How to Buy Quality Clothing on a Budget

Just one look in my closet and you’ll think I spend all my money on clothing.

It’s not that it’s stuffed full of clothes. In fact, the opposite is true; I have fewer clothes than most people. But the clothes I do have are high-quality, mostly designer pieces.

I didn’t always used to be this way. Like many people, I’d see a cool shirt at Target, or a $5 flannel at Wal-Mart and I’d pick it up for something new to wear. I’d even try clothes swapping parties to save the most money. But most of the time, after a dozen washes, the seams would be frayed or a hole would be forming in my clothes.

This cheap, “disposable” clothing just didn’t last, and into the donate pile it would go.

Why Cheap Clothing Isn’t Really Cheap…

I know how tempting it is to buy cheap clothing. Clothing retailers like H&M and Target have mastered the art of offering low-quality but still reasonably cool clothes. And whether we’re in a recession or not, it’s hard to resist a $20 trench coat.

But think about this for a moment: How much quality can you really get with a $10 dress at H&M? How long is that $15 sweater from Target really going to last you?

I can tell you from experience that the answer is “not long.” And, I’m sure you’ve probably experienced the same thing yourself.

My point here is that cheap clothing isn’t really that cheap at all. You might be getting a bargain at first, but it’s not going to last over the long haul.

Why Buy Quality Clothing?

High-quality clothing is made with care, which means it’s going to last. I strongly believe that I save money by spending a bit more on clothing for several reasons:

1. You don’t buy on impulse.

When you focus on buying quality, and quality only, you’re unlikely to buy something on impulse because it’s cheap and looks cool.

This means that the clothes in your closet really mean something to you. They’re chosen with thought and consideration, and they’re chosen because they really say something about you in a meaningful way.

I have far fewer clothes than I did this time last year. But the ones I do have are really special to me. I’ll likely still have them years from now.

2. Your clothes last longer.

Quality clothing lasts longer. Unlike Wal-Mart clothing which usually falls apart after a dozen washes or so, high-quality clothing can stand up to some serious wear. You’re getting more out of your investment when you spend more up front.

How to Save Money and What to Look For When Buying Quality Clothing

If you want to transition your own wardrobe from “disposable” fashion to high-quality pieces, don’t underestimate the power of buying pre-worn clothing. It’s a great way to get designer clothes on a budget that still have plenty of “wear” left in them. Try following these tips:

1. Know What You Want

My own wardrobe transition started with one piece of clothing: a James Perse shirt. This Los Angeles designer makes simple but high quality clothing. I stumbled onto one of his pieces at my local Salvation Army ($3.99!) and promptly fell in love with his clothes. My search for discounted James Perse clothing led me to other designers I really love as well.

I’ve since found two other James Perse tops at the Salvation Army. Both, of course, were second-hand clothes, and have now been heavily worn by me. They still look brand new.

My point here is that it helps to find a few designers or lines that really speak to you and your budget. Once you find a designer or line of clothing that really fits well and looks great on you, then scour eBay and your local thrift stores looking for them.

2. Go Slowly

This is a process that takes time, so it’s best not to rush it. Be prepared to come up empty-handed time and time again.

If you can enjoy the process, you’ll find yourself having quite a bit of fun. After all, it’s super easy to hit the mall and fill up a bag full of Abercrombie and Gap. But where’s the fun in that? Scouring consignment shops and thrift stores is like looking for treasure. And when you score second hand designer clothes for a few bucks, you’re going to feel like a million.

Now, this isn’t to say that all my quality clothing has been bought second-hand. It hasn’t. In fact, the sweater I’m wearing as I write this is a piece I paid full price for (well, actually, it was on sale). But most of what I buy is pre-worn. Again, eBay is a great place to find good deals once you’ve found a designer you like.

3. Know Quality

You’re eventually going to come across a piece you love, but have no idea who made it. It’s happened to me plenty of times.

It helps to learn how to recognize a quality piece of clothing when you see it.

Start by looking at the seams. Are they sewn properly? Grip the fabric on both sides of the seam and pull gently. If the thread holding the seams together pulls apart slightly, it’s not sewn properly.

Look at other details. Is there top-stitching? Are there four buttons on the cuff rather than three? Is there any bead work? Is there a 2-inch hem for pants? Are the buttons or fasteners sewn on securely?

All these tiny, subtle details point to a high-quality garment over a cheap one.

