Unfortunately, building the perfect wardrobe not only requires a ton of creativity and a kick-ass style concept. You also need money to implement all of your ideas and, unless you have an unlimited budget (and who does?) you will have to prioritise some things on your wish list and ignore others, at least for a while. Sad face? No: in my opinion an unlimited budget is rarely helpful because it stifles creativity by completely removing the need to think about what you are buying - a major no-go for anyone who wants to approach the topic of personal style in a conscious, self-directed way. So, what’s the solution? Keep a budget. It’s boring but essential :) If you are on the market for a new or improved budgeting technique, read on for a couple of tips on how to select the right one + the pro’s and con’s of six different budgeting methods.
two key factors: your creative process + your current wardrobe status
When it comes to refining your style and building up a wardrobe, a budget needs to contain two pieces of information: a) how much you can spend within a set time frame and b) what you want to spend it on.
A budget without part b) aka “Don’t spend more than 200€ on clothes this month” is better than nothing, but not particularly helpful if you want to make the most out of those 200€ and work towards a refined, functional wardrobe. A budget needs a spending limit, but also include guidelines on how to spend that limit, i.e. a structure.
These two pieces of information can of course be expressed in lots of different spending formulas and methods. The tricky part is to find or develop a budgeting technique that suits your own planning style and creative process, but also the current status of your wardrobe. Someone with a well-defined style and a versatile, functional wardrobe needs a different budgeting technique than a curating newbie, just because the two will have completely different goals and priorities. To help you figure out the right budgeting technique for your wardrobe and creative process, I included little scales in this post to indicate what wardrobe status I think each technique works best at (0=no wardrobe structure at all ; 10=super well-built, defined wardrobe) and how much initial planning it requires (0=no planning at all; 10=lots of planning). You know me, I’m a big planner, but I realize that not everyone likes lists and spread sheets as much as I do, so I have tried to include a relatively broad range of methods to suit both ends of the spectrum :)
Regardless of which method you choose, remember that it is meant to improve your wardrobe and style, not stress you out or stifle your creative energy. Tweak and tailor your technique until it works for you and don’t worry about minor slip ups. Keep calm, rearrange your plan and continue :)
5-piece french wardrobe
- wardrobe status7-10/10
- initial planning 4/10
5 Key Pieces per season. Basics don’t count.
The 5-Piece French Wardrobe method perfectly aligns with a minimalist approach to personal style and, despite its strict 5-piece limit, does not require too much planning. The basic concept is that instead of spending money on-the-go throughout the year, you invest in 5 high-quality key pieces each season (S/S and F/W). A classic ‘quality over quantity’ approach. Basics do not count as key pieces and can be bought when needed or replaced if broken/worn out.
Some things I like about this budgeting technique: By giving you only a handful of slots to fill every six months, the 5PFW method forces you to go beyond surface-level decision-making ("I kinda like this") and really assess which items would have the biggest positive impact on your wardrobe. The 5-piece limit prevents you from spreading your budget across lots of little things and bargains and encourages you to really take your time to select pieces for quality, craftsmanship, fit, all the good stuff that is so easy to compromise on for a good bargain. Despite the low number of allowed pieces, the 5PFW method is actually relatively flexible because you get to decide how much planning/research you put into each purchase. You could for example research and carefully curate three of the five pieces and leave the other two slots free in case you unexpectedly come across an amazing piece. However you go about it, the trick to getting the most out of the 5PFW is to really work with the idea of quality over quantity and make those 5 pieces count - no settling for 'good-enough’s or pieces that look but don’t feel good.
One word of caution regarding the 'basics don't count' add-on: With no restrictions whatsoever or a proper definition of the term 'basic', it’s way too easy to declare an emerald-green, embellished sweater a basic and completely defy the purpose of the whole concept. If you want to adopt the 5PFW method I suggest you spend some time laying out your own definition of what exactly a basic constitutes before you start and also set some guidelines for when you are allowed to buy them. Just because something truly is a basic in your wardrobe does not mean you can justify owning 7 versions of it. In my books a basic is an item that supports the rest of your clothes and ‘fills in’ an outfit (you can read more about my definition of basics here). If I followed this method I would probably aim for a ‘one in - one out’ principle and only buy new basics to replace broken or worn out ones, or if a new key piece required some form of basic to support it.
