Dressing Better for Less

by Gary Foreman


Style. That elusive characteristic that helps define who you are. Some people have it in great abundance. Some people spend their lives searching for it. Whole magazines are dedicated to the subject. In fact, whole industries are dedicated to making money from style. We're even encouraged to `dress for success'!

Why is this important to you? In part because we're all judged according to the current style standards. No one wants to stand out by wearing clothes that are decidedly out of style. Even men, myself included, know that there are certain ties and jackets that I just can't wear anymore!

What's the point? Well, if we don't want to be out of style and can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe each season, we'll have to find a way to fight the style battles without spending a bundle. There are a number of things that you can do to keep your closet stocked with stylish, quality clothes. Let's see how it's done.

First, buy classic styles. Whether you're talking about lapel widths or skirt lengths, there are some styles that are always acceptable. Avoid extremes. This holds true for men, women and even children. There will always be some styles that you can buy and everyone will know that you're wearing a new outfit. Momentarily you feel great. Unfortunately, in a year they'll also know that it's an old outfit. Unless clothing is a very important part of who the `real you' is, why fall into the trap?

There are a number of components of classic style. You'll want to watch for them. For slacks usually straight legs are best. Avoid flares or tapers. Cuffs go in and out of style. It's best to avoid them. Pant legs for both men and women should go to the heel.

Shirts and blouses should be of a conservative, classic cut. Overly full sleeves or unusual cuffs may be `in' today, but not tomorrow. Again, look for moderate collars. Extreme collars are one of the first things that a fashion designer will change.

Does all this mean that you have to be a style dropout? Of course not! There's no reason not to have fun with fashion. Just do it with accessories rather than with your basic wardrobe. Ladies can use belts, scarves and their imagination to buy accessories that are `hot' today. Enjoy them now knowing that you'll be replacing them next season. Men can use the this season's ties to stay current. It's much less costly, and more fun, to buy new accessories frequently rather than replacing suits, dresses, slacks and shirts.

Another key to dressing well for less is to learn to find, identify and buy good quality clothes. Buying good quality in clothes definitely pays off. You use your clothes every day. Not only will poor quality clothes wear out faster, they won't fit as well while you do wear them. Beware: a high price does not mean high quality. Many high priced, name recognizable clothes are not well made.

You can learn to identify good quality clothes. There are three elements that will tell you whether the garment you're considering is of good quality. First, is the piece suited for its use? Is it's design appropriate for how you'll use it? If the item is going to be worn frequently for work you won't want to dry clean it. Party clothes should `breathe' to allow for dancing in comfort. You get the idea.

Fabric selection and fine sewing are the other two elements of quality garments. Take the time to learn a little bit about fabrics. Some combinations are prone to wrinkle. Others lose their shape after a few washings. If you don't know about fabrics, ask your friends or a knowledgeable salesperson. Many savvy shoppers say that they can tell a good fabric by just feeling it even with their eyes closed.

You don't need to know how to sew to identify good workmanship. Are the stitches even? Are any loose or broken? Look for straight seams. Zippers and lapels shouldn't pucker. Any sign of sloppiness is a clue that the garment was not well made.

A final key to a frugal wardrobe is selecting individual items with flexibility in mind. Begin with color. Use that color to guide your purchases. If you're like me you love blues. If you have one central color for your wardrobe it's much easier to add a piece that can be used with a number of already owned items. If you open your closet and it looks like Picasso's palette you're going to end up with more mismatches that just `don't go with anything'. That doesn't mean you only wear one color. It means that `contrast' pieces can be used with a number of existing items.

Also plan for flexibility in usage. When you plan to buy a blouse or shirt stop and ask if it will work well with a number of suits and slacks. If it doesn't go with things that are already in your closet, you're committing to making another purchase to go with the first.

Flexibility is a key to keeping a wardrobe `fresh'. A new jacket added to already owned slacks and blouse/shirt is still a `new outfit'. People that see you regularly will notice the `new' jacket, not the `old' slacks. Also, when it's time to dispose of an old item you haven't destroyed an entire outfit. The other items are still useable with other matches.

Yes, it's possible to dress in stylish quality for less. It takes a little education and effort. But isn't that better than hearing them whisper behind your back, "you know...that's last year's style she's wearing"?


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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