4. Go for a Test Run

I know it’s hard to learn how to recognize quality at first. You can shorten your learning curve by heading to a high-quality boutique or retailer, like Saks or Macy’s. Go find high-quality designer clothes and look closely at the details mentioned in step 3. Try on the clothing and see how it feels.

You’ll likely notice an immediate difference. These clothes are simply better made, and you can feel it.

Last Word…

I’d love to hear back from you on this. What do you think? Is spending more on clothing, but buying less, something you do? Or do you feel that buying cheaper clothing more often is a better bargain?

(photo courtesy Augapfel)

  • Honey B

    great post! for me, what matter is quality and sometimes high quality comes with a good price too. Spending more on quality things is one way to save more. I have link you to my blog. informative site.

  • Lauren

    I’m on the fence about this one. I agree that you should everyone should have good classic quality clothing in their wardrobe. However, I shop at H&M and I have not had any problems with their clothes. I have stuff in my clothes from H&M from 2-3 years ago and they’re perfectly fine. You also need to know how to put outfits together in order to shop at H&M because they sell a lot of plain looking clothes. Maybe I’m just biased, but I don’t think every person has to shop at Nordstroms for clothes.

  • Heather

    Overall, I have had good luck with inexpensive clothes. I had some white short-sleeved shirts from Mervyn’s that lasted five years before they started to get holes in them.

    I’ll pay more for higher-quality clothes if it’s something that is a wardrobe staple. But clothes that are trendy? No need to make sure they’ll last unless I’m planning to keep them until they go out and come back in. (I don’t dress all that trendy anyway, so it’s generally not an issue.)

  • Lauren

    @Heather. I agree. I don’t see the point on spending a lot of money on trendy clothes(especially if you don’t have a lot of money.) It is a good idea to buy quality classic pieces though.

  • Heather Levin

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks to all of you for writing in! I did have a feeling this topic might spark some discussion. :)

    Having been on both sides of the fence (buying cheap vs. buying quality) I’ve fallen on the quality side. But the pieces I buy I consider to be stylish, not trendy.

    There’s a great quote by Coco Chanel that goes something like this: “Fashion fades away, but only style remains the same.” I def. try to avoid buying trendy clothing that will be dated in a few years. I stick to clothing that is comfortable, elegant and looks great on me.

  • Sherry

    I like to shop the end of season sales at Dept stores. They usually offer 70-75-80% off and then you can pair it with a newspaper ad for an additional 10-15-20-25% off. You can pick up some great clothes for practically nothing! I also shop thrift, consignment and Goodwill stores. Just yesterday I bought 2 pairs of athletic shoes (Addidas and New Balance) that looked like they had only been worn once for $3 a pair. Last week I bought a REAL Dooney & Burke handbag for $1.99 that looked new w/o tags. Great deals are out there if you’re willing to take the time and be patient.

    • Lara (LAIR-A)

      This is what I do as well. You can find tremendous deals on VERY high-quality stuff if you wait for closeouts/clearance. If you add in coupons found online that cuts costs even more. Of course you’ll be buying off season which means it won’t be the latest, greatest thing, but — especially with clothes — if you stick with timeless pieces it won’t matter.
      Thrift shopping is a boon too if you’re lucky enough to have good ones nearby. The ones in my area are crap. You also have to be careful about not buying fakes at thrift stores. That $2 designer handbag isn’t such a great deal if it’s fake to begin with. It’ll still fall apart very quickly.
      For me, the internet has been a godsend for doing research on what constitutes high quality in virtually anything, then searching for it on closeout/clearance. Initial cost will be a couple dollars more than what you’d pay for a throwaway item, but in the long run it’s well worth it.
      A great example are washcloths and hand towels I bought this week. First I found some buying guides online and learned all about what to look for quality wise in bath towels. Then I found some that met the guidelines on closeout and found a coupon for an additional 35% off. The washcloths were $2.47 each & the hand towels $7 each, both very luxe by high-end European brands. They’ll last a good 10 to 15 years rather than six months.

      • Lara (LAIR-A)

        I also got a 100% cashmere scarf made in Italy — which is normally extremely pricey & the best on the market — on closeout with another coupon for $38.

