I’ve always loved shopping for clothes. When I was little, I dreamed of being a fashion designer. I would memorize designer names, examine dresses on the red carpet and sketch my own creations.
In school, I dreamed about buying designer clothes, while my mother was a thrifty shopper who always knew the latest deals. I remember watching E! and dreaming about my Vera Wang wedding dress. When other people would talk about how they’d eat sugary cereal all day when they were adults, I’d talk about how I’d buy Kate Spade purses and 7 for All Mankind jeans.
Fast forward to 2011 when I graduated from college. I had my own money to buy clothes – and $28,000 in student loans. No way was I going to hit up Nordstrom when I needed a new pair of jeans.
Since I’ve paid off my student loans, I’ve relaxed a little about my clothes shopping. I don’t mind spending more than $20 on a shirt or not waiting for a sale. I’m still frugal, but I’ve loosened the reigns. Here are my major rules for buying clothes you love AND saving money at the same time.
1. Buy What You Love, Not What You Like
I used to be so much more lax about how I bought clothes. I’d see something on sale, kinda like it, try it on and decide to buy it. That’s how I ended up with a huge closet full of clothes that I didn’t really love.
Now? I’m a mix between the 16-year-old girl who loved clothes and the almost 30-year-old who wants to buy something quality.
Lately, I’ve been spending more money on clothes. I’m still not buying designer brands, but I’m focusing more on quality and less on cost. I’d rather buy $50 jeans that I love wearing instead of a $5 pair from Goodwill that I throw out after a few months. The older I get, the more I refine my style. I’m really picky now. I can walk around the four levels of H&M and not buy anything.
Being picky has made it a lot easier for me to shop. Now that my budget is higher, my standards are too.
When I buy clothes, I ask myself a lot of questions. Does it fit well? If not, can it be tailored? How much will that cost? Does it match my lifestyle? Is it practical? Do I already have something to wear it with?
Those questions tend to weed out things I’d love to buy, but would never wear. Sparkly shoes, cocktail dresses, tweed skirts – all things I’d love to own, but can’t justify.
I used to buy a lot of basic blouses to wear with pencil skirts, but since I’m self-employed, I don’t need to buy work clothes. I also don’t need heels or more than one pair of flats. Since I know I’m picky now, I also allow myself to spend more than I would normally if I really love something.
Here’s an example of how I splurge now: I’ve been weightlifting for a year and my body has changed drastically. I used to be a size 0, but now I’m closer to a 6 (thanks, squats!) But I’ve been struggling in my quest of finding jeans that fit my new body. After trying on six pairs at Macy’s, I almost started crying because I couldn’t believe nothing fit the body I’ve been working so hard for.
Finally, I found a pair of black Articles of Society jeans at Nordstrom Rack on sale for $35. I scooped them up immediately. A few weeks later, I found the same pair, but in light blue, at a local boutique. This time, they were regularly priced at $62. I scooped them up again. I don’t want to spend hours trying to find the perfect jeans. They were within my budget, they fit perfectly and I love them. I love them so much I wore them that day even though it was 95 degrees out.
Here’s another example: I tried out Stitch Fix for the first time last year. I was mostly disappointed with my box, but I loved this green and blue geometric wrap dress. The dress was $78, which was too much for me to spend, so I found a similar style on eBay for about $30. But it wasn’t the same dress. Every once in a while I still dream about that dress. I wish I had bought it, because I really loved it.
When you spend more money, you have to be more conscious, thoughtful and deliberate. Now, I don’t buy something unless I love it. The things I buy are fewer, but they make me happier.
2. Could I Find the Same Thing Cheaper Somewhere Else?
The other day I hit up one of my favorite stores, Nordstrom Rack. I was looking for athletic shorts and denim shorts to round out my summer wardrobe. I tried on a few pairs of denim shorts and only found one pair I liked and that fit me. Unfortunately, they cost $70.
I bought the shorts, thinking if I found something else I’d return them later.
A couple days later, I realized I could find cheaper shorts online and in stores. But I was about to leave for a vacation and needed to have the shorts before my trip. I realized I’d forgotten my biggest shopping rule: start with the cheapest place first.
In the past, I’d always start shopping for something at a thrift or consignment store like Goodwill or Buffalo Exchange. I don’t mind hunting through the racks if I have a specific need in mind. If I leave empty-handed, at least I know I did my best to find a bargain.
Then, I’ll see if my favorite websites have what I need. ThredUp is one of my favorites. It’s an online consignment store whose brands range from Forever 21 to Diane Von Furstenberg. I bought an Ann Taylor wool skirt for $25 which remained one of my favorite staples when I had an office job. Plus, if you use this link to shop with ThredUp, you’ll get an extra $10 to spend!
I’ve also shopped through eBay (and even bought my wedding dress there) and Poshmark, which seems to have a bigger selection then ThredUp. Local thrift stores are also a treasure trove – I got a pair of Hunter rain boots for $45 once at a place in Indianapolis. I bought those boots almost four years ago and I still wear them all the time!
Buying used is something that used to gross me out, until I realized how much cheaper it was. I found a pair of Joe’s Jeans through Plato’s Closet once for $20 – when they retail for $120! I’d rather have a slightly used pair of designer jeans than a new pair of Old Navy ones. If you’re really grossed out, you can get them professionally dry cleaned.
Bottom line: you can usually find something cheaper when it’s used, so start there.
3. Do I Need It Tailored?
How often have you found an amazing dress or pair of shoes and tried them on only to find they’re not quite the right size? Do you put them back or do you buy them anyway?
I used to have a habit of buying clothes that definitely didn’t fit right, but I really liked them. Inevitably, I’d wear them a couple times before deciding they didn’t fit great before donating them or spending a whole lotta money to get them tailored.
I bought a cute Urban Outfitters dress at a yard sale for $3, but it cost $40 to take it in. Ouch. Thankfully, I still wear that dress three years later, but it was an expensive lesson to learn.
Be honest with yourself when you shop. Do those pants really fit you? Or will you need to get them hemmed? It’s ok if you will – just be honest with yourself so you can calculate tailoring costs into the final figure.
Nowadays, I spend more money on getting items tailored. The better something fits you, the more you’re going to want to wear it. That means that I get my pants hemmed, my dresses taken in and my shoes fixed. The key is not just spending a lot of money on clothes, it’s making sure you love what you wear. When your clothes fit well, you’ll feel better in them. The next time you’re deciding on your outfit, you’ll pick out the items that make you feel good.