Okay, I’ll admit it: my closet is bursting at the seams. I don’t need more clothes. I know this. And yet when the seasons change, I crave newness, and so I buy things. I expect I’m not the only one. Why do we do this? And how do we combat it?
Half the fun of dressing is novelty. And certainly part of the sense of novelty comes from the items themselves: it’s fun to try on a beautiful new dress, a cool pair of pants, an on-trend blouse, just because the item itself is beautiful/cool/trendy. But the other part of novelty comes from seeing yourself in the item, of seeing yourself differently because of the item. Clothes are an outward sign of who we are, so changing how we dress can be a way of exploring and revealing ourselves to the world—and to ourselves! Sometimes it takes a little novelty in how we dress to rediscover a part of ourselves. For example, I just bought a new long linen dress, and it made me rediscover the bohemian in me who in recent years has taken a backseat to the city-dweller. And sometimes novelty in dressing is how we re-see ourselves as attractive, as something other, as something—someone —who is interesting and worthwhile.
But novelty doesn’t reside in dress alone: seeing novelty in yourself and your life can come from other sources. So if you’re in my position, where you really don’t need clothes either for space or budgetary reasons, or simply because you’re trying to step back from the fast-fashion culture, here are some things to invest in that will make your look and your life feel fresher, even in your old clothes. Some of them are things to wear on your person, and some are things that surround your person, but all of them will refresh how you see yourself and your life.
Things on your person:
Now bear with me here. I don’t consider shoes “clothes.” If you do, skip down to #2. But if you grant me that shoes aren’t technically “clothes,” then it’s obvious that this is the number one way to refresh your look. Shoes are the subtle but sure way to make a timeless look trendy and to make a trendy look timeless. So you’re wearing a T-shirt and jeans—timeless. But pair them with a trendy block-heel nineties-esque sandal slide? Suddenly trendy. Shoe trends also change a bit more slowly: white sneakers have been the “it” shoe for three spring-summer seasons at least and will likely be around for a few more; chunky heels have been back in since the late aughts. Shoes are also a great way to up the versatility of your wardrobe. A sundress with heels says “date night” or “church” or “meet the parents”; the same dress with cute kicks says “casual spunk” and “beer garden” and “biking around town.” Same dress, many vibes.
2. Nail polish
I don’t love my hands, but I do love the way nail polish makes me feel about my hands. The hue of your nails sets the tone for the season, and can either add a fun clashing color to your outfits or be a beautiful neutral backdrop for whatever you’re wearing. Of course, the problem with nail polish is that it generally chips within a couple of days, so either you have to splurge for the salon (which sadly is out of the question for many of us due to the pandemic) or to splurge on good polish. The brand I’ve had the best luck with is Essie. (which you can find at any drug store), but recently I ordered bottles from Olive and June, the L.A.-based salon company that’s taking over the Insta-world. My friend swears by their polish, and at only $8 a bottle, I’m willing to take the plunge. They’re also vegan, cruelty-free, and made without many harmful chemicals which other brands of nail polish rely on—sounds like a win-win!
Okay, so I want to be careful here: I’m NOT recommending you go for a crazy trendy cut just to get the buys-ies out of your system. A drastic change in your hair is obviously something that changes your look, but it can also be traumatic, so think that through! In my experience, even a trim which returns my hair to its usual “look” is enough to make me feel fresh all-round. When I’m eyeing a $100 dress, and justifying it based on how much I’ll wear it (“it pays for itself!”), it’s good to remember that I wear my hair literally every single day. Seems like a much better thing to spend the bucks on! Plus, your hair frames your face and signals your style in a much more distinctive and semi-permanent way than any dress ever could: someone else (in fact, many other people) have the exact same dress. But no one has your face, and it’s worth spending the money to frame it.
