Easy, common sense techniques to acquire and maintain a frugal wardrobe from gently used sources:
Assessing Your Wardrobe at Home
- Decide ahead of time what color palette and clothing styles work best for you. For me, I wear a lot of black, chocolate brown, navy, maroon, dusky rose, and dark grey. All these colors flatter me, and mix and match well. I know that I prefer separates, with tunic-style tops and cargo pant bottoms. For other colors, I usually mix in accents with inexpensive accessories like scarves and costume jewelry. This basic palette helps me shop for what I actually wear, instead of having a ton of unwearable clothes that sit in my closet.
- Try on the clothes you have and pull out the garments you wear the most. Put everything else in a back closet or box for now. You want to take a look at the 20% of the items you wear 80% of the time. This is your wardrobe base. You will probably notice you have a theme of colors and styles right there.
- Decide what you are missing from this wardrobe and start looking for items to round things out. An excellent way to acquire cheap clothes are through thrift stores, eBay, Craigslist, garage sales, free stores associated with food pantries, and from clothes swap parties with friends. Also consider consignment stores and vintage boutiques. If you are lucky enough to have a Buffalo Exchange store in your town, you will know in advance that everything there is on trend.
Shopping for Quality Used Clothes
- While looking for your "new" used clothes, keep in mind your personal clothing style and color palette. The more things you have that go well with each other, the less clothes you will need overall. And the more outfits you can make from what you have!
- Look for high quality clothes in good shape. Anything with stains, rips or fraying edges should probably be passed over, unless you are sure of your ability to fix or clean the items properly. You might want to smell the clothes too, for bad odors or stale cigarette smoke.
- Look at the stitching of the clothes to assess durable seams and quality construction. Look at the neckline, hems and sleeve bottoms. Test any pockets, zippers, buttons, fasteners and drawstrings. Look for pilled, shattered or stretched fabrics.
- Does the item in question need handwashing, dry cleaning or ironing? The cheapest clothes to maintain will be wash and wear styles made from strong, durable, wrinkle-resistant fabrics.
- If you shop frequently and keep your eyes open, you can find just about any designer label out there, and all sorts of high quality, fashionable clothes, all barely worn and at rock bottom prices. Thrift shops in ritzy areas are a good bet, but I've found brand names in all areas. Check the labels on everything! You never know when you will find a wonderful cashmere sweater, raw silk tunic or organic cotton Patagonia button-down. I've found clothes by Chanel, Burberry, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Old Navy, The Limited, Tommy Bahama, Levis, small designer boutique clothing, and a huge array of fine vintage treasures. All the labels are out there if you get into the habit of looking.
Maintaining Your Wardrobe
- Try to wear your clothes more often between washings to make them last longer. Wearing teeshirts/undershirts under blouses - and more deodorant - can extend wear times for your good pieces.
- Remember to wear an apron or smock while cooking, cleaning, gardening or crafting to keep your clothing clean longer.
- Learn the tricks of removing stains from clothes (see Stain Field Guide, below). Wash stains out promptly, pretreat as needed with the right cleaners, and remember to never 'set' a protein based stain with hot water or by using your clothes dryer.
- Line dry your clothes to preserve their wearable lifespan. Dryer heat and the friction of clothes brushing against each other really decreases wear-life.
- Hang clothes you are going to wear in your bathroom as you shower, to help loosen wrinkles without needing an iron. The steam in the bathroom is usually all you need to make a garment fresh, unless you buy fussy clothes that need a lot of attention.
- Learn to fix your clothes or find a local seamstress to repair minor rips, fix button or zipper issues, or to take in/let out your garments as needed.
I love this book - it covers what every stain in clothing looks like and how to handle it (from Amazon) - Field Guide to Stains. And this book makes me feel happy, cozy and comforted: Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens.