Spring is in full swing, and so is the spring fashion rollout — with retailers wooing you with the latest cute and stylish items for work and for play. But getting your wardrobe ready for the warm weather can be a challenge when you don't have unlimited funds.
To help you shop smart and avoid ending up with a closet full of pricey impulse buys collecting dust (yep, been there), we sought out the pros. The personal shoppers we spoke to make their living helping people find the perfect clothes to fit their fashion sense and their financial situation. They shared with us their insight, which we distilled into these money-saving tips.
Start With the Staples
Invest in a handful of simple, versatile pieces that work for the office and then can be pared down or dressed up for post-work outings. The price points you're looking at depend on your budget, but the goal is to have matchable items you'll get lots of use from rather than too many costly one-off trend items or splashy prints you can't wear very often.
"The way that I recommend people work their wardrobe is to have a base wardrobe — classics from something like Ann Taylor, Max Mara or Theory: a basic black pant, skirt and other items of the same color and fabric … so you can mix and match,” says Tracy Clifford, a personal shopper in Chicago. Once you get those basics down, you'll know how much you have leftover in your budget for more expensive or super stylish pieces.
Invest in Quality Materials
While it might sound counterintuitive, you’ll save cash in the long run if you stick to higher-quality fabrics that last longer and prompt you to take better care of them. Sarah Granetz, a New York–based personal shopper, recommends spending more on “real cashmere, silk or cotton. Non-synthetic fabrics will last season after season, not only through washing but wearing.” Nicer materials also tend to look better, too. “People notice an ill-fitting or wrinkled outfit, and these items make a judgment whether they mean to or not,” says Clifford.
Resist Trends and Fads
Fashion trends are fun, but they can be dangerous when it comes to clothes shopping on a budget. If you've got a closet full of last year's off-the-shoulder blouses and chunky heels that you know you'll never wear again now that they're not on the in-list anymore, then you know exactly what we mean.
If you're really feeling a trend, it's OK to indulge in it — but spend as little as possible. Your future self will thank you later for saving the cash for something more timeless. If it’s a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing like a fringe vest, you’re better off going cheap, says Clifford. Also, if you’re on the fence about a fashion fad, and someone else (like a sales associate) is giving you the hard sell about how great you look in it, it's probably not a good idea, adds Granetz.
Shop With Caution Online
It’s hard to beat the convenience of shopping by app (hello Amazon Prime!). But limit your online retail habit to items you already know will fit right and flatter you. That’s because when you can’t see or touch the garment in person, you’re missing key info that can help you make a more mindful decision about whether to buy ... or whether it’ll sit in the box it arrived in and never see the light of day.
“If you’re familiar with the brand, like a J. Crew type of thing where you know how it fits you, it’s probably fine to buy online,” says Clifford. “Same if you don’t have access to all of your favorite stores. But online shopping a lot of the time creates bad dressing.” If you do shop and swipe, read up on the retailer's return policy first, so you know you can get a refund if you decide to return it, she suggests.
Adds Granetz: “My rule of thumb is, if you know the designer and your size, then buying online is a no-brainer. But if you're also buying something a little out of your element — your first real suit, for example — you should definitely go to a store to at least educate yourself on the options.”
Don’t Chase Sales
Shopping end-of-season and flash sales can score you great deals on items you really like and need. The downside? Getting lured into stores by enticing offers could end up costing you more money: You might get so worked up over all the zeros you’ll save, you end up buying more than you expected or can actually afford.
“Sometimes items go on sale because they're not selling and they may happen to be out of season — like the rare sweater in a store in March — which then would make sense to purchase,” says Granetz. “But for the financially conscious, only buy what you need when you need it, unless you know for a fact that you absolutely have a need for it in the future.”
Absolutely Love Something? Splurge
So your heart starts pounding hard as soon as your eyes land on a pair of patent leather boots or flowery sundress — and the garment actually fits just right, too. If the price tag is over your usual budget but doesn’t stretch your wallet too far, Granetz advises clients to take the plunge.
When she's faced with a love-at-first-site fashion situation, "I always ask myself if the garment will change my life,” says Granetz. That might sound extreme, but think about it like this: An item you love that makes you feel attractive and confident when you wear it is one you’ll get a lot of use out of and take better care of — and it’s worth the investment.