Wouldn’t it be fabulous if the shopping gods smiled on us and dumped in our laps all the money we’ve ever spent on clothes we didn’t wear? How much would you have? I’m sure I could buy a new car—maybe a summer cottage. For sure I could start a nice retirement fund with all the money I’ve wasted on back-of-the-closet mistakes.

Here’s the problem: We head for the sale racks with no particular plan in mind. If we find something that fits, it’s a done deal. That kind of shopping wreaks havoc on a bank account and can fill the dark side of the closet, too.

Cutting the cost of clothes is less about bargains and more about knowing what to wear, where to buy and when to stop buying.

Your uniform
Everyone needs a “uniform.” This is your look; it’s your signature style. Your uniform addresses your body type, shape and silhouette, your image and color palette.

Your shape
“Clothing is always designed for silhouette first, measurements second,” says professional stylist Kendall Farr, author of The Pocket Stylist (Gotham). Your measurements can change but your essential frame remains the same. It is your silhouette. Once you know what you should wear for your body type, you’ll stop wasting money on clothes that look great on the hanger but are all wrong in the mirror.

An item of clothing that is not cut to your silhouette will never fit your shape—no matter the size or color, how it is cut or how many times it has been marked down.

A simple way to describe your shape uses letters and a number: If you are an A you are smaller at the top than the bottom; V just the opposite; H is straight up and down while 8 is curvaceous. The properly shaped garment for your silhouette will create an unbroken line—the sign that an item of clothing fits properly. Once you identify your silhouette you will be amazed how easy it is to spot that same shape in clothes on the rack.

Your image
Your clothing personality is that “look” to which you are drawn most often. It’s your style. You’re either romantic, sporty, dramatic or classic. Stumped? Your favorite outfits hold the clues. Trust your personal taste, then stick with that look.

Your colors
Each of us has natural coloring. It’s in our DNA and shows up in our hair, eyes and skin. Certain colors will make you look healthier, radiant and more alive even without makeup. “The predominant tone or color just under your skin is what dictates the colors you should wear,” says professional color analyst Susan Anderson of Tacoma, Wash. “For example if you have yellow undertones and wear yellow, you will appear yellow. Wearing a cool color like blue or red balance those yellow undertones resulting in a beautifully radiant appearance.”

Some department stores offer color analysis services for a fee. You can go to http://www.stylemakeovers.com/ for a simple free online analysis, or consult the classic book, Color Me Beautiful (Ballantine) by Carole Jackson.

Your plan
A written plan for exactly the number of pieces you need for your lifestyle will be invaluable. Without a specific plan, you won’t know when to stop buying. You’ll just keep spending mindlessly.

Closet sweep. While there are likely many items in your wardrobe you need to purge, you may be surprised to discover how many items you have already to plug into your wardrobe plan.

Take everything out of your closet. Try on to audition the clothes you own. Only those that fit your silhouette, your style and color palette—and fill a slot on your written plan—earn a place in your closet. Everything else? Sell them at a yard sale or online at an auction site like http://www.ebay.com/. Or donate them to charity and take a tax deduction for the fair market value of each piece.

Time the sales. Waiting for the sales is a great way to stretch your clothing dollars, particularly if you are ready to invest in a few high-end pieces. Typically stores discount spring and summer clothes in June and early July, and then place fall and winter items on sale in January and February. If an item you need is not on sale, ask the sales staff when it will go on sale. You can even request that a particular item be held for you pending the sale.

Mix and match. If you stick to your style, shape and color palette, you’ll be able to mix and match to come up with new outfits without buying more pieces. Look to inexpensive accessories to keep up with trends and fads. But when investing in classic pieces like slacks, suits and skirts, stick to classic colors and styles and they will last for many years.

Where to buy. The best thing about having a uniform and knowing your shape, measurements, colors and style is that a new world of opportunity in consignment, vintage, discount, warehouse clubs, outlets, thrift, high end retail stores all hold possibilities for you.