Monday, October 08, 2007

Frugal Wardrobes: Keeping Clothing Costs Down

(Me in the dark ages) ;0

When I worked outside the home, I was required to wear dresses or skirts most of the time. I had to wear a suit jacket when I appeared in court. Even so, I was on a budget. My salary was not huge, nor would it ever be as an adult community corrections counselor. I had to learn to dress professionally on a dime.

I learned to mix and match in order to stretch my wardrobe, and I went for washable fabrics to cut down on dry cleaning. Some suits, particularly winter suits needed dry cleaning. I used washable sweat shields which you pin into the underarms to stretch the time between cleanings. I hand washed and ironed my silk blouses(shells).

I think the first thing I did before buying a wardrobe was to find some basic colors which suited my hair color and skin tone. Back in the early 1980's I had my colors done with Color Me Beautiful. My colors are Autumn tones: not true colors, but any color which has a warm brownish cast. They give you a little swatch booklet which recommends favorable wardrobe anchor and accessory colors for your season type. With this information, I picked skirts and jackets in solid or mostly solid colors in my anchor colors. Then I paired these with matching plain and patterned shells/blouses and dresses which would match the jackets. I used the accessory color pallet for selecting my dresses and tops. This meant that I had more than one outfit, they were all interchangeable. Some days I wore the dress with a jacket, others a skirt with the jacket, switching up the tops from day to day. Each day I could mix and match the skirts, jackets and dresses. Accessories helped as well. Changing out jewelry or adding a scarf can really stretch your wardrobe.

Because I had a few basic signature colors for my wardrobe, I was able to keep my shoe collection to a minimum. I had basic pumps in black, taupe, creme and blue. I bought bags of discounted pantyhose from the Leggs outlet by mail. I always had a few bags of misty taupe, mushroom , sheer black ribbed tight-like hose for winter, and the ivory or off-white for summer.

My wardrobe was not trendy or high fashion, but classic and professional. It was frugal and efficient. It never took me much time to choose an outfit and get dressed, everything worked together.

After I left my job in 2001 to stay home with the children, I had to get even more thrifty. I began to shop the thrift stores and found that I could get name brand items in excellent condition for a few dollars a piece. I've been doing this ever since, and it has really helped us keep expenses down. If I never mentioned it, no one would know we purchase used clothes.

Knowing color theory, I did my family's colors, and I shop for them off their color pallets. I also use what I learned from my working wardrobe, and try to find clothing and shoes which mix and match. This really cuts down on waste with mistakes. I get it right the first time.

Two helpful links for determining your colors:

Color Me Beautiful Quiz

Colours & Scents

I was looking around the house last night thinking about this post, and noticed that without even realizing it, I had decorated my home in my color pallet. So it carries over to other areas of your life, and makes for a relaxing and pleasing environment. I pieced the home together with thrifted items over a long period of time, so it really was unconscious decorating, but perfectly pulled together for my tastes.

Frugal Upstate's post from last week inspired me to write about my frugal clothing experiences after reading: Compiling a Frugal Work Wardrobe-A Guest Post. She has some excellent advice for keeping down clothing expenses, and lists the Tightwad Gazette's nine piece clothing formula.

And Sometimes Tea asks her readers some questions about wardrobe systems. She is searching for versatility in an area that has a mild climate most of the year.

She writes, "I'd love to have a System when it comes to clothes, and many of the moms I know feel the same way. I'd love to have three-quarters of my wardrobe be as appropriate for teaching in my living room as for going shopping, going out to dinner at a casual restaurant, and even, with moderate accessorization, for going to Mass on Sunday. I would also love to have three-quarters of my wardrobe reflect the fact that I live in a state where three-quarters of the year has approximately the same climate. Then, the remaining fourth of my clothing would also be divided: a couple of extreme climate options like a corduroy dress or fleece sweater for the small amount of winter we have would make up one half, and those dressier options for special Masses (like Christmas or Easter) or family occasions would make up the other."

