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6 Fashion Rules to Ignore to Save Money on Clothes


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It’s one thing to consider yourself fashionable, but it’s another thing to stubbornly follow so-called “fashion rules” despite a tight personal budget. Sure, “Vogue” might promise that pastels are hot this season, but you don’t need to follow every industry trend and rule to be considered fashionable.

From an industry standpoint, so-called rules are typically put in place to entice you to spend more money. After all, if it was deemed acceptable to wear white after Labor Day, you might not be as anxious to invest in darker colors come September.

Fashion Rules to Break

The trick to staying fashionable and stylish is to create a balance between what’s trending now and what you naturally gravitate toward. By combining your personality with what’s on store shelves, you can save money while still pulling off a look that keeps you dressed to the nines. Therefore, you can ignore rules that are, quite frankly, made up by industry pros who don’t know much about you, your budget, or your lifestyle. Here are several rules not to follow.

1. Designer Knows Best

Every spring and fall, the designers of the world gather in New York City to showcase their latest wares. Magazines, TV channels, newspapers, and blogs are all on hand to cover the trends and pick out which designers are the hottest for the season. But all of the pomp and circumstance is a ruse, created to entice consumers, like you, to buy. You begin lusting after a designer bag you see on your favorite blogger’s site, and suddenly you’re making a costly purchase because all the magazines, blogs, and coverage swear that it’s worth the investment.

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We’re conditioned by the fashion industry to believe that designer automatically equals better quality. But much of the time, you’re paying for the clout, not the product. It’s true that materials used by luxury brands can be better quality – an ostrich handbag is definitely longer-lasting than, say, polyurethane. But often, those high-end fabrics, finishes, and accessories are unnecessary. You might pay a premium price for a brand name product, when a moderately priced one would work just as well.

When in doubt, configure the cost-per-wear of designer goods versus moderately priced stuff. The more often you’re going to wear, use, or carry something, the easier it is to justify a higher cost, better materials, and designer craftsmanship. If it’s a trendy item, something that you’ll only use occasionally, or something that’s for casual wear (versus a well-made professional suit), avoid the pricier designer versions and look for lower-cost alternatives.

Designer Knows Best

2. Stay Season-Specific

You’ve probably heard it hundreds of times: No white after Labor Day. But while wearing your favorite white jacket in October might be frowned upon in the fashion world, it makes good budget sense.

The industry specifies when you can wear certain clothes, such as pastels in the spring, jewel tones in the fall, and heavier fabrics in the winter. But it seriously depletes your closet resources, and many people aren’t even aware of these so-called rules anyway.

Obviously, some fashion rules are actually functional. For instance, saving heavy fabrics (such as cord) for colder months makes sense. But if there’s a lack of function behind the reason for the rule, why waste money on new duds just because the seasons are turning?

By wearing your clothes year-round, you extend your wardrobe. You can even stay on trend by mixing your year-round clothes appropriately or by adding season-savvy accessories.

Try some of these ideas to ditch seasonal dressing while staying on trend:

  • Wear frosty pastels like mint and icy-blue with gold jewelry during the winter.
  • After Labor Day, choose white with a yellow or gold tone, and pair it with jewel colors, such as turquoise and plum. Then, wear blue-toned white with neons during summer.
  • Invest in fabrics that can be worn year round, such as chambray, rather than season-specific fabrics, like linen.
  • Swap out your shoes. Strappy sandals work with a light summer dress in warmer weather, but you can add boots and a chunky cardigan with the same dress for fall.
  • Use tights to wear summer skirts and dresses year round.

When you stop thinking of your clothes as seasonal, you essentially double your wardrobe and have less of a need to kick off different weather with a budget-busting shopping spree.

3. Accessories Must Match

Besides being downright archaic, the guideline that your shoes, belt, and purse must all match can totally bust your budget. If you’re stuck scouring for the perfect brown belt to match your new heels, while also searching for the right purse to coordinate, each new pair of shoes is going to cost a lot more than just the pair of shoes. Not only are you buying accessories in threes, but you might also buy pricier goods just to get the right match.

Instead, keep it simple. Choose neutral accessories to mix and match. The basics are black, brown, and tan, but you can also sprinkle in pseudo-neutrals, such as red or even leopard.

