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How to Buy Quality Clothing on a Budget


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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.

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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)

Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.