t work like I expected. I was frustrated and a bit sad because I couldn’t understand what was going on. I loved my clothes, the colors, the patterns. But I just couldn’t make them look like I wanted.
Then, I tried all the styling tips and hacks above instead of shopping, just to feel inspired.
Finally, I realized I was feeling this way because my body has been changing and that made the clothes fit differently. It was such a relief, because after making it work with what I had, I knew what I had to do.
Now, I could donate the things I was sure didn’t work for me anymore, repurpose items where I loved the fabrics but not the fit, and make a list of the items I needed to re-buy in the correct size.
As I’ve been repeating through this post, it’s not necessarily that we need to add new clothes, or figure out why you’re in a rut right out of the gate. The most important thing to do is to change how you look at the items you already have.
I promise that if you try freshening up your closet with these tips before getting rid of things or shopping for more, it will help you understand your personal style a lot more.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!
How do you update your wardrobe without buying new clothes?
Would you wear any of the outfits? What’s your favorite tip or hack to freshen up your closet for free? Do you have any styling questions?
Let us know in the comments below!