Too often we brag about being cheap—being able to buy something at the lowest price possible. When we focus on price instead, we forget to think about a product’s value—how well it’s made, how long it will last, and how much use and pleasure we will get out of it. When we focus on price, we’re vulnerable to the tricks retailers try to play to get us to buy things we don’t really need: buy-one-get-one offers, one-day sales, deep discounts on out-of-fashion merchandise…
And consider this: a new dress from a discount fashion store costs more than the $10 we pay to produce. The extra money comes out of the wages of the workers who make or sell the dress, the environment, or both. The dress looks and feel cheap, often falling apart after a few washes. (Not that higher prices always guarantee a more ethical product. Check out The Labor behind the Label to learn more.)
These ten ideas will help you build a thriftier wardrobe of quality clothes that make you look and feel great (inside and out) without breaking the bank.
- Buy the best you can afford. Look for actual quality—not just a brand label. Allready Pretty has a fantastic list of ways to recognize poor quality clothes, but in general be wary of garments with poor seams, that feel inappropriately light, or are made from cheap-feeling material. (By the way, “the highest quality you can afford” means you don’t have to break your budget!)
- Buy only what you need. The average woman in 1929 had only nine outfits. Today, the average woman buys sixty pieces of clothing a year. The $1,700 the average American spends on clothes each year could easily buy fewer things that make you look and feel better and last for years or decades instead of months: think about a pair of heels and looks a feels heavenly, tailored dress shirts, a truly snazzy suit or two, jeans with a perfect fit, or even a custom-made dress from Etsy.
- Be classic. Don’t waste money on highly-fashionable clothes that will look outdated in years or months. (How much longer can neon possibly last?) Focus on a small wardrobe with high-quality basics. If you really want to be trendy, pick up a few judicious accessories to update a timeless outfit from your closet.
- Don’t scrimp on the basics. Good undergarments change the look of virtually everything you wear over them. Besides, a comfortable bra will make you feel better all day and make you less vulnerable to breast sag as you age. Shoes are another item where you should look for quality. With proper care, high-quality shoes can last a decade or more.
- Take care of your clothes. Follow (or don’t follow—see below) the care label judiciously. Tend to stains as soon as possible. Fold or hang up clothes as soon as you can. Mend your clothes (or have them mended) instead of getting rid of them.
- Learn to hand wash. The majority of dry-clean only clothes don’t actually need to be dry-cleaned. Most American washing machines have an effective delicate cycle, but some clothing can’t really be taken care of at home: items with a lining (like suits) come immediately to mind, but, when in doubt, pony up for the cleaners. Many fabrics like wool, fine linen, acetate, and some silks (check the label) should never go in the washer, even on delicate. You can learn how to hand wash these garments over at Blogher, Laundry 101.
- Keep your shoes in shape. Stuff your leather shoes and boots when you aren’t wearing them. Repurposing an old newspaper is your most frugal option. Make good friends with your local cobbler to keep your shoes in good repair. Always use a spray leather protector to save your favorite shoes and handbags from wear and tear in the rain or snow.
- Regularly use a clothes brush or shaver to get rid of fluff, lint, and pills on clothing. Giving a wool coat a good brush when you get it out this winter will give it a new life.
- Learn to iron well. A pass with the iron can often make the weariest fabric look crisp and new. Life Script has a thorough guide to better ironing.
- Use a good deodorant. You may wonder what personal hygiene has to do with a thrifty wardrobe, but high-intensity, “prescription-strength” deodorants can damage clothes. Besides, they’re unhealthy and unnecessary for most women.
Being thrifty doesn’t mean looking cheap. With patience and good judgement, you can build a wardrobe that withstands the test of time, all the while making you look and feel absolutely beautiful.