A few weeks ago, a very sweet reader Barbara sent me this message (paraphrased a bit for length):
I always enjoy reading your blog and I love the fact you are so ” down to earth” about fashion & shopping.
Your shopping advice is always very useful and I was hoping that in the future you could do another one of those posts specifically for… low budget? Which brands and items would you consider as good buys for the future, good alternatives?
Barbara’s email really got me thinking about some of the best values in my closet, and what lessons I might glean from all of my many, many mistakes in the past. There were a bunch (believe me!) and today I wanted to share three of my personal tips/learnings about building a great closet on a budget – where to save, where to spend, and some of my favorite brands.
Save: on evening wear and cocktail dresses. I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite items to peruse when browsing through luxury racks are the dresses. I sweep right past all those neutral cashmere Akris shells on to the excellent satin sheaths, the sequined slip dresses, the printed A-lines. Unfortunately, cocktail dresses and gowns get probably the least wear in my closet. And, they are never as versatile as I think they’ll be. I have TWO white Temperley dresses that I adore but that sit dormant whenever there’s a wedding (same goes for the bandage dresses). There are gowns that are too formal for whatever event, dresses that aren’t formal enough, and the list goes on.
And, some of my favorite dresses have cost less than $100, and some less than $50. One of my most complimented dresses ever is a little black slip dress from ASOS that one of my most hawk eyed, Hermes croc toting friends thought was Dior. Yes it was kind of dark and there were a few drinks involved, but STILL. Dior! And I’ve worn it probably five times so far, which is actually a lot in the life of a cocktail dress for me – bringing the cost down to something like $10 per wear. A $2000 Pucci dress, as fabulous as it may be, is going to take a heck of a lot of wears to get it down to something like even $50 per wear. And by that time you may be sick of it.
A few recommended go to places for dresses (note that you still need to exhibit taste when selecting…a mantra not limited to cheap dresses): ASOS, Banana Republic (bringing a hem up can do miracles), Adriana Papell, and Ann Taylor.
Spend: on shoes first, before bags. When I say spend on shoes, I don’t mean necessarily Louboutins or Manolo Blahniks. I just mean good, comfortable and reasonably sturdy shoes that in most cases should hopefully be made with and lined with leather. A fabulous pair of shoes, like a fabulous bag, will last you YEARS. And if you time a sale right, you’ll spend under $100.
Some of my favorite shoe brands that are well priced: Corso Como, Ann Taylor, Cole Haan, Nine West, Franco Sarto (thanks Irina!)- and all five go on sale. But please go to a local DSW, Nordstrom Rack, and try on lots of brands and styles, and see what you like.
Why spend on shoes vs. bags? A cheap, ill fitting pair of shoes will be murder on your feet for hours and will give you blisters. A cheaper bag might be bad for your style ego, but it isn’t going to give you pain. And there are so many fabulous “cheaper” bag brands out there. Especially in Europe I just love walking around and finding random no name bags from shops. I’d recommend again going for all leather styles generally.
Be selective: with sweaters and knits. I’ve mentioned before how much I love my sweaters. They’re so comfortable, and so easy to throw on on a cold morning and just head out the door. The right ones will fall beautifully on you and always add something extra to your outfit. And, you can wear them for years…..
….only if they are made out of good fabrics. OK? Please, if you see a sweater and it says 100% acrylic or something else synthetic, put it down. Even if it’s on super sale (well all right, maybe if it’s like $5 and you really like it). But honestly synthetic knits are never good. I’ve never had a good experience with one. And I know that all the super cute sweaters that are cheap out there are usually all acrylic (I’m looking at you, ASOS! Why is anything you produce with awesome cats on it, ACRYLIC!). But stay away. Find something with natural fibers, that fits you well, that’s still either a classic design, or cut, or color, and you’ll wear it all the time.
My favorite places to find affordable sweaters and knits: J.Crew (on sale), Zara (check the fabric content though!), L.L. Bean (for preppy styles that more affordable than J.Crew, with fabulous customer service), and Gap. I get tons of compliments on my Gap sweaters.
All right that’s it for today – my three pieces of advice for shopping on a budget, while still trying to make smart buys that’ll last you for a while. I’ll write about my essential pieces to “invest” in next…but for now, please share some of your best advice for maximizing your shopping budget. I would love to hear them!