Q: My daughters are ready for a fall shopping spree, but my wallet is short a few greenbacks this season. Any tips to help us get over the, “Mom, there’s nothing to wear” hump?

 

A: I can relate to your daughters’ summer-fall fashion ennui. One day it’s sandals-and-shorts weather, the next day you want to snuggle into a cashmere sweater. What’s a stylish girl to do?

I’ll refrain from trotting out the recession-worn “shop your closet” refrain. Instead, I suggest a Mother Nature Network mantra that’s as timeless as Chanel’s little black dress: It’s time to reduce, reuse and recycle their wardrobe.

Step 1: Reduce — what’s really in that closet?

Most of us have more clothes than we ever plan to wear. Yet only a few key pieces make the rotation each morning. Before anyone gets another new article of clothing — and I use the word “new” loosely — it is time to trim the fat.

Take an honest inventory of what’s taking up space in closets, under beds and in clothes hampers. Everyone in the house needs to create piles of items worthy of saving, selling, donating or throwing away. Last season’s clothes should go in plastic boxes that are clearly labeled and then moved to the garage. Commit to caring for the items you keep by investing in wooden hangers or properly folding items. Also, conserve water and keep colors bright by washing them in cold water, only when items are truly dirty.

Once you’ve eliminated the unwanted gear, it’s time to make a list of essentials. Some of those items may be in another relative’s pile, so start digging. If you have the temperament for it, turn a slumber party into a green swap session. Have your daughters invite friends to bring clean, unwanted clothing and encourage everyone to start trading.

Step 2: Reuse — work what you have!

Yes, it’s more fun to shop for new clothes. But it’s also fun to remix what you have. This may be a tough sell for teens and ‘tweens, so look to the Internet for inspiration.

I have a minor addiction to fashion photographer Scott Schuman’s blog The Sartorialist, which captures well-dressed men and women all over the globe. A daily trip to that site helps me rethink color combinations and push fashion boundaries a bit. Your girls may prefer the interactivity of Polyvore, which lets them create fashion themes or “sets.” Think of it as a digital scrapbook of creating outfits.

When you do finally hit the stores, focus on key pieces. To punch up your wardrobe on a shoestring budget, pick funky tights, vintage pins and bold necklaces. This fall, the focus is on 80s-style color — the brighter the better. Yes, everything old truly is new again.

Check out vintage stores for cropped jackets or chic dresses that stand the test of time — and set your girls apart from carbon copies walking the halls at their schools.

Step 3: Recycle — trade your gear for better gear

This step may actually help the girls perk up a bit. Once they have culled their wardrobes, it’s time to hit the resale shop to trade it in for new gear. Google “resale shop” and your city for a list of stores near you. Resale shops teach your girls to care for their clothes. (A skirt that’s been languishing under the bed could cover the cost of a newer, cuter skirt.)

Here in Atlanta, a chain called Rag-O-Rama has turned recycled clothing into green-chic artistic expression. They offer cash or store credits for gently used gear. Your girls’ trash magically transforms into someone else’s treasure in the form of buttery soft tees or well-worn designer denim. I will always treasure my $5 Oscar the Grouch T-shirt; it’s as soft as any Marc Jacobs tee that’s 20 times more expensive. I’ve also seen quite a few celebs rummaging through resale racks for treasures, but their secret is safe with me. 

The Salvation Army remains another tried-and-true spot for donating clothes — and finding funky gear. But please don’t donate damaged clothes that you would not be caught dead in, such as the T-shirt with the orange armpit stains. Give that cloth new life as a dust rag. If you and the girls are feeling creative, hit the library and check out a copy of Generation T: Beyond Fashion: 120 New Ways to Transform a T-shirt. Author Megan Nicolay provides user-friendly tips to transform old tees into throw pillows, pet toys and beach caddies. With Christmas around the corner, the girls may even turn their creations into a little green for the holidays.

Grab the girls, grab the gear and get going!

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Photo: MaszaS/iStockphoto