Ever since this post about Clara’s clothes, I’ve actually gotten a surprising amount of requests for a post about how I save money on my own clothes, what my staples are, and how I generally get by without spending a ton of my momdrobe – er, I mean wardrobe. And although I’m hardly a fashion plate (that idea makes me snort-laugh) I do love a deal, so here’s a rundown on how I save money when I’m shopping for myself along with some sneaky sale tricks I’ve learned along the way and a few general dressing rules that seem to work for me (slash keep me from buying stuff I’ll regret/never wear/stare angrily at in my closet).
And I’d love to hear from you guys when it comes to how you score deals and try to resist buying things you don’t need/wear – so please drop in on the comments with all of your wardrobe words of wisdom!
Tip #1: Just ask. About a year ago I found a dress with no price on it at Old Navy. I asked them how much it was and they said it was an online-only return that ended up in their store, and they could sell it to me for 50% off. Just like that, a $30 dress was $15 – plus I could stack another mailer coupon I received on top of that. So worth just asking about it, right? Note: Please pardon this crazy face. I do that sometimes. Gathering all of the pics of myself for this post was beyond awkward.
Tip #2: Organize your clothing coupons. I use this method, which helps me know what I have and use them before they expire. Definitely helps me save some loot.
Tip #3: Know the rules. Many stores have special deals that run for cardholders. For example, you can get 10% off every Tuesday when you use an Old Navy, Gap, or Banana Republic card – on top of any markdowns from other coupons, discounts in the store, etc. I recently spent around $25 at Old Navy to get $65 worth of stuff. How? Well, first I used something they call Super Cash (it’s like Old Navy bucks that they give you after you buy stuff to put towards your next purchase, so I had a $20-off voucher to use if my total was over $50) but I also was shopping on a Tuesday so I got an additional 10% off, plus I was buying one item that was an online-only return, so that was 50% off plus 10% off on top of that! In the end I saved $40 just stacking discounts, shopping on the right day, and remembering to use my Super Cash voucher before it expired.
Tip #4: Figure out your favorite haunts. That’ll help you learn their store/sale policies, and it’ll also save you time since you’ll get to know:
- what sizes work for you in those stores (for faster shopping/fewer returns)
- which cut of jeans you love/wear most (and which ones you don’t so you can avoid them)
- when their end of season sales will be (and what they might have there, based on what you found the previous year, etc)
We’re also huge fans of outlet shopping, so when we go to the beach (usually around Memorial Day and Labor Day) we hit up the outlets where it’s not unusual to get things for 50-70% off. If I were forced at gunpoint to make a list of my favorite haunts, they’d be:
- Gap (great for staples like jeans)
- Old Navy (I usually love their tops)
- Banana Republic (I troll their sale rack for tops, skirts, and dresses)
- Banana Republic Outlet (this is where I grab long-term quality items, like a black trench coat)
- J Crew Outlet (I got a great pair of teal skinny jeans there for $35 thanks to tons of sales)
- DSW (nearly all of my shoes come from there)
- TJ Maxx (they’re awesome for discounted designer bags that last forever)
Tip #5: Don’t water down your wardrobe. I like to look at it as an “overall closet average.” Say I have ten outfits I love love love in my closet. I’d call them all favorites and on a scale of 1-10 I’d score them all a ten. That makes my overall closet average a ten. Then say that I see a sweater I kind of like (let’s say I’d give it a seven). And it’s on sale, so it’s tempting. The way I completely resist grabbing that sweater – which I’m guaranteed to like less than everything else in my closet – is to think of my closet average. Right now my overall closet average is a ten. If I get that sweater and it’s a seven, it’ll bring my entire closet average down, and I can just picture myself choosing other things on my hanging bar over and over again since it wasn’t something that I love love loved from the start. That helps me hold out for things I really truly love and stops me from grabbing anything I probably won’t wear or appreciate as much. Everyone loves a good closet GPA, haha – and it keeps that dreaded closet-clutter at bay (you know, when you have a bunch of stuff, but feel like you have nothing to wear).
Tip #6: Know what works. I’m a whopping 5’2″ – and I have the opposite of a long model-esque neck (it’s short like the rest of me) so I’ve learned that I look best in a v-neck. Somehow it makes me look like I have more of a neck and lengthens me in general, so I’ve learned what works for me.
Knowing that helps, because when I see some high-necked sweater or a boat necked t-shirts, I save myself the time of trying them on (and hating them) and I save myself from any temptation to buy something because it’s a pretty color/print/fabric or has a certain alluring designer name (or seductive sale price) since I know I’ll completely regret the purchase if it doesn’t actually flatter my body type. Heck, even my favorite swim suit has a deep V.
And we can’t forget my purchased-48-hours-before-the-big-day wedding dress.
Tip #7: Think about what you can pair things with. This is sort of like decorating. I try not to grab something that won’t go with anything in my closet, because much like buying something that matches nothing in my house, it would necessitate buying lots of other things to go with it. One great trick I have is to remember a few of my favorite outfits or pairings. For example: a denim pencil skirt + black t-shirt + leopard heels. If I see a pretty red pencil skirt when I’m out, immediately in my head I can think about the black shirt & those leopard shoes and know that it could be subbed in for the denim skirt for a different look with a similar silhouette (which I know I already love).