All in all, I think the 5PFW method is a great choice for advanced curators, because it emphasizes long-term value, allows you to slowly expand your wardrobe piece-by-piece, and also leaves room for love-at-first-sight items and basic wardrobe maintenance. For someone who is just starting their curating journey and has hardly any good clothes in their wardrobe, let alone a stable idea of their style, 5 pieces per season are probably not enough to make any considerable progress in 6 months.
- wardrobe status 4-7/10
- initial planning 7/10
Use 80% of your budget on carefully planned out items. Leave 20% free to spend however you like.
The perfect compromise between carefully weighing up options and just going with the flow. It’s like a deal with yourself. The idea is to set aside a certain portion of your budget, ideally about 80%, that you are going to invest in key pieces, basics, items that will truly enrich the dynamics of your wardrobe and your style. The 80% items are the ones that you spend a good amount of time searching for, comparing brands, fits, materials, etc. They are the ones you come up with when assessing your wardrobe, the ones that fill gaps, add a strategic colour accent, expand the versatility of your outfits, i.e. you do not spend them on bargains or on a whim. That’s the deal. And for sticking to your end of the deal you get to spend the rest of your budget on literally whatever. Spontaneous finds, experimental colours, impulse buys. The other 20% are strictly left unplanned for. In fact you are not even allowed to think about what to spend them on until you hit the shops.
This method definitely works for people who already have a well-defined wardrobe (because it helps you further strenghten your wardrobe and deepen your style concept, without missing out on the fun), but it’s also good for those who are smack in the middle of their curating journey. I’ve been using this method for years to budget my beauty spending. I plan out most of my hard-to-find essentials, like foundation, skin care or blush, but I also looove just being able to walk into a Lush and buy some goodies just for fun.
hot & cold wardrobe sections
- wardrobe status 4-9/10
- initial planning 2/10
Designate 1-3 hot & cold wardrobe sections (under- and overrepresented areas). Cold = shopping ban. Hot = focus area.
Perfect for everyone who hates planning and prefers a more intuitive approach to shopping, the hot & cold budgeting technique will help you direct your attention to areas that need some love, without restricting your spending too much. Here’s how it works: At the beginning of each season, or even more frequently if you like, go through your wardrobe and examine which sections (e.g. outerwear, shoes, work wear, etc.) are over- and which are underrepresented compared to your lifestyle, i.e. how often you need clothes from that section. An example:
Lifestyle: You tend to go to black-tie events once a month.
Wardrobe: You own 15+ evening dresses. —> Overrepresented wardrobe section.
Lifestyle: You work out four times a week.
Wardrobe: You only own two sets of work out clothes and have to hand wash them between work-out days. —> Underrepresented wardrobe section.
Now, turn those misrepresented wardrobe sections into rough shopping guidelines, by designating them as either hot or cold. Cold means: no more shopping required, already stuffed to the brim, hot means: new additions required, good to shop for. For the next season (or whatever your chosen timeframe is) try to focus the majority of your shopping energy and money on hot wardrobe sections, and ban yourself from shopping for cold ones.
The hot & cold method works best if you already have a base level of structure in your wardrobe (so you can ignore certain wardrobe sections for a longer period of time), but you do not need to have everything perfectly figured out yet. In fact, this method is a great alternative to more systematic approaches like the seasonal capsule wardrobe method (see below) for in-progress curators who prefer a more fluid wardrobe building approach and want to upgrade their wardrobe from the ground up.
- wardrobe status 2-7/10
- initial planning 6/10
Examine your wardrobe and write a list of possible additions, organized by priority. Focus on high-priority items first.
