When you're on a tight budget, you need to be disciplined about your clothes purchases. That doesn't mean you can't be seduced by something extraordinary, but it does mean concentrating on really good basics so that your statement pieces have something to build on. Here are some tips.
* In general, stick to dark colours. Poor cloth and finishing don't show up nearly
so much in dark colours such as black, navy, charcoal grey and
chocolate brown. Particularly avoid pastels in cheap fabrics, which
simply scream 'budget' - these kinds of colours look best in high-end fabrics like silk and expensive wool. If you can't afford those, leave well alone.
The exception to the 'dark' rule is white t-shirts: invest in
three new ones each winter (winter-weight tees last much better than
summerweight ones) and when they're past their best, either cut them up
for dusters or dye them. I do a batch-dye once or twice a year, usually
in either navy or charcoal. Plain white cotton shirts can also be
picked up at reasonable prices and are endlessly wearable.
* Stick to plain colours and when you buy prints, choose classic prints that don't date.
florals (they date terribly) and multi-colour prints with lots of splashy effect and go instead for prints
such as polka dots, stripes and paisleys in subdued colours that either
include a dark neutral or have a white background. Black and white,
navy and white, black and taupe etc are the kind of combinations you
can't go wrong with.
* Avoid shiny items, which attract attention and aren't suitable for some occasions, in favour of matt finishes that you can dress up or down. Stretch matt fabrics are the best wardrobe friends you will ever meet.
* Build a wardrobe around just two, maybe three, colours. Don't buy
major pieces other than in those colours. Keep colour for more disposable items such as accessories,
blouses and tops. Your colours might be neutrals such as chocolate or black, or something softer like sage green and violet - just make sure all your basics such as jackets, skirts, trousers and coats are in those colours.
* Buy clothes with clean,
simple lines that will go on from year to year to year. Think of classics such as biker jackets, hacking
jackets, wrapover coats, riding boots, almond-toed court shoes, bootcut jeans,
crewneck sweaters, man-tailored black pants, white cotton shirts, knee-length pencil skirts and button-down v-neck
* Avoid extremes. You never get enough wear out of them to make them worthwhile - big floppy collars, huge shoulders (buy jackets, blouses and coats that meet your shoulderline), lots of trim such as sequins, appliques or big patch pockets.
* Medium-weight fabrics give you more mileage than very thick or thin items.
Choose cotton jersey, brushed cotton, thin leather, cotton knits,
and denim rather than linen, chiffon, fur or fun-fur, chunky Arran
knitwear, mohair or angora and the like. Medium-weight items can also easily be layered over
one another to ring the changes and create interesting colour
* Choose classic necklines - crewneck, v-neck, poloneck, shawl
collar etc. Fancy, asymmetric, fussy necklines date easily and are hard
to pair with other items. If you want variety at your neckline, ring the changes with necklaces or scarves.
* If you don't know where to start, build a mini-capsule wardrobe and
spread outwards from there. You probably have most of the items you need in your closet already. For instance, Diana Vreeland once suggested that all
a woman really needed was three black
skirts and three black sweaters. When I first got a job I followed this
advice and it worked like a charm - a crewneck short-sleeve sweater, a
v-neck cardi and a poloneck sweater did me for knits, plus a
knee-length wrapover skirt
in wool crepe and a longer, swishy one in woolmix crepe that was good for day or evening.
skirt number three I bought
well-cut black wool pants and that little lot took me through
my first two years in an office. I wore the pants and long skirt for
about 11 years and 25 years later I still wear all the sweaters plus
the wrap skirt. Topped off
with different accessories every day - silver jewelry, wooden beads,
chiffon scarves etc, a basic wardrobe like this can be changed
dramatically from day to day and built onto incrementally with blouses, different shoes etc.
* Buy good shoes. Cheap footwear will let you down very quickly.
for the sales and buy the best you can afford - leather, leather
linings, leather soles, decent wearable heels (about 1.5"-2.5" suits
most occasions). Keep them nourished, polished and in shoe trees
when you're not wearing them. Round the house, wear slippers rather
than your good shoes and make
sure you have some foul-weather boots for getting to and from work.
Avoid suede - it's too high maintenance - and also avoid fake leather.
If you can't afford the real thing, buy an honest espadrille, canvas
plimpsoll or rubber boot instead. If you absolutely MUST have fake leather, make it as dark as possible.
* Invest in a smart pair of indigo bootcut jeans that can take you
from the kitchen sink to casual Friday to the school gate to the supermarket. Wash them
inside out and take care of them and you'll get almost more wear out of
them than anything else you own.
* If you can afford one really good item per year, make it a jacket - nobody looks at your bottom half.
* A good quality matt acrylic knit such as Courtelle is a perfectly
acceptable substitute for a quality lambswool or merino and you can't
tell them apart even in close-up.
Tomorrow: how to buy, where to buy