How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe Without Breaking the Bank

How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe Without Breaking the Bank

I’ve always loved a good outfit. At the age of four, I refused to wear pants because I loved dresses so much. In high school, I regularly read and reread issues of Vogue and InStyle magazine, often trying to copy outfits that I loved with things I could find on sale at Dillard’s. Even at the young age of 16, I wore my pointy-toed heels with pride.  

Now, after almost ten years in the Army and another five as a stay-at-home-mom, I’m rediscovering my love for fashion and a stylish outfit that brings me confidence. I’ve condensed my process into four steps in hopes that you, if you struggled to build your own wardrobe as I have, can have the closest that is holds pieces that you can use time and time again.

Define Your Style

Easier said than done. I found that asking myself the following questions helped narrow down exactly what my style is:

  • What cuts of clothing look most flattering on your body type?
  • What makes you feel confident when you wear it?
  • What colors complement your complexion?

For example, I’m a wee little person. Boxy cuts look ridiculous on me, and primary colors in bold patterns make me appear twee. It took just trying on clothes and a hard look in the mirror to see what flatters my body type. I also created Pinterest boards in three categories to notice trends (not trendy items, but actual patterns of what I’m drawn to): Fall/Winter Style, Spring/Summer Style, and Style Idols.

Conclusion: I favor more classic pieces with an accessory or two that modernizes the outfit. 

What is Your Closet Missing?

Next, I took everything out of my closets (Yes, plural. My house is very old and the closets are itty bitty) and made a note of the items that I could really use that I was currently missing. For example, white and nude colored camisoles for layering, a great fitting pair of white skinny jeans that are not see-through, and a camel-colored blazer.

What items are you missing that could really fill in those “closet gaps”? Do you lack plain T-shirts in a variety of neutral colors? What about jeans that actually make your bum look fabulous? Do you keep meaning to buy a good quality cold weather wool coat? What about comfortable flats or a killer pair of black leather heels?

Make that list, and once you have said list in hand, move on to step three.


Shop Smarter

Perhaps my favorite step because it involves shopping, step three is all about shopping smarter. How? First, try shopping secondhand. I’m not exaggerating when I state that I am obsessed with the hunt that is secondhand shopping. I love a good deal! I frequent local thrift and consignment stores as well as the app called Poshmark for items that I need to fill those closet gaps I mentioned in step two. It took me a good year to find the exact camel-colored blazer I wanted, but I found it, new with tags, for 75% off the retail price. Such finds require patience, but to me, it’s worth the wait.

Other shop-smarter tips that I refer back to are: 

1) quality over quantity

 2) how the item works with other pieces in my wardrobe

 3) calculate cost per wear 

 4) If I do buy retail, I buy from sustainable companies (like Sword & Plough).

It can be so darn easy to peruse a J. Crew sale and start adding items to your cart because the price is so low! But do you really need those items? Probably not. Just go ahead and unsubscribe from those emails now to lessen the temptation to shop mindlessly. Also, how many times are you really going to wear those shoes or use that bag? I’m guilty of this infraction! Just last night, I put on a pair of orange heels I’ve worn twice before and realized quite quickly why they get so little use; they were horribly uncomfortable! Not worth the money I spent on them back in 2016.

Sustainable companies, how do you find them?! I did a ton of research (I can’t help it, Enneagram Type 1) to find the best and will happily tout the following in addition to Sword & Plough: Amour Vert, Cuyana, Everlane, Outdoor Voices, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Reformation.


Or in other words, have fun planning out your outfits to see how you can mix and match all your pieces. I try to keep a diary of sorts on Instagram (@dailykayley) on how I rewear different clothing items. Now that I’ve accumulated a good year of outfits, I can look back and see what I really and truly loved and how often I wore a certain pair of shoes and why I used that bag versus this bag. 

Enjoy the process of creating a sustainable wardrobe! What I’ve discovered is a certain creativity that comes from finding pieces that I love and how I can incorporate them into different outfits. I might not be artistically inclined (I can’t draw even remotely well), but I am stylishly creative! Happy dressing!



Kayley Nammari is an Army brat and a veteran of the US Army Reserve where she served in the Intelligence Corps in both an enlisted and officer role. She no longer targets terrorists but instead wrangles her two young sons. While searching for a new handbag, she came upon Sword & Plough’s website and has been using her wool handbag ever since. She now sports a mini tote to hold an assortment of sippy cups, baby wipes, and the occasional book about tractors.

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