Writing a priorities list of possible new additions is a great way to ‘plan’ out your wardrobe, minus the stress that comes with having to shop for very specific items. The idea is to spend a couple of hours or so at the beginning of a season assessing your style and wardrobe structure and to come up with a list of items that you feel would upgrade your wardrobe. You then organize that list by priority according to how much of an impact each item would have on your style and wardrobe. If an item expresses an important aspect of your style concept that is not yet represented in your wardrobe, is super versatile and fits the dynamics of your wardrobe perfectly, it deserves a top spot. Things that are nice to have but easy to live without, minor embellishments or seasonal trends get a lower spot, but still make it on the list. How you organize your list of priorities is up to you: sort items into groups or simply rank everything. You can also decide how closely you want to define missing items during that initial brainstorming period. If you already have a very clear idea about what you want an item to look like and what role it should play in your wardrobe, go ahead and write it all down, but if not simply fill in the details later.
The key to making this method work is to get all of your ideas out on paper at the beginning of a season and to honestly review each possible addition according to their potential value to your wardrobe. Throughout the season, keep your list at hand, in your bag or on your phone, and try to focus most of your budget and curating-energy on high-priority items. Once you have ticked them off your list feel free to shop for the lower-priority, nice to have things without guilt.
seasonal capsule wardrobe
- wardrobe status 1-8/10
- initial planning 9/10
Carefully plan out and implement a seasonal capsule wardrobe of 20 - 30 items.
The seasonal capsule wardrobe method (my personal favourite) is a labour-intensive but effective budgeting technique that is perfect for anyone who has just started their curating journey, wants to rebuild their wardrobe from scratch or is serious about making a difference to their wardrobe. The idea is to basically do a super thorough analysis of your wardrobe and style goals at the beginning of each season and plan out a 20-30 piece capsule wardrobe for the upcoming six months + any other essentials, such as work out clothes, underwear etc.
The seasonal capsule wardrobe method is for hardcore curators only: you have to really take the time to define which exact items you need to implement your style concept and ideal wardrobe structure, what qualities you want new additions to have, how much money you can spend on each, etc. Once the planning phase is over it’s time for the hunt: you compare possible items, try them on, examine fits, colours and materials until you find the perfect match. This method is definitely time consuming and stressful at times because with such narrow criteria it can be tough to find what you are looking for. But it also gives you hands-down the most control over your budget and the best overarching perspective of your wardrobe.
quarterly focus areas
- wardrobe status 3-6/10
- initial planning 4/10
Select one focus area per quarter and restrict all other spending to only the essentials.
This method is essentially a variation of the hot & cold method, i.e. building up your wardrobe successively, section by section. But instead of selecting a couple of different sections per season, with this method you only choose a single section in your wardrobe to focus on for three month, e.g. your work wardrobe, statement pieces, accessories, basics, etc. During those three months, you allocate all of your budget, attention and shopping energy towards upgrading that particular area. Once the three months are over, you choose another section and so on.
The quarterly focus area method is good for people who enjoy really delving into something. The narrow focus allows you to really explore all possible options and also expand your skill set related to that section in different directions, essentially ‘mastering’ that small portion of your wardrobe. For example, if you decide to upgrade your accessories collection, during those three months you could do everything from building a jewellery uniform and learning about how to properly care for and expand the life of your footwear, to building a functional bag wardrobe or practising how to style the same base outfit in lots of different ways using just accessories. The quarterly routine also means you can tailor your focus areas to any annual events you may have. For example, in one year you could focus on special occasion wear during springtime (because you have a lot of parties and weddings to go to), on lounge wear in the summer, on work wear in fall (because you will be starting your first real job after uni) and on your uniform components in winter. Alternatively, if you are still in the first stages of refining your style you could also use this method to select whichever wardrobe section needs the most work and section-by section work through your entire wardrobe. In general, I feel like quarterly switches are the most helpful, but of course you could also choose longer or shorter time frames, e.g. one month or six months, by specifying or broadening the scope respectively, e.g. pick your jewellery collection to work on for a month instead of all of your accessories for three months.