  • Kira

    I usually don’t spend a lot on a particular piece because every year or two I start wearing different stuff anyway. There’s very little I’m still wearing from more than two years ago. I’m just too fickle I guess. :)

  • Leah

    Great post! I would say that I fall on both sides. For those classic styles that I want to last – definitely wait to find good priced, high quality. However, it is fun to have a couple of outfits that are trendy but I know will only be in style this season. For those, inexpensive all the way. Why waste good money on clothing that I’ll only wear a year or so? I know you didn’t mention it in your article, but I feel the same way about my children’s clothing. For those classic pieces that will be passed down to siblings and friends, willingly I pay more for the classics. For leggings, t-shirts, and socks, cheap is fine.

  • pamela munro

    I have mix of really good quality things with cheap stylish pieces – If they are trendy, they won’t wear out until after the trend has come & gone. The trouble with totally traditional is that it makes your wardrobe on the boring side. But I confess – or boast – that all of my designer clothing has come from thriftshops! Just bought a Michael Kors bag for @$5!! Ironically knowing about the labels & designers often helps when you are shopping at places like thriftshops – because the label is a clue to quality. I do have oodles of clothes – but I have been building my wardrobe for years now – And I must say that I am prepared for almost ANYTHING.
    P.S. Lately I have been getting great deals on underwear at the 99 Cent Store!! (I also always look for pantyhose, etc. there.) What’s more, I also have a nice little cotton bra I bought at the DOLLAR TREE. And these stores often have good deals on casual scarves, and hair goods like headbands – so I can afford to indulge myself.

  • Heather Levin

    @Leah- Thanks for bringing up children’s clothing. Not having kids myself, that’s an issue I didn’t even think about. But your strategy seems really sound, and I’m sure other readers will get a lot of value from that idea.

    @Pamela- That’s an awesome idea for hitting the Dollar Store for accessories like scarves and hair pieces, and even undergarments. As far as the bra goes, how’s it holding up? Do you think it will last long enough (and be comfortable enough) to get value out of it? I’ve never bought any clothing there, and am very curious as to how long they last.

    • pam munro

      Re my budget undies: the nylon slightly padded bras are actually are a very simple Hanes in white – I bought a few at that price & they are holding up well. Over the years I have also picked up bandeau bras from the Hanes brand there, too – which seem to sell elsewhere for a LOT more, & I keep them in my stash. I stocked up on undies themselves when there seemed to be a surge of trendy & not so trendy brands again at the 99 Cent Store recently, some with the trendy Rampage label on them – but here they were 99 Cents. (I even have picked up free undies at Victoria’s Secret for being part of the PINK program! and from other online offers.) These are mostly basic styles – altho the cotton bras have a nylon underwire, which I actually like here.I suppose my philosophy of the underwear mentioned here is that I pick them up when I see a bargain – so I have 5-6 prs. for every regular priced on at $6-7. Admittedly the quality can vary – but then you don’t feel too bad about delegating anything to the ragpile when the time comes.

      Years ago back in NJ I used to drive out with my mother to a lingerie outlet and buy slips and bras and so on – nothing that close now. I have found shapewear in discount stores at a good discount – and even several pairs of new shapers at a thriftshop! (No one knew what they were but ME.) And I found some other new shapewear on a trip to San Diego – whew! the difference from the prices on the tags!

      I also recommend checking out the website for deals on their undies and other things to wear.
      When I was going to office a lot I also bought pantyhose in bulk from the website – at a good price.
      Again, I look for pants socks, stockings and so on (some from no-Nonsense , Leggs, etc.) at 99 cent stores and stock up. Last year I went into a Target & those pants sox were 2-3X as much….

      I have to say that I mostly prefer fairly plain underwear – cotton undies for comfort & nothing too fancy in a bra.. At one point in my life I actually wore teenage AAA 34 bras & could ONLY find them at discount stores! That’s where I got into the habit of looking for them at those sorts of places.

      I have no fear & will try on a bra over my clothes to see if it will fit right – & try to be good about the correct size of my underpants….However, here’s a trick to get a few more wearings out of a pair of bikinis which are gettting too tight: You can cut up the side of the bikini to the elastic, thus widening the top by a few inches – try one side & if still too tight, do the next. It won’t really show much & you will get quite a few more washings out of them before the rest of it goes, too.

