Let’s talk about clothes, baby!
Hello pretty Mir! I’ve got a bit of a dilemma I hope you might be able to help me with. I lost a pretty significant amount of weight this year. Hooray, right? Yes, mostly, except for one thing – I quite literally have nothing to wear! Winter is approaching and my wardrobe consists of two pairs of jeans, a handful sweaters, a few of pairs of slacks to wear to work and one really rockin’ dress I bought myself as a reward. I need to do some major shopping and haven’t tripped over any buckets of money lately. I can’t wait for the end of season clearances like I usually would because I will very soon have to leave the house naked. I need pretty much everything – casual weekend clothes, business casual clothes to wear to work and a few cute things for date nights and the like. I not a clothing snob, but I don’t want everything I own to come from Old Navy, either. I generally prefer to spend a little more on something that is going to last. Also, I’ve worked hard and want to show off a bit! What does one do when faced with having to replace an entire wardrobe quickly and on a budget? Help!
Have I mentioned you’re so very pretty?
Congratulations on your weight loss, Kristin! That’s an awesome accomplishment, and you definitely deserve a fabulous wardrobe to go with your new bod.
You’re in the ideal place to shop for new clothes: You understand the value of spending a bit more on pieces which will last, but you also know that there’s nothing wrong with choosing value for some of what you wear. The issue becomes knowing when to spend less and when to spend more, and also having a sense of what you actually need.
Here I will insert my standard plug for the inimitable Susan Wagner, who writes eloquently on style issues here and here. Susan is chock-full of general wardrobe tips, and if you don’t already read her, start.
Let’s see if we can’t break this down.
Consider base layering and some other casual pieces disposable. What does that mean? It means that there’s rarely a reason to go spend $40 at Ann Taylor on a t-shirt. Of course, if you can get that tee on sale for $10, then we’ll talk… but in general? T-shirts, tanks, camisoles, casual shorts/capris and the like are not investment pieces. That means you should feel free to stock up on those things at Old Navy or Target. Coincidentally, these are the items you’ll need the most of, so getting them for $5 or $8 or $12 a pop works out well from a budget standpoint. This does not mean you can buy stuff that doesn’t fit, mind you, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find these items on the cheap, and you should feel at peace spending fairly little and then replacing them every year or two as they become worn.
Also keep in mind that Target does have some nicer stuff mixed in with the Cherokee and Mossimo. Some of the Isaac Mizrahi and other designer labels there are worth checking out.
Invest in classics. So where should you spend money? You should have a winter coat that you love, that fits you well and is weather-appropriate for your area and dresses up or down with ease. You should have at least one pair of jeans that fits you perfectly and can pass for business casual if need be. You should have a skirt or two that can be casual or dressy depending on what you pair it with, and ditto for pants. You should have at least one blazer-type jacket that goes with all of those bottoms. You should have a few tailored blouses, if that’s your thing, or some lightweight, tailored sweaters if they’re not. And you should have some awesome shoes.
(Yes, I have a thing for shoes. But in my old age I have learned that a fabulous pair of shoes will fit better and last longer than cheap imitations, plus they can smooth over a multitude of wardrobe issues if everyone is too busy admiring them to notice that you really need a belt with those pants.)
I think Susan wrote recently about having a great pair of boots for Fall/Winter, and I couldn’t agree more. A knee-high boot will go with both skirts and pants, and will lend your outfit a polished look that’s a whole lot more comfortable than a 3″ heel (unless the boots themselves are 3″ heels, in which case you’ll still look fabulous, but your toes might hurt later).
Shopping secondhand—if you have a good consignment store in your area—can be a great way to acquire some of those nicer pieces on the cheap. Even thrift stores can yield some finds, depending on your area. However, shopping thrift/consignment is time consuming and a gamble. Not everyone has the patience for it, and I get that. But it’s something to keep in mind.
What you should never, ever buy secondhand is shoes. It’s not just icky (yes, that’s the technical term), shoes tend to form to your feet over time. This means someone else’s shoes just aren’t going to fit you properly. For your shoe needs, take a cruise through the clearance section at Endless. If/when you find something you like, make sure to look for it over at Zappos to see if doing a pricematch might make it even cheaper. Both stores offer free shipping and free returns, so it’s risk-free shopping, either way.
Your best local source of the more work-appropriate clothing on a budget is going to be the off-price brand stores like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Steinmart, Ross, etc. They’ll have the high-quality stuff for less and are always a good place to start. If you live near any outlet malls, you might want to take a trip to whatever brand stores you enjoy and see what bargains you can find. I happen to really like Liz Claiborne, for example, and try to get to the outlet now and then as the prices there will trump even their online sales.
Local and online, you’ll want to look for department stores that have regular sales. Kohls and even Macy’s have constant sales, and a good selection of higher-quality items. They now sell Lands’ End stuff at Sears stores, and their online Overstocks often have items which are in season (but maybe are last year’s colors or whatever).
Specialty women’s stores—Ann Taylor Loft, Coldwater Creek, Liz Claiborne and the like—can yield great bargains, but typically only during sales. Ditto for places like Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, and Gap. Timing is everything, so if you hit it right, great, and if not, you’ll probably move on.
Please do not start buying clothes off of eBay, particularly with a new-size body. If you find the perfect pair of pants and decide to buy exactly that style in a different color or whatever, fine, but eBay is generally going to be the wrong place to spend money on items where fit is so important.
Keep in mind that savvy shoppers buy clothes that can do double- or triple-duty. Don’t shy away from t-shirts and tanks because the weather is turning colder; not only will those items be cheaper, now, but a crisp shirt with a tank layered underneath looks more polished than a shirt alone. A knee-length denim skirt will work through the winter with a pair of boots and a sweater and be just as appropriate as the weather warms with sandals and a t-shirt. A sleeveless dress (of proper-weight material) can be worn all winter long with a jacket. Before each purchase, ask yourself “How does this fit into my wardrobe? What can I wear this with?”
I hope this helps, some, Kristin. Happy shopping!