Not only will you save money by mixing your accessories, you’ll also add interest and depth to your outfits, making you look even more fashionable. Personally, I love the simplicity of having just one handbag in black, rather than shuffling my things between several purses.

4. Buy All New, All the Time

Fashion is always about the next best thing. From new designers, to the latest trends, to sales in the mall, to new collections, it’s pretty easy to get the impression that if you want to be stylish, you must always have new clothes in your closet.

But if your clothing budget doesn’t allow for a revolving door policy, one of two things happen: Either you overspend to get new stuff, or you end up feeling unfashionable because you can’t afford the new jacket you’ve been eying.

A better alternative is to purchase secondhand clothes. Not everyone is comfortable buying used goods, but you sure can score some amazing deals – even on name brand items you couldn’t ordinarily afford.

Here are some of my favorite sources to score great deals on secondhand clothes.

  • Thrift Stores. Typically, thrift stores take donations from the public, with proceeds from sales benefiting a charity. Thrift stores are among the cheapest sources for secondhand clothes, generally charging approximately $5 for a top, $10 for a pair of jeans, and $15 for a dress. However, because thrift stores are less choosey, you might need to do some digging to find the real gems.
  • Consignment Stores. My personal favorite for secondhand goods, consignment stores either purchase clothes from private sellers, or sell the clothes and split the profits with the original owners. Because the consignment shop is selling for a profit, the clothes are typically in like-new condition, even if they’re a little pricier than what you might find at a thrift shop. Expect to pay around $20 for a name-brand shirt, or around $30 to $40 for name-brand and designer jeans and dresses.
  • Clothing Swap. Get together with friends for a clothing swap party, and have each person bring a predetermined amount of clothes. Everyone in attendance can pick and choose some great used stuff while clearing out space in their own closets.
  • Online Auctions and Classifieds. While you might be wary about buying secondhand clothes online, remember that many sites offer seller reviews. Check to make sure the seller is reputable, and you should be able to buy with confidence.

Buying secondhand becomes more natural when you realize that it’s a different experience than shopping at the mall. A little extra digging and elbow grease might be required, but you’ll yield like-new brand-name clothes at deep discounts.

Buy All New

5. No Mixing Metals

Silver, gold, and other metals used for clothing accessories can cost a pretty penny. And in years past, with the fashion world turning up its nose at mixing those metals, it often meant buying a few different “accessories wardrobes” in gold and silver to make sure that your earrings, bracelets, rings, and necklaces remained segregated.

Fortunately, mixing metals has become more and more au courant as the years have gone by, so feel free to wear your grandma’s vintage gold ring with your favorite silver watch. The trick with mixing metals is to play with your proportions. By wearing a dainty silver necklace with chunky gold bangles, the two metals complement rather than compete. Suddenly, your metal accessories have a new life.

6. Buy Event-Specific Clothes

It’s your best friend’s wedding, and your high school boyfriend will be there. A reason to go shopping and buy a new dress, right? But if you buy something with only one event in mind, that hot red dress may lament for years untouched in the back of your closet. Sure, celebrities might get to wear one-time red carpet gowns, but if you’re stretching your budget, you’re better off looking for multi-use purposes.

By choosing items that can be worn again and again, you can still shine with a small budget. Take the classic little black sheath dress, for example: It can be worn with a statement necklace and sky high heels for your friend’s wedding, with a black blazer and sensible pumps for work, and even with colored tights and an embellished cardigan for a date. You might look amazing in that red sequin dress, but splurging for a one-time use means your bank account might not look as hot.

If you can’t live without something amazing for that once-in-a-lifetime event, consider renting a special-occasion dress instead. Sites such as Rent The Runway and Lending Luxury allow you to choose from showstopping designer dresses and gowns, with prices starting at around $70 for a three-day rental. The outfit is shipped to you with a prepaid return label so you can wear the item once and send it back without feeling guilty that you spent too much on a one-time use item.

Event Specific Clothes

Final Word

It’s important to remember that as far as rules go, fashion commandments are fairly arbitrary. They really only have the legitimacy that you give them. Cultivating your own signature style and then peppering trends of your choosing is more fashion-forward than treating “Vogue” like your own personal style bible. By ditching all the red tape, you might find you dress with a little more creativity, even on a shoestring budget.

What fashion rules do you adhere to? Which ones do you ignore?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.