I have never been mistaken for a trendsetter. My style is pretty classic (read: too lazy to figure out how to wear new things very often) and clothes just aren’t all that exciting to me. You would think that would mean I have no trouble staying on a clothing budget. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be here on the personal finance internet, would I?
I don’t have the stereotypical impulse buying problem of falling in love with edgy, high fashion items that “speak to me.” I alternate between total disinterest in all clothes, owned by me or not, and desperation to buy something that will make me look like a professional grown up. It’s about a three-month cycle. I absolutely care about looking good and consider my appearance an investment in my career, but I find the whole thing sort of exhausting and end up spending $0 on clothes for two months, panic when the weather changes, and then buy like 7 tops that work with nothing I own — and another floral dress/pair of floral shorts/grey oversized cardigan, depending on the season.
Maybe a year ago, I had enough of the subscription services, the try on sessions in stores, and watching clothes I paid full price for go in a donation pile in two years and one wear later. Here’s what works for me.
1. Keep a list of what you need.
Because I can’t style pieces well, and because I don’t understand what my vibe is, I was constantly just buying whatever one-off pieces I loved. This left me with no solid color tops to pair with my weird pants, and a terrible understanding of how to get more miles out of anything I owned.
So I started a note on my phone I wrote in while I got dressed in the mornings. Anytime I found myself thinking my skirt would look perfect with a black tank top, or realizing literally all my earrings were the same color and style (oops) and I really needed another color, I wrote it down. I know it doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but when I shopped later, it gave me the freedom to bypass entire sections (goodbye, cardigans! I have all your friends at home already) and zero in on three or four types of things I needed. Shopping got way less overwhelming. It felt more like grocery shopping (which I’m great at) than trying to figure out what fashion even is for the millionth time.
2. Follow helpful fashion influencers on Instagram.
I know. These beautiful women and their swipe ups and their hauls. They’re all so thin and they understand the mysteries of the world. But listen — a kind few will share their knowledge with us. I follow a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but I follow several women with a fashion slant who focus on “wardrobe basics” or will style one Old Navy dress seven ways. I honestly used to believe dresses could only be worn one way.
Sure, they’re incentivized to suggest I buy certain products or shop at certain places. But because I have my list, I don’t fall into my old traps of buying whatever looks exciting. And their insight is so valuable to me as a person who still isn’t sure how much your different jewelry is supposed to match each other (help). Quite frankly, I am thrilled for them to get a small commission from my purchases.
3. Read the reviews before buying anything.
I buy clothing mostly from very large retailers for a lot of reasons. I’m somewhere between regular and plus sized, so boutiques might have three things that fit me, but I’m also too small from most places that cater to the plus sized range. I don’t live in a large city, so in-person access is limited to anything but large chains. I also don’t have a huge clothing budget and have no clue what I’m doing. I know there are a lot of problems with fast fashion, but it’s what I have for now.
When it comes to shopping, I weed out what not to buy by reading reviews. This means both literally on their website and tidbits from the aforementioned influencers. If you have ever taken a photo of yourself in a top and put it on a website as a review, I am eternally grateful. There is nothing more valuable than a regular person telling you how something fits and feels, especially when it means I don’t have to go out into the real world and find it myself.
4. Shop the sales responsibly.
If you’re here on personal finance internet, I’m guessing you love a good sale as much as I do. But just because the patterned shorts are 40% off does not mean I need a fifth pair.
Here again, my list is my guide. I have all my shopping emails filtered so I only see there’s a sale when I go and check on purpose. This helps me feel a little more in charge of when I spend my clothing budget and a little less of a slave to the whims (okay, carefully planned sale cycles) of the stores.
I do buy things that are not featured on my “needs” list occasionally, but things just seem much less desperate when I know something isn’t mission critical for me not wearing the same five outfits in the same order every week. Left to my own devices, I could definitely end up with a “Tuesday sweater.”
The main thing I’ve learned is that I have to find a way to take control of the clothes buying process. If I just go out when I have enough money and buy whatever the stores have out, I am never going to have a functional closet. My list and my research strategies bring me a ton of comfort and have really upped my enjoyment of my wardrobe without increasing my clothing spending.
Savanna Gray is a writer and editor living in Birmingham, Alabama. She spends her free time learning hand lettering, running very slowly, and playing with her adorable dog.
Image via Pexels