I am not an It Girl. I have never been to fashion week (I check out many of the shows online), and I have never been photographed while out and about and praised for my street style (I follow other blogs that do just that).
I am just a mom who loves fashion. I love fashion magazines and trying new styles, and I feel great when I put on an outfit that is the perfect balance of trendy and practical. But I have a very tight budget for my wardrobe, and I have spent years learning how to work within that budget while still feeling like an It Girl in my rural town.
I have made every mistake in the book when it comes to clothes shopping for myself. My love for fashion has enabled a tendency to get a little overexcited, which occasionally results in bad decisions.
Funny thing is, I have never had a problem when shopping for my husband or son. I am frugal but practical, and manage to carefully hunt for deals and cultivate a usable closet.
But when it comes to my clothes—forget about it. I am the master of wasting money and filling my closet with things I never wear.
I therefore feel qualified to share with you all the mistakes I have made when shopping for clothes in the hopes that you will see these coming a mile away. That way you can steer clear, save money, and free up your closet with items that have a high value.
These 9 clothes buying secrets make up the foundation for how I have learned to create a usable wardrobe on a tight budget.
1. Avoid wasting money on something just because it is cheap.
You have wasted money if you buy a piece of clothing, pair of shoes, or accessory that you will never use.
I am particularly guilty of this when it comes to buying shoes. I have a very tight budget, but buying budget shoes is a bad idea. Recently, I needed a pair of black flats to wear to a family event. I went to Target and bought a $20 pair of shoes that were on-trend and seemed comfortable in the store.
Boy was I wrong! The shoes were very cheaply made and were like torture devices for my feet. I was literally limping to avoid rubbing the heel of my left foot after wearing them for only an hour. I wasted $20 and only had blisters to show for it.
I don’t know how many cheap shoes I have bought only to have worn them once. I know, fool me once, right? I could have saved all that money and spent it on a single pair of great shoes.
2. Plan what you need before you go shopping to avoid impulse buys.
I am soooo guilty of this one. I will be at the mall with my family, not planning on buying any clothes or shoes, and I will see something in the window of a store that I just HAVE to have.
Sometimes it is something I end up loving and using all the time, but more often than not it is something I don’t really need, and it ends up just hanging in my closet for years.
Instead of just heading out to the mall or department store with no plan, take the time to do an inventory of what you already have, what fits, and what you need. The idea is to cultivate a complete wardrobe that is filled with pieces you love and use often.
Before heading out, plan. Do you need a new blazer? What color would mix well with the rest of your clothes? How frequently can you use this piece? Write down what you need and bring it with you when you go shopping, just like you do with your grocery list.
3. On a budget, classic is best.
Expensive, trendy pieces have no place in your closet if you are on a budget. The cost per use of these items is very high, and it just isn’t worth it if you don’t have money to burn (and who does?).
For example, the backless loafers like these are having a moment right now. I love this trend–it is comfy, menswear-inspired, and has a cool-girl feminist flair that says “I don’t need no stinkin heels!”. Backless loafers are awesome and oh-so-trendy. But if you spend a lot of money on a pair and they are out of fashion next season, your cost-per-wear is high.
I therefore recommend the basics to anyone on a budget. Classics. Things that aren’t really trendy but people wear all the time. Instead of the mule slippers, a pair of great classic black flats will be the better value for you. You will wear them frequently, and therefore have a lower cost-per-wear that justifies spending a bit more on a high quality pair like these.
4. Buy brands you already like.
If you know you already like a certain brand, stick with it! Sometimes the clothes at certain companies just look better on your body and fit with your personal style more than others.
This is a good thing! It almost guarantees you will not regret the purchase, and that the item will see frequent use (cost-per-wear thing again). If you are on a tight clothing budget, it is a smart choice not to gamble on a new brand but to stick with what you know already works.
5. Hunt sales and coupons when you are planning a shopping trip.
If you love a certain brand and are already planning on buying many items from that company, subscribe to their email list. Lots of clothing stores will send out coupons throughout the year, but especially during the holidays, Black Friday, Labor Day, and Memorial Day.
