How NOT to Go Broke Buying Fashion: Tips on Looking Terrific and Still Having a Life
Fall is the perennial have to have season, with all the designers going all-out to snag our limited credit card capacity. If you’re anything like me, you periodically peruse the offerings, whether that’s to see what’s on sale at Matches.com or Farfetch.com, where I can see the uber-expensive pieces marginally reduced. Considering my rather marginal income, compared to those who can swing two grand for a cotton bespoke sweatsuit without blinking, I have to be extremely mindful of what I invest.
Particularly, since I am susceptible as most of us are to the lure of limited availability (BUY NOW ONLY ONE LEFT) when it comes to certain colorful pieces by my favorite designer, Mary Katrantzou.
If we buy sale pieces because they are on sale, and only because they are on sale and they’re pretty, we will end up with endless orphans (as I did) that are brag-worthy but ultimately worthless. Why? Because they’re hard to match. And being hard to match, our prizes sit petulantly in our closets until we get pissed off at them enough to dump them into consignment for pennies on the dollar.
Dumb. Stupid. My god how many times did I do that? Endless.
So I have some suggestions.
Perhaps the single most important question that it took me DECADES to learn to answer was this:
What is my actual lifestyle? In other words, what do I really do every day? How do I really dress? What am I really going to wear?
Here’s a perfect example: Last year I was fascinated by truly inventive white blouses. I found one by Preen that caught my attention. It featured all kinds of ruffles, an exposed back, and to my eye, was simply stunning. I ended purchasing it, but it has since sat in my closet. Unused. I have nowhere to wear it.
What good is a prize piece if you never trot it out?
That blouse doesn’t fit my actual lifestyle.
And that’s the whole point. Given the way I live, which is largely in Lycra workout gear, riding pants/boots and hiking gear, that blouse will likely do nothing more than decorate the inside of my closet. No matter how good the sale was, it was a wasted investment.
Fashion counts on impulse purchases. That goes for sales, too. Whether you’re on The Outnet or any of the magnificent designer outlet stores (and they are legion) it’s a deep temptation to see how a particular item drapes on a skinny model and feel that have-to-have urge rise. If they have limited stock, and it’s your favorite designer, well then. It’s hard to resist. Of course it is. The industry banks on that.
Designers are immensely greedy, which is reflected in the extreme pricing that marks virtually all new pieces, whether they’re well made or not. This means that by the time you see it on sale for 75% off that piece is still grotesquely overpriced, so you’re dumping the equivalent of a mortgage payment on something that a woman in China probably made for pennies. I can’t speak for anyone else but I find this appalling, not only for the abuse of the workers but to our pocketbooks. Then we purchase far too many of these items which end up in landfills all over the world, adding to the second-largest polluter after oil and gas.
So what to do? Let’s consider:
- Assess your actual everyday activities. How do you prefer to dress? Do you go out often? And if so, what kinds of events?
- What kind of budget can you afford? If you only have X to spend on one gorgeous outfit, it makes sense to make that outfit last for years to come. That argues for classic lines, something that will span the decades, and ride the waves of foolish fashion that will drain your bank account and end up being sold for nothing later.
- Is it time to cleanse your closet? If you can’t get a finger between your hangers, it’s time to hang up your shopping shoes and get busy purging. Get professional help from a closet de-clutterer. Chances are you, like I did, had a great deal of fun shopping sales, and ended up with a lot of orphans which don’t work for your actual world. Dump this stuff. It only causes stress.
- Practice what I call “Catch and Release Shopping.” I love the visual pleasure and occasional side meander to look at what’s on sale on my favorite sites. I find something that tempts me. Put it in the cart. Then I go back to work. I found it. Liked it. Let it go. Usually by the time I remember that it’s there, someone else bought it. Fine by me. I still have my money. The truth is that piece would likely never get worn (I don’t go anywhere that requires a gown any more, so that would be beyond foolish to invest in one).
The Fall Fashion Frenzy succeeds by appealing to our tender egos, our insecurities, and our competitive natures. However, there is no such thing as a “have to have item,” with a few exceptions. Such as:
- If you do adventure sports like I do, you have to have clothing that will protect and save your life in extreme conditions. They’re worth every penny. However, unlike what REI would have you believe, you don’t have to have those items in every single available color.
- If you work in corporate America, depending on your workplace culture and dress code, you likely have to have just a few simple basics that can get you through a month’s worth of work with variety, style and service. Comfortable, stylish, flattering pieces that work whether you’re a boss or an underling just starting out. This means know your corporate culture, which varies widely from downtown Manhattan to the uber-comfortable, dog-friendly offices near me in Boulder, Colorado.
- In many cases, you can find a single accessory (for example, this season’s fascination with your grandmother’s scarves) which can dress up your basics, keep you right in style, and leave your bank account full enough to afford that trip you keep talking about.
I Want Your Life
People regularly tell me that they “want my life.” Here’s what I mean: several times a year I take off to go to Africa or South America or Southeast Asia or some epic isolated place and do pretty amazing things. I’m not rich by any means. What I will do is discipline my spending so that the funds are available, and not get swept up in the emotion of the moment, all too often driven by my ridiculous ego needs. It’s taken me decades to tamp down my compulsion to purchase gorgeous stuff I will never wear. I still love pretty things. However, as I sit here writing this article in my Under Armour running shorts and long-sleeved top, about to head out to hike thousands of steps, the reality of how I really live, really dress, and really use clothing determines where my investments go. By reining in my desire to look fashionable (without a single place to go show it off, mind you) I end up with money to make these trips.
Right now, I have a charming Mary Katrantzou dress sitting in a cart. It’s 70% off. I love it. They have my size. However, I have nowhere to wear it. So it will go the way of the do-do bird and someone else will get it. Good for her. I hope she has somewhere to wear it. I will be putting that money towards a multi-week trip in the northern mountains of British Columbia by pack horse next summer. That trip — and all the others just like it- provide me with vastly more pleasure, memories, stories and experiences than any overpriced knit tee shirt dress by Mary Katrantzou.
That’s my real life. What’s yours?