As we start 2017, it’s a good time to think about wardrobe investments. Some pieces are worth spending more money on, but with almost unlimited options out there, which ones fit best your budget and your life? In this post, I’ll try to break down what makes a good investment piece and how to make good money decisions when you are shopping. It always pays to be smart and disciplined!
There are a couple of things to factor into clothing decisions – the first one to consider is material cost. Some clothes are expensive simply because they cost more to produce, but they can definitely be worth investing in, especially if they serve an important purpose in your wardrobe. Wool, silk, leather, and other luxury materials cost more, but if you take care of them, they can last a lifetime. You pay for quality. Ask any knitter what it would cost to knit a full-size sweater out of quality wool – the yarn alone would probably be a couple hundred dollars, but you also have to factor in the time it took to make. So usually the nicer the fabric and the better the workmanship, the more it costs. But the reverse doesn’t always hold true – you can’t just assume that every expensive item of clothing must be good quality. Sometimes it is just high-priced garbage.
The second concept to consider is cost per use – to get an item’s cost per use, divide the initial cost by the number of times you wear that item. This is all very well and good, you’ll say, but I’m not a prophet – how can I tell now how much I will use something in the future? One way to figure out what you will wear most in the future is to figure out what you have worn the most in the past. When you are investing in a piece, bring all your past experience to that purchase. Here’s a great story from Emily Post circa 1945:
A very beautiful Chicago woman who is always perfectly dressed for every occasion has worked out the cost of her own clothes this way: One a sheet of paper, thumb-tacked onto the inside of her closet door, she puts a complete typewritten list of her dresses and hats and the cost of each. Every time she puts on a dress, she makes a pencil mark after its notation. By and by, when a dress is discarded, she divides the cost of it by the number of times it has been worn. In this way she finds out accurately which are her cheapest and which her most expensive clothes. When getting new ones, she has the advantage of very valuable information, for she avoids the kind of dress that is seldom put on – which is a bigger handicap for the medium-sized allowance than many women realize.
When you are investing in a piece, bring all your past experience to that purchase. Yes – your experience dressing your body gives you a perspective that nobody else has – every struggle to create an outfit before work, every outfit triumph, every body frustration, every “DANG – my rear looks good in these jeans”. Take all that valuable knowledge and apply it. I might be buying a wool coat soon – my usual modus operandi is to buy a really funky vintage wool coat at a thrift store or consignment shop and wear it until it falls apart. But I’m an adult now and it will be good to have a nice wool coat, because in the long Idaho winters, that is the first (and sometimes only) thing people see. But all my lovely funky thrift store coats have shown me what I need in an expensive coat.
1) The coat needs to have a collar, because I’ve had collarless coats before and you lose a surprising amount of heat from your neck. I’m already cold enough. I’m an expat Californian in the frozen north.
2) It needs to have buttons – none of this open-front-with-a-belt business. It looks pretty, but when the wind picks up, I want my coat to stay shut with me holding it on.
3) It needs to be long enough to cover my rear. My trousers can’t protect it all by themselves. It needs an extra layer to keep it warm.
So those will be my coat requirements. What requirements do you bring with you when you go shopping? Which jeans do you love? What kind of neckline draws attention to your face? What sleeve length do you like?
A discussion of cost per use wouldn’t be complete without mentioning bras. Bras make or break a wardrobe. If your bra isn’t doing its job well, the rest of your clothes won’t fit right. If you have never had a proper bra fitting or your size has changed, it is worth it to go get a fitting and a couple of nice brassieres. They are worth the expense. Trust me on this one.
I have also gotten to the point where I want to invest in nice shoes – this decision probably would have come sooner if I liked shoes. But I’m stubborn and I don’t like shoes (probably because I don’t usually get good ones) and nice shoes are expensive… But the truth is that bad shoes kill your back and can be treacherous in any weather. Good shoes are a good investment for you and for your physical well-being. Besides, if you buy a cheap pair of boots every winter, an quality pair that lasts for a long time will be cheaper in the long run. A couple of thoughts – make sure to invest in the kind of shoes you wear the most. If you always wear heels, invest in an excellent pair of heels. If you always wear flats, choose a great pair of flats. Choose a color that will go well with all of your clothes – if you need a visual reminder, take a picture of your closet and look for the dominant colors.
Imagine your closet is a garden filled with a mix of annuals and perennials. Annuals need to be replaced every year – these are the inexpensive clothes that you can wear until they disintegrate. They add color, variety, and punch. All trends and fashion experiments should live in this category until you have made up your mind firmly about them. Perennials come back year after year, so they should be a delight. Pulling out your wool coat and leather boots every winter should be as happy as the sight of the first crocus pushing through the snow. Think about the things you wear the most – those are your candidates for perennials. Do you wear jeans every day? It is worth investing in a few nice pairs. If you carry a purse every day (and odds are that you do), it might be worth looking for a beautiful one that makes a statement. If you live a warm climate, look for fine cotton and linen. If you live in the frozen north, look for wool and silk blends.
An investment purchase is not the time for experimentation or impulse buying. Buy something you know you need, not something you feel like you might need. If you can’t make up your mind, walk away. Don’t shop desperate – the clothes can sense fear. Be shrewd and patient. Read the inside tags and figure out what that sweater is made of and how to take care of it. Keep your eyes open in thrift stores and consignment shops and discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, and TJMaxx – I recently found an Ann Taylor leather jacket in the Salvation Army for less than ten dollars (score!). Look for things in the “wrong” season – boots are inexpensive in July and swimsuits are inexpensive in November. Be observant and you can find quality for a great price. Most importantly, love what you invest in – make sure that the color looks beautiful on you and the shape shows you off in the best way.