style management triangle; shoe spiral; spiral of shoes; rainbow of shoes; shoe rainbow

I have a lot of opinions. Pertinent to this blog, and this post in particular, I have a lot of opinions about clothes, the buying thereof, and budgets. I’ve been trying to condense my thoughts into a manageable post size, and finally decided that they’re best encapsulated by a bastardized, fashion version of the Project Management Triangle. To wit:

When it comes to a shopping budget, you have 3 constraints to consider: quantity, quality, and newness. To stick to a modest budget, you get to pick two of the three. Any two. But not all three. You can buy lots of new things, but they will have to be of the “fast fashion” variety. Or you can buy only a few, new things of good quality. Or you can buy lots of quality things that aren’t brand new. Your choice entirely, of course.

Let’s break it down some more. If your budget is, say, $150, you can:

A) Buy 10 new items for $15 apiece;
B) Buy 1 new item for $150; or
C) Buy 5 secondhand items for $30 apiece (each of which might have originally retailed for upwards of $100).

(This is obviously dumbed down to third grader level, but you get my point. I’ve hopefully made it without screwing up the math. #thirdgraderscanprobablykickmybuttatmath)

If you’re even a casual reader of this blog, you will know I’m a big fan of the third approach. That doesn’t mean it’s the best one. It’s the best one for me, c’est tout. It comes down to priorities … and shopping personalities. I like nice things. (Obviously, this is an incredibly subjective statement, so feel free to substitute “expensive” for “nice”. It’s not 100% equivalent, because I like plenty of cheap fashion, but it will suffice.) And I like a LOT of nice things. I like variety. I have the attention span of a gnat. Need I go on? On the other hand, I really don’t care if my clothes come straight from the hands of retail fairies – or from the consignment or thrift store down the road – as long as they’re in excellent condition. Buying the majority of my clothes secondhand means that I maximize the two values that matter most to me: quality and quantity.

Those are not necessarily the values that matter most to you. You might value minimalism, or environmental conservation, or being a trendsetter, or impulse shopping, or bargain hunting … or whatever floats your boat. Just remember the Triangle, and pick the two criteria that best align with those values.

And keep in mind that you have some flexibility.


Well, yes. No one says that you must always only buy piles of cheap stuff. Or only super duper expensive pieces. I sometimes buy $2 t-shirts at Old Navy or $10 shorts on super clearance at J. Crew, and I sometimes spend upwards of $200 on other things.* But it’s always a trade-off, because remember – you can’t satisfy all 3 constraints in the Style Management Triangle at the same time unless money is no object. In which case, let me know where I can send you my fall shopping wish list.


* Bags. Always the bags.

11 Comments on Fashion Budget: Style Management Triangle

  1. I never really thought of it that way before – I suppose I’m quantity and newness? maybe more out of necessity now since I don’t have time to go thrifting anymore which totally sucks since you get find so many great things! I’m always jealous of the great things you find.

    on a side note, your shoe collection is amazing and I’m insanely jealous.

    • Haha, thanks! Some of those shoes are no more … but others have taken their place ๐Ÿ˜‰
      And yeah … once I’m back at work, I expect my shopping habits will change again. I’ll shop less, and probably buy more retail, for the same reason as you – time constraints.

  2. Very interesting way to look at it! I’m definitely quantity and newness, but I’m trying to make myself move more to the quality and newness side of things. I have too much stuff, and I don’t need any more $2 t-shirts from Old Navy, but they just seem like such a great idea. I’ve never had much luck with thrifting or consignment, which makes me sad, because I am not opposed to secondhand items if I could find nice ones!

    • I totally get that – $2 shirts are always tempting. What else can you get for $2 these days? But I try to remember the bigger picture as often as I can (and the implications of that $2 t-shirt). I highly recommend reading Overdressed: The Shocking High Price of Cheap Fashion – it’s an eye-opener.

  3. Oooh I love this philosophy! In the past I’ve been quantity and newness, but I’m trying to transition into quality and newness. (And that’s not easy, to be honest.) I don’t like the experience of thrift shopping for clothes so I avoid it even though I really do love saving money. I just touched on becoming a bit more minimalist with my closet in my last blog post, but mostly out of necessity since it was filled with a lot of clothes I never wore. Anyway, I think it’s really important to THINK about your wardrobe and develop some sort of philosophy regarding style so you don’t end up with a bunch of clothes that don’t fit your aesthetic.

  4. I love the principle and I remember you mentioning something along these lines before.
    For the longest time I’ve been all three, in a way: quality and newness, mostly, with a strong pursue of quantity as well. As I grow older, I find that I went from being somewhat overwhelmed by quantity to despise it!
    In my latest “Move = purge” psychotic spree, I got rid of everything that I haven’t worn/use/utilize in a year or longer. My shoes count went from 97 pairs (even though I firmly claimed/lied that I’ve never had more than 60 at one time) to 38 and it’s still work in progress.
    I love my newfound “unmaterialistic freedom” and I find that I get dressed in half the time in the morning.
    Said that, I think that I’m moving towards a whole new category: Quality and Purpose: For every clothing item I buy from now on, I have to think of five different outfits, right there – on the spot – in the store; for every pair of shoes โ€“ 5 office + 5 evening/weekend outfits.
    I have also vowed to go through my closet every three months and purge whatever hasnโ€™t been worn in that period of time.
    All Iโ€™m missing in my master plan is a reliable family member to hold me accountable to my word. People I live with, sadly, find my personality-change-attempt too amusing and they can not be trusted!

    • Me, me, me! I volunteer! That way we can talk clothes … with a purpose ๐Ÿ˜‰
      (Also, if you’re purging any shoes, I call DIBS, ya hear?)