The Secret To An Awesome + Happy-Making Wardrobe

Long ago and far away, there lived a girl who loved sundresses, vintage cocktail dresses, and cheap novelty ballet flats.
(spoiler alert: I’m talking about myself.)
Because she loved these things, Sarah purchased them in bulk.  All the time.  And, lo, her closet was stuffed with cute spaghetti strapped things and $15 shoes from Target.This, despite the fact that Sarah lived in a state that boasted six months of snow.
And most of her time was spent sitting in her office (there weren’t that many events that necessitated cocktail dresses.)
And she had high arches that really sort of called for $90 shoes with well-made soles and lots of structure.

It only took me 34 years and numerous mornings standing in front of my closet wondering what I should wear now that it was December to have an epiphany:
Shop for the life you have –  not the life you wish you had.

Buying cheap shoes isn’t going to change the fact that I have high maintenance feet and a predisposition to varicose veins.
Buying piles of summer dresses won’t change Minnesota’s climate and purchasing all those cocktail dresses won’t change my own propensity for house parties and hip hop clubs.

And having a closet full of clothing that didn’t fit my life stressed me out. 

There is a wisdom to the old chestnut “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”  And I’m sure a personal trainer somewhere encourages people to buy a sexy little black dress in their target size.  And that’s fine!  But a closet full of things that don’t fit my life?  It’s a recipe for fashion fatigue and morning style panic.

With that in mind, I’ve made the executive decision to fill my wardrobe with
* well made boots with good arch support (good for my feet and good for six months of winter)
* lots of layering tanks and cardigans (for Minnesota’s ever-changing weather)
* cute, stretchy-ish jeans that are comfortable enough for coffee-shop-writing-and-sitting and cute enough for house parties and hip hop clubs

deer sweater // red scarf // skinny jeans // green hat // red boots // dark wash skinny jeans // grey tee // patterned sweater // cat hat // shady lady mittens // black boots // blue scarf // grey coat

Do you find yourself buying stuff that doesn’t actually work for you life?  If you’re really honest with yourself, which clothes should you be buying?



I'm a big believer in repeating your body colors and colors that harmonize with them in your clothing. I recently pulled together a style statement of sorts – I am a blue-eyed blonde and my colors just fit in naturally with a beachy palette. So this is what I'm wearing and I LURVE it. It took a lot of searching to get there, and everything kind of fell into place as I saw a picture of myself on a rocky beach and saw how naturally I fit in there. This combined with a wardrobe full of things that fit my actual lifestyle is the championing combination! (And although I know this, I still have a friend of mine make me a color fan with my own colors – she does this for a living, IRL and online, and I'm so excited, lol).


I used to do this. ALL. THE. TIME.
Buy flowy dresses and heels – then realize that I live in Canada and I'm almost six feet tall, and all I'm really going to wear are boots and blazers. I'm definitely more realistic now about my wardrobe.


I very recently created outfits from the things in my closet, hung them together and got rid of the things that didn't have a match. If I have the urge allow myself to mix and match, but it has to be quick. I do not allow myself to stand at my closet deciding how to pair things. It has made my mornings less stressful and given me a little bit more confidence.


My ultimate struggle is that I need to dress for office, but in my free time I like to wear all goofy stuff there is. So in the end I have this myriad of things and some of it I never wear. But even if I do need some things couple of times a year I still need them (e.g. official work event). *sigh*
Though I still try invest more into "classics" that would last all times and all weather. And in the end I occasionally still wear a pair of Converse to office with a blazer and skinny pants.
Get dressed is complicated. 😀


this is EXACTLY what i'm going through myself this year! i'm not allowed to buy any more cute sleeveless summer dresses… my new office is freezing, even in the summer, and i'm sick of wearing the same 3 cardigans over them. and i'm also realizing that while i love all the separates i own, i can't be trusted to match them correctly in the mornings (or in advance of that, either), so it's all WARM DRESSES WITH SLEEVES for me from now on. also really into loafers this fall — professional and sooo comfy 🙂

Amanda Ann

I realized this one recently myself, although I'm more guilty of buying things that I think I'm "supposed" to have (t-shirts), rather than things that I want and that fit my life (woven blouse-type shirts). Also, I admit that I like any excuse to peruse one of your clothing or house style posts.

I'm really digging those red boots you posted, but it looks like the link posted for them is the link for the green beanie. If you have time, could you repost the boots link? Thanks so much.


Related: I love the black boots! But the link takes you to the scarf! Can you also fix that one Sarah? Thank you!

Aaaand thank you for the dbl tights + socks + slip etc. advice!


I was just telling someone the other day about having been back in Michigan three years and deciding I should really own at least one pair of boots that you can actually walk in snow in. And clothes that keep me warm!

Sarah Von Bargen

It took me a long time to realize that there's a difference between cute $35 boots from Target and Boots You Can Actually Wear For Several Winters And Not Get Frostbite. 😉

The Divine Miss Em

I *so* needed to read this right now. I've recently lost 30 pounds, got rid of a ton of clothes that no longer fit, and have pared down my wardrobe to the smallest it's been in a very long time. I live in Georgia, so we have the opposite problem. It'll be 80 degrees or higher from April to October with godawful humidity. "Winter" doesn't really exist around here. Even in the middle of December, at most, I'll need tights and boots if it's raining.

