AFFORDABLE STYLE: HY I DON'T SPEND A FORTUNE ON CLOTHES (ANYMORE)
Since I was old enough to chose my own clothes, I’ve always been fascinated with style. As a teenager, I’d spend hours sitting at my dad’s computer, loading it with pictures of designer clothes, bags and shoes from Net-a-Porter, instead of going out with my friends.
Sadly for me, my mom was never a huge believer in expensive clothes or an avid shopper herself. Which means I wasn’t wearing the more expensive brands other teenagers liked.
As a young adult, I was living in my own apartment with very little disposable income. It just wasn’t an option to spend money on clothes.
But the thing is, I LOVED fashion. While I was in fashion school, I was buying at least 6 or 7 magazines a months and treating them like the bible. I went to sleep dreaming of hugging Anna Wintour and sequin-covered dresses.
Since it was simply impossible for me to afford anything from the pages of Vogue and still pay rent, I’d save whatever money I made working at a gay bar, to spend on fast-fashion versions of my fashion dreams.
And I’m not even talking about buying clothes at H&M, which is by all means OK. I mean waiting for sales so I could score a 12$ jacket 2 sizes too big from the clearance bin. Or an 8$ top that didn’t go with anything in my closet, but it was cheap. I bought these items anyway because they vaguely resembled something I saw at Fashion Week or in a magazine.
But then I wouldn’t wear these crazy items that made me look like Big Bird, and they just collected dust on my bedroom floor. I ended up with a closet full of cheap clothes that I would never have bought if they weren’t on sale. Which means I’d end up always wearing the same 3-4 pieces and felt like I had no personal style.
Then, months (or years) later, I’d throw most of it in a plastic bag and sadly throw them away. I was at square one again!
When I finally got a “real” adult job, I had a bit more money, but I still had to pay rent, food and just basic necessities. That still made it hard for me to access my fashion goals. At least, by that time, I understood that spending money on clothes I wouldn’t wear, no matter the price, was just like flushing it down the toilet. I needed a new strategy.
So I became a huge strategic shopper. I did lots of research on ways to save money for decent clothes and I found out that there really are ways to look like a million bucks, without spending anything even close to it. Here are a few strategies I came up with:
#1: Have a Few Quality Staples & Fill the Rest of Your Closet Seasonally
This is probably the most useful tip I’ve ever gotten and I love it because it’s all about BALANCE. That has to be my favourite word of 2018 and I apply it to my diet and lifestyle, fashion being no exception. Basically, you have to know how much you can spend on clothes and be PATIENT.
Rome wasn’t built in one day, and neither will your dream closet.
What I do first is figure out how much I can spend on clothes each season (so 4x/year). Let’s say that amount is 500$ (which is 2000$ per year). It’s really not that much, but it’s still possible to look great with a limited budget.
Right away, I put aside an amount ranging from 1/4 to 1/3 of that budget and put that towards timeless, quality pieces that will always be in style. A really great black blazer. Nude pumps. A super versatile LBD. Basically, any piece that was trendy 10 years ago and still is today, you can be (almost) sure you will still wear it 10 years from now. That’s why you buy these at a higher quality, because you don’t want to be buying the same thing every year.
Then, with the remaining amount you have, feel free to buy more “fun” pieces that are trendy and you will really have fun wearing. For example, last season, I bought a fun red top with giant bell sleeves, an oversized men’s shirt with pearls on the cuffs and a big ice cream coloured faux-fur coat. These are all items I will be wearing for more than one season, but I don’t count on them being timeless purchases.
By doing that, you’re sure that you’ll always have some nice, quality basics and some more trendy pieces on rotation, that you can mix and match as the seasons go.
#2: Get Expensive Clothes for a Fraction of the Retail Price
Once you’ve figured out how much money you can spend and what you’ll spend it on, it’s time to start shopping. With today’s number of clothes at a discounted price, there’s just no excuse to pay full-price anymore.
Long gone are the days when you had to go to a store that looked like a bazaar with messy aisles filled with mismatched clothes in odd sizes. Sites like The Outnet and Nordstrom Rack have made it super easy and efficient to shop for discounted designer clothes at a fraction of the price, from the comfort of your own home.
The great thing about these types of stores is that you can get your more expensive “lifetime” pieces, without having to pay a fortune either. For example, I wanted some quality athleisure wear, and I scored a pair of Electric Yoga leggings for 21$ instead of the 108$ retail price. It took me litteraly 3 minutes to find them in my size and I didn’t even have to leave my house. Talk about simple!
