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Splurge or Bargain? Making Fashion & Clothes Shopping Affordable


Part of what makes a great wardrobe is having lots of choices and plenty of variety. Even a person with the most extensive closet in the world probably gets sick of wearing the same outfits over and over again, which is why you should build your wardrobe on well-made staples and supplement them with cheap accessories, shoes, and other trendy items. That way, you can change your wardrobe each season without abusing your bank account.

Unfortunately, unless you’re appearing on a fashion makeover show, you’re probably not going to get a complete wardrobe overhaul. But that’s okay – you don’t have to spend a ton to look great! Instead of worrying about the latest pricey pump, look for ways that you can arrange your clothes based on your specific budget.

By building your wardrobe on the best basics, you can change your look with cheap fashion accessories and shoes to make your basics look new again each season. However, it’s important to know which items you should invest the most money in, and which items should be purchased at bargain prices.

Splurge or Bargain?

A seasoned shopper knows the concept of investment shopping: Quality, pricier clothing usually lasts far longer than cheaper clothes. The result of spending more now is less of a need to later repurchase the same item.

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Before you decide which items you should invest in, take stock of your lifestyle. If you’re the type of person who wears the same two or three pairs of shoes over and over, it’s best to spend more money on footwear. If you’re a jeans-lover, spend the dough on a well-made pair and you’ll save money by not needing to buy poor-quality pants in the future.

Here are some additional ideas on how you can allocate your fashion budget for big purchases and bargain finds:

Pants and Jeans

If you wear pants on a daily basis for your lifestyle or job, splurge on a few perfect pairs. Grab the best fit for a pair of jeans, a pair of business casual pants, and a power skirt or a power suit.

Once you have the basics, you can look for bargains on supplemental bottoms, like a trendy pair of trouser jeans or bright skinny jeans. Since you probably won’t wear them daily, it’s fine to grab a cheaper pair. I snagged a pair of red skinnies for $19, and while I love them, I’m glad that I didn’t spend any more – they aren’t going to be in style forever.


You can score some serious deals on cardigans and sweaters, especially at the end of the winter season. They’re perfect for layering and are generally low in price, so you probably don’t need to splurge. Of course, if you’re a complete stickler for quality and feel, a pricier cashmere might be worth the expense, but you can usually spend less, especially if you only wear sweaters through the fall and winter.


Blazers just might be my favorite type of clothing. With a strong shoulder and the perfect “boyfriend” length, they match just about anything in my closet. I’ve worn a blazer with cocktail dresses and jeans, and as part of a modern power suit.

Because it’s so versatile, I was happy to splurge on a blazer that I really loved. Since it’s a larger piece, you can expect to pay more, but anytime a piece can be used as part of more than five outfits, it’s a good candidate for a splurge.

Affordable Fashion Blazers


Tops are items that you can save on when it comes to your fashion budget. Blouses, tees, tanks, and other tops can be mixed and matched into different outfits, and the shapes, colors, and patterns change from season to season.

You can score deals on tops on the clearance rack and leave a store feeling like you snagged some great pieces on the cheap. Can’t find anything in the store? Check online. Most store websites have a larger selection of inventory so you can load up on different styles and colors without spending a ton of your budget. You’ll add plenty of options to cure the “nothing to wear” blues.

The only time it makes sense to splurge on a top is if it’s a basic one (a crisp, white button-down, for example) that you’ll get a lot of wear out of and need to last. Everything else? Bargain hunting territory.


Splurge on a good-quality pair of the following: a pair of boots, a pair of flats, and a pair of heels. Your feet will thank you when it’s time to don your heels for a wedding. More expensive shoes are usually better quality, more comfortable, and will last longer.

Once you’ve splurged on basics that you’ll wear forever, fill in the gaps with trendier colors, patterns, and styles. If you look in my closet, you’ll find my “splurge” heels: a basic but beautifully made pair of chocolate Michael Kors pumps. But you’ll also find other pairs that are trendier and less comfortable (purple leopard print platforms, anyone?) that I got as a steal at a end-of-season sale.


Accessory fashion changes so much from season to season, so only spend real money on those that will never go out of style.  Accessories can help pump up your look with a tiny investment – instead of trying to change up your entire look, you can change your accessories and create an entirely new outfit.

Whether you love cocktail rings, statement necklaces, or bold earrings, don’t spend a ton on stuff that could get lost or look out of date in a matter of months. Seriously, you could set a budget of $20 and walk out of the store with an armload of new baubles to make your boring basics look new again.

Affordable Fashion Accessories

Final Word

Building a wardrobe is a lot like ordering dinner at a restaurant. By splurging on the main entrée and then adding cheaper sides, drinks, and desserts, you can build something satisfying. Focus on paying more for well-made basics, and leave the bargain hunting for the pieces that are supplemental. Voila! Instant style.

What tips do you have for saving money on fashion?

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.