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Fresh Ideas From a Tired Closet

Inspiration Lab member Kelly Hillegass is a personal and commercial fashion stylist in Wilmington, North Carolina. Working for fashion companies in New York City and Wilmington led Kelly to the creation of her current company, where she helps clients realize their fashion dreams and helps brands visualize their identity. At home, she’s mom to her infant son Cruz and is currently dealing with quarantine life as we all are. Inspired by this unique time, Kelly is sharing her tips for repurposing tired wardrobes.

With today’s uncertain climate, many of us are being extra careful about how we spend, so we must be more creative with what we have. This very much applies to our wardrobes and can actually be a fun skill to sharpen.

We live our lives at an ever-increasing fast pace. With society’s current restrictions, we’ve been forced to live a slower lifestyle with less events and less rushing out of the door. A special consequence: It’s finally the perfect time to take a deep dive into your wardrobe. This process does take a bit of time, but hey, we have more time than usual right now, so have fun with it. Put on your favorite playlist or podcast and get started!

Step 1: Clean & Refresh

I like to get in the habit of going through a big clean and refresh at the start of the spring and fall seasons. It doesn’t matter if you have a huge walk-in closet or are working with a tiny closet — you have to be able to see what you have.

Start by packing away past-season items. As we get into the warmer months, I’ve packed away my heavy coats, winter shoes, and accessories in clear Tupperware containers I purchased from Target for $8 per bin. I labeled them and stored them away in my attic.

It’s easy to get on a decluttering high and create a huge donation pile. Think twice here. I suggest packing away the past-season items and then, when it’s time to pull them out again, taking the time to sort what you want to toss, sell, and donate. At the end of a season, we may be sick of an item or if we didn’t wear it much that season, we sometimes want to toss it. By packing away the previous season’s items and then unpacking them when the weather turns, older items can feel refreshed as you haven’t seen them in months. You may see certain items in a new light or you may just be happy you didn’t toss all your sweaters and have to start over from scratch. If you are still over the item when you unbox it, get rid of it.

Pro Tip: If there are items in your closet you’re not wearing due to a stain, tear, or fit issue, get them fixed. For a super low cost, you can stop browsing past this item while it takes up real estate in your closet and instead actually use it. If there is an item you are not wearing because the sleeves are too long or won't stay up, throw on an elastic hair tie and bunch up the sleeve for a quick fix.

Things to never toss...

  • Blazers: The styles change for blazers, but they always come back in style and generally hold up well.

  • White Sneakers: As long as they can be cleaned and are still in good shape, hold onto these as you may find you need them.

  • Classic Denim: Denim trends come and go, but quality jeans that fit you well will always be in style.

  • In-Good-Shape Basic Knits: These are closet key players. At the end of winter, we are burnt out on them, but they come in handy and we can restyle them fresh next season.

  • Designer Handbags: The trends come back around for these investments, so hold onto them. If you truly don’t see yourself using a bag again, turn to a higher-end consignment store (my local favorite is Hope Consignment) or use an online resale site to get some cash back.

  • Jean Jackets: Jean jacket colors and cuts change over the years, but they always come back in style, and no matter what style you have, they are a classic wardrobe staple to have on hand.

  • Belts: Trends change, but these don’t take up much space, so hold onto them and you will be glad you did.

  • Slip Dress: A classic slip dress is a great wardrobe basic you can style in so many ways.

Here is a quick snap of my closet today. The pants are a little uneven, but just having your items displayed nicely and organized helps keep your items visible and inviting at all times.

Step 2: Reorganize & Merchandise

Now that you’ve eliminated what you won’t be wearing, you have more room to display your items. Creating a beautiful space you enjoy helps you shop what you already have. I realize we’re all often in a rush, but taking the time to create a well-organized wardrobe will help keep an enjoyable space. When everything has a place, it’s easier to put it back there. And yes, sometimes I create a pile on the floor when getting dressed in a hurry, but using these tips helps to keep a nice closet easier.

  • Have a pretty basket you can throw everything into at the base of your closet or in a corner if you are in a rush and cannot put it all back in place – this way you keep that chair clean in the corner of your room and just do a little reorganizing when you find time each week.

