Monday, February 11, 2013

Dress For Success Without Breaking The Bank.

With the economy like it is, buying things like clothes and shoes seems to be a luxury these days. Certainly clothing that is good quality and/or on the higher end money wise. Which, let me interject right here that if it costs more, it IS more than likely better quality. Not always, but I would say at least 80-85% of the time. And trust me, I know. I've purchased both cheaper clothing and more expensive clothing. Many of the cheaper things are no longer with us and those that are hang on by a thread. No pun intended.

But even without the budget of a superstar it IS possible to shop for and wear high end and name brand clothing. For fun, I thought I would share my tips with you on how you can do so. It takes time and effort (some of it more than others) but I like to view it as a scavenger hunt. Much like garage sale shopping and thrift store shopping brings joy to those who are looking for that shabby chic antique at little to nothing, so can bargain shopping for clothing bring lots of joy. And good style! Ha!

Shopping On A Budget 

1. Know your sizes in all of the stores/brands of which you like the clothing.  

This may seem trivial, but it's actually a very important element. Sizes vary from store to store and sometimes they even vary WITHIN the store. For example, on a normal day (aka a non-preggo day) I wear anywhere from a size 0-6 depending on the brand. That is a very large range and not knowing what size works with what store can lead to unwise purchases. Also, for pants, make sure you know your desired inseam length. Some pants, like pencil pants, skinny jeans etc. have a different inseam than just regular straight leg or boot cut pants. Yet, just because they are supposed to be shorter (around the ankle) doesn't mean that the inseam will be correct no matter the length. I suggest you measure pants you already have that you like the lengths on. Take into consideration heels, flats, etc.

Okay back to sizes. So, what I suggest you do is list the stores/brands that you like. It doesn't have to be what you currently wear, just what you would like to wear in the future. Once you have your list, visit those stores and try on, try on, try on. I suggest trying on several things in a couple of sizes as some clothing is made differently even within the stores, as I said before. Primary example of this situation. In t-shirts at places like Express, I wear a medium. However, in most of their blouse type tops, I wear a small.  Once you've tried on and know your sizes in the clothing, write it down next to the store name on your list so you have it for reference.

2. Know the best places to shop. 

There are quite a few places that boast designer labels at low prices: Marshall's, Ross, outlet stores, etc. But just because a place sells something below the designer prices, it doesn't mean it's the BEST price you can get the item for, and sometimes it's not even close. For example, a lot of outlet stores are actually stocked by the factories and the clothing in them is strictly made for the outlet stores. So you're not getting something that didn't sell at a regular store. You're getting things made specifically for the outlet that aren't necessarily a good bargain.  I have done my share of outlet shopping and will say that I have found 2 stores that are great for outlet shopping: New York and Company and Coach. In the back of both outlets there is always a clearance/sale section that boasts discounts of up to 70% and they truly are just that.

As far as stores like Marshall's, Ross, etc. While Marshall's sometimes has good deals, I find their clothing to be on the more expensive side when it comes to designer/high end clothing. Same with T-J Maxx (the two stores are actually part of the same entity.) On occasion I will buy things there but it is very, very rare. Ross is great. Having said that, not all Ross locations are great. If you live in a large city, I suggest driving to several stores and looking over the merchandise. Usually stores that have better choices when you first go, will always have better choices. Things that I have found at Ross for amazing prices are: Calvin Klein suits for $60, Steve Madden shoes for $25 and under, Nine West shoes for $25 and under. The important thing to note about stores like this is that while they sell high end things, they also sell very poorly made clothing. It's very easy to spot because the prices are REALLY low. While you may be tempted to buy a shirt for $7.99 that is a name brand you've never heard of vs. spending $16.99 for a name you do recognize, I highly encourage you to spend the $16.99. The life of the garment will be greatly increased simply because of the quality. And while you may save $9.00 now, you'll have to buy that $7.99 shirt at least two more times before you would have to with the $16.99 shirt. Now, having said that not ALL unknown brands are made poorly. If you have a smart phone, the best thing to do is give a quick Google search to the name and see what you find.  Oh, Burlington Coat Factory is also a GREAT place to get good clothes at the lowest discounted prices. Again, merchandise varies by location, so try out several.

The other two places that I suggest you shop (they are probably my favorites) is Goodwill and Plato's Closet. For those of you who have not heard of Plato's Closet, it is a resale store that is geared towards teens and young adults. You can actually sell clothes to them if you have things in your closet you're not wearing. The thing about Plato's Closet is that while they are aimed at a younger audience, that's not always representative of the clothing they carry. For example, I often find brands such as Bebe, BCBG, Guess, Express and Old Navy at their stores. HOWEVER, (this is a big, however, hence the all-caps) it is VITAL that you check over the clothing with a fine tooth comb. Look for holes, stains, missing buttons, tears - all of it. And I highly suggest you re-check them when you get home BEFORE you take the tags off. Their return policy will allow a refund, but it must be within 7 days and the tags must be attached.  Here is an example of why you need to check things over. Below is a picture of a Dolce and Gabbana jacket that I purchased last year.


Fabulous jacket, great find. Paid about $20 for it. However, upon getting it home and in the right light, I noticed a light yellow stain all along the sleeve. It had a dry cleaning tag attached so clearly someone had already tried to remove the stain. In that case, it had been so cheap I attempted some home remedy's vs. taking it back. Didn't work. I might have been able to dye it another color, but at that point it wasn't worth the headache and I had also done significant damage in the process of trying to remove the stain. So make sure you have thoroughly checked the garment out before you take off the tags.