Things around your person:
In the last couple of months, I’ve returned to a habit I used to live by religiously: buying fresh flowers every week. I got suckered back in by tulip season (have you seen the new peony-tulip hybrid?! They’re gorgeous!!), and now I’m staying for the peonies. Having fresh flowers on the kitchen table ups my mood every time I see them—especially because these days I spend my day, every day, working at this table. They’re beautiful, certainly, but part of the joy they bring is seeing them in conjunction with other things in my home. The flowers I buy shape which linens and dishware I use that week. They turn my make-shift office (computer, books, coffee mug, water jug) into an aesthetic still-life which I can appreciate every time I take a mental step back and survey my scene: this life I’m living is fresher with fresh flowers.
I mentioned tablecloths above, and now I want to jump into linens as a genre: new bed linens, bathroom towels, bath mats, kitchen towels, napkins—all of these fabrics fill our lives and touch our bodies daily. I don’t know about you, but I often neglect to invest in new functional linens. (I slept with a ripped bottom sheet for months just because it felt like an unnecessary expense to replace it!) But replacing those worn-out things is a way to subconsciously signal to yourself that you and your life are worth investing in: it’s worth having nice sheets simply because you sleep in them. (Furthermore, you spend more time there than in any other single place in the world!) The same is true for less necessary things like table linens. These can, of course, be expensive, and if you really love something it could be worth the splurge. But if you’re just craving something to freshen up the kitchen or dining room, hit the home section of T.J. Maxx or Home Goods. Even Amazon has a great selection, often of past seasons from name brands and department stores. Table decor is like dressing but for your furniture, so it’s a great place to redirect some of your aesthetic energy.
Trading out the art on your walls is a great way to make a space—and the life you live in it!—feel fresh. A few months back, I realized all my framed photos were at least five years old, so I printed off some more recent pictures from family weddings, a trip with my roommate, a date with my boyfriend. I also printed off some old pictures I’d forgotten about. Putting these around means you’ll recall different parts of your own life that you might forget about otherwise. As you may know, Shutterfly usually has great deals on printing photos (usually you just pay for shipping). Parabo Prints is another popular site that makes it easy to get cool, trendy prints, and even print poster-size pictures if you’re really in love with any you’ve taken. And of course you can print from home if you get the right paper. One of my friends’ husband got her an at-home polaroid printer like this one! It will print any pic on faux polaroid paper, which means it looks finished enough to go on a wall or bulletin board, even sans frame.
04. Cosmetics Bag
I’ve been using the same bag for my makeup for about six years now, and it shows. The bag was once a vivid yellow, but now it’s a sad subdued grimy putrid nothing. I’ve refused to replace it because I don’t “need” a new one: the zipper works fine, so the bag serves its purpose. But in the meantime I’ve spent more money than I care to confess on clothes which I also don’t “need,” and many of which I’ve hardly ever worn! So instead of splurging on a dress you’ll wear once or twice, get a new cosmetics bag: it’ll add a little joy every time you see it, and since you use it multiple times a day it’ll be well worth it in no time. There are some cute ones at Anthropologie and Madewell, of course. Target always has multiple options. And Amazon is a great place to look for department store cosmetics bags from past seasons.
Sometimes all it takes for things to feel new is to see them in a new way. Play with how you organize your closet: do you currently organize things by color? By item type? By sleeve length? Switch out your current scheme for an alternative, and see what items suddenly feel new. If your room is big enough, get a clothing rack on which to hang your favorite pieces so you can see them all the time and re-discover their aesthetic value. What about your jewelry? Changing how you store these items can affect what you wear and how you appreciate them. I love keeping my earrings in glass, metal, or wood trays like these as a back-drop to the beauty of the pieces themselves. But if you’re over the minimalist vibe, there are lots of fun colorful options out there too! Or go for something old-made-new, using vintage teacups and trays to display and organize your dresser surface. Changing how you store your makeup and tools also is great: if everything is jumbled in a bag, try switching to a cool clean-lined storage system like this.
Novelty is really about perspective, and sometimes it can be hard to get a new perspective on your own life. A few little investments of time and money can help you rediscover what you already have and find the “new” in your everyday.