Stop shopping and start curating a wardrobe
Does that sound pretentious? If it does, this concept may not be for you. But if you love fashion and creating looks this might be something you'd enjoy pursuing. Calling them looks and not outfits is your first clue. A new year (or season, or job, or week, or meal) can be a blank fashion slate.
Change your approach to buying new items for your wardrobe.
It's winter so you buy sweaters and coats. (DKNY extended back modern cozy, $545, and Modcloth Red It All Before Coat, $199, shown above.) Changing your approach can be refreshing and help you tap into some new creativity. Some people shop seasonally, some shop mostly for events or occasions and some people just troll the shops all the time for items for every clime and time. Whatever your shopping style, try a different one. Switch it up for at least a month or two. If nothing else, this will make you stop and think about your purchases and make you shop more intentionally.
Combine the popular rules "only buy things you love" and "only buy quality classics."
This whole process can be particularly difficult for those of us with eclectic style. You can feel pulled in many different directions and not know how to bring your different inspirations together in one closet without dressing like a spaz. Though remember, one person's spaz is another person's Connecticut Casual (Andy Bernard shout out!). Personally, I recently hit my 30s and became a mom. The lifestyle judgements inherent in these life changes alone, sometimes from the usual suspects and sometimes from the most unexpected sources, can send you reeling to jeans and a tame crew-neck sweater every day. But, as my husband told me when I asked if he minded if I still put pink streaks in my hair "you're still you."
For a while I tried to follow the oft-touted rule "only buy things clothes you love." Well, that leaves you with 8 million statement pieces, and combining statement pieces is more difficult and can just intensify your closet paralysis in the morning. No one needs that. Then there's the "only buy quality classics" advice outlined by fashion editors everywhere. A good example is Nina Garcia's The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own. This is a terrific book with great advice that leaves room for lots of interpretation. But you know what? You also need some plain Favorite Tees like J. Crew's Perfect Fit Tee ($22.50 and up), Gap's Favorite T ($14.95 and up) or Old Navy's Perfect Tees ($8.95 and up) depending on your budget. (I find Gap's to last just as long as J.Crew's, Old Navy's need replacing more often but you can buy more fun colors each season.) These sorts of pieces, like jeans or great black pants or a perfect pencil skirt can be the canvas for your fashion statement. I recently received a purple purse with studs all over and a crystal-covered skull (it's very McQueen! I love it!). Purple tights are one of my unlikely wardrobe staples, but I really wouldn't wear the two together, you know? I need some basics to make my prized bag pop.
Cast a wider net
Of course you have your favorite stores you're always going to go to, I'd never ask you to abandon your loyalties. I'm not even talking about just going to new stores. Go to whole new locations! If you always shop at the mall, make it a point to check out some small vintage or consignment shops (that's my favorite local vintage spot Malena's Vintage Boutique, above). If you live in the suburbs, take a trip into the city and hit a popular retail street. Or vice versa, city dwellers shouldn't be snobby about taking the trek out to the closest mega mall. If you never go into designer stores because you couldn't afford anything, consider checking them out just for inspiration and to see how the clothes fit. (High-end department stores are usually less threatening than just walking into Prada in your obvious H&M sweater.) If you stay away from fast fashion, consider it just for a quick injection of something trendy. Shopping on vacation is another great way to mix things up and find things you never would otherwise.
We're hearing this a lot lately, but it really is the most important rule. I've given you a lot of strategies for changing your routine and looking at shopping differently. But always stick to your style. If you're just discovering your style or you like to be constantly evolving, just be sure not to buy things you'll never wear. Do always think about where you'll wear something before making a purchase, it's a good litmus test. And this is coming from someone who would find a way to wear a cocktail dress to a casual family dinner and has. I like to live by the Oscar Wilde quote "You can never be overdressed or over educated." But if you'd rather find a way to wear boyfriend jeans to a cocktail party, go ahead and do that! Just starting to think about it as your wardrobe, a cohesive unit of pieces that work together to make one big statement can be an integral step for some people and help you hone in on your style. Take pictures of your favorite outfits even if you don't plan on sharing them - I like to lay them out like in a magazine so I don't get hung up on my flaws in pictures of me wearing the outfit. This will help you remember looks that really made you feel good about yourself or expressed your personal style perfectly. You'll gather more and more photos until you have a fabulous way to wear everything in your wardrobe and know just what it needs, and what you can toss.