Each year, I start my spring cleaning off by clearing out my closet and donating old clothes. This is partly a leftover habit from when I would come home from college and not want to pack everything, and partly because I have the world's tiniest closet and need to make room for my summer dresses to come back. Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder each year to fill multiple bags with unwanted clothing.
When I was only able to fill one large shopping bag this year, I realized why: the closer I get to 30, the better I get at personal style. If you're looking to improve the quality and/or quantity of your wardrobe, here are some tips for making sure you'll still like your purchases next year.
It's worth investing in classic staples. Trends come and go, but there are key items that you can find in stores year after year, and for good reason. A black blazer is always going to look good with everything, simple flats will always match every outfit, and a super soft sweater will always feel luxurious. Sure, you can buy all these items at Target for less than $40, but they're not going to last you more than a few seasons. A J. Crew blazer or Cole Haan shoes may seem a splurge, but you'll actually spend less over time when you don't have to replace something every year. And this is coming from the girl who rarely, if ever, pays full price for things.
Don't splurge on hot trends. A black cashmere sweater is totally worth paying good money for, but those neon pink pants you've been eying will probably look ridiculous in a year or two. Buy the obviously trendy items you've been admiring at discount stores.
Choose quality over quantity. 'Tis far better to have a drawer-ful of well-made clothes than a walk-in closet full of crap, as Shakespeare once said (I may be paraphrasing): Well-made clothes will always feel better, fit better and last longer. But don't feel like you have to go into debt, plan your spending wisely and hit an outlet mall, discount designer store or department store sale.
Black never goes out of style. Despite loving many patterns of fresh floral pants this spring, I only purchased one pair, because who knows if they'll be trendy again next year? Meanwhile, I own five pairs of black pants, one black cardigan for every colored one I own and two pairs of black shoes for every non-black pair sitting in my closet. Why? Because black matches everything and will never go out of style. If you're going to splurge on something expensive, black is a sure bet with its fashion staying and stain-hiding powers.
Forever 21 is called that for a reason. In college, I bought something at Forever 21 every time I walked in. Now, I'm lucky if I purchase an item every fifth visit. Forever 21 stays on top of the trends for young people faster than they can develop, and unfortunately 21-year-olds seem to really like crop tops, incredibly short shorts and other things that either can't be worn in a professional setting or simply aren't intended for an older body. And, obviously, when you're only paying $14.90 for a dress of indeterminate fabric, the quality leaves something to be desired.
It's okay to shop in "mom stores". Contrary to what your teenage self might tell you, it's okay to shop in the same stores that your mother does -- especially since stores are changing their demographic all the time. Some of my favorite pieces come from stores like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic, both of which I wouldn't have dreamed of stepping foot in 10 years ago.
Jeans are not one size fits all. Just because Gap jeans look great on your best friend doesn't mean they'll look good on you. All bodies are different, and all jeans are cut differently. Some pairs may only fit you in a size up, and some may just not fit your body at all. Take the time to try on as many brands as possible and find the company and style that most compliments your body type, and stock up next time there's a sale.
The fitting room should go fast. If you need more than 30 seconds to decide if you like an item you've just put on, it's a no. Even if you're a generally indecisive person, you'll always know in your heart right away if something looks good or not.
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Alexandra Martell is an editor for Babble.com in New York City, of which she is a true native. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, and The Hairpin. She's not very good at updating her website, so check out her Twitter instead.