I got the idea for this blog post after seeing a number of comments on recent body positive TikTok videos that bring up the difficulty of “dressing cool” without significant disposable income.
I talk a lot about size inclusivity in the fashion industry but one topic I have not addressed on this platform is economic inclusivity. For a long time (still today) fashion is insanely classist. Only the elite can afford what everyone wants and those without the means for Prada turn to fast fashion, another insanely problematic part to this whole mess.
In this blog post I will explain first the financial mistakes I made early in adulthood when I valued clothes over food, then I will offer what solutions have worked best for me to stick to a budget with my wardrobe. Everyone has a different financial situation, and a trendy closet is almost always overpriced, but I hope this information can help you feel encouraged to wear what makes you and your wallet feel happy!
Start ‘Em Young
Ok so I’ve been obsessed with clothes and outfits and shopping since the age of 3. (Not kidding) I would do fashion shows for my older siblings before they left for the school bus, and my favorite childhood outfit involved cowboy boots, a pink purse, a white church hat, pearls, sunglasses, and NOTHING ELSE. Laugh out loud.
Growing up my parents kept me to a fairly strict budget for school clothes, and every year I learned new ways to maximize my pennies for the perfect first day of school fit. I went to a private school where it seemed everyone had the latest anything, and while I was crazy privileged myself, a firmly limited budget taught me to work with what I had.
All The Things I Did Wrong
Then came adulthood. I thought I knew how to budget and I seriously struggled through college. I got my first retail credit card thinking it would not be a big deal and now I am still paying it off 4 years later.
During that time I started this blog and with an industry of fashion and beauty influencers I was convinced I had to have it all. From makeup palettes to every bootie in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, it was a crazy time and a crazy delusion of thinking this level of consumerism was normal
The Actual Financial Advice
It wasn’t until I actually worked in retail that I really understood it all. I learned how brands will mark up prices by 90%, meaning it may cost $5 to make something but the store is selling it for $50, or even $100. And we may not fully understand the value of a piece of clothing, but even accounting for the price to make something and keep a business and it’s employees afloat, it is oftentimes overpriced.
So here is what really helped me! After I left retail, became financially independent, and fell in love with a more sustainable living, these are the tricks I use to help me have fun styling my closet without making the financial mistakes of my past!
1. Keep It Minimal
It sounds simple and straightforward, but I feel way more confident knowing that the only clothes in my closet are what fit my body and style right now. A year ago I went through a life detox where I started selling a lot of what I was not wearing, and this change helped me visualize a consistent capsule wardrobe, making getting ready infinitely easier. Set up a nice storage system for different seasons, and group your favorite pieces based on what works well together, that way your closet becomes less overwhelming and you have a better understanding of what you actually need before you go and buy something you have no use for.
2. Never pay full price, EVER.
There is always a coupon somewhere, and if there isn’t, just wait. Some of my favorite long term pieces came from the last chance sale rack at a designer store. Get the good stuff but do not give them everything you got.
3. Just because it is on sale, doesn’t mean you need it.
This may sound like a juxtaposition to my previous point, but another thing I learned from retail is this: if a store has the same sales on schedule (like clockwork) then maybe the clothes are worth even less than the sale price. And worse, maybe the clothes are poorly made and hardly worth anything at all!
4. Read tags!
I make it a rule not to spend more than $50 on anything synthetic or blend. I prefer well-made, 100% cotton, cashmere, silk, whatever, because those are the pieces I will reach for when I am 50 years old.
5. Shop sustainably!
If you are just starting to build your personal style, go thrifting! Buy secondhand and build outfits off of what you find. And if you are like me a love all the trends, regularly sell your clothes so you aren’t wasting as you go! This also helps me keep a small closet because I can more easily focus on what pieces are actually important.
And those are my big tips! They may seem like odd or insignificant steps in the scheme of budgeting for clothes, but no matter your budget I hope these skills can help you realize what is really important when it comes to personal style!