Dress for Success On a Shoestring Budget

Image may not be everything, but how you look is the first thing people notice, so it’s important to dress to impress. You don’t need to pore over magazines and become a fashionista, or buy a new wardrobe every season to look good. Here’s how to put together a fabulous and functional wardrobe without going to great lengths.   

The Right Ingredients

For a dynamic working wardrobe, you’ll need a well-made blazer or two, two skirts, and two pairs of slacks. The skirts and slacks should not be all the same color, but they should all go well with the jacket. Solid colors are more versatile and date less quickly than patterns or plaids, but you don’t have to think only in dark solid colors.

Look for fabrics you can wear year-round, such as lightweight wool, challis, sturdy cotton, linen, and silk, and buy the highest-quality basic pieces you can. By investing in well-made basics, you’ll actually save money, because the clothes will last longer and look better even after numerous cleanings. Always check the label on a new garment for the care required to avoid spending more on dry cleaning than you have to. It’s well worth the money to dry-clean a suit, but do you really want to pay to clean shirts and blouses, too?

The Rule of Three

When you’re considering a clothing purchase, be sure each piece passes the rule of three: Can you think of three things to wear it with, three places to wear it to, and three ways to accessorize it?

For example, you spy a poppy-red, washable silk blouse on sale. You can wear it with your linen suit and a scarf for the office, with a paisley challis skirt and your antique gold earring and necklace set for dinner out, and with black wool slacks and a brocade vest for casual entertaining (three outfits, three places, three accessories). If you can’t quickly come up with three pairings, places, and presentations, forget it! It’s just not worth the cost.

Smart Shopping Strategies

Button-Off Bargains

If you find a garment you really like and a button or two is missing, you may be able to buy the piece at a discount, especially if it is an end-of-season item. A good discount can more than pay for new buttons.

Highly Irregular

Items marked as irregular may not be perfect in size or color, but they are usually free of substantial damage and are often a real deal. Those marked as seconds or thirds should be examined with a fine-tooth comb, however, as they may have serious flaws. You may still decide to buy such items; just look carefully first to see whether you can live with, cover, or repair the flaws.

Chasing Coattails?

Coats can end up costing you big bucks unless you’re a smart shopper. When you shop for a coat, keep in mind that this item will get a lot of wear and tear, so pick a coat that is well made. Try these coat-buying tips:

Buy At the End Of the Season

Department stores often have great sales on high-quality coats they want to get rid of before the new season starts. Depending on where you live, January and February are often the best months.

Make Your Coat Do Double Duty

Instead of buying a wool coat for warmth and a raincoat for wet weather, buy a raincoat with a zip-out lining. It will see you through all but the worst cold weather (when you can wear a sweater underneath). In fact, any waterproof shell with a warm, removable lining can easily get you from fall through spring.  

Bathing Beauty

A good-quality swimsuit can be a good investment. Cheap bathing suits usually don’t last very long, but if you don’t swim often or plan to wear a suit only a few times, quality may not matter that much to you.

Look for end- or beginning-of-season sales (typically May and August).

If you find a suit you love at a bargain price, buy two. You’ll double your savings and won’t have to shop again soon.

If the Shoe Fits . . .

Don’t buy shoes strictly by size. Walk around in them for several minutes before making a final decision. A size 7 shoe, for example, can vary in size, depending on the style and manufacturer, or your feet can swell up to a half size larger if you’ve been walking a lot.

If you’re shopping for shoes that you’ll be wearing regularly to work or for sports, buy the best-quality shoes you can afford. They will last longer and look better longer, if you take care of them.

Don’t spend a bundle on shoes or sandals that you will be wearing without stockings or socks. Your sweat will wear the shoes out faster. And summer styles tend to change rapidly. So save on summer footwear and get a really great pair of leather boots for the fall and winter.

Purse Perfection

Purses, like shoes, can be a major investment. Again, before you buy, consider how you will use the purse, the season in which you’ll use it, and the wear and tear it will face. Also consider what you will put in it; do you need a pocket for a cellphone, for example?

For your everyday purse, which gets the most use, invest in a high-quality leather purse in a neutral color. (Black is always good, as is cream.) Check out holiday sales at department stores, factory outlets, price clubs, and shoe stores. A high-quality purse in good condition is hard to find at a thrift store, but it is not impossible.

Save On Summer Bags

They usually don’t last more than one season, so buy straw or canvas bags on sale and wear them till they fall apart.

Popular Videos