  • Switch to nice hangers. You can find these on Amazon or even at T.J. Maxx. They make a world of difference. Velvet hangers of all the same color create a streamlined visual look while creating more space since they are thinner than plastic hangers. They also keep shirts from slipping off constantly and hitting the floor, and they bend so they don’t end up all tangled up like wire hangers.

  • Organizers are easily found everywhere these days to help store and display your items. Find some inspiration by searching “closet organization” or “wardrobe organization” on Google, Pinterest, or Instagram. I like to follow Instagram accounts like @nycneat_louisa to keep my feed motivating.

  • Build or purchase shoe shelving. I have a regular in-wall closet with folding doors. My husband built in five super-basic white wood shelves to upgrade my regular closet and get my shoes off the ground. If you have extra wall space in your room or in a walk-in closet but don’t want to build shelves, you can reuse book shelves.

Here is a quick snap of my closet today. The pants are a little uneven, but just having your items displayed nicely and organized helps keep your items visible and inviting at all times.

  • I recommend clear acrylic separators to hold your small handbags and clutches. The one pictured here is actually a desk divider found on Amazon.

  • I don’t have a walk-in closet or boudoir station, and I like to keep the top of my dresser clean of jewelry, so I use this jewelry tray set and place them in the top drawer of my dresser.

  • Get baskets for accessories.

  • Hang belts on a hanger.

  • Get clear bins to fold and store sweaters in. This way you can see them up on a shelf, but you don’t pull one out and the whole pile becomes a mess.

  • A pretty display rack is great too.

Since we are talking about working with what we have, there is no need to rush and get any of the items listed above. You may instead find new uses for some decorative baskets or boxes already in your house. Just doing a clean-out and reorganization creates a world of difference. Organize items however you like. I usually organize by category, then by lighter to heavier items, as well as light to dark, or group by print / no print — it’s up to you. It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you find what works for you. Creating a space that makes you enjoy looking through your wardrobe will make you value it more.

Step 3: Take Time to Create

  1. Pull out an item, say a floral blouse

  2. Then pull out the bottoms you normally wear with it.

  3. Okay — you like that outfit. It’s best to get in the actual outfit, though, to make sure everything works together. Then take a mirror selfie or simply lay the outfit on your bed and take a quick snap. Save the photo to an album on your phone or create a public or private Pinterest board to hold your looks.

  4. Go back to all of all your bottoms and pull out another option to wear with this same blouse. Maybe it’s a skirt you never thought to pair it with or a more relaxed jean.

  5. Now find the right shoe for this new look and snap it. For example, with the relaxed jeans, you could throw on some slides or some casual sneakers.

Pro Tips: Find inspiration by searching on Google — in this case, you’d search for “floral blouse street style.” You’ll see a ton of new ways to style the item you’re working with. I love to keep outfit inspirations I find on Pinterest or Instagram saved to my account so I can review them and get inspired when I am feeling less than creative with my wardrobe.
Inspiration can lead to new ways to wear or layer something. For example, layer a sweater over a dress to make it look like a sweater and skirt, or layer a belt over your dress, or put on a blazer and then a belt.

This may seem time-consuming, but it is rewarding, so have fun with it. You should be able to create at least three outfit options for each top.

Step 4: Make Old Clothes New

Don’t worry – I’m not asking you to pull out a sewing machine. Here are some quick tips to refresh older items.

  • Update an older jean by cutting off the bottom hem – raw hems and shorter hemlines are in right now. After cutting them, throw the pants in the wash and boom… you have raw-hemmed jeans.

  • Take a classic pair of jeans or pants (or thrift a pair) and cut them into Bermuda shorts – they are back! If you have a dress pant you no longer love, think about taking them to your tailor and getting them cut into Bermuda shorts.

  • Cut a step hem. You will find all the designer brands are currently creating step-hem jeans. I did this on an old pair of Levi’s my mom passed on to me. Just cut the front of the cuff about a quarter-inch shorter than the back of it for a fun, updated look.

  • Say you have a great fitting dress, blouse, or pants, but you’ve worn it a ton and it's not in a basic color that would be a wardrobe staple. Update it by throwing it in the wash with some dye.

  • While you're looking for things to dye, natural earth tones are trending. Create natural dye from items you may already have in your pantry. Take anything white and give it a fresh take.


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