6 Shopping Tips to Look Good for Less

A couple of years ago, I quit my job at a large law firm in midtown Manhattan in order to attend a conservatory of theatre arts full-time. I showed up for my first ballet class with a leotard that was extremely high-cut and bright red underwear that was extremely not –let’s just say that I looked more like a baboon than a ballerina. I remember sticking my head out of the sweaty dance studio during that embarrassing first class and seeing the bustling high-rises across town where I used to have my own office and administrative assistant… an entirely different life!

Financially-speaking, breaking free of the “golden handcuffs” also had its own set of ramifications — some fun, others, less so. But I am happy to report that although “less money, less problems” isn’t exactly the corollary of “‘mo money, ‘mo problems,” I have been able to make do with less in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Predictably, I stopped taking cabs and bought a monthly subway pass, I learned to cook and ate out less, I drank more beer and less martinis, I said good-bye to my nail salon and hello to Sally Hansen. As someone who loves clothes, and living in a city like New York where there is a constant barrage of women wearing the latest designs, I realized that I had to figure out some innovative ways to keep my wardrobe budget in line without giving up on my style horse hobby.

1. Heighten your standards.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when I was making more any money, I had lower standards for purchasing clothes and accessories. If I looked good in two out of three angled mirrors in the changing room, I’d probably buy it. If the arch of the shoes didn’t perfectly follow my natural arch, but was otherwise what I had been searching for, I’d get it. As a result, I ended up with a lot of mediocre pieces in my closet, and a never completely satisfied shopping list. Now, I am much more firm about my “standards to buy”, and I’ve finally accepted that scouting for the perfect black leather handbag can take a very long time. I regularly reject items for not fitting perfectly, for having an unruly fabric, for not having all the features that I was looking for. This has cut down on a lot of unnecessary purchases.

2. Reduce your online shopping.

Visiting sites such as Gilt, Yoox, Rue La La, and the myriad shoe sites out there were a daily indulgence for me, and I didn’t really scrutinize my purchases because I often felt the adrenaline of these “flash sale” sites where, if you hesitate on an item for even an extra second, it will get sold out from under you. In order to resist the temptation of online shopping, I removed myself from daily email lists from these sites, and when possible, subscribed to their weekly mailings. This way, I naturally forgot about checking on these sites, and now might go on them on a monthly, instead of daily, basis. Online shopping is fun and you can often score really amazing deals –but at my current budget, it is too expensive to maintain as a habit. On the rare occasions when I do make an online purchase, it is a much more deliberate process.

3. Recognize quality over labels.

After ditching the online shopping habit, I reacquainted myself with brick and mortar stores such as Uniqlo and H&M. Some might argue that these stores skew a little younger, but there’s such high turnover, and so many different pieces, that I have not been reduced to dressing like a teenager. I have also been able to find great summer tops at Target and well-made underwear at Marshall’s and Century 21. The main cost here is probably time, and you do kind of feel like you’re helping a hoarder sort her clutter, looking for hidden treasure. In terms of quality, although I don’t quite understand the economics of it, I have been able to find a lot of durable, well-fitting, well-made pieces at H&M that are on par with, or even better than the fancier labels I was courting as a lawyer.

4. Transcend trends.

I used to be a sucker for trends. Studs? I’ll try ‘em. Platforms? Give me five pair! But being on a student budget, I no longer respond to every craving for the latest garb. Just like how you’re suppose to wait twenty minutes before you can tell if you’re full or not, I make myself sit back and evaluate whether I even like this trend or not.

5. DIY.

If I like really like a new trend, I try to see if I have anything that I can do to follow it. For example, last fall all the stores and fashionable people were beginning to wear those 1990s Elaine-ish peg leg pants –wide on top, cinched by the ankle. I saw them at Zara and really wanted to get a pair, but then I realized that I could easily convert my existing pants to give them this “new” silhouette. If I can’t DIY a trend, I tell myself to wait a few months. If I still like the trend at that time, then maybe I’ll buy it.

6. Approximation.

Even if you decide to buy something on trend, there is no reason you need to buy it from the most expensive store carrying that trend! For instance, I really liked the loose satin tank tops that I saw girls wearing in the city. Instead of buying them at JCrew or Club Monaco, I found them at Target for under $20 each. With trial and error, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can spend less on and still look great, such as jeans, t-shirts, willowy drapey tops, shorts, and summer dresses.

This article was first published on Corporette.

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