Fall Wardrobe Prep: 7 Budget Moves to Make Now


Updated November 19, 2020

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The calendar says its nearly Labor Day, but I don’t quite believe it. The summer is coming to a close, and too soon at that.

If you love the summer sunshine like I do, you might be inclined to road trip to Southern California on a whim, binge shop online for a new wardrobe, or simply go on a bender to grieve the end of the season. Trust me, I wouldn’t judge. But we all know there are better, healthier, and cheaper ways to transition into fall — mentally and style-wise. Try these seven budget-friendly steps to get your fall wardrobe in order now.   

7 steps to ready your fall wardrobe

1. Clean your closet

Ugh, I know. I had to start with a task that’s decidedly less fun than shopping. But you stand to save a lot of dough by cleaning your closet before you start buying up those fall wardrobe essentials. If you live in a seasonal climate, you may not have worn a cardigan or pair of ankle boots for three months or more. Those forgotten pieces are lurking at the back of the closet somewhere, just waiting to be worn. Skip the step of taking stock of what you have and you could end up spending unnecessarily on a new garment you don’t actually need. I’ve done it: I literally own two maroon, long-line cardigans.

Go through your closet from top to bottom. Donate, sell, or swap anything you’ll never wear again. Make a mental note — or better, an actual note — of the fall-friendly pieces you already own. These include garments you can layer to extend the life of your summer clothes, like leggings, light sweaters and jackets, long-sleeved tops, tights, and scarves.

It also helps to categorize your summer clothes into items you can keep wearing with an added layer and those that’ll be put away as soon as the temps get below 70. Summer dresses, for example, can keep going for a while as long as you have a denim jacket to throw on top. But short-shorts? They’re not great for layering since they look silly with tights.

2. Assess your color palette

Spring and summer wardrobes usually feature the brights and pastels: yellows, oranges next to soft blues, greens, and pinks. And then as soon as the days get shorter, we’re all wearing rich jewel tones: burgundy, olive, navy, and purples.

Color palette of trendy fall colors.
These are the colors on Pantone’s fall/winter trend report.

Review your color options and decide where your options might be lacking in the fall color spectrum. The good news is that, this year, you can keep wearing some of your oranges and reds well into the colder months. I have that on good authority from the Pantone Color Institute. The fall/winter color trend report features those fiery tones, plus bright yellow, blue and green. Alongside those trendier colors, you’ll also see the classic navy, olive green, cream, and gray this season.  

3. Check your leggings and tights supply

Leggings and tights quickly convert your dresses and skirts into fall and winter wear — for a lot less than it’d cost you to buy pants. Leggings also have the added convenience of doubling as loungewear, which is a major player in my wardrobe at the moment. Aim to have a few sets of black tights since they’re so versatile and a couple of pairs of black or grey leggings, too. Chances are, you already have these pieces on hand. If you don’t, look to Target, Old Navy, and Walmart for budget-friendly options.

4. Have light outerwear on hand

Three or four cute outwear pieces also extend the life of your t-shirts, tanks, jeans, and dresses. If you have dresses that you’d like to keep wearing in fall, those pair best with cardigans. Bomber jackets look amazing over jeans and t-shirts, as do blazers. Moto jackets that fit you well are fabulous with nearly anything from capris to shorter skirts. You could also wear long-sleeved, button down shirts atop pencil skirts and dresses that aren’t bulky. Just tie a knot in the front and you’re good to go.

You also should have one waterproof option on hand. Hopefully something suitable is already hiding in your closet. If not, this bold orange jacket from Columbia is right on trend. I like the shape of it, too — fairly straight, almost like a blazer.

5. Keep your feet covered

Essential footwear for your fall wardrobe include ankle boots, rain boots, and sneakers. That’s it. If you want to get fancy, add a pair of loafers, too. Try Sam’s Club or DSW for cheap rain boots. Target and Old Navy sell cute canvas sneakers for $30 or less. And you can find fashion-forward, affordable ankle boots on Amazon, DSW, and ASOS sale pages.

This boot from DSW comes in a trendy maroon color that’ll add some richness to your fall outfits — without being so trendy that you won’t want to wear them next year too.

6. Find those hats and scarves

Fall is the time to pull out those hats and scarves you’ve collected over the years. Even if it’s not quite cold enough for a knit beanie, you can wear a wool boater as a chic addition to jeans and a sweater, or pair a newsboy cap with a long-sleeved dress. On your casual days, a bucket hat always adds a touch of fun style.

As for scarves, well, you can lean on them to add seasonal colors to your rotation and warm up outfits you’ve been wearing this summer. And remember that you can do more with a scarf than wear it around your neck: Mix things up by tying a scarf in your hair, knotting one to the strap of your tote, running it through your belt loops, or draping it across your shoulders.

7. Review your basics

Even if you have been holed up at home this summer, you will need to bear the elements at some point. And for that, you need pants. The right mix of pant options really depends on your lifestyle and how often you want to do laundry. I like to at least four reliable “daily drivers” on hand, not including leggings and workout pants. Those daily drivers are a mix of joggers and jeans for me, but you might like a pair of dressier trousers, crop pants, or a chic, wide-legged option.

If you can only buy one thing for your fall wardrobe…

I get this question often: If I can only buy one new garment this season, what should it be? The right answer depends on what you already have hiding in your closet, which is the reason for Step 1. above. But here’s how I’d prioritize wardrobe essentials for fall:

  1. You need a good pair of shoes that aren’t flipflops.
  2. Make sure you have pants. For most people, the most versatile pant is a good pair of non-distressed, dark-wash, straight-cut jeans.
  3. Get yourself a coat that you love. You can splurge here if you’ll be outside often. You want something that will last. Plus, no one will look at you funny for wearing the same chic coat five days a week.
  4. If the budget is really tight, invest only in cheap scarves from Walmart. No one will notice you’re still wearing your summer wardrobe if you add a cute scarf or two to the mix.

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By Catherine Brock

As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine, DrLaura.com, Refinery29, Wellness.com and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.