I’ve touched on this subject before, but it’s one of the most important aspects of building your wardrobe, and your style: knowing which pieces are worth a bigger investment, and which are not. In other words, knowing when to splurge, and when to save. I actually wrote a similar post back in 2010, but having re-read it recently, I realized that some of my opinions have changed and, given its importance, it was a topic worth re-visiting with a fresh perspective. 

One thing I will note is that, while articles like this one abound on both fashion and PerFi blogs, it seems like everyone has a different take on what’s important and what’s not. My attitude is simple: as in all things that relate to matters as personal as style, the simple answer is: “it depends”. The things that will comprise your wardrobe will vary depending on your tastes and lifestyle, so keep that in mind as you read this post. Some of the things I may recommend splurging on may be things you would never or rarely wear, in which case feel free to skip to the next point. Another thing to remember is that definitions of what constitutes a “splurge” can be wildly divergent; I always recommend that you spend no more than what you (and your bank account) are comfortable with, recognizing that most people have certain price ceilings in mind when it comes to various categories of attire.

Where to splurge

In my opinion, the most obvious splurge category consists of those things that typically (a) last for a long time; (b) are not size-dependent; and (c) are trend-impervious. Shoes and bags are an obvious example, with certain caveats. Unless you are a true minimalist, not every shoe and bag in your closet has to be a splurge. If you like variety, you can supplement the staple pieces (which are worth a little investment) with less expensive items that might tick off the “fun” and “trendy” categories. Splurging should be reserved for pieces that are classic and super versatile; basically, they should be thing you wear all the time, year after year. It would be very difficult to give you an exhaustive list of such items, because, again, they can vary from person to person, depending on personal style, lifestyle needs, etc. Examples might be things such as black and/or nude pumps in a heel height most comfortable for the wearer (either round toe or slightly pointy, but otherwise as simple as possible); a black or grey leather bag in a classic style without excessive embellishment; a pair of black or brown boots with a practical heel (both in terms of personal preference and local weather conditions); a pair of red pumps (everyone needs red shoes in their closet!).

Jewelry can also fit the 3 criteria I outlined above, but I would not put all or most jewelry in the “splurge” category. In fact, since costume jewelry is a great way to spice up outfits, I would definitely put it in the “save” category. There are so many low-priced options here, there is no need to spend a ton of money, especially since few people can even tell the difference between high end designer jewelry and the imitation pieces you can find at big mall retailers.

Another “splurge” category consists of things that are tailored on the body. Depending on your style (and body type), this can include dresses, dress pants, and jackets (and suits, if you wear them regularly). If you have trouble finding a piece that fits off-the-rack, and it’s an item that would get a lot of wear in your closet, then it would fall into this category. Spend the time finding a piece that fits your body – and don’t waste time on things that don’t, even if they almost do – and invest in getting the best quality you can afford, to make sure that item lasts as long as possible; after all, you never know when you will find as good a fit again.

Generally, I would not put tops in the above category, but this would change if you’re blessed with an, ahem, ample bust and a proportionately much smaller waist; finding tops that accommodate both features can be very, very difficult, and you really don’t want any mishaps that might result from cheap fabrics or poor fit.

A final “splurge” category would be delicately termed “foundation garments”. I am talking about bras, primarily, as well as any other support/shaping undergarments you may happen to wear on a regular basis. The reason should be obvious; you rely on these items to make the rest of your clothes look their best, so invest in the best. Beyond that, especially when it comes to bras, a poor fit or cheap construction has physical, as well as sartorial, repercussions – there are few things more painful than an ill-fitting bra. Trust!

Where to save

Tops – good quality can be found in the $20 and under range, so there really isn’t a need to spend much more. I already touched on the exception to this above, and won’t reiterate it save to say that, while I’ve been guilty of it myself (I know, I know!), a poorly fitting, gaping blouse is as much a faux pas as VPL, especially in a professional setting.

Jeans – I have yet to be convinced that there is any difference in quality or wearability between $50 and $200 jeans. Additionally, you can easily find those $200 jeans for much, much less if you are willing to shop second-hand.

Workout gear – with the exception of shoes, I don’t really see the point of paying hundreds of dollars for clothes in which, primarily, you sweat. Elite athletes excepted since, I suppose, you might argue that is their work wear.

Trendy pieces – these are very likely to be one-season clothes, so there is no point splurging on them, particularly since they’re most likely to be available at every price point, including low ones. Quality considerations aren’t high on the list here either, considering the whole one-season thing.

Do you agree with my categories? Where do you splurge? Where do you save?

2 Comments on Frugal style: Investing wisely in your wardrobe

  1. I don’t think I actually splurge on much of anything: my problem with expensive clothes is that I have a fixed idea that the clothes aren’t actually constructed any better than cheaper clothes – I’m just paying more for the name. So I tend to be somewhat frugal overall.

    That said, I will pay more money for shoes. I will splurge on shoes, to some extent – depending on the shoe and where I’m going to wear it. Pretty much everything else I save on. I agree with you about jeans – I’m loving my $10 and $7 jeans from Joe!

  2. Definitely agree with you on the shoe front. All of my Fluevogs have been mega-splurges, and all have paid off handsomely. If, like me, you have problem feet, go ahead and justify it as a medical expense – happy feet mean happy Cat!