Where to Save and Where to Splurge on Your Wardrobe
When most people learn I'm a wardrobe stylist, an initial assumption they often have is that I must have a huge closet filled with designer goods from top to bottom. Spoiler: I don't. While I love a great designer piece and I am concerned about clothing manufacturing's ethical and environmental implications, I still need to budget. Though I don't love the cycles of the fast fashion industry in general, the bottom line is most people can't afford high-end pieces or items that are sourced from ethically transparent labels, let alone a closet full of them. (Speaking of closets, full disclosure: mine is tiny and I share it with my husband.) I don't think anyone's style should ever be limited by budget -- "style" is unique, individual, and a democratic counter point to "fashion." My general advice is to always invest in the best quality you can afford. More specifically, any wardrobe purchase made is an investment. The key is to be as discerning with low-cost items as you are with high-end pieces. This post will help you focus on getting the best bang for your buck and, in the long run, free up clothing budget for those higher-cost pieces when needed. If you aren't buying vast amounts of inexpensive things, you will save more for better made pieces in the future.
Jeans can feel like the most impossible items to find a great fit for sometimes. There are low-cost retailers who have done a great job nailing fit but at the end of the day I have yet to find a pair for less than $50 that doesn't completely fade or that can hold up to washing the same way as their higher-end counterparts.
Fitted Jackets, Tailored Pieces, and Work Items
It's more obvious when tailored pieces aren't well made -- threads are pulling at seams, patterns don't align, the item isn't lined, or the fit may just be off. If you're going to for a fitted piece, it's worth considering spending a little more to ensure quality that is hard to come by inexpensively.
Silk, Cashmere and Leather
Steer clear of these fabric options at lower price points -- these are hard to maintain materials and the less expensive versions of them don't hold up as well to the required maintenance. You'll also end up spending more at a fast fashion place than you would otherwise when they have better options available. Generally speaking, it's a better deal to spend $35 on an acrylic sweater at a low-cost retailer than $70 on a cashmere sweater there. The acrylic one will be easier to maintain and consistently look good longer while the inexpensive cashmere used will look worn out after the first wear, and extremely worn out after the first wash. (Worth noting here that there are some great, chic vegan leather options at lower price points available.)
Shoes and Bags
Shoes have to be comfortable (and to be honest, there are a ton of expensive ones that aren't comfortable either). Make both the time and financial investments to find supportive, comfortable shoes in any style you need to fill in your wardrobe. I highly recommend investing in a handbag, especially if you aren't a bag person. Why? Because our bags have to stand up to wear and tear of every day life and the construction at lower-cost retailers just doesn't tend to hold up. And, if you aren't a bag person, it's going to be a while before you take the time to invest in one again so be sure you're buying something that will hold up as long as possible. For more on aspects to consider before investing in a bag, click here for my blog post on the subject.
T-Shirts and Sweatshirts
I love a t-shirt or sweatshirt as a counter point to more structured wardrobe pieces and this is one category where you can actually find a lot of well-made choices at lower price points. Look for organic Supima or Pima cotton. Organic cotton grown from heritage seeds is less harmful to the environment because it uses substantially less water overall.
I live in dresses through spring, summer, and fall, and there are so many cute ones I would classify as made "well enough" to look chic but they don't break the bank. Many fast-fashion retailers have implemented using recycled materials in their lines and one of the garment types often available from these recycled fibers is dresses. When the whole look is relaxed, this is a great area to save.
Anything Intentionally Oversized
Because oversized items are designed to have a relaxed look and meant to offer a counter point to more structured pieces, this is a great place to save a few dollars because you don't need to worry about exact fit.
Jewelry, Hats, Scarves
I adore my fine jewelry as much as the next person but there is a lot available at budget retailers that won't break the bank. The materials have gotten much better, too, so discoloration and allergic reactions are less of a risk than they used to be. One problem I often have with hats at budget retailers is that they're often too big since they're only available in one size -- you can find hat fitters on Amazon to ensure a proper fit.
When I work one-on-one with clients, nearly every single one tells me they are happy to "invest" in high-end pieces. Here is the kicker, though: "high-end" means something to different to nearly every client. For some, spending a little more really is full-on crossing over the high-end designer threshold, while for others this may mean a small step up from a budget retailer. Whatever it means to you, the best way to get value and honor the clothing manufacturing process is to be discerning and thoughtful with every purchase you make, regardless of cost.