Some companies even have annual or bi-annual blow out sales. Wouldn’t you want to be notified before the sale starts so you can be there, coupon in hand? That’s why subscribing is a good idea. Don’t sign up for so many that your inbox is completely spammed, but stick to your favorite brands so that you can take advantage of coupons and sales.
You can also find coupons online at websites like coupons.com and retailmenot.com. Ibotta has even started offering cash back for clothing purchases at participating stores, so look out for those, too. At the time that I am writing this, there are currently cash back rebates at Banana Republic, Famous Footwear, American Eagle Outfitters, and GAP on Ibotta.
6. Don’t dress seasonally.
To save money on clothes, toss out the fashion rule book. There is no reason why you can’t wear white after labor day, or layer a sun dress over a turtleneck in the fall. For the most part, your wardrobe shouldn’t rotate through the seasons (other than bathing suits and sweaters, obviously).
There is no reason why you can’t make a t-shirt and jeans work throughout the year by just adding on or shedding layers to make sure you are comfortable no matter the weather. Light layers will work for most of the year, and you can add on a large coat for the winter. Done!
Shopping with all seasons in mind opens up even greater savings. The clearance racks are my favorite place to start shopping! The clothes on clearance are heavily discounted just because they are last season’s looks…and that is okay with me! If you select pieces that work in well to your wardrobe, you can take advantage of these huge discounts despite the season.
Styles are moved to clearance when the new seasonal line comes out in order to make space on the primary sales floor. It is therefore a good idea to start hunting the racks when you see those emails about “coming soon” or “new styles in store”–that’s when you pounce on the clearance deals!
7. Don’t be afraid of previously loved clothes.
Buying used clothing is a great way to save money. Many times, you can find never-worn clothes with the tag still attached! But even if the clothes were actually previously used, don’t be worried about buying them.
Used clothing is very trendy right now, and not just for moms on a budget like me. The fashion world calls previously used, trendy clothes from another time period “vintage”. Just think of all previously loved clothes as vintage!
The best places to pick up good quality used clothing are at your local consignment shop, Plato’s Closet, and Thread Up. Even if you don’t find anything, it is worth looking at used clothing first before you commit to purchasing a brand new item. You might be surprised what great things are out there.
8. Take care of your clothes.
Make your clothes last as long as possible by taking good care of them. Learn to read the washing directions label and follow it every time you wash. This will slow the wear and tear of clothes over time.
It is also important to store clothes properly. Avoid having heaps of clothes on the floor, and instead fold and put away your clothing or hang it in the closet.
The benefits of this are two-fold. First, proper storage will keep your clothes nice for a longer period of time. And second, it will decrease impulse purchases because you won’t have to hunt like a maniac through piles of clothes to find something to wear. It is all neatly presented in your closet or drawer, and there is no need to buy more clothing.
Learn some basic sewing skills so that you can fix any tears or buttons falling off (I don’t know how many buttons I have sewn back on over the years). Keep your clothes longer, and don’t buy them new just because of something that is quick and easy to fix.
9. Fast fashion is only for bad seamstresses (like me).
I love fast fashion stores like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M. It is fun to try all the new trends without breaking the bank. However, you really get what you pay for in terms of quality. And buying a $10 shirt to wear only once is a waste of $10.
A lot of these companies use lower quality fabric and construction techniques that can lead to a high cost-per-wear because they don’t last long. I usually see this cheaper clothing coming apart at the seams after a few washes, which is easy to fix if you know how to sew in a straight line with a sewing machine.
If you are on a tight budget, you should only buy fast fashion if you know the basics of a sewing machine and can fix your clothing if it gets damaged in the dryer. Everyone else should skip these stores and stick with high quality classics…or learn to sew!
So whether you are an aspiring It Girl on a budget, or a mom who wants to move past sweatpants at the school dropoff line—these tips will help you save money while still looking great! It is all about investing wisely in low cost-per-wear pieces and creating a wardrobe that works despite the season, trends, and a limited budget. We should all stop measuring an It Girl by her Instagram followers and instead by her ability to creatively use the resources she has to cultivate her own distinctive style. I know a lot of women who are It Girls by this definition—and it is certainly something to celebrate.