It feels so disappointing to me and, well, financially gross, when I’ve spent money on clothes that turn out to be a complete dud. The sweater that gets pilly and gnarly after a couple wearings; the jeans that distort as I wear them or rub down the knees in months.
Conversely, one of my great delights is enjoying clothes that are made well, fit nicely, and hold up because of good workmanship and materials.
But, here's the rub... good quality clothes, made from solid materials, constructed to last: they cost money!
If you are on a tight budget — or just don’t want to spend much on clothes — it could feel like these are out of reach. The most obvious course of action, with limited resources, is: to buy clothes that are cheaper.
The unfortunate deception is that short-term savings on clothing (Old Navy, Children’s Place, H&M, etc.) most often make for a long-term failure; the materials & construction often deteriorate, both practically (wearing out more quickly, or falling apart) and in appearance (stretching, distorting). Frustrating!
These items need to be replaced more frequently, or don’t fulfill their intended purpose. That is: looking & feeling good in your clothes! (or, in a post-hermit world: perhaps presentation to employers & others).
What to do?
I wanted to share some successes & tips/tricks for finding great clothes at lower prices. Let's go!
Where to Shop
First, where to shop?
Naturally, second-hand stores are a go-to. "Previously loved" items offer a massive slash to the pricetag. Sometimes this is the likeliest affordable way to purchase certain brands or items. (But, not the only option! Read on...)
[If the idea of used clothing makes you squeamish: Don't discount these stores altogether! Everyone makes shopping mistakes, and I have often found brand new clothing (with tags) that have never been worn or washed.]
These stores take some commitment, and a gold-miner’s persistence (and attitude!). But, there may be tricks you can glean by asking questions or paying attention. For example, a friend of mine knew that XYZ thrift store added their jeans every Tuesday, so she went early on and could often find designer jeans at ultra-low prices.
If you are less of a huntress and want a bit more of a discerning eye on the racks (before you sift through them), consignment stores are the way to go. Different owners will decide on their own niche: both genders or women only; designer clothing; young-skewed, or professional clothing… There is usually an aesthetic that a consignment store leans towards, and they will have standards by which they accept items (to fit that vibe).
They tend to be less than a free-for-all like a thrift store. If you find a shop that is in your lane, you’ll likely always come away with something you love.
No business is immune to mistakes in inventory forecasting; even brands that rarely discount anything may sometimes have an abundance of a certain product that they just want to move. Check the sale racks (or join their mailing list), and maybe you will get lucky!
National retailers that also sell online usually accept returns from online purchases in-store. If they have a generous return policy, this can mean that a great item is returned way after that piece has left the shelves, and deeply discounted to reflect.
Online boutiques may have discounts or first-time-only coupons that you can use (if you have visited a site a lot, open a browser in an incognito tab to check if there are any first-time-visitor windows that pop up).
There are other tips, too, for looking at all of these kinds of shops. Here are some ways to shop differently to save money without sacrificing quality:
Shop evergreen style
Ok, so if you are a fashion maven, or keen about trends, you’re going to have a harder time getting it all: value price, good quality, on-trend.
But, it is possible to ignore trends and dress well without sacrificing style. Some looks are just... classic.
Search “French style” on Pinterest and you will get loads of inspiration for style basics that look fresh, but don’t essentially change.
Classic prints — stripes, polka dots, checked wool
Classic pieces — slim jeans, boyfriend jeans, black pants; solid color tees, button–up cotton blouses; trenchcoat, leather coat, military jacket, ballet flats, simple gold jewellery, red accessories
And, evergreen (always "in") style doesn’t have to be French chic! Think about Converse or white tennis shoes; jeans + white tops; mid-tone brown leather; camel-colored coat. For me, it’s a black crew sweatshirt. There are loads of options for lasting, universally great style that is flattering to your body.
The downside is that these kinds of clothes are less “trendy” and may not see as many sales or discounts. But, they are also more reliable to purchase for the long-haul. Many shops have found their niche in well-produced staples, and those might be ones to scan through consignment racks, or stalk for annual sales.
