Strut your stuff, save your money

By Mir
August 30, 2006

Do y’all know Patricia? In addition to being a funny and pretty and all-around lovely person, Patricia and I finally met last month at BlogHer and she brought me beautiful hand-knit socks. I felt wholly inadequate. She brought me socks, and I brought her… ummm… my jetlagged self rambling on nonsensically. A fabulous deal for me, but not so much for Patricia.

Nevertheless, Patricia seems to still like me. She may have low standards. And she sent along the following:

You are pretty and have an excellent sense of style. I am constantly
impressed at how you never give up style for price and when I saw you in person, I was thrilled to see you dress in the current styles (without being insanely on the cutting edge), but knowing in my heart you didn’t pay full price for anything, save perhaps your underwear.

[Ed. note: People pay full price for underwear?]

So, here’s my question. I’m going on a vacation in October and I’m in a bit of a pickle. I’m a work at home mother, whose closet has basically become the breeding ground of long sleeve tees and jeans. I want/need to have 7 days of reasonable style for the Mexico trip I’m heading on. I’ve hunted the basics, but I’m stumped. I can’t seem to locate casual wear that isn’t either for the 20 somethings (read: Old Navy) or more like “casual work wear” (Read: Banana Republic) I tried Gap and they seemed to miss things like skirts. I’m open to suggestions for reasonable cost and great fit and style.

This question requires two avenues of response.

On the one hand, this is about bargain-hunting and prices. And we’ll get to that in a minute.

On the other hand, this is about style. And while I’m certainly not going to be pretend to be a fashion maven on the order of some younger, prettier, hipper people, I’d like to believe I have some basic fashion sense. Hey, I watch a lot of What Not to Wear and you seemed to think I dressed okay when we met, so let’s pretend I might have some wisdom to share on this.

(Talking about style, by the way, is not so far afield from budget as you might think. Buying the right clothes the first time saves you money in the end.)

So let’s lay out a few commandments. Pick and choose as you see fit, as always.

  • Thou shalt only wear clothes that fit, or thou shall go visit a tailor. Nothing makes you look sloppier than pants that are too long, or gap in the waist, or pull across your hips… with the possible exception of a top that fits you like a tent. I don’t care how cheap it is; if it doesn’t fit you, don’t wear it. It looks awful.
  • And the corollary to the above: Don’t waste your time and money on insufficient fabrics. Clothing that wrinkles when it shouldn’t or sags or puckers should be left at the store. And if you’re not an ironer? Don’t buy things that need to be ironed. Duh.
  • Thou shalt love the classics, but not be afraid of trends. This sounds contradictory, I know. For example: Everyone looks good in a straight-legged pant. EV. ERY. ONE. You can’t go wrong with a nice-fitting straight leg, basically. Ditto for a nice A-line, knee-length skirt. On the other hand, maybe you find some flares you really like, or maybe you’re enjoying the return of the skinny jeans (they make me twitch, but hey, to each their own), or maybe you think those Boho ruffle skirts are adorable. There’s nothing wrong with hopping on a trend if you dig it, just be aware that you should spend less on pieces that are likely to go out of style at some point. For the most part, I stay very classic in my bottoms, go slightly trendier on tops, and save my wildest whims for shoes and jewelry. That works as a nice balance for me.
  • Thou shalt mix and match. Save for a couple of pieces that lure you with an undeniable siren song despite working in only a single outfit, buy things that will work well paired with various items. You’ll feel like you have more options, and it’s more cost-effective overall. This does not mean dressing all in one color or a single palette, which is a mistake a lot of people make. But do buy tops that can be layered, and bottoms that are either neutrals or that will go with a variety of tops.
  • Thou shalt buy stuff you like. You’re going on vacation. You should be comfortable. Don’t walk out of the store with the adorable outfit that you’re not sure is really “you,” or with a sundress because you figure you ought to have a sundress for Mexico even though, really, you hate sundresses.
  • Thou shalt wear proper foundation garments. Nothing will ruin your look faster than visible panty lines or the wrong size bra. Nothing. Do not sin in this way.

That’s sufficient to start us off, I think. Keep those things in mind.

Now let’s talk about actual places to shop.

As I think I told anyone who would listen that day (HA!), the outfit I wore the day of my panel was all purchased at consignment, except for my Franco Sarto shoes (which I’d purchased for $6 at TJ Maxx). Now I know that some people turn up their noses at used stuff. Me? I have expensive taste. So I have no problem paying $2 for those Ann Taylor trousers, thanks.

