How to Save Money on Clothing: Confessions of an Image Consultant

clothes closet

Some of you may not even know what an image consultant is, but that’s what I am. Basically, I’m a certified image professional who helps people with their wardrobes and closets. (Have you ever seen the TV show “What not to Wear?” I’m Stacey…just nicer.) My clients range from stay at home moms to very wealthy socialites, yet they all have the same goal. They want a fabulous wardrobe that will serve them well, whether they’re playing with their kids at the park or walking the red carpet. Over the (many) years I’ve been in business, I’ve learned certain principles that I think can help anyone improve their wardrobe no matter what their budget.

Changing Weight Will Be Your Most Costly Expense

It may seem a little odd that your changing weight is what will cost you the most, but trust me — I’ve personally learned this lesson more than once. For most people, 10 pounds is a size. If you’re a little, petite thing, then 5-7 pounds can be a size. If you have a big weight change, then you may run into trouble, as most garments cannot be altered more than two sizes. So if you go from a 14 to an 8, you basically have to start buying clothing again from scratch. This will include intimate apparel as well, which can be a huge investment. If you can learn to maintain your weight, you will save yourself a fortune in clothing.

Dress Nicely & You Can Fake the Jewelry

I must admit that I practice this myself. Not all my jewelry is real — the faux is carefully mixed in with the real thing. Combined with a fashionable outfit and great posture, no one will doubt that all the bling came from a high end store.

You Don’t Spend Enough on Your Clothes

No, I’m not telling you to go out and spend a fortune on your clothing. But I’m also telling you to not always search for the lowest price. Instead, focus on quality, not quantity when you shop. If you end up having to replace your inexpensive black pants every three months because they fade and shrink, you’re not saving yourself any money. Buy the nicest quality you can afford and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Find the Happy Medium in What You Spend on Clothing

By this, I mean find clothes that cost enough that you will take really good care of them, but not so much that you are afraid to wear them. I have seen people buy cheap sunglasses time and time again, and they always end up losing them or accidentally sitting on them. But trust me, if you invest some change in your sunnies, then I guarantee that you’ll actually use the case they came with and take care of them. But don’t go overboard. If you spend too much on something, then there’s a good chance that you’ll actually be scared to use it at all!

Spend More on the Things You Wear the Most

This comes down to the whole cost-per-wear theory. The more you use something, then the cost-per-wear goes way down. For things you use daily, such as your handbag, watch, or basic black pants, spring for the big bucks! But when it comes time to buy a black tie dress that you may wear once, or twice tops, don’t break the bank. It really doesn’t make financial sense.

If It Doesn’t Fit Correctly, You Aren’t Saving Money

Oh, yes…it happens when you’re gazing at that 70% off sale rack. You spot an amazing blazer by one of your favorite designers. It’s a bit too wide in the set-in shoulder, and perhaps a bit too long, but it’s on sale! Words of wisdom: step away! No amount of alterations will make it fit correctly, and wearing it as is will just make you look frumpy. It’s a waste of money. It’s got to fit or it shouldn’t be in your closet.

Many Department Stores Have Personal Shoppers Available for Free

Independent image consultants and personal shoppers, such as myself, are definitely an investment. I understand that and know that most peoples’ budgets don’t have room for such a luxury. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve professional shopping assistance. I encourage you to take advantage of the free personal shopping services offered at many stores, from Loehman’s to Macy’s to Neiman Marcus. You’re under no obligation to buy, so what’s there to lose?

If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Buy It

I can’t stress this point enough. If something is still hanging in your closet with the price tag on it months later, I can guarantee you that you don’t love it. Remember when you were a little child and just had to wear those new shoes home from the store? That’s just how you should feel about the clothes that you buy now. Buy fewer things, but things that you love, and I can guarantee that it will be easier to get dressed in the morning.

Don’t Buy “Orphans”

Orphans are those singular items (often purchased on sale) that don’t go with a single other thing in your closet — the lime green print bohemian skirt, the embellished sweater, etc. Try as you may, these items just sit unworn, without any coordinating items. When you’re contemplating a purchase, if you don’t already own something that goes with it, then put it back on the rack because otherwise it’ll be a total waste of money.

Spend Money on Tailoring

I don’t know why it is that men assume most of their clothing will need alterations, yet women assume that everything should fit correctly directly off the rack. What’s up with that?! Personally, I have to alter 98% of my pants and jeans. I just include that alterations fee in the cost of the item. It’s completely worth it to have the garment fit just right. It will be more flattering on you and it will undoubtedly look more expensive. There’s just no reason for ill-fitting clothing.

No matter what your budget, not following the above rules will result in your clothing budget costing a lot more money than needs to be spent. Remembering them will mean better quality clothing that you love to wear hanging in your closet for less money, and who doesn’t want that? Happy shopping.

(Photo courtesy of owlpacino)

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20 Responses to How to Save Money on Clothing: Confessions of an Image Consultant

  1. Mary says:

    So here is my question. How much is a reasonable amount to spend for a clothing budget each year? Should I be spending $500 a year? $1000? More? How much does it really cost to put together an assortment of good outfits? And how do you determine how much that is? What do other people spend on their clothing each year? I guess what I’m looking for is some average amount that others spend so that I can get a better idea what I should be spending on clothing.

