Ways to Stretch Your Clothing Budget
Finding flattering jeans or comfortable, stylish shoes can be hard work — and take a lot of time and money. So once you’ve found what you’re looking for, it pays to take care of it. Most people think that once the hunt is over and the purchase is made, your job is done. But a little regular wardrobe maintenance will dramatically extend the life of your hard earned and lovingly acquired clothing. Here are five things you can do to get more out of your wardrobe (and spend less in the long run).
Commit to Regular Shoe Maintenance
Shoes, perhaps more than anything else in your closet, take a daily beating. So it’s that much more important that we take extra measures to ensure they stay in shape long enough to walk us through the years. Take every pair of shoes you really like and care about to the cobbler (including and especially unworn new shoes) and ask to have rubber soles put on the bottoms. When the soles eventually wear down, have them replaced — and repeat indefinitely.
It might seem like an unnecessary investment at first, but the life of your shoes will increase exponentially. Assuming you’ve purchased a well-made shoe, preserving and replacing the sole will keep them in step with you for years. And with high heels, be mindful of when the heel tips wear down, and don’t wait too long to replace them.
Invest in Tailoring
Even more so than brand or fabric quality, the fit of a garment is the detail that takes a piece from good to great. Too often we buy items we love that are on sale, but that don’t fit perfectly — then let them sit in our closets unworn, because they’re not quite right. Or our bodies change shape, and our go-to dress starts to collect dust.
Identify whatever doesn’t fit you properly and take it to a good tailor. Be sure to pay attention to hemlines (if you’re on the shorter side, skirts and dresses will likely need to come up a bit), the waist (if your pants gap at the waist, have them taken in; same goes for loose blouses and dresses) and under the arms (bust size will change how this fits; adjust accordingly). A little sartorial nip and tuck can make even the most modest pieces look like custom clothing.
Embrace DIY Clothing Edits
One article of clothing can have nine lives, but only cost as much as one. Small, affordable transformations to pieces you already own can refresh your look and multiply the perceived number of items in your wardrobe.
Play around with silhouette: Remove shoulder pads or belt a sweater or tunic to add shape and change where the eye falls. Add belt loops and cinch a winter coat. Replace boring buttons with more dramatic novelty buttons, like some of these (just be sure to measure the size of the old ones to ensure the new ones will fit through the holes). Bring a more conservative piece to life by scrunching or rolling your sleeves to reveal an inner pattern or by giving your jacket collar a partial pop (a jacket collar is generally sturdier and more inclined toward standing up than a shirt).
Extend the Life of Your Jeans
Jeans — industrial workwear turned fashion staple — are often the most coveted items in a closet. But not just any jeans: jeans that make your butt look great, have the perfect wash or have just the right leg for your ankle boots. So once you find your dream jeans, you better take care of them.
Start by having them professionally hemmed and be sure to ask the tailor to reattach the original bottoms (otherwise the stylishly faded edges will disappear and it’ll be obvious they’ve been hemmed). When you wash your jeans, turn them inside out to preserve the color and slow the fading process.
Remember that denim can be worn several times between washings. (Real “denim heads” forgo traditional washing altogether and instead put them in the freezer to kill bacteria. Sound strange? Watch this tutorial and give it a try.) If you do opt for a more old fashioned washing machine routine, hang them out to dry — instead of heating them in the dryer. And if you still have some old flared jeans that fit you perfectly around the butt and hips but have slightly dated legs, pay a tailor to taper them from the knee down — it’s a much cheaper alternative to purchasing new jeans.
Wearing your clothes can shorten their lifespan, but often it’s the washing and drying that takes the biggest toll. Hang dry your clothes whenever possible, particularly items made of delicate fibers and all technical, athletic fabrics which are easily damaged by the heat of the dryer. If you must machine dry, use a cool setting. Wash your hosiery and bras in a delicates bag. It’s too easy for bra hooks to catch on other items and do harm, and loose hosiery will get tangled and be more vulnerable to snags. Excessive dry cleaning damages the fibers of your clothes (and weighs on your wallet), so look for washable clothes whenever possible.
Keep in mind that both linen and cashmere are machine washable — and machine washing will make your cashmere unbelievably soft! (Just don’t put your cashmere and linen in the dryer, unless you’re planning to pass them on to a child.) Keep your whites looking like new by adding OxiClean powder every time you wash, and invest in the OxiClean spray for stain removal. It’s magic on even stubborn stains.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is the founder of Sociology of Style (formerly Closet Catharsis), her wardrobe and image consulting company, where she is the "thinking person's stylist." Find out more and follow her on Twitter.