8 Cheap Ways to Update a Wardrobe You Hate

Photo: The SWAP Team

If you hate your wardrobe, are sick of everything you own, and want to go shopping already, hold up! Here are eight cheap ways to update a wardrobe you hate. (See also: 10 Steps to Update Your Look on a Budget)

1. Get Rid of Everything You Feel “Meh” About

Those pants that were a great deal but pinch your ankles in a slightly strange way — get them out of your closet, and stop feeling bad that you’re not wearing them! You know that shirt that you bought from your favorite store that you really want to work but makes you look like you’re built like a lumberjack? Yep, take it out of your closet too! 

You don’t have to keep clothes just because you bought got a great deal on them. If in your gut you feel like, “I really should be wearing that more...” stop putting yourself through that agony, and let yourself get rid of it. It takes a lot of time to organize and maintain things; the less you have, the more time you give yourself. 

If you’re not quite ready to part with those pieces that you really want to work, put them in a storage container for a season or two, and then see how you feel about them when you see them again. Still not ready to part? Let them sit a little longer. It will get easier, and before long you’ll be waving goodbye to those ill-fitting items that were such a good deal.

Wearing things that you don’t feel your best in is a sure way to get depressed about your wardrobe quickly. When you get rid of those “meh” clothes, then you’ll be left with only the clothes that you do feel great in. Suddenly, your wardrobe in looking better and you’re feeling better about yourself too, and all without a single penny being spent!

2. Trade Clothes With Your Friends

You know that pile of clothes you created from the first tip? While those pants might pinch your ankles in the weirdest way, they could fit your friend perfectly. You can host a large-scale formal clothing swap or just get some of your friends together one night and see who wants to trade what. This isn’t just a tip for the ladies; guys can swap too! Bonus idea — have everyone bring a dessert so you don’t have to foot the bill for the food.

3. Go to Buy-Sell-Trade Stores

If your friends don’t want to trade clothes with you, then seek out your city’s buy-sell-trade shops. I love Buffalo Exchange and Scout: Dry Goods and Trade. If the store chooses to buy the items you bring in, they will give you either money (yay!) or store credit, and you can pick out something new-to-you that you truly like.

Anything that you can’t get rid of after the second or third trips, donate to the thrift store. Be sure to get a receipt so you can get a tax benefit at the end of the year.

4. Use Scarves

Before I was a frugal lady I used to hate this idea. I always thought, “I’m not 70, okay?! I’m not going to wear scarves!” Turns out I was completely wrong. 

Scarves are easy to come by. They’re available in a wide variety of patterns, colors, and textures; and they're crazy versatile. You can wrap them around your head, tie them to your bag, use them as a belt, and tie them around your neck. (You can check out more scarf styling ideas on my website.)

Scarves have a way of making things look just a little bit fancier. Three cheers for scarves!

5. Accessorize

You can find really cheap accessories all over the place, and they can be used with a ton of different outfits to give your look a different vibe.

6. Re-Dye Your Clothes

Hit up the hobby store for a couple of packets of dye and bring new life to those old clothes. When clothes get faded from too many washes, it’s easy to feel like they look wacky, worn-out, and old (and it’s usually because they do!). You can re-dye your clothes the same color they originally were (I do this a lot with black cotton pants), or you can completely change the look of the item by experimenting and dyeing the item a new color (although you do have to be open-minded and ready for it to not turn out well, just in case).

7. Upcycle Your Clothes

This one might take a little practice, but check out some books from the library to get ideas about how to make the clothes you hate something you would love to wear again. Then pull out the sewing machine (or try one of these no-sew ways to update your wardrobe), and let your inner fashion designer loose.

8. Enlist a Stylish Friend

Some people just have a knack for putting together great outfits. We all know at least one of these people! Ask them to check out your wardrobe and help you come up with some new combinations. Having a different set of eyes look at your closet and brainstorm new looks with you might just be all it takes to start feeling a lot better about your wardrobe.

How do you cheaply change up your style when you’re feeling bored with your wardrobe?

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Guest's picture

I LOVE upcycling but I think sometimes a pro tailor can help save things too!

Andrea Karim's picture

Yes! I'm a terrible seamstress, but a good tailor has saved a number of clothing items that otherwise didn't fit me well. It's especially important when you have a figure that doesn't... conform, I guess? ;)

Guest's picture

I love that you included sewing as an option! I love to encourage people to learn more about sewing and to use their machines - it is possible to repair/upcycle many clothes as well as opening up a great avenue of creativity. Thanks for the great post!

Guest's picture
Julia Fraser

My 18 year old son spent part of last night making the legs of his jeans skinnier with the sewing machine. I suspect that he is the only eighteen year old boy at his school who could do that, because he is the only boy doing Textiles as a subject. I was really proud of him and he intends to alter another four pairs of jeans that would have gone to the op shop otherwise. I think this skill will stay with him, and at 6'4" no-one is teasing him about it.

Guest's picture

That's funny, just a couple of weeks ago my wife and I went out to a nice place and she had a dress that she was sort of 'eh' about. She put on a scarf and it instantly changed everything about how she felt about it.

Guest's picture

Great list of tips! Every year or two my friends and I get together for a "swap". Its one of the best ways for all of us to get new things, get rid of stuff thats cluttering our closet, and not spend a dime. There are also SO many websites out there for DIY ways to up-cycle clothes and make old items into completely different and new pieces to wear.

Guest's picture

Great tips! Scarves, belts, and hats are a must for me to update my wardrobe. I would also like to try dyeing and upcycling shirts, pants, and shorts. I have seen some blogs that show step-by-step procedure how to do them but I have not really given it a try.

Guest's picture
Erica Reinhart

Thanks for the ideas~ I was just thinking today that I wish the store still had my black tank top for sale since it is all faded, must try the re-dying with my blacks!

Guest's picture

Maris Olsen is right. Why not let your creativity out? You could do better and have better results as well.

Guest's picture

Thanks Steve! Every day in my sewing studio I see students of all ages increasing their confidence operating a sewing machine, and loving the unique, creative look they are able to craft with their new skills. It's what I am all about - transforming how people view sewing!

Guest's picture

I was surprised that you mentioned Scout - since it is a store here in Omaha where I live. Do you visit the Omaha area or live here? Hope that's not too personal of a question :) Great article!

Guest's picture

When I went from 177 pounds down to 140, I took ALL my "big" jeans to Goodwill. Turned around.... walked right back into the store... and bought a bunch of size 10's and 12's.
There are so many consignment shops around now that nobody should be stuck wearing things they don't like.