  2. Janette says:

    It’s usually 2-5 percent of your net income. So if you are making $3000 net every month your budget for clothing will be anywhere from $60 to $150. I know that’s a big difference – so what I do is I make sure all the important categories get the proper percentage of my income then I decide what’s the fair amount for clothing. I hope this helps :)

  3. Great article. I really needed this advice. Off to clean out my closets.

  4. Karin says:

    Thanks for this great article. It neatly summarises my philosophy on buying clothes … I’d rather own a small number of fabulous, long-lasting, well-fitting garments, than heaps of things I’m half-hearted about. Frugal does not mean cheap 😉

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  6. Jessie says:

    Similar question to Mary, but regarding alterations. What should I expect/plan to pay for certain alterations?

  7. Jessie says:

    I wish someone had told me this information years ago! I tend to go for the great sales, to be able to afford a few more “fun” clothes. I’ve made some great finds at thrift stores and department store specials. But have only twice in my (40-plus) life used alterations. Takes forever to find jeans that don’t gap at the waistband when fitting well everywhere else. The “correct fit” comments I learned the hard way, after seeing a few expensive impulse purchases sit in my closet too long; loved the style but not 100 percent about the fit, so would pull something else out of the closet to wear.

    I admit my closet stays on the full side; takes a while to mentally part with a few things that I loved wearing, but got one little stain on the front. But, that’s for another article (potential for hoarding/clutter). 😉

  8. Amy says:

    The costs of alterations varies. At many stores, if you pay full price for an item they will do basic alterations (hems, shorten sleeve) for free. Other things, like taking in the waist, you will have to pay for. (I’ve paid from $20-30 for that service.) Sometimes it’s less expensive to take alterations to a local tailor in your town.

  9. Amy says:

    Purging a closet can be a challenge….definitely could be another article! 😉

  10. Maria says:

    Can you recommend some high quality stores for women’s clothing? I find that often times trendy clothing can be very expensive and still low quality… any tips?

  11. I love and agree with the quality over quantity concept. I am always more than willing to spend a bit more on shoes and a jeans.

  12. benny says:

    I’ll be sending this to my wife. I hope it doesn’t get me in too much trouble…

  13. Amy says:

    @Maria, that’s a good question. Not knowing where you live, your budget, or your lifestyle (career clothes, mom clothes, etc.) it’s hard to give you specific recommendations. I have had a lot of luck at Nordstrom, as they have a variety of price points and some great in-house labels. (such as Classiques and Caslon) Another great option is high-end resale shops. I bring all my clients’ clothes to Afterwards in Menlo Park, California. Lots of designer merchandise, much of which has never or rarely been worn. Check out if you have a similar shop in your town, and you could really find some great things! Hope this helps.

  14. Gail says:

    I’ve lived most of my life making most of my clothes, but much of the advice here still applies. When making a skirt, be sure you have tops that go with it. If you make a top be sure you have skirts and pants that go. Making a jacket that pulls everything together. Learn to make your garments well enough that they will last. Spend the most time on classic items. “Fun” clothes can be made quicker and cheaper if you don’t plan on keeping and wearing it for long. I’ve had some garments that I have worn for years. I know I’m no fashion plate, but as I focus more on what and why I’m making something my wardrobe has been really pulling together. Several years ago I realized that I didn’t have a decent outfit to wear to a wedding or a funeral (it was scratching my head to figure out what to wear to a funeral that made me aware of the fact). So even without a set occassion to wear them I made a winter and a summer dress. When my son got married this summer, I discovered to my delight the ‘wedding’ dress went with all the other clothes I brought for the wedding. I had made them all and they all coordinated right down to the necklace that my hubby had made for me. It felt good that sewing with a plan, which is how I have been sewing my clothes for several years is really starting to work out.

  15. Amy says:

    @Gail–kudos on your seamstress abilities! My mom made all my clothes growing up, and I pitched in starting in 3rd grade. I agree that the same principals apply to fit, fabric, and really thinking your wardrobe through.

  16. Yvonne says:

    Thank you, I like the advice. I find great things at the thrift stores, and really that’s the only thing I can afford, but when you say tailoring is essential, then why not buy that 70% off item that is a little big in the shoulders or whatever?

    My dilemma: I only recently came into the business dress world (I was 100% uniform before) and literally have no fashion sense whatsoever. I do my best, but end up with a lot of those “orphans” that I have no clue what to do with. Any websites or “layering rules” you can suggest for business casual without breaking the bank? I’m not talking suits, but nice sweaters and dark jeans, layered tops and colored jeans. Oh, and the jewelry option just baffles me! Thanks

  17. Amy says:

    @Yvonne. With alterations, you can only alter one size, at most two. Set in shoulders are one of the toughest alterations (and very expensive), so if it’s a tailored jacket that’s much too big, then odds are that it won’t be able to be fitted correctly. I’ve seen people try to take a size 12 down to a size 8, and it just doesn’t work. All the proportions are off.

    For business casual, the key is having a third piece. By that, I mean a cardigan or jacket that finishes off the pant (or skirt) and top. Adding a scarf or a necklace and earrings really add a lot to the overall look as well. If you’re starting from scratch, definitely buy neutrals (black, brown, beige, cream, white, charcoal) as they are much easier to mix and match, so your dollar will go farther. You can add pops of color with scarves, which certainly don’t have to break the bank.

  18. Amanda says:

    Great article. I am in the process of shedding some baby weight, and look forward to cleaning out my closet to get new clothes that fit. Here is a tip to help prolong your jeans and in turn save some money. Turn your jeans inside out and wash/rinse them in cold water on the delicate cycle. Hot water causes the dye to fade and normal washing will loosen the fabric, leading to premature fraying and/or holes.

  19. Connor Gardiner says:

    I never buy clothing at retail price. Always wait for sales and make sure I buy off-season when there are more discounts available. Saves about 50% from my clothing bill.

  20. Pingback: How to: Save Money While Shopping | Jen's Fashion Blog

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