10 Ways to Update Your Winter Wardrobe on the Cheap

It's already time to pull the sweaters and mittens out of storage, and it's also the perfect opportunity to clean out the closets and update your winter wardrobe. Male or female, thrifty or lavish, everyone inevitably gets tired of wearing the same old coat and hat every year.

You don't have to spend a fortune to expand your winter selection. Here are ten different ways you can be more fashionable this winter without going over your budget. (See also: Affordable Accessories to Kickstart Your Style)

1. Find the Best Thrift Stores

If you're a thrift store junkie, you probably already know the hippest spots in town. But there may be a few trendy thrift stores you haven't discovered yet. Ask around and check out the local papers for ads, or go online and do a quick search for all the cheap clothing places in town. Even an occasional trip to the stores where you haven't had much luck could prove to be fruitful. The beauty of thrift stores is that you never know what you will find. To get the most out of your second-hand shopping spree, find the places that offer the best consignment value. Most stores offer a greater value if you take the store credit as opposed to simply selling your unwanted items. If you bring in enough of what they're looking for, you may get several items to add to your winter wardrobe without having to spend much at all.

2. Organize a Clothing Swap

You won't have to spend a dime if you host a clothes-swapping soiree for your friends. You can even ask them to bring the drinks and snacks. The more people you invite, the more success you'll have; there will be a wider variety of sizes for everyone to choose from and a larger selection in general. Be sure to come up with a trading system before you invite folks over to swap their clothes with each other. Generally, people tend to work together to bargain and come up with a fair trade, but it's nice to have an overall rule about how it works. If you aren't sure what to do, ask people who've been to swaps before to help you come up with a fair system. Clothing swaps can be a lot of fun with the right mix of people.

3. Focus on the Classics

When you do find that perfect thrift store or start exchanging clothes with friends, try to pick out garments with classic styles or colors. Black clothing, for instance, can go with almost any color or print, and the more basic colors you own, the more you can switch things up instead of wearing the same outfit all the time. Choosing the leopard print over the solid navy shirt may be a fun and spontaneous, but it will get old quicker than you think. Having more of the classics in your winter clothing collection also makes it easier to layer.

4. Make Simple Alterations

Even the most classic styles and colors will eventually get less and less wear. Any item of clothing starts to look drab if it's been hanging in the closet long enough. You don't have to own a sewing machine to make small alterations to your garments. Simply cutting the collar off a shirt to give it a new look, or dying your clothes a different color can be a cheap and easy way to spiff up the clothes you already own.

5. Add Versatile Accessories

From belts to jewelry, there are plenty of accessories for both men and women to add some bling to your winter wear. And you can always find cheap accessories in good condition at thrift stores, since people typically overlook those items. Check out sales at larger department stores as well, since they will always need to make room for the next trend. Try to look for versatile colors and a mix of dressy and casual. Don't forget the shoes! A pair of kicking bargain boots can do wonders to your look.

6. Layer Everything

Wearing layers not only keeps you warmer in the winter, but it can also be a way to add some variety to your clothes. You can even use items that you already have in new ways. Wearing a dressy blazer or formal jacket with jeans is one way to mix your dressy and casual clothing together to create a new look. If you have a lot of solid colors in your winter wardrobe, layering will be easy and give you tons of combinations to experiment with.

7. Add Some Neckwear

Scarves, shawls, and neckties come in a wide variety of styles and colors, and you can usually find these at decent prices if you know where to look. Stores like T.J. Maxx often sell these items at very low prices, so don't forget to check out some of the box stores. In addition to keeping you warmer in the winter, scarves are extremely versatile, and make anything you wear stand out. Neckties make interesting belts as well. Look for the ragged ones at thrift stores; they will be dirt cheap, and you can hide the wear and tear if you wear them around your waist instead of your neck.

8. Glean From Fashion Mags

Not sure what to do with your wardrobe, or where to even start? Browse some popular fashion magazines, or scan through the fashion section in newspapers to get some ideas before you start shopping around or trading in that sweater you thought you'd never wear again. There may be something you can do with the items you already have that you hadn't thought of. Checking out the fashion world can give you a better idea of what to look for when you shop, which helps when you are on a tight budget.

9. Start a New Trend

Not worried about the latest in fashion news? Why not start your own trend — they have to start somewhere, right? Create your own style by coming up with inventive ways to wear your clothes, or try wearing something totally out of character, like a feather boa, goofy leggings, suspenders, a bow tie, or whatever makes you smile when you get dressed in the morning.

10. Go Zen On Your Garb

No matter how much we want to trade in our old duds for new ones, some of us just have a hard time letting go of our clothes. Even if we haven't worn a particular item in ten years, we hang on to it, truly believing that one day we will love it and wear it all the time (you know who you are). Before you start trading or buying clothes, take out each item in your closet, one at a time, and take a few minutes to truly think about whether you need it. You can even start jotting down some notes stating on why or why not it should stay or go. This also gives you an opportunity to catalog your entire wardrobe. Sometimes it's easier to see exactly what you have when it's on paper. Knowing what you have to start with will ultimately help you make smarter and more frugal choices when updating your winter wardrobe.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I love clothing swaps! They're such a great way to get new clothing, and combining them with a potluck lunch or dinner can be a lot of fun.

Does anybody else have ways for suggestions on how to update winter wardrobes? I've been experimenting with wearing waist belts on the outside of my sweaters.

Guest's picture

#2 is a great idea! my friends and i have been talking about doing one for a while now.

Andrea Karim's picture

I can never get anyone to actually SHOW UP to clothing/make-up swaps. Seattlites tend to flake a bit too easily.

This Saturday (Nov. 12), our Seattle-area Goodwill is holding their annual Glitter Sale, which is where the sell all the good stuff that people donate. Like, if you donate a pair of Prada heels, the staff swipes them immediately and saves them for the Glitter Sale. This is awesome, because the sale is where ALL THE AWESOME shoes and clothes are sold. But it also sort of sucks, because it means that the rest of the year at Goodwill is kind of a waste.

I hate waiting in line, and people line up early for the Glitter Sale, so I won't be attending. But I wonder if other big-city Goodwills or other thrift stores do the same?

Meg Favreau's picture

I've never heard of Glitter sales before. I can't decide if I love or hate that idea -- on one hand, knowing that you're going to get a bunch of good stuff on one particular day is awesome. But I agree -- knowing that you're getting the "meh" stuff the rest of the year is pretty lame.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the great ideas! I love to check out the websites of some of my favorite stores in Europe (H&M, Promod, and Sfera) for fun fashion ideas, and looking for similar fashion items at thrift stores and Ross. Thanks for the great ideas-- and I'm looking for some great neckware to add to my wardrobe! :)

Guest's picture

My girl friend just organized a clothing swap and everyone who went scored big and had an absolute blast. A great way to get "new" items without the price tag!