Looking Great on Less

By Tamara Jane

There are those occasions such as weddings or holiday parties for which we splurge and spend more on expensive clothes, and well, OK – even the Proverbs 31 woman was dressed in fine linen and purple (though I’m betting she didn’t wear that out to plant her vineyards). Special occasions aside, buying expensive clothes is problematic for the young woman on her own. Simply put: we can’t afford it!

I’ve grown up as the oldest of five children, and with so many mouths to feed, bills to pay, and gas needed to run us around everywhere, my parents did the best they could. With clothing, this meant only shopping sales and second-hand stores. When I was younger, I hated it. I felt icky standing next to my friends who wore expensive, designer clothes. I seriously felt like a tramp and like my parents were too cheap to buy me decent clothes. I hated Goodwill, and the very thought of wearing things that someone else had owned before me made me sick.
But just like our taste buds change the older we get, so does our taste in clothes and where we get them. A little older, a little wiser, I can now appreciate the value of a dollar better. Now that I manage money of my own, I see how quickly it disappears. And often when I need a certain article of clothing or accessory, I’m faced with these options: buy it on credit, buy it deeply discounted or second hand, or don’t buy it at all. The middle option is a happy medium between good financial stewardship and my caprices.

Fortunately, all that frugal upbringing comes in handy, and when I need a bargain, I know just what to do.

Shop Clearance and Sale Racks
Seems like a no-brainer, right? But honestly, how often do you allow yourself to drift to the racks that aren’t on sale and fall in love with something you can’t afford? Don’t go there! Give yourself a little pep talk before you hit the door of the store: “I’m going in, going straight to the 50% or 75% off racks, and if I don’t find something on them, I’m out of here – no detours.”
Rare is the store without a clearance rack, but sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you can’t shop clearance. You need brown pants for work, but the clearance rack only has shorts and mini skirts on it. When this happens, do the next best thing, shop sales racks. Again, if you don’t see a sign that says at least 25% off, don’t touch it with a 10-foot pole!

Now the worst-case scenario: You’ve exhausted the clearance rack; what you need (not want, but need) is not on sale in any store. You’ve spent two days searching for a suitable pair of brown pants, but come up dry. Ordering online isn’t an option because you need them tomorrow! Admit it – this rarely happens – but let’s plan for it anyway. If you have to pay full price, don’t buy designer. Most major department stores have a store brand. For instance, JC Penny carries Arizona and St. John’s Bay, and Wal-Mart (now we’re bargain shopping!) carries White Stag and George. These exclusive store brands are almost always less expensive than designer labels. Getting suckered into buying designer is inanity (and insanity!) that a young woman on her own simply cannot afford. (And even if you’re not a young, single woman on your own, it’s still inanity.)

Second-hand Sally
Here’s a little secret. Suckers who buy designer clothes off the rack are the same kind of people who get sick of them after a year, having only worn them twice! What do these clothing snobs do with their barely worn clothes after they tire of them (yawn!)? They have a garage sale, donate them to a thrift store like Goodwill or take them to a consignment shop. I’ve listed these options in order of their affordability, but also in order of the degree of difficulty to find quality clothes. If you’re pinched for time, it might be worth it to skip the garage sale (which is usually only an option on sunny weekends anyway) and try your favorite charity thrift store.

What? Don’t have one? Girl, you need to get you one! Some Saturday when you find yourself wondering, “Why am I watching cartoons?” get out and hit every charity thrift store in a 15-minute radius of your house. Some might be listed in the phone book, but others, like church thrift stores, might not have a directory listing. So while you’re at the one or two thrift stores you know of, ask the clerks or other shoppers to point you to some of the other lesser known thrift stores in town. Inevitably, one or two will emerge as the best places to shop – prices and quality are good and apparently, they are patronized by a few vane women who wear their designer clothes once before giving them away – or not at all. It’s not uncommon to find clothes with the original tags still on them. Sure, sometimes the clothes might have a funny smell – giving a whole new importance to the phrase “wash and wear,” – and maybe you draw the line at buying used underwear – can’t say I blame you there. But a smart, single gal on a budget will become a regular at these places.

Sew What
Now, for the final trick up my tightfisted sleeve… Sew! Did you take home economics and learn to sew? Do you have a friend that likes to sew? Are you handy enough with a needle and thread? If you can answer “yes” to any of these, there are a whole lot more options available to you. We start at the garage sale or thrift store and look for clothes with nice fabrics… but maybe the cut of the skirt is wrong – it’s an A-line and you’re looking for a fitted skirt. Or maybe it’s too long – you found a ruffled blouse with long sleeves, but you’re looking for one with no sleeves. Maybe you found a great pair of pants, but you need capris. Work some magic with a needle and thread and you’ll be the smartest girl I know.

Stop equating getting something cheap with getting gypped. Billions of marketing dollars a year argue to the contrary, but consider the source! Whatever your clothing budget, wouldn’t it be great to make it go further? You can have more to spend on that special occasion dress if you’ll become freakishly frugal whenever possible. Take pride in it! We could chat another page worth on accessorizing to make second-hand clothes look fabulous, but there’s one accessory that you can put on every time you dress to make whatever you wear look incredible: that’s confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from wearing something expensive. Look your beautiful self in the mirror and say, “I’m a child of the King.” Say it over and over until it sinks in and you’re really feeling it. Now keep that glow all day and you’ll feel like a million bucks – without having spent it.

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