Also the same principle goes for the Plato's stores of different stores have different/better/worse merchandise. I suggest going to their website and seeing the locations of about 3 stores near you. Then, (as horrible as this sounds) think about the locations in reference to where the more expensive neighborhoods are located. The one I used to shop at was near a very expensive area and thus rendered me things like a BCBG suit jacket with the tags still attached, originally $125, I paid $20.

Next is Goodwill!!!!! Pretty much the same exact rules as Plato's. The good thing about Goodwill (that sounds funny) is that clothing is priced by the style (i.e. long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, etc.) So even if the brand is a more prominent brand, if it's a long sleeve shirt, it's the same cost as less prominent brand. An example of some things I've found are:

A turtle neck sweater from White House Black Market; cost = $6
A sweater from Chico's; cost = $6
A sweater from Old Navy; cost = $6

Of course, like with all used clothing, I recommend washing them or having them dry cleaned before wearing.

3. Utilize the Internet! 

This step is the reason that I had you find your sizes in the brands you like. The Internet is a GREAT place to get bargains on clothing. We'll start with the most obvious; eBay.

eBay is one of my favorite places to shop. And not just for clothing, for many things! But that's another topic for another day. Clothing on eBay can either be great or it can be lousy. Lots of factors play into this. The first is the condition of the clothing. While eBay has a guideline for sellers to follow when listing their clothing, not all sellers abide by this guideline. Therefore, I have found it best when using eBay, to filter your clothing by two categories under the "Condition" column; new with tags and new without tags. This is the best guarantee that you can get on eBay with regards to the condition of the clothing you are buying. Here are a few more quick tips when buying clothes on eBay:

1. Make sure and check the actual size label of the clothing. If there isn't a picture listed, ask to see one. Sometimes sellers will list clothing based on what size THEY think the clothing is vs. the actual tag size. This will allow you to check your size list and make sure that the garment is actually in your size. Pay CLOSE attention to hem lengths on pants. If the length is not listed, ask the seller to measure them for you. I've had at least two situations where the pants I purchased were not the right length for me. Had I asked, I probably would have known that.

2. Bid, bid, bid. Lots of sellers have started offering the "Buy Now" option. This allows you to skip the bidding process and directly purchase the item. However, the price is usually much greater than you might pay if you bid. Granted, bidding takes longer and that's what they're hoping will trip you up; that you'll want instant gratification so badly, you'll give in and just buy it. But I highly encourage you to just breathe and bid!

3. Know the value of the clothing. Some of the sellers on eBay will attempt to "resale" merchandise at the original purchase price. Even if the tags are still on clothing, I don't recommend paying full price for anything. If you want to do that, you might as well go to a store and get a new garment that you know for sure is in tip-top shape AND you can return.

4. Make sure you want what your purchasing. Returns and refunds can be very tricky on eBay and often take a lot of time and energy. So I suggest making sure you REALLY want what it is you're bidding on.

The next part of Internet shopping is the websites of the brands themselves. Find your top 10 or so that you really like, bookmark them and then check back regularly in the clearance/sale section. The great thing about online vs. in store sales is that often the websites will have much more stock available than the actual stores AND they often offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount ($50, etc.) I've found a LOT of great buys this way, including some maternity clothing. I'm a huge fan of the Victoria's Secret clothing line and during their clearance/sales events online, I bought one of my favorite pair of pants for $10. I also purchased some maternity shorts from Old Navy online; originally $30, I paid $8.

4. Know when to invest. 

While there are many great deals and bargains to be found with the methods that I've shown you, it is vital that you know when to put down your hunting license and invest. By invest I mean buy good, quality clothing at the stores and pay full retail. Yes, I know. That sounds very scary. But when it comes to things like a work wardrobe you will not be sorry that you invested in classic, long-lasting pieces. Some of the things I have had to invest in are: slacks, skirts, shoes (namely boots). These particular types of clothing can be quite difficult to find via the other avenues that I've mentioned.

eBay can be good with slacks, but the variety and availability fluctuates quite often. Even if you do find things like slacks and skirts at a resale store, they're most likely very worn. This has been the case for almost all of the ones I have found this way. Obviously if they have the tag on them, that's not the case but that is VERY rare.

The shoe department is another place I suggest investing in. Places like Ross and Plato's may have good bargains/finds on occasion, but the selection is varied and also fluctuates in availability. I do not recommend eBay for shoes at ALL. Mainly because all shoes fit differently and the return process is a big factor as well.

5. Don't get discouraged! 

Though it can be fun and exciting, shopping well on a budget can also be really frustrating. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to the store totally hyped up about finding great bargains only to return empty handed. Sadly, it's just part of the game. Because the inventory of these stores is based on retailers and individuals, there is just no way of knowing when things will be available. This is one reason that I suggest knowing of several different locations of each of the stores I've listed. If one doesn't have what you're looking for, try out another. Also, be prepared to shop out of season. That is one of the main things to remember when bargain hunting. The best time to find winter clothing is in the summer and vice versa.  I still have things in my closet that I haven't worn yet that were purchased last season. This can be discouraging for a first-timer, but if you go in knowing that most likely you're shopping ahead, it can still be a fun experience. Like with everything else, this isn't always the case and sometimes you can find things in season, but I wanted to prepare you in case that's not the situation.

Well there you have it! I hope you are able to take those tips and tricks and use them to your (and your wardrobe's) benefit!  Happy shopping, everyone!!







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