      Good luck & take a look at my blog @

      PS re scarves – Whenever I find some nice sporty scarves (mostly cotton) at the dollar stores, I try to buy them in a range of colors. I have even found good deals in knockoff large European-style scarves in polyester at
      a Korean bargain store & again, stocked up! Sometimes these little bargain stores will seem to have buyers with an eye – if they do, keep a look out at their stores for interesting finds for cheap.

      PPS I love indulging in headbands (some of them nowadays are almost like little 60’s HATS). So again , when I find some at 99 cents, I stock up in various colors. I would never buy a plastic headband from anywhere but a 99 cent store – & that goes for the clip barettes, and covered elastics too. Go to a drug store & see the difference in the prices THERE. So once again, the aim is to be on the hunt, know what you need & them stock up when youu see a good deal. A few weeks ago I even found a deal in large hairpins on a new card at a local SALVATION ARMY?? That’s the way it goes

  • mamma-cat

    I’d say it’s good to find a balance. I’m a college student, and for once I don’t really have the money to buy expensive stuff. Secondly, I like to experiment and my style often changes, so I prefer not to spend a lot of money on items I may not even like next year. I buy jeans maybe once or twice a year, I stick to one style, classic colors (black, blue, grey) and allow for a medium budget, because it’s a piece of clothing I’ll wear almost daily.

    Skirts, shirts and sweaters are the part where I tend to spring less money per item in order to buy more of them. I prefer having 3 cheap shirts over having one expensive one. It would bore the hell out of me. Dresses I also buy cheap, as I don’t really have too many opportunities to wear them and I don’t like spending a lot of money on something I might only wear twice.

    One thing I don’t like to buy cheap are shoes. I’m not exactly a shoe person, I buy maybe like 2-4 pairs of footwear a year, depending on how long they last – sneakers, classic boots, high heels if necessary, ballerinas if the old ones wore out. Shoes need to be comfy, otherwise they mess with your posture, cause back pains, etc. So no budget shoes.

    I suppose one day I will have a job that requires more serious clothing, I will opt to spend more on long lasting items. So far there has been no need for it.

    • mamma-cat

      I should mention I live in a country where H&M is the cheapest it gets. We don’t have dollar stores. Second hand shops aren’t cheap either, because they import from other countries.

  • Seize-ah Tee

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    Please email me at [email protected]

    -Live G.O.O.D.

  • kt

    I always choose to spend well on good leather shoes, I have good shoes that are over 10 years old and still look relatively new, due to a regular polish and heel mend. I actually have special occasion shoes that are probably even older and came about when I first stopped growing.

    Clothes are a little different. I find I buy a good-ish pair of trousers and tops that reflect the style of the season but are possibly a little classical in style, that suits me better, and strangely enough, if I pop them into a box when they are very out of style, I find 5 years later, I have a top I can wear again that is in fashion. I do have some very classic clothes that I spent a lot more on that still come out for that formal occasion and look fantastic, but for the “wear it to death” clothes I’m not as high in expense. I have found that instead of buying matching trousers and jacket for work, I tend to buy one good jacket (say wool blend) and a number of similar trousers and I still have the jackets and the trousers have moved onto “trouser-heaven”. This has meant, over the years of working the trousers are really all I buy (not a skirt person, if you are wondering)
    In conclusion: Blouses and shirts (most cheap-ish) are really the way to reflect the current trends, so the rest of the outfit in a classic, moderate-expense style, this is a good way to get 10 years plus use out of your clothes. I tend to buy a range of colours reflecting the trends of the season, with basics (black usually) in the classic stuff. And if you think about it, a $500 jacket that lasts you 10 years, or more, is only $50/ year, which is probably far less than that cheaper ($100) jacket that is so seasonal and the material is so cheap that you really do want to throw it away at the end of the season.

    • Keren

      Very helpful. Thanks for comparing practicality, season, price and durability. This helped me put my own clothing choices in perspective.

  • Kargra

    I agree with everything you just said also a huge part of find quality garments is the fabric because you could have well made but cheap fabric. Check the label to find fabric blends.

  • KVM Switches

    Many online merchants offer exceptional deals in their outlet sections. Keep an eye out for free shipping offers and you’ll score some great deals without even leaving your house.

  • Charada

    High quality clothing is expensive. But think about how great you would look and feel wearing a pair of pants that makes you look like a million dollars instead of 10 pairs that don’t flatter your figure and end up taking space in your closet.

    I plan to make a clothing budget and make a list of things that I really need in my wardrobe and just buy a few pieces in the next 12 months.