The only thing about shopping these discount sites is that you can’t be desperate. If you need a white, knee-length skirt with a frill on the bottom and you need it next week, then this probably not the way to go.
If you’re open-minded and you have a general idea of what you want, then you’ll most likely score some great finds and feel great about the price tags too! A few of my favourite ones are:
It also goes without saying that keeping an eye out for bi-annual or yearly sales is a great way to score pieces at a lower price. I like to subscribe to my favourite store’s newsletter, that way I never miss out on a blowout sale and I can actually get some pieces I’ve been coveting from my favourite brands, without blowing off half my seasonal budget!
#3: Learn to Shop Sales the Smart Way
OK, so you’ve just read about my experience with sales. While it’s great to pay less for something you want, shopping sales can quickly become dangerous, and be a real money vortex.
The way I avoid that is by only buying things I would buy at full retail price, even if it wasn’t on sale. If I see a Free People dress for 40$, I ask myself: “This is a great deal, for sure, but would I pay 128$ for that dress?” If the answer is yes, then I happily get it. If the answer is no, then it’s probably not worth it to spend any amount on it.
After all, there’s WAY too many brands, stores and clothes out there for anyone to buy all of it, so I might as well spend my money on things I really like. Not things that are presented to me as a “deal”.
Also, there's something my mother did when I was younger really stuck with me. When I came home with expensive shoes (my ultimate weakness), she would scream at me “Do you know how many hours you had to work for these shoes?”.
I found it SO annoying when I was younger, but I think it’s interesting to see it that way. If you’re paid 20$ an hour, you’ll need to work 10 hours to buy 200$ shoes. Actually more, because we all pay taxes, but let’s keep it simple here.
Do you really like them enough to work a full day and then some just to buy them? If the answer is yes, then you’ll really appreciate them. If not, then I’d wait until you find something you’ll happily work a full week for and not even care. Because that’s the piece you’ll feel super happy to wear, every time.
#4: Know Where to Splurge and Where to Save
OK, so now you have a fashion budget and you’re spending it in a BALANCED way. You know when and where to buy to get the best deal for your buck. That’s all great. But you also need to know what’s worth getting at a lower price and what you’d be better off spending a little more for.
The ONE thing I will never buy for cheap is shoes. More specifically high heels.
Just to be clear, I don’t mean you can’t buy expensive shoes on sale, that’s actually great! I scored a pair of Stuart Weitzman sandals for 300$ and I’ve worn them SO MUCH over the last 3-4 years, that they were worth every penny. Even if I had bought them full-price. What I mean is I just don’t buy cheaply-made shoes anymore.
I always see these cool-looking shoes at Forever 21 and H&M, but I never buy them. Why? High heels require craftsmanship. Quality designer shoes are often made in Italy, with a level of artistry that makes them comfortable(ish?) and well-made. I watched a documentary on the art of making shoes, in which the shoemaker explained how they handmade every model, calculating things like the angle of the heel and then some.
Ever since, I’ve been super mindful of the shoes I buy. High heels, that is. I don’t mind wearing 12$ flats, but you’ll never see me in cheap heels. You want a more practical reason to wear quality heels? Just think about the girls you’ve seen wobbling around in heels, like walking is the hardest thing. For sure, walking elegantly in heels is not something that comes easily to everyone, but a quality shoe really takes care of a big part of the problem.
Truth is, when your feet are tired and hurt like hell, there’s just no way your walk will be natural. That’s why I always buy heels that are entirely made from leather, from brands I trust. That also means I’ll spend 20 minutes walking around the store in them, to make sure they’re comfortable. I do sometimes get awkward looks from salespeople, but honestly, I couldn’t give a shit if they were the fashion police. If I’m gonna spend a few bills on shoes, I want to make sure I’ll actually wear them.
Same goes for jewelry. I used to have so many cheap rings that would run my fingers green and earring that would give me ear infections. It was ridiculous. Now, when it comes to jewelry, I prioritize quality over quantity, and I find that I actually wear more jewelry that way. Because I’m excited about every piece I own.
I’m not saying you have to spend 10k on a cartier bracelet. There are some really great, affordable pieces at stores like Pandora and Thomas Sabo. Actually, most of my day-to-day jewelry comes from these 2 retailers, and I couldn’t be happier.
