Monday, March 21, 2011

The cheap wardrobe

There are a lot of ways to approach this. To be honest, many of my ideas will probably appeal more to men than women, and in some ways I'm a minimalist. And I'll be upfront, I'm just not into clothes. I think mostly this has to do with the fact that even when I was skinny, it was impossible to get nice clothes that fit right (in fact it was more of a problem then). Blue jeans and t-shirts worked, though.

First, most people have a lot more clothes than they need. And a lot of clothes dry rot while sitting in the back of the closet, unworn, for years. So, start with an honest evaluation of your needs, and I do mean needs. For most people, this is a week's worth of clothes suitable for work, three pairs of jeans or sturdy casual pants, a couple of sweaters or sweat shirts, two or three casual shirts or t-shirts, two to three pairs of shorts or skirts, a light rainproof jacket, a winter coat, and a swim suit. I base that list on the idea that many people have to go a week between washing laundry. If your work clothes are relatively casual, possibly something nice for weddings, etc. Also, you'll need enough underwear and socks or hose for a week. If you're willing to wash by hand, you can get by with as little as three pairs. You can get by with one pair of shoes for work and one pair of sneakers, but most people want at least one pair of sandals or boots too. But stick to neutral colors so you can wear them with anything.

To get the most out of this core wardrobe, choose things for maximum versatility. I recommend picking a single color of pants (or skirt if you insist) and jackets, if needed, for your work wardrobe, preferably a neutral. I tend to go with black, you can wear almost any color shirt with it. Then pick shirts that you can wear with that color. If your pants are navy blue, pick shirts in reds, yellows, rusts, creams, whites, or coordinating shades of blue or purple. Extend this color choice to your casual clothes (that way you can demote work clothes to casual clothes). Being able to mix and match clothes means you don't spend a lot of time on your clothes, and no shirt is tied to just one pants or skirt. In general, avoid really extreme cuts in your clothes or wild colors or prints. Those look too dated too fast (which is the reason designers use them). Save the personality for accessories.

Take the color scheme further. When I find black socks that I like and think will hold up, I buy four to six pairs of identical ones. If a single sock gets lost or holed, the extra can be worn with any of the others. Eventually a second one gets lost or holed, and you're back to an even number. If you bought 4 pair, you have to lose or hole 7 before you don't have a pair anymore. A bonus to this is I don't have to match socks at 5:30 AM before I've had coffee.

While many of you are probably thinking this is extreme, honestly you could take this further. A person who is able to wear casual clothes for work could get by with American standards of cleanliness with as little as three sets of clothes. Boring, but doable. But for most of you, work out this basic "gotta have" core of clothes. Then sort through the rest. If you haven't worn something in 6 months or no longer have anything you can wear it with, seriously consider donating it to charity (or if too worn to wear even for cleaning the garage, turn it into cleaning rags or craft material.) Even if you have worn something recently, if you have more than three to four weeks of clothes, seriously think about which you really want. Or if you have something you absolutely love but nothing to wear it with, make finding the matching item a project.

Some of you have major considerations of seasonal weather. Think items that layer, and have items for your summer wardrobe that can be worn as part of a layer in the winter. Even with that consideration, do you really need more than 2 weeks worth of heavy sweaters? Oh, and seriously consider clothes that can be washed over dry clean (unless you HAVE to wear nice suits for work). Dry cleaning is a major budget sink. If you do have to wear suits, buy washable shirts and pants that coordinate. The jacket can be worn for several days between cleanings, and since your pants and shirts are all based around the same colors, you mix and match.

Spring is a good time to do an honest evaluation of clothes, and either consign or donate things that are going to waste. You'll find this makes your life much easier. Having a "scheme" for your clothing will make shopping for clothes much easier, and save a lot of money when you avoid buying things you'll never wear.

Make your wardrobe fit you and your needs and preferences. If you really sincerely get huge amounts of pleasure from clothes, can afford them and don't mind devoting the time to take care of them and store them, then go for the large wardrobe. But even then, a basic scheme can make life easier and avoid expensive "I don't have anything to wear!" with closets that are bulging. And for those who want to save money on clothes, here's a strategy to do it.


Ami said...

I have issues with clothing.

I felt deprived growing up, and am still feeding the need I had then by buying things I don't need now.

I comfort myself by saying that at least I buy them mostly at Goodwill. And I really do.

But it's so hard for me to part with
stuff I don't need. I may have gotten too big to wear it, I may not even particularly like it... but it's HARD to get rid of.


Dawnfire said...

I have trouble getting rid of things too. I always look at clothes and think I might be so broke later I'll wear them anyway, or maybe I can make something out of them. Fortunately, moving frequently really encourages me to get rid of stuff I don't wear.