Sunday, March 16, 2008

Part II: In which I decide how to remedy the situation

As I mentioned the other day, I need to do some wardrobe upgrading. This is not the first time I’ve tried it, and truthfully it’s worked every time I’ve done it, I just haven’t aimed high enough. I went from oversized guys’ t-shirts with stupid sayings on them to fitted girls’ t-shirts with stupid sayings on them to plain girls’ t-shirts from Target, but now I’m looking for shirts that aren’t t-shirts and quality stuff instead of cheapy stuff--and I'm going to stay out of the juniors' department!

Previously, I’ve created a clothing budget or taken a pre-determined amount of money and gone a little crazy in a short span of time. I usually wind up with some good stuff out of these shopping trips, but frequently I also come back with stuff that either doesn’t fit the new wardrobe, doesn’t fit my body, or doesn’t fit anything else that I own. Then I end up holding on to it for months or years until I finally admit to myself that I am never going to wear it and donate it to a thrift store. I can currently think of at least one blazer in my closet that I bought this way: I wanted a khaki blazer because I saw an outfit on TLC’s What Not to Wear that I wanted to recreate. However, I couldn’t find a khaki blazer that quite fit the bill, so I bought the one that was the closest. I should have waited, because I’ve since seen khaki blazers at H&M that were perfect, but I wouldn’t buy them because I already have a khaki blazer hanging in my closet.

So. Step one for me right now is a very serious closet assessment. I need to figure out specifically what I’m lacking, keeping in mind my goal (having clothes to wear to book parties that my boss is sending me on, then upgrading my wardrobe in general).

Step two is getting ideas. Some of my immediate coworkers dress in such a way that give me something to aim for, so I have real-world ideas (I have found that no fashion magazine on the planet gives ideas for real-life women—the clothing is either really expensive, really faddish, or just unrealistic for a real life). I’m also perusing the Lucky Shopping Manual, something I finally got off PaperbackSwap. I love this book. I haven’t found their magazine to be much more than a catalog of advertisements, but the book is genius. And I’m paying attention to a store window in the first floor of my office building—they put together the most fantastic outfits, and I’m going to identify what it is that I like about them to figure out what style I want to achieve.

I’ve also signed up for the email list of stores that have intimidated me a little in the past. Express, Ann Taylor Loft, J. Crew, NY&Co—this is along the lines of where I want to start looking. These emails will hopefully both give me ideas and let me know about upcoming sales or send coupons! Any other ideas of stores I should be checking? I have not had good luck at TJ Maxx here in New York, but I should probably add them as well as other discount department stores like Filene’s and Loehmann’s. The Limited does not have stores here. Other suggestions are welcome!

Step three is figuring out how to pay for it. I’m not going to rework the budget to fit new clothes in there. I did a lot of thinking about this, but ultimately rebuilding my emergency fund and doing it quickly is more important to me (and I don’t *need any new clothes, in that I *could muddle through with what I have). So the money for the new wardrobe is having to come from other places.

First, I have a high balance in my checking account right now. Part of it is the bit of my bonus that I earmarked for things around the house—I estimated that I’d need $300-400 for additional things and wound up spending maybe $30. I think I’m going to repurpose that money for clothing.

Second, any found or earned money can go for this. My birthday is coming up so any birthday money I receive can be spent on clothes. Likewise, all money from my freelance work (once I set aside 30% for taxes). Money that I don’t spend from any budget category—I wonder if that will encourage me to be super-cheap and not spend the cash. Also, I have about $13 on an Express gift card—and they never expire!

Third, I’m planning to start shopping next month instead of right away. Apparently, April is the best month to find spring clothes, so I can wait a few weeks to get some better deals. This will also give me some time to put more money aside. It’s going to be an on-going project, in the sense that I really do need stuff for all seasons, but I’m trying to get myself out of the mindset of one shopping trip to take care of all my needs for the year, which clearly hasn’t been working out so well.

So, there you have it. My plan to conquer the world, or at least my closet, hopefully as painlessly as possible. Stay tuned for the next update, wherein I make my shopping list.


  1. Here is a resource that might help you as you're buying some spring clothing: She is a boutique owner who puts together great outifts that are very cute and polished, but also fairly breezy and casual. I always love checking the site to see what she has put together recently.

  2. ive learned that it's very important to have classic mix and match pieces in your wardrobe: black pants, black skirt; brown, gray and white blouses that you can throw together without looking like you don't have any change of clothes.

    i like wearing a lot of black too which is always fashionable and easy to put together. work clothes can be boring but you know, we're looking for longevity... hopefully someday you'll make enough money that you'll be able to replenish your wardrobe every week.

    have u tried scouting for clothes in thrift stores? i always find black pants/skirts and whatnots in value village and other 2ndhand clothing stores on the cheap.

  3. I buy almost all of my work clothes at Ann Taylor. Yes, they are more expensive than Ann Taylor Loft, but the quality is better, it's most classic, and most of the stuff doesn't go out of style. I have a lot of black, charcoal gray, and gray, which makes it easy to mix and match pieces. I still have two pairs of pants from Ann Taylor that I bought 4 years ago that I still wear. For the first two years that I owned the items, I would wear them at least daily. I did rip the lining on both pants, but I think that was cause I gained weight. The outside still looks great and they don't need to be ironed too often. Also, if you get the items on sale, they're not that expensive. Both of those pairs of pants were about $40/each. The cost per wear for me is probably around $0.25

  4. I totally agree with anonymous 9:43; sticking to a color palette makes professional dressing so much easier. I built a lot of my professional wardrobe around black and grey for base colors, and stick to black for dress shoes. One of the easiest yet classiest outfits in the world is a good fitting pair of black dress pants with any color top, and maybe a black cardigan. I stick to simple shapes, and rely on accessories to mix up my look - I buy jewelry on Etsy or make my own. Also, I think you mentioned once that you live in Astoria? There are two discount stores on Steinway Street that I go to sometime - El Mundo Discount and Theos & Theos (not 100% sure if the latter is still open). You can often find good deals there, too. Otherwise, it's Filene's Basement and Ebay all the way for me. If you check New York Magazine or, you can also find out about sample sales - some of them offer very good prices on professional clothing.

  5. Other affordable options are Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. Remember, building a quality wardrobe takes time. After assessing your current wardrobe, make a list of clothing needs in their order of importance. Sometimes you may come across an item that is of lower priority on your list; but is at an amazing price or too cute to pass up. With that being said, incorporate a small amount of flexibility when building your wardrobe. Do not underestimate the power of one funky piece that gives you a little edge. For example, I purchased an iridescent ring from a thrift store in Atlanta's Little Five Points several years ago for $3. I love that ring and it adds an interesting detail when I am wearing, for example, a black suit. It is a little something that is unexpected and shows a bit of my personality. Thrift stores, street vendors, or retail stores such as Claire's have cute, funky, and inexpensive fun pieces. These items are cheap enough not to break your bank; funky enough to show your whimsical side; and if you decide that it doesn't work for you by next year, it did not cost much in the first place. Another idea is hosting a clothes exchange. People bring good clothing items they no longer want and hopefully everyone will leave with something "new".


Thanks for commenting!