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How to Squeeze the Absolute Most Out of Your Clothing Budget

Top tips for starting 2024 with more money and more style.

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photo illustration animation of clothing items leaving wallet
Domenic Bahmann
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After a splurgy holiday season, it’s time to prioritize two things: spending those gift cards you received and recovering from an indulgent spree of giving. The goal of both is getting the most out of your budget, especially your clothing budget.

These 10 tips can help you plan, buy and care for your clothes so you can maximize your wardrobe dollars.

The return on investment: In the finance world, it’s all about maximizing your money. In the wardrobe world, it’s all about meeting a need, whether practical or emotional. If you are looking for a comfortable pair of pants to run errands in, you will spend differently than if you are shopping for a fancy party or a dress for your high school reunion. One is practical clothing, the other something that makes us feel even more special, confident, relevant, sexy — you name it, fashion can evoke it.

Is it worth investing more for this emotional lift? And if so, how much more? Can I scale back on the practical to accommodate a seasonal splurge or two? These are questions to ask ourselves as we evaluate potential purchases.

Return to sender: Online retail has made it both easier and harder to shop. Easier in that there are more options to choose from and harder because you can’t tell how something will fit, look or feel until it lands in your mailbox. If an order arrives and isn’t exactly what you want, do not let it just sit there. Give yourself a deadline of a week or two and send it back if you’re still on the fence by then. Most online purchases must be returned within 30 days of the purchase date rather than the arrival date. Don’t waste money getting stuck with a dud!

Cost versus value: Not all clothing is created equal. You can find inexpensive items that will survive a few outings or costly pieces that can last several seasons. The sweet spot is a budget-friendly garment that looks better and lasts longer than its price tag suggests. Throw in bonus points if it’s fashionable, and you have the trifecta! This is the value proposition, which takes into account more than cost, but also the quality, longevity and relevance of a garment.

Pop-up sales: Finding an item on sale helps deliver that sweet spot in the value proposition — a great item at a budget-friendly price. End-of-season sales like those after the holidays are a given. But retailers are just as likely to have pop-up discounts at less predictable times. Signing up for email alerts on sales and coupons from your favorite stores is an easy way to stalk price reductions. The truly committed (with unlimited cell data plans!) can even enroll in text notifications, which are often pushed out before emails.

The remix: How you put together the clothes you already have can maximize their lifespan and your budget. Following the fashion feed from your favorite retailers and newsletters on what’s trending helps you reconstruct high-ticket outfits with lower-priced options and your past purchases.

Last summer’s move toward wide-legged trousers sent me searching my closet for ‘90s-era palazzo pants in a buttery shade of silk. (Thank heavens for the drawstring waist!) I skipped over the matching high-necked jacket in favor of a more traditional cotton blazer. A white, ribbed tank top from the previous summer was the finishing touch along with neutral loafers. That outfit earned raves whenever I wore it.

This season’s quiet luxury emphasis offers more low-hanging fashion fruit to pluck. Just pull together a monochromatic, head-to-toe neutral you already have in your closet — camel, gray, navy, winter white and, of course, black. Mix textures and finishes from the same color family, like a cabled sweater over a silky skirt or dress. Next winter, pull this outfit apart and hit the refresh button with other combinations.

Quality over quantity: If you want to get the most out of your wardrobe with a remix, you’ll need well-made garments up to the task of a second or third act. Why buy 10 cheap items that aren’t quite right when two or three quality pieces can last longer and look better for the same price?

Separate but not equal: While one-and-done dresses may be easier in the moment, they are not ideal for extending — and expanding — your wardrobe. Blouses, sweaters, pants and skirts that come together and pull apart in fresh combinations are budget winners that can span multiple seasons.

The reboot: Small changes can make a dramatic difference to garments and accessories alike. When the fashion winds carried puffed heart pendants back into vogue, I scoured my costume jewelry stash for a 30-year-old version, then revived it with the help of needle-nosed pliers and silk cording. Scouting fabric aisles and stores for button replacements can breathe new life into jackets and cardigans. The ultimate goal is to rescue a garment or accessory for another year or a future trend cycle.

Take care: Most garments don’t need washing every time they’re worn. Time spent in the washing machine — and even more so in the dryer — breaks down fibers, shortening a garment’s lifespan. When you do wash, turn items inside out and opt for the gentle cycle to reduce friction with other pieces in the tub, then choose cold water to minimize fading. Air drying garments is better for them — and you. The extra moisture they add to your indoor air can help combat winter dryness and static.

The must-have tool: Banish fuzz balls, lint and pills from the arms of sweaters and the inner thighs of leggings with a clothing shaver. I’ve had a compact, battery-operated model since the ‘80s and continue to marvel at how this tool makes sweaters and sweatshirts look brand new in only a few minutes. Pro tips: Hold the garment flat and smooth so that whirring blades clip only fuzz balls and not threads. First-time users should take the shaver for a test drive on a low-priority item to avoid maiming a favorite piece. And the first time you shear any garment, take a test shave on the inside before moving to more visible areas.

Top-rated clothing shavers range from battery-operated to more expensive rechargeable options and include the Conair Fabric Shaver and Lint Remover ($15-$37, conair.com), the Homeasy Electric Lint Shaver Remover with LED Digital Display and the Beautural Sweater Fabric Shaver Home-Edition ($12-$27, both at amazon.com).

Now you’re all set! Using these tips and strategies will put you on the path to a fashionable and budget-minded new year!


What store do you shop at when you are trying to watch your budget? Let us know in the comments below.

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