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7 Tips to Transition Your Summer Wardrobe to Fall Clothing Fashion


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Ah, autumn. It comes with pumpkin spice lattes, cooler temperatures, and the onset of the holiday season, so what’s not to love? Well, if you have a pretty tight clothing budget, the change in seasons might not be all that welcome. You were fine with your breezy dresses and standard-issue flip-flops, so what happens when the weather starts to cool off and you’re expected to start wearing shoes again?

Don’t fret if the changing window displays at your favorite stores remind you that you’re not ready for fall. Chances are that you have the foundation for a great autumn wardrobe already in your closet. By adding a few key pieces and wearing your summer staples in different ways, you can mitigate a frugal clothing budget.

Transitioning From Summer to Fall Fashion

The easiest way to make your summer pieces more fall appropriate isn’t to ditch them altogether, but to cook up new ways to wear them. Here are some of the simplest ways to stretch your wardrobe and make all your old favorites work until winter.

1. Keep Your Maxi Dresses

Equally at home on the beach as it is weekend shopping, maxis are easy and cool for those hot summer nights. But before you relegate them to the back of your closet, refashion them by wearing them with long sleeves. Whether it’s a belted blazer, a chunky-knit sweater, or even a knotted chambray shirt, the trick to wearing a maxi dress in the fall is to layer up and then define your waist to offer added structure. The end result is a beautiful fall casual outfit.

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2. Add Tights

Adding tights to your outfit can be a fun way to play with pattern, color, and texture for the fall. By stocking up on tights, which generally cost an affordable $6 to $15, you have a way to extend the life of your favorite summer skirts and dresses. Look for opaque tights – I love cable-knit versions with tons of texture. A pair of gray textured tights worn with your favorite khaki skirt and boots is about as autumnal as a pumpkin patch.

If you’re not into tights, try leggings. Some styles look a lot like pants, but have tons of stretch. They’re perfect to wear under your summery tunics for more coverage, while still staying fashion-forward.

Add Tights Outfit

3. Layer Up

Layered looks aren’t only fashion-forward – they’re also completely functional. As you layer up your summer clothes, you create new looks that will actually keep you warm in a brisk breeze.

But how do you know which looks to layer? Try this rule: Layer long over lean. This means matching up longer-length tops (think tunics or boyfriend cardigans) over leaner bottoms, such as tights or skinny jeans. This can help you extend some of your summer favorites, such as a long tank top.

The “long over lean” rule helps to avoid the bulkiness that can sometimes be a result of overenthusiastic layering. Then, just add a sweater or jacket, a light scarf, and a pair of boots to finish your perfect fall outfit.

4. Invest in a Statement-Making Jacket

My favorite place to spend my fashion budget is definitely in the arena of jackets, blazers, and other toppers. They can make such a large impact on the overall tone and look of an outfit that they can eclipse summer fabrics and prints, making them more fall-appropriate. Of course, if you’re not careful, you could literally spend hundreds of dollars on jackets each season. My advice is to purchase one statement-making jacket that really stands out, but goes with all of your summer clothes as you transition into fall.

Consider any one of the following:

  • A military-style cargo jacket with a waist that cinches, perfect for skinny jeans and flat booties.
  • A leather jacket with moto styling, which you can wear with summer dresses and boots.
  • A well-cut blazer (I love ones with military styling). Toss it over your light summer tops for a night on the town.
  • A classic trench coat in a darker neutral, such as gray, navy, or camel. This is a wardrobe workhorse that goes with everything while fending off inclement fall weather.

Purchasing just one statement piece can take the place of splurging on several lower-cost pieces. A jacket or blazer can stretch your wardrobe by allowing you to create new combinations and always look put-together and polished.

5. Add Deeper Colors

I love the deeper colors that come with the changing of the leaves. The pastels and neons of the spring and summer give way to rich jewel and earth tones. But don’t worry if your closet isn’t already stocked with turquoise, plum, and ocher. You can add a couple of pieces to extend the life of your lighter summer clothes.

Take a lavender dress, for instance. It was perfect for that summer garden wedding you attended, but do you have to put it away for fall? If you add some heavier textures and jewel tones, you’ll be able to keep wearing it. Consider pairing it with a plum cardigan and a sleek pair of booties. Suddenly, the addition of a deeper color tones down the brightness of the lavender, resulting in a more cohesive and fall-appropriate outfit.

Stay on the lookout for low-cost pieces in jewel tones that can pull a summer wardrobe into fall. A pair of rust-colored skinnies, a turquoise statement necklace, or a mustard scarf can all add a pop of fall-appropriate color on the cheap.

6. Ignore the Rules

One of the reasons fall shopping can be so expensive are all the supposed “rules” that surround dressing in cooler weather. Whether it’s not wearing white after Labor Day, skipping tights with open-toed shoes, or even pairing black with navy, these silly rules severely limit the scope of your fall wardrobe. Feel free to wear white after Labor Day (a chic, yellow-toned winter white looks perfect with jewel tones), or wear your favorite open-toed booties with a pop of colored tights. Don’t spend too much time thinking about whether or not an outfit is fall-appropriate, but that it’s weather-appropriate and makes you feel great, regardless of the rules.

Ignore Weather Rules

7. Buy Boots

Boots are an autumn staple that easily make all of your summer outfits warmer and more functional. And while you can spend a ton of money on good-quality boots, purchasing a few pairs of lower-cost fashion boots (more about looks for the fall than function in the winter), you’ll extend everything from dresses, to jeans, to shorts.

Try a summer dress worn with knee-high boots and a leather jacket. Or, be daring and treat your beloved lace short-shorts like a skirt: Add over-the-knee boots and chunky sweater for a “city look.” You can even buy booties on the cheap and wear them with your favorite skirt and cardigan combo. Boots are an ideal item to stretch your wardrobe, so allocate some of your fall fashion budget on scoring a couple of pairs in different heights.

Final Word

It would be really easy to blow your fashion budget on buying new clothes for the fall, especially with so many tempting window displays and sales. But the turning of the leaves doesn’t have to mean buying a completely new wardrobe. By adding darker colors, richer textures, and a little added warmth, your summer clothes get to stick around for another season while you save money to splurge on functional winter clothes.

How do you transition your closet for fall?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.