My mantra is “consignment and clearance.” I know what brands I like; I know what I’m willing to spend. When these two things intersect, it’s a happy day.

Consignment is limited to stores you know and like in your area, of course… or eBay, if you’re willing to take the risk.

Clearance can be done in-store or online, and it’s a matter of knowing whose merchandise you like. I agree that for women of our age (“women of our age?” What are we, 90?) it can seem like there’s something of an abyss between too-young- trendy and buttoned-up-office. But you just need to know where to look.

For brick-and-mortar stores, I love the off-price places like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Ross. They carry a variety and sometimes you find nothing and sometimes you luck out. When you do find something there, the price is nearly always right.

I also have to say that I’m becoming a bigger fan of the Isaac Mizrahi line at Target. It’s still, you know, Target and all, but some of his stuff is not bad—and it’s likely to hit 75% off on clearance if you keep your eyes open. If you want to go a little more trendy, that’s a great, inexpensive way to add in a few pieces on the cheap.

Online and off, I like both Kohl’s and Coldwater Creek because they tend to have extreme clearance. Ann Taylor Loft often has half-off coupons, as does Liz Claiborne every now and again.

Hopefully that gives you some ideas and a few places to start looking. The really wonderful thing about shopping for a tropical vacation in the fall is that the things you want/need should all be on clearance right about now. Add up all the money you’re saving, and you’ll be able to justify a pedicure and maybe some highlights before you leave. (Oh, I know. I’m supposed to tell you to just bank that money. Hey, it’s vacation. Splurge a little.)


  1. Smart AND pretty advice, Mir. How is it possible that you are so pretty? And smart?

    I go to most of the places you mentioned, but I’ve also been hitting the outlets. I know, not all of the deals there are good ones, but if you don’t mind digging . . .

    Living in the land of New Jersey, we are surrounded by malls. I was thrilled to find Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Off 5th outlets nearby. I know other fancy-schmancy stores have their outlets, too. I have never bought anything in their regular stores, but I feel like I’m really sticking it to them when I get something at 75% (or more) discount. It’s these imaginary victories that keep me going.

    The thing about NM and Saks Off 5th is that the design tends to be a little more fashion forward than the basics you can pick up elsewhere (thus following Mir commandments 3 & 4 above).

    Case in point . . . I picked up a pure silk Asian-inspired pantsuit for my mom for $35. It was regularly priced at $450. And because that was such an incredible display of shopping smarts, I bought a second one for my MiL. They live 3 states apart, so they will never know. Unless someone on here tells them.

    I’m not saying buy all your stuff from these places, but a few key pieces can spruce up the basics in a hurry.

    Find a Saks near you here:

    And a NM Last Call here:

  2. Ok, I have to say THANK YOU. I’ve dug through so many sites I was hitting absolute overload. I hadn’t thought of Liz (who FYI, is doing a 25% of already on sale items!! What a deal and it includes free shipping for my order over $100.

    I totally got fun, but classic items. I’m thrilled. You are awesome!!! This was just like spending the day at the mall with a girlfriend, but with a deal!

  3. I went to the ann taylor site (because this post of your came at exactly the right time! You’re so pretty!) and noticed that they’re having shipping sale. Basically, standard shipping is free through Sept 4th. 🙂

  4. You’ve inspired me with your talk of foundation garments. I am a SINNER, because I don’t know what bra size I really wear since I gave birth over two years ago, but I’m pretty darn sure it’s not the one I’m wearing. GAH

  5. What a fabulous response. I’m sure a lot of people could benefit from those commandments, myself included. You ought to re-purpose that info into a magazine article!

  6. Just wanted to add the input of a zaftig gal on fit and fashion: Liz Claiborne has never. let. me. down. There have been times when I had to go to the “Elizabeth” line for some size 16 stuff (yes, to designate “plus” sizes, they use her WHOLE name. Because you’re a BIG girl, and “Liz” is just too cute for the BIG girls), but for the most part, if, in your casual wear–and I mean REALLY casual like knit pants/tops, etc., you wear up to a size 14 or a “Large,” Liz respects you–EVEN IF YOU HAVE BREASTS AND/OR *gasp* HIPS. That is all. And that is why I can buy her on eBay, or consignment, or any darn place, because I can’t stand to shop, so I don’t try things on. You heard me. I’d rather RETURN it than try it on on the spot. Sue me.

    Chaus is also good in this regard, very affordable, and also readily available off-market for weeeeeee little dollars.

Bargain Hunt





Want Not Archives

Creative Commons License

Pin It on Pinterest