By this time next week, it will be September. That means it’s almost time for post-season baseball, football has thankfully begun, and soon, the entire East Coast will be buried under snowbanks of pumpkins, turkeys, and the oppressive Instagrams of those friends who have convinced themselves apple-picking is a fun pastime. It’s hard to believe we will make it out of the summer swamp we are currently suffocating under, but it’s true. Fall is coming, and with it, a whole new wardrobe of clothing items to choose from. Corduroy. Sweaters. Leather jackets. Wow.
Last week, I saw a commercial for a department store I can’t remember now that featured several kids of various ages getting absolutely jacked for the first day of school. At first I thought, Huh, this commercial is a lie. No kid I know would ever get that excited for another year of too much homework and too many bullies. But then I realized the subtle conceit: The kids were jacked for back-to-school time because they were wearing cool new outfits their parents bought them from this department store, whatever it was. Fresh sneakers with glitter and zips, T-shirts with statements like “I STRAIGHT UP RULE,” and jeans so starchy that the kids ran into middle school like a fleet of un-oiled Tin Men.
But if I could impart any piece of knowledge onto any young child, especially one entering middle school or high school for the first time, it would be this: Do not wear new clothes on the first day, or even first week, of school. This makes you look like a herb. In school, the wheat is separated from the chaff by the kids who wear clothes straight off the rack on the first Monday of the year, and the ones who play a longer, more advanced game. While everyone else is all square and excited with their clean messenger bags and Underoos, you — the cool kid — keep wearing your summer clothes. You’re just a cheeseburger in paradise, still squeezing the life out of these last warm, summer days.
Only in October do the real ones deign to debut a slick fall look with fresh sneakers, good jeans, and a fringed leather jacket. Your school buddies will look at you in envy: By then, their new school clothes will be worn out and tired. You win again, and your mom even caught those late-fall sales.
This long con carries over easily into adulthood, and is even more practical once you have an income of your own: Why go through the process of endlessly purchasing new clothes every season? One can survive on very few sturdy, well-fitting items each year. My suggestion for your style this fall is simultaneously frugal, fun, and a little spunky. Don’t buy new fall clothes yet: Look at what you currently have and construct new outfits out of those pieces. Even better if you wear that dress you never got around to wearing during the summer. It’ll feel like it’s new all over again. Do you really hate everything you own? Then I suggest you assess what drives you to buy clothes in the first place. A dirtbag knows: Comfort and ease should be paramount.
Seeking out your little-worn or back-of-closet summer clothes to layer into new fall outfits is something like the anti-Kondo-ing. These clothes didn’t give you enough joy in the summer to wear then, but instead of discarding them, you can try them anew in fall-summer hybrid outfits like sleeveless shift dresses over long-sleeve T-shirts or a pair of ill-fitting cropped jeans with heather-gray ankle socks. Thin skirts can be worn with tights. Light T-shirts can be layered with jackets. Just the other day, I wore a dress over a pair of culottes. Objectively, this was a bad outfit. But in my commitment to spending as little money as possible on clothes, in my eyes, it became a good outfit.
Fall is a stressful time for those of us who feel we are not fashionable enough or rich enough to make a seasonal adjustment in our wardrobes. But just as my mom said when the first kid at my school was gifted an iPod by his parents: “Be grateful for what you have.” Looking in my closet, I have a few ugly dresses and some T-shirts I bought on sale. Put together, they become something different — exciting, even.
And for that, I am forever grateful.