Buy long-sleeved shirts in June, sunglasses in January, sandals in September, boots in May. Or, at least, be open to looking out-of-season for long-term staples.
I bought my fave, all-weather jacket on vacation in March in Florida! I was really reluctant, because my mind wasn’t there, and I already felt spend-y on holidays. But, I’ve worn that jacket ¾ of the year’s days now for 2 years (and it’s going strong!). At $60, I feel like this was a big win.
Last weekend, I shopped at a consignment store and walked away with two sweatshirts from the same niche brand. One was sized XS, the other L. One fit slim, the other slouchy (I would typically wear an M); both looked & felt great! Was it a bad sizing run? Was the XS men’s? Who knows? Who cares?
Retail value: over $300. I paid: $70.
The secret: trying them on!
You should have a reasonably attuned eye to what *might* fit your body. When browsing racks, just pick things that you like the look of, regardless of the label size (within reason, obviously). I’ve also bought shoes (both used and discounted new) that are a full size different than my normal size.
Occasionally, I’ve found a great item (usually a top) in a regular store that is heavily discounted because the fit is completely different than a typical shirt. If you are open to looking beyond the size label, you may find a piece that doesn’t fit as the designer intended, but is flattering to your body and feels great.
Shop (think) out of the box
My fave shirts this year were (technically) men’s pocket-T long-sleeves. I found them in the spring on the sale rack, because size S men’s is not a well-selling category!
Be willing to try sizes you wouldn’t normally try, brands you may not know, and — for certain types of clothes — maybe the men’s or children’s section!
Take a peek
Shopping for back-to-school shoes? Check the sale shelves to see what might be there for you or someone else in the family. Looking for a coat? Check the shoe rack. Walking by the jackets on your way to the backpacks? Sneak a peek.
I mean, don't be obsessive and drive everyone crazy! But, like shopping in the off-season, you never know what gems you might come across.
Know Your Stuff
Expensive does not equal good materials or stitching.
Anthropologie, for example, has built up a brand at a particular price point. But, like any thriving store that needs to continue to maximize profit, they may cut certain elements (eg. fabric choice) to uphold others (eg. design creativity).
Just because a store or brand has a reputation of a higher price point, this does not guarantee lasting/good clothes! (I’ve learned this the hard way).
Check labels: is it made from cotton, wool, synthetics? Get to know which items you own that may have disappointed you, and what they were made from (to avoid the same mistake again).
Know What You Need
What are the gaps in your wardrobe? What do you have in overabundance? (me: sweaters 😬) What is wearing out or needs replacement?
Know What You Like
What clothes or styles draw you? What makes you feel good, or what do you dislike? (ie. I’ve finally come to terms with: clothes that need ironing are not really for me) What are the brands you like, and what are their typical prices?
Having this knowledge in your pocket will allow you to make quick & easy decisions when you see what you like.
What do you think? Is this helpful? I would love to hear any more tips or wins that you have had!
5 commentsLeave a comment
Thanks for this! Really helpful tips! So handy to have all in one place. I really agree with your point about higher prices don’t always mean better quality – one does need to be careful.
The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline is a great read on this topic!
Clothing swaps! I still wear a wonderful buffalo-plaid wool jacket that I got years ago at clothing swap organized on Meet Up. Basically free, because all I had to do was bring some clothes I no longer wore. Also, visible mending is a lot of fun and has helped me get further use out of my favorite blue jeans. For me, the most important part of shopping thrift stores and vintage shops is ecological—removing my actions from the massive waste stream that is fast fashion.
I have found some good deals on Poshmark! You have to be discerning because it’s easy to get upsold, and you can’t try it on. But if you know your size in a certain brand, it can work out very well.
Buddy up! My sister and I are different sizes and have different tastes but when it comes to Thrift Store shopping we tackle those over stuffed racks as a natural team. Since sizes are crazy different and it’s hard for volunteers to keep it all organized it really helps and is fun to have a friend there. And when we find something that fits well we hunt harder for other items that may have been donated by that unknown gal who is just our right size!