Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of my internet downtime going through the archives of Gail Vaz Oxlade’s blog, and came across a great style-related article the other day. [What? There’s nothing like an upcoming maternity leave to get you thinking about your finances, and I adore Gail and her no-nonsense approach to the whole sticky subject. Ahem.] In it, she discusses how to avoid buying clothes that you never wear, and build a good, basic wardrobe without going bankrupt; you can check it out here. This is a topic dear to my heart, not only because I love clothes, but because I hate the misconception that style is some sort of luxury. It can be, if you go by what magazines are trying to tell (and sell) you; but it doesn’t have to be that way.
On her blog, Gail makes a number of good points, as usual – I especially like the 70/30 rule (70% of your clothes should be your “main course” clothing, leaving the other 30% for “dessert”) – and I have a few more to add.
First, as some of the commenters on the original article mentioned, and readers here will know, buying second-hand can be a huge boon to shoppers who like quality but don’t necessarily want to pay for it. Let someone else pay for the designer name mark-up in the first instance, and reap the benefits when they move on to newer “toys”. The good thing about (many, not all) designer goods is that the quality really is better, which means that they will generally last longer and wear better than lower-priced counterparts.  Good news for the second-time-around shopper. That is not to say that you should not be picky about your pre-loved items, and evaluate them with the same critical eye as any other purchases.
Which brings me to my next point: how do you evaluate a potential new purchase? Here, I’m going to shamelessly borrow from a recent episode of What Not To Wear, in which Stacy and Clinton came up with the acronym BASE for remembering the 4 steps to shopping smart:
B – body type, as in “does the dress/skirt/top/pants/jacket fit my body type?”
A – age, as in “is it age-appropriate?” [Obviously, if you’re 24, you probably don’t have to worry about this one too much.]
S – situation, as in “is it situation-appropriate … a.k.a. where am I going to wear it?”
E – expense, as in “is it worth the price I’m about to pay?”
With respect to that last question, I always keep in mind the cost-per-wear (CPW) formula: take the total price of the item and divide it by the (estimated) number of times you’re likely to wear it. I’ve heard it said that anything with a CPW of $3 or less is a “good buy”, but most of my purchases fall into the cents-per-wear category. At that level, it’s a no-brainer, provided that the item meets my other criteria.
One aspect not captured by the BASE approach is what I call versatility – how well does the item fit into your existing wardrobe? Does it require, for example, a new pair of shoes? A new jacket? Or does it work with at least 3 other pieces that you already own? For the most part, I avoid clothes that necessitate additional purchases on my part, unless I am purposefully trying to buy a completely new outfit (this usually involves jumping on a new trend-wagon, which I rarely do). In fact, most of my clothes are slightly different iterations of clothes I already have in my wardrobe. Now, some people might think that this is boring, or even wasteful, but to me it’s the epitome of personal style. I know what I like, and I know what works for me. I also like variety, and the thrill of the “new”, so I replenish my closet on a regular basis – perhaps more regularly that Gail might approve. But these days I rarely go off on a wild style tangent when shopping, and while I still occasionally grow out of (or bored with) with things I’ve bought, there are no clothes with tags still attached in my closet, and the pieces I end up donating are usually things that gave me a “good run for my money”. Everything works together pretty harmoniously, too, so there is no need to expend additional dollars on “integrating” new pieces into my wardrobe. [And if you are interested in reading another blogger’s take on how to streamline your wardrobe, this is a pretty good read.]

Remember – with a little ingenuity and some patience, great style can be had on any budget.

1 Comment on Good ideas

  1. What a good (and timely) post! Spring is coming (hopefully) and I usually do some spring shopping around now to rejuvenate my wardrobe. With your tips, I will try to not break the budget. The clothing swap helped with that – as did the visit to the consignment store!