  • Laurice | Fashion Fit Out

    Your blog is very inspiring and I can’t get over the content on this article so am just simply filling some encouraging support from me! I appreciate your wonderful ideas and wish you a good continuation. All the best for all your blogging efforts.

  • Achill

    I don’t agree with this article because I don’t buy clothes and plan to wear them for 10 years. I like to switch things out pretty quickly, so I buy more disposable clothes. To me, even Target is pricey.

  • Matt Beaudoin

    my grandfather always taught me that new clothing can look cheap, but quality clothing shows its quality long after its worn. In this day and age of discount big box stores, I’m unsure where to find the quality clothing. Even some ‘top designers’ are selling their names and the quality is made to a price point.

    I’ve been buying pieces second hand for a while, but the Walmart-esque carp is beginning to dominate the GoodWill and Salvation Army stores now. I need to adjust my approach.

  • Kittykat987987

    thank you your article helped me get a good grade on my project

  • Daryl


    This was a rather insightful article as I essentially found myself in a similar position. Certainly I have always enjoyed quality. However, as a bargain shopper I am learning to elevate my prowess in search of yet higher end designer pieces. For me this is a learning experience but an enjoyable one. AG Jeans over polo, or Burberry I also find tasteful. At time I can only sense that something is of nice quality and cant quite identify how with more acute accuracy. Your explanation of what to look for is useful. I am interested to learn and gather any tricks you may have. Its just fun to shop and go on the hunt, right. Any way, thank you much.

    Warm Regards,

    Daryl G

  • Hollyn

    I completely agree! I have been buying only high quality clothes, purses, jewelry, ETC, for a while now and I am so happy about the results. My (on sale) Michael Kors bag is 3 years old and still looks brand new! I tend to buy most of my stuff in neutral colors so I can wear them with everything else I already have. :)

  • asivnkid

    Agreed people on school hate on me for buying from thrift store but i get rlly good quality stuff from their. for me fast fashion brands dosent fit me (gets too fuckin big after 1 wash ) Specially im a skinny jeans lover. No fast fashion jeans ever satisfied me with their skinny jeans as much as my tommy hilfiger denim doing.

  • OnWeb Media

    It’s a nice information about buying quality clothing. We have always wanted to get modern fashion collections in affordable rates. For quality fashion guide I trust Thomas Pink and have been very satisfied.

  • Lisa

    This is what I do now and I love it! I’m a student so I don’t have lots of money, but I started buying alot of quality stuff (I LOVE Ralph LAuren sweaters!) Secondhand, 20 bucks for one – and am so much happier with less but good clothes instead with a closet full of nothing-to-wear.

  • Meritxell PanequeHall

    Yes, your are right. What I normally do is buy in sales, I mean second or third sales, when you can’t find many sizes and maybe you can’t find whatever you want but you should to try it because perhaps you are lucky. Yes, you should know when the sales starts and when the sales finishes and go around time to time and check the clothes that you want to buy.
    Thanks for your blog

  • ice cream

    heyyy this sucks! im trying to do a report and this was absoultely the opposite of helpful!

  • James James

    A few good quality, well made, high end clothes in the closet is good. In particular, some styles seem to be in style all the time. However, if you are purchasing fashion pieces that are just trendy, go for the cheap option. After a few months they will be worn and for the charity box, but they will also be dated. Summer fashions, beach wear seem to be good for one season. AA and VS are good examples of clothes that when they are out of fashion can be thrown out.

  • rdzk

    Would add, know your colors and style; classic is an enduring staple. Clothes, bags, and luggage from Outdoors/Sporting/etc–llbean rei, big5, adidas, etc deliver great value and other time- and energy-savers as ease of washing and fast drying! More features as zipping pockets, clips, and additional weather-worth qualities. Time truth: cannot afford cheap!

  • Lori Click Reim

    I would love to know the names of some good quality designers that are not the same as the ones you hear every day. I had not heard of James Perse so I will on ebay for something to see if it is what I like. Any other suggestions?

  • Ty

    I totally agree with this! I just feel like I’m not very good at knowing when something is quality. Is it the same if you can definitely tell if it’s not quality? haha I’m tired of going to little boutiques and finding super crappy tops for like 45 dollars. It’s so ridiculous! I really need some suggestions of places with high quality clothing that’s still okay on a budget. Thanks for writing this post!