I try not to be as boring as buying the same things in a bunch of different colors, but I also go back to tip #3 (know what works) and remember that I tend to love a few silhouettes since they’re easy for me to wear and work well with my body type (ex: pencil skirts that aren’t too long for my short legs, skinny jeans, v-neck shirts, etc). Here’s another example of how I might grab something that can work with a variety of things in my closet. Take this coral tank top, that I have under this brown jacket…
Here it is under a black blazer at Haven (thanks for the pic Rhoda!). Little staples like colored tank tops seem to be inexpensive and easy to layer, so they might be less specific than a big patterned sweater or something.
Here’s another one in dark plum. For a girl who wears a ton of black, colorful tanks are a nice low-cost way to add some color in without breaking out in hives. Ooh plum, look at me. I’m a rebel.
Tip #8. Pick quality for things you’ll wear all the time. It adds up to longevity. For example, I’m extremely cheap. But in the purse category, I usually buy one and wear it for 2-3 years. Sometimes even longer. So I’m happy to splurge if it means something will be better made and will last that whole time without looking all murky and disheveled. When I say splurge, I don’t mean $500, I mean something in the $120-180 range. I know, it probably sounds super high to some folks, but I actually think if you figure out your cost per wear on a cheap purse, it might surprise you.
For example, say over three years you buy/wear four $30 purses from Target. That actually works out to the exact same cost as getting one great Michael Kors or Cole Haan bag from TJ Maxx for $120 and wearing that for three solid years (something I’ve done for over a decade now, without any issue of things getting worn out or me getting sick of them- you just have to hold out for something you’re truly obsessed with and that love goes on and on). So I guess it goes back to my whole “don’t water things down” theory (tip #5). I just like to buy one great purse that I’m enamored with and wear the heck outta it. It usually takes me about a year to find “the bag” though, so I don’t rush into anything (a few years is a long enough commitment that I take it super seriously and refuse to settle). And then I take a cell phone pic of it and text it to my BFFs to celebrate my purse victory. Dork for life.
Another example of how I try to go for quality would be with coats. I got this trench for $80 at the Banana Republic Outlet (marked down from $150+) a few years ago, and have worn it like crazy. Spring and fall for at least two years now, and it’s still going strong (no ripped lining, buttons popping off, etc). I used to try getting cheaper jackets at places like Target & Old Navy, but learned that they didn’t last as long, which ended up being more money in the long run, so for things like bags and coats I try to go for quality (but I look for that item in an outlet or discount store like TJ Maxx to try to keep costs down).
Tip #9: Spice things up with accessories. Most of my formative learning-my-style years were spent in NYC (I lived there for six years, through college and those first-job years afterwards) so I definitely have an affinity for the “New York look” (lots of black, a big handbag, long lean jeans, blazers, black sunglasses) but I also have always loved to spice things up in two areas: jewelry and shoes. One of my first pair of fancy pointy toed shoes were a pair of pink Nine West heels that I loved with all of my heart. And I’d pair them with a black blazer and jeans for a little dash of color without feeling too matchy-matchy (which might happen if I paired them with a pink sweater of the exact same color). I also had a pair of lime green Roberto Cavalli sandals that I scored for cheap at Century 21 (an awesome outlet-ish store in downtown Manhattan with a ton of clothes & shoes that are marked waaay down). Still to this day I love wearing a navy or black top with jeans and bright red peep toe heels…
I also love bright earrings, so it’s not unusual to see me in a black shirt, jeans, and some big coral or emerald colored earrings. John got me these guys for Christmas and I love them.
Here’s more dangly earring evidence (this shot is from back in NYC when we first started dating).
And here’s Exhibit C, with even more earring action going on. It’s just a quick way to add some “I’m-trying-a-little” to my usually questionable mom uniform. Haha.
It might not be a perfect equation for everyone (big bold earrings + basic black shirt + skinny jeans + some sort of shoe that works for being a momma but still doesn’t look too frumpy & is occasionally a bright color or print) but that seems to be the sweet spot for me.
Tip #10: Don’t try to make everything the star. I think this is sort of a sister tip to the one above, and it’s also one of those tips that rings true for how we decorate our house. Much like you don’t want every item of furniture and accessory competing for attention (you want some to fall back while others are free to be the focal point), you probably don’t want everything on your body to be vying for attention. It’s why I love slipping on my favorite pair of skinny jeans and a plain black top, just so my big crazy earrings or bright shoes can be the stars.
Another way to interpret this could be that if you have an awesome printed dress, a nude shoe could be a nice way to play it up. And we’ve all heard the “you shouldn’t wear a big statement necklace with big statement earrings” rule, which definitely seems to ring true for me. The way this tip saves me money is if I have an event in mind and I know what dress I’ll be wearing and I’m searching for shoes or jewelry, I can pin down whether the dress will be the star, and if it will I’ll get shoes and jewelry that won’t compete (instead of coming home and trying everything on together and hating the outcome).
Tip #11: Do your own thang. Don’t follow any of my tips word for word since goodness knows I’ve read tons and tons of clothing advice that might ring true for someone else, but is laughably terrible advice for someone like me with my body type. So while I know it’s incredibly clichéd to tell you to embrace who you are and just wear what you like, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of the best advice of all.
And now since someone will ask for it, here’s a pic of me with my hair down. I do it sometimes, but not often, just because I’m a ponytail girl. It helps me keep the paint and the peanut butter and jelly outta my hair. Haha.
Now it’s your turn. Shower me with your tips and tricks when it comes to stocking your closet on the cheap. Where do you save and splurge? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, so I’d love to hear what works for you guys!