She asks:

1. Do you have a wardrobe "System"? If you could, what would it be?

Continuing my train of thought with color theory(beginning of post), now that I work at home, instead of buying solid colored skirts and jackets in my anchor colors, I tend toward using my tops and jackets as anchors, and buy skirts and dresses in colorful patterns. I buy patterned dresses for Mass with interchangeable solid colored suit jackets or sweaters for chilly weather. This way I stretch a short sleeved dress into the fall, or even into winter. Suit jackets also dress up a skirt and top combo. If you buy a semi-casual longer jacket, it looks well with a dress. Short jackets with dresses look a bit awkward.

I try to choose clothing that is not overly dressy, casual or trendy. This makes a wardrobe more versatile. A simple black medium weight machine washable Old Navy polyester dress is one of my favorite pieces. I wear it to church and during the week. It is short sleeved, but I have a longish dressy sweater which lets me wear it in colder weather. I have some black ribbed tight-like Leggs pantyhose and some cute slightly trendy black leather shoes that I wear with it during the colder months. I've avoided the goth look(giggle) with my sweater which has a beaded edge. You can't go wrong with a little black dress.

2. What is the biggest problem area in your wardrobe: shirts, shoes, skirts/dresses, slacks, etc.? Do you have too many, not enough, a really hard time finding some that you like, or...?

I was having some trouble with tops, and I finally had to break down and buy retail. I look best in a V-neck, and I found some really nice semi-dressy cotton tops on sale at Wallyworld for a few dollars a piece. I bought three in different colors, and now I'm set.

3. If you woke up one morning to discover that all of your clothing items except the pajamas you were wearing and your "necessary unmentionables" had mysteriously vanished, what one item would you miss most?

Clean socks. I wear them around the house.

4. If your insurance covered mysteriously vanishing wardrobes, and you were handed a blank check to replace everything, where would you shop first, and what item would you buy?

J.C. Penny's...I like their semi-casual skirts. I like a modified A-line which has a little tailored flippiness to it.

5. What is your favorite type of accessory?

Fragrance and for dressy occasions, a string of pearls. I don't have time for a lot of accessories, but if make-up counts, I always put a little on if I leave the house.

In a nutshell - pick your main color pallet, and use this to mix and match by pairing solids with patterns. Purchase solids first, and then search for patterned pieces which match. Dresses are easiest because they are one piece. Buy short sleeved dresses to wear year round with a longish suit jacket, or dressy long sweater in colder weather.

See more tips at Works for Me Wednesday.


Anna S said...

Great advice. I, too, was amazed at how much I save shopping at second-hand stores, and how no one would ever guess. And also how little I miss all the piles and piles of my pre-modesty-makeover clothes: I have considerably fewer clothes now, but at least I remember everything I have!

Red Cardigan said...

Alexandra, this is wonderful! You approach the whole issue in such an organized way. That's what I'm missing!

I love the notion of starting with a color analysis; so often I buy something on sale without really thinking about whether the color really works for me. Another problem I have is being short--many petite clothes come in basic black, with a little white, navy and red thrown in. I don't mind basics but it gets boring to have your wardrobe colors "pre-selected" by designers who figure the under 5'4" woman doesn't need any pretty colors in her wardrobe. :(

I'm going to try some of your suggestions--they're exactly what I need!

Coupon Addict said...

I love color me beautiful. I am also an fall color gal! You can find a lot of great brown and orange tops on clearance, thrift shopping, and garage sales. Not a lot of people are a fall and we can snag a lot of deals.
The Coupon Addict

a soldier's wife said...

This was so interesting and informative. I've learned a lot :)

SAHMmy Says said...

"If I never mentioned it"--LOL, I can't resist crowing about my bargain triumphs! I wonder if there is a current program like Color Me Beautiful--I have no idea what looks good on me, not even whether I'm a warm or cool when it comes to foundation! So I always default to black :)

Alexandra said...

Thanks for your all your comments! :)

Sahmmy says: Check the link on the post for Color Me Beautiful, I think there is a store locator.

About Me

My photo

I'm a homeschooling mom of two, a teen and a little. I hope this collection of mine helps you as much as it has helped us. I have an Etsy shop here: And a blog: