Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How To Recession-Proof Your Wardrobe

Photo from California Closet

If there are two things that I love talking about, it's clothes and money.  All we are hearing on the news lately is how our economy is in the toilet.  We could be heading for a recession.  The stock market is lower than it's been in years. People are losing their retirement dollars in savings and 401ks.  Depressing stuff, isn't it?

Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the solution in our personal economies is to spend more. I couldn't care less about the country's economy if my own family's economy is wrecked. The solution for the country's economy may be to spend more, but for your economy the solution is to spend less until you get yourself into a better situation.  

Credit and debt has become so ingrained in out culture that we don't think twice about having debt and using credit.  We are not accustomed to hearing that we can't afford something.  If we can manage the payments, then we can afford it.  Just like the economy's bubble was busted, our personal expectations about our spending power will be as well.  This situation is a wakeup call for so many people.  Everyone is blaming the government and mortgage companies for this crisis and it's true that they were irresponsible with lending.  I was a mortgage broker for three years and I know very well how you could get a mortgage with terrible credit, bankruptcy, collections and downright despicable financial behavior.  However, just because it was allowed doesn't completely absolve each person for their irresponsibility.

Granted, marketing, ease of credit and general discontentment leads the average American family to constantly seek more, more, and more.  Too much is never enough in this society. Why else would minimalism be a radical choice of decorating or living?  It goes against the grain of our culture.  If you haven't done it already, now the difficult choices need to be made to balance your personal economy.  

One of the ways that investment, planning and common sense pays off is in our closets.  Over the years, I have invested in my wardrobe slowly.  I've also weeded out lesser quality and inappropriate things for my lifestyle.  A big accomplishment was to stop buying what I didn't need or wouldn't wear. Many of the ideas mentioned here are refreshers.  When you add the new perspective of improving your personal economy, I hope that these principles make it easier to accomplish.  

Timeless pieces:  Easy one!  T-shirts, turtlenecks, button down shirts and some pants and blue jeans won't go out of style before they wear out.  Buy styles that are clean-cut and versatile.  Stay away from something that screams HOT now because it will be cold later.  Even though almost everything cycles in and out, you can choose styles that will last you five years or more.

Quality over quantity:  How many times have I heard this?  It's easy if you are accustomed to buying at higher price points because those items are going to be better quality.  The key element I look for at any price point is the fabric. Banana Republic used to have top notch fabric, but now they are skimping with blends.  I have a sweater from 7 years ago that is 100% wool and looks like the day I bought it.  Most of their fabrics now will pill and look very used after the first season.  The exception is the men's department where they are still using wool, cotton, cashmere and silk.  The ladies get rayon, modal and other itchy substitutes.  You have to dig around the inside of the leg to find the fabric content.

Know thyself:  The more you focus on your own lifestyle, colors and fit for your body, the less fashion mistakes you will make and the more money you will save.  It makes shopping so much easier to know that you can't wear a certain item.  Crew neck tops look terrible on me.  

Take it back:  I have a rule that if I haven't worn something in two weeks, I take it back.  Maybe I love it, or it was a good deal but it doesn't matter because there is some reason I'm not wearing it.  It's better to have your money to work for you on another item.  Don't feel bad because there will be something else that steals your heart or is a good deal.  The only caveat here is end of season shopping.

Shop second hand stores:  Why not scavenge through a consignment shop, Goodwill or Ebay?  You never know what you might find. The way to be successful is to know brands and know good fabric.

Multitaskers:  This goes along with timeless pieces in your wardrobe.  There are items that you can use for many things.  Try to buy a solid cardigan that you can wear with many outfits instead of the one with a print or special color. It doesn't mean that it has to be black, but there may be a color that pops with many items in your wardrobe.  I bought a yellow bangle bracelet and see now that yellow goes will almost everything I own.  

Coordinating Colors:  Again, it bears repeating.  Try to coordinate your clothes around what looks good on you.  The smaller you want your wardrobe to be, the more all your clothes need to coordinate.  

Year round clothes:  I live in a climate that is warm most of the year, but even if you don't you can have a selection of items that go the distance through the year.  Some things obviously won't translate well and that's ok.  I'm thinking t-shirts, camis, and suits are some items that can be worn year round. Fabric here is again the key.  If you buy a linen or cotton suit, it has to be put up for the winter, even in Houston.  If you buy a tropical weight wool, garbardine or tri-acetate suit, you can wear it year round.  Doing so allows you to buy a better quality and pricier suit.  Ann Taylor and J. Crew are great for these investment pieces.  Steer clear of Express and The Limited for suits, in my opinion.  

Do you really need another black top?:  It seems that there are certain items that we are endlessly hunting.  I suppose it's the quest for the perfect one. I propose to you that you choose well, then be satisfied with the one or two that you have.  Some people like to have many black tops of different styles, but that is not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about the same color, same function, same style but somehow you end up with too many in your closet.  When you are shopping, notice if you do this and tell yourself to step away from the black tops.

Extended Life:  Since we're talking about economy, stretching our dollars and our wardrobe has to happen.  I bought a winter coat in Venice two years ago from a shop that sells quite trendy items.  Since I don't wear my coat all that long in the year it really hasn't worn out.  However I'm always thinking that I'd like one more basic, or just different.  I still like my old coat though and every year I talk myself out of buying a new one.  I stop to think that this coat can get me through the winter just fine.  When the time comes for a new one, I'll have had plenty of time to think of what I want to invest in next.

Take care of what you have:  More common sense, but it is really something that I've learned to do in the last couple of years.  Catching stains early is critical in keeping clothes stain free.  I wash most of our clothes and iron them.  I've read that dry cleaning makes clothes wear out faster, besides the toxic chemicals that reside in them.  I handwash all my bras so they last.  

Stay the same size:  Oh, how I'm talking to myself.  I always say that my clothes tell me my weight limit because once they get tight I have to cut back eating.  Right now is that time and the jeans are quite tight.  I refuse to buy a bigger size because I happen to like my clothes.  How many of you have several sizes of clothes in your closet?  The French use their clothes as a form of diet regime too.  They call it the "zipper method".  If you can't zip up the pants, you have to zip up the mouth.  Drink water instead of wine for awhile, or cut back on bread and fried foods.

Stores would love us to buy into the belief that our wardrobe can be new and perfect every season, but for most of us it is a work in progress.  We are always buying, tweaking, and trying to perfect our look and our wardrobe.  I would love to be that person who knows they need certain items and they just replace it every year.  A lot of people are, but if you are like me and struggle to find your personal style among the changing trends, changing seasons and evolving lifestyle, then be patient with yourself.  It may not ever be perfect, but it will always get better and better.  Creativity is free and you'll be so much better off and feel better about yourself when you decide to stop buying with credit and accumulating debt for clothes or anything else.  


La Belette Rouge said...

This blog post is so good that if I were you I would submit it to a newspaper. Really, it is so timely and I think a lot of women would find this piece so helpful. Please submit it!

I just realized that I did not have you on my blog roll and that was a sorry oversight. I am off to fix it.

And, I am going to print this excellent post!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, score!! This reminds me of another one of your very excellent blog posts from October of 2006 I think. (almost exactly two years to the day, it's been that long?)

I read and reread that post and it changed my approach to wardrobing in such a big way. It is a part of me now and the last two years have yielded some solid investments that will keep me content in this shakey economic climate. Thank you !!

The Closet Therapist said...

Belette-You are a gem! If nobody ever told you, you have the gift of encouragement! Thank you so much for the compliment. I am trying to get someone to call me back from the newspaper, but no luck yet. I might try a smaller, local magazine first.

Senegal Daily said...

I agree - excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog - great post! Very practical and I always love specific examples. I'm always prying myself away from black shirts. :) Can't wait to read through the archives.

3 Peanuts said...

GREAT post---I agree that it could be a newspaper or magazine article. I live in steamy Houston too;)

Unknown said...

What a great post - thanks for all the great tips!

Heather said...

Great post, great tips! Thanks!

Amber Schmidt said...

To heck with the wardrobe I just want that CLOSET in the picture! The list was fabulous! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post!

nicole said...

This was a great post! I'm currently in a self-imposed no new clothes season, and reading this was just what I needed. I can spend time identifying what I truly love in my wardrobe, eliminating what I don't wear, and figuring out what few new things I would like to have when the ban is lifted. Quality over quantity is one of the things I will definitely emphasize.

jerriann said...

Great Post! I am telling my daughter to read this. I am also telling myself to step away from the white shirts.


Anna Inman said...

I totally agree and abide by the "zipper method". When I graduated from college a few years ago and started working the pounds started to creep on. I didn't have the money or want to have to have bigger clothes. Why would I let myself get bigger?!! So instead of buying new clothes I signed up for the gym and can still wear those clothes years later.

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