My office dress code is business casual and I try to elevate that a step. I wouldn't be caught dead in khakis and a polo shirt (13 years of Catholic school does that to a girl). My style is definitely "vintage" or "classic". My downfall is heels. I love really tall totally impractical heels. By the end of the day, my feet are swollen and killing me. I do much better in flats with good insoles at work. I also need a lot of ankle support if I'm going to be on my feet for a protracted period. Have I actually purchased anything like that? Of course not. 😛

Mary V

I avoid khakis, polos, and button-up shirts like the plague for the same reason! It takes me back in a very bad way!
For good shoes (in varying heel heights) with decent arch support I have found Seychelles are pretty amazing.


Agreed about the boots – I live in northern Canada and bought Sorels last year (Joan of the Arctic, for anyone interested). All of sudden commuting was pleasant! My feet were snug! I didn't slip anymore! 100% recommended.

Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Also! Did you know the trick about wearing two pairs of tights? Or tights + knee socks + boots + slip + dress + sweater + coat? You can go out in almost any weather in that get up and still look cute/not bulky and stay warm!

Kitty Cat Stevens

ugh i love this post! as soon as you said "fashion fatigue" i was nodding along and moaning about my closet! although i recently had a closet purge day where i got rid of everything that doesn't fit anymore (oh, how much time we save when we can actually fit into the things we wanna wear!) but sometimes i still don't feel my wardrobe is appropriate all the time. i'm really hoping to take some of this advice and build up a wardrobe that's a little more "me". thans for sharing this!


Thanks for this Sarah! I have a big problem of buying things that I think I need or that I just know are going to fit into what I want to dress like and I never end up wearing them. I have my core clothes I wear all the time and I should really pair down to what I know works for me.

Mary V

I just did the Great Closet Rotation from warm-weather items to cold-weather ones, and surprised myself with how well-supplied I already am for another round of Oct-May (Chicago is the locale). Hooray!
Things that have worked really, really well for me, living in a place where it is winter 50% of the year:

– wool sweaters. Whatever you can afford. I find the ones with the best cut and colors at Madewell and Anthropologie, which are pricey (seldom under $90), but sometimes you luck out on a sale, and after a few seasons of plucking the right ones, I have shelves of honest-to-God warm sweaters. (Bonus: they don't have to be cleaned every time, like false-fiber sweaters do; just hang them up and air them out.)
– if you can't do wool, try for 100% cotton.
– avoid acrylic!!! It will make you sweaty while not keeping you warm.
– doubling-up your tights is ingenious. I also do double-socks on any day it's below freezing (though this can complicate footwear choices).
– arch support and allowance for instep height is key for me too. This is easier to deal with in winter with boots rather than in summer with flats/sandals, even with double-socks. Usually ordering a half-size up does the trick for me.
– there is a temperature point at which a bulky, shapeless puffer coat is the only thing you can wear on the very outside. But I absolutely recommend (again, if your budget allows) a really pretty coat made with a very high percentage of wool. I mean, a really pretty, sharp, awesome coat. My rationale: your outer coat is what you wear ALL THE TIME, day in, day out, week in, week out, for months. It is a mood-booster to know you love how you look when you head out the door, outside layers included.

Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Also, you can get really nice reallllll wool winter coats at thrift stores and vintage stores for less than $50. Things used to be made a lot better :/

The Divine Miss Em

I'm a total J.Crew & Anthro addict. I got a ton of stuff from there when I worked there 3 years ago and most of it is still kicking. I also got a bunch of (thin) wool sweaters from Banana Republic that have held up nicely. I'm happy to invest in pieces I know will last a good few years.

Becky Alyssa

Thanks for this!

I'm completely guilty of buying a whole load of super-cute dresses when I live in rainy England, have to walk to school through the mud, don't drink and can't stand clubs. So of course they never get worn! Hopefully I can find someone who will get much more wear out of them than I have!


High heels. I think they look great and they look great on, but I finally had to come to the realization that I have high arches, weak ankles, and zero balance. I have a couple pairs in my closet and the furthest I usually walk in them is to the front door and then back to the closet to change into something that doesn't hurt.

Samantha Kimble

I grew up in the Pennsylvanian snowbelt, moved to L.A. and now live in Seattle, but have family in Hawaii. My wardrobe looks like it is having one giant identity crisis. Now when I purchase anything I always wait to buy it. If I can remember it in a week or two than I really want it, unless of course, it is on my "I need it" list like rain boots and gloves at that moment.

Stacia, the Homey Owl

I've definitely struggled with denial in this area. I was raised in California and now live in Tennessee where we definitely have 4 season. I need to buckle down and buy more winter clothes instead of continuing to wear my "pretend" winter clothes.

Raquel Moss

I've had a different fashion epiphany — I've decided to pick one silhouette (fit and flare/hourglass) and stick to it. If I look at an item of clothing and it doesn't conform to that silhouette I'M NOT BUYING IT.

Too many hours have been spent trying to make shapeless sacks work with my figure. They do not work with my figure. And I don't have the income these days to spend money on clothes that don't look good on me.

Caroline M

I have a similar problem in that I LOVE funny t-shirts and receive them every year for Christmas/my birthday, but I'm most comfortable in a quirky-dressy, business casual-ish look. I do have some woven shirts/blouses, but am continually trying to figure out different ways to dress up your everyday t-shirt.*

Yes, maybe you could say I'm in denial.

But you know what my latest shirt says??:

Whatever happens in a black hole,
stays in a black hole.

Can you blame me for wanting to wear that shirt ALL THE TIME???!!

*New suggestions always welcome.

Alison Chino

Not sure if this is better or not, but I keep the fancy dresses, ridiculous shoes and beach outfits on Pinterest. Especially since I am living in cold, rainy Scotland. Somehow the virtual wardrobe helps me feel like I'm a tiny bit more fashionable than how I actually look in the same jeans and raincoat 7 days a week. 🙂


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