Other than shoes and jewelry, I honestly couldn’t care less wether my dresses, jeans and skirts cost 20$ or 2000$. I think affordable fashion is having a moment, and it’s been for a few years. That’s why even high-end designers do collaborations with H&M and Target, for example.
#5: Learn to Spot Quality Clothes Even at Fast-Fashion Retailers
Even though I love finding a good bargain on a designer piece, sometimes it’s just simpler to find fun pieces at fast fashion retailers. Their inventory turnover is great, they’re always on trend and you can find some really great pieces, and even great quality.
I have some clothes from Zara that I bought 4 years ago and I still wear them, even though they’ve been through countless washes. Even at H&M and forever 21, some clothes are very cheaply made and won’t last, some are surprisingly good.
What I like to do is look at the whole rack of the same piece. If out of the 10 shirts available, 3 of them have a loose thread or undone hem (yeah, it happens) then you know this shirt is really cheaply made and won’t make it through the first wash. Same if the seems are uneven or bulky, of if there’s a lot of extra thread. Also, if it’s already wrinkled or doesn’t look “fresh”, that’s a BIG no. As a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t even look good in the store, it won’t look good, ever!
I also like to pay attention to the thickness of the fabric, pull a little on the hems and stitches and just look for overall confection quality. Since I went to fashion school, it’s a little easier to figure it out, but after a while, everyone can get the hang of it.
A few fast-fashion retailers I love are:
Zara - for everything, but their jeans, flats and bags are really on point.
H&M - also for everything. All my scarves are from them and their home collection is SO goals.
Forever 21 - Mostly for their clothes. But I do pay a little more attention to quality, as it’s sometimes on the lower end. I also got body jewelry to wear for a beach shoot last year, and (very) surprisingly, it actually lasted for a LONG time. I guess that’s the exception to my jewelry rule!
American Eagle Outfitters - Their jeans are great, but their tank tops are just amazing. They’re (almost) the only ones I wear and they’re SO flattering.
There’s obviously a LOT more out there, but these are the ones I usually go to when I want something affordable.
I think it’s also worth noting that we live in an era when your social status is no longer defined by the price of what you put on your back, and I think that’s great. I mean, don’t get me wrong, as a fashion nuts, I love designer clothes… I just don’t love their price tags. With celebrities wearing affordable pieces here and there and collaborations between high-end designers and fast-fashion retailers, I think the general idea to remember is that fashion might have a price, but personal style doesn’t.
It’s also no longer taboo to say “I paid 12$ for this dress”, it’s actually considered cool. I’ll leave you on a short list of things other than clothes that I’d rather spend big money (and time) on, because I find that it gives me a better quality of life:
Great, fulfilling relationships, because I intend to have a really kick-ass funeral party and I am well aware that no one will show up if I don’t invest myself in great relationships.
Great trips and experiences. First, to spend quality time with the people I’m having aforementioned relationships with. Second because I believe travels, museums and even outings at restaurants shape our life much more than anything you could ever wear. They’re not only get to expand your cultural horizons, but they also turn you into an interesting, well-rounded human being that can have a decent conversation for more than a minute.
Skincare and beauty products in general. Because I can wear an ugly dress and take it off, no one will know. But what I put on my face leaves permanent damage (or results) so I’d rather look as good as I can naked than look like a troll in beautiful clothes.
A quality mattress, because I'm not getting any younger and the perspective of having the same posture as Quasimodo is one of my biggest nightmares.
Fresh, healthy foods. I've realized that what goes inside my body doesn't only change the way I feel, but also the way I look and I'm sure as shit not gonna spend my life sustaining myself on mechanically processed foods to end up looking like a shrivelled goat.
So while I still dream of the day I’ll finally get my hands on a Chloé handbag (my all-time fashion dream), in the meantime, I feel no shame whatsoever in not wearing designer clothes 100% of the time (or even 50% of the time) like some Instagram girls do.
And I’m not throwing shade, if I had an endless budget, I’d probably do the same! I just disagree with the thought that if you’re not clad head to toe in Dolce&Gabbana, then you can’t love fashion just as much as the girl who is.
And truth is, after about a hundred trips to Zara, that designer handbag is gonna feel a lot more special.
As always, I love to hear your recs and tips as well. Let me know where you get your affordable clothes and if you use any strategy I haven't mentioned. You can hit me up in the comments below or on Instagram.
Love you guys, Jenny xx
Pictures by Jordan Snow Photo.