I’ve typed a draft of a post with my “clothing rules” about three times over the past year, and it’s never come together the way I wanted it. However, I recently signed up for an online personal styling service that sends you five articles of clothing/accessories and you keep what you want and return the rest. When I got my first box, I realized just how much I depend on these rules to buy clothes that I will actually wear, so I’m finally publishing this thing that I’ve had in my head for a long time.
(The service that I signed up for is Stitch Fix, and I’ve written a little bit more about it at the end of this post. I did it three times, and while I’m not planning on doing it again, it was extremely beneficial in helping me set style rules. More on that whole process at the end, but this is not a commercial for Stitch Fix.)
Frugal rules don’t always equal inexpensive purchases
I’m going to tell you right now that I think these rules are frugal, but they don’t result in clothing that’s inexpensive. Usually when an article of clothing obeys the rules, it costs more than something I’d find at full price at JCP. However, for the first time in my life I am generally only buying clothes that I love and wear all the time. While $60 for a shirt is expensive in my world, I’m finding that because of these rules, I wear the $60 shirt so much more than the six $10 shirts I bought because they were cheap and I was desperate for something new. (The key being that the reason I bought them is because they were cheap – not because I loved them or they looked good on me.)
I also want to say that if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothing, I know from experience that it is really hard to buy quality clothing. When you can only buy a $60 shirt two times a year, well, it’s hard to find a shirt that is going to be so awesome that you want to have only two new shirts a year.
I seriously get that, and I was in that place for quite a few years. Ironically, I think it was while I was in that place that I started my mental list of rules, because I knew what didn’t work with the clothing I was buying and I was tired of stuff wearing out or not looking flattering on me.
The outcome of being frugal can change
I say all that because it’s tricky to write about buying higher-quality (which means prices in multiples of $25, not multiples of $5) clothing on a frugal lifestyle blog because there are a lot of people who are on the “spend as little as possible” end of being frugal, and I want you to know that I have been there and get what that feels like. I know that doesn’t mean that you aren’t interested in buying quality, or that you are being cheap.
So, if you are in the “spend as little as possible” part of frugal right now, I hope that this post is thought-provoking, but not discouraging to you. I think many of the rules are applicable no matter where you are on the frugal spectrum, but they may work out in different ways.
My fashion rules have been shaping in my head for probably five years. I break them all the time, and usually end up regretting it. I’m getting better about following my rules, and I’m also adding new rules to the list.
Rule #1: Be realistic about what my body is today.
I was ninety-five pounds when I got married, and I’m not anymore. I’ve been super-skinny for 2/3rds of my life, and it’s ridiculous how long it’s taken me to realize that I have to realize that I’m not anymore. I have parts of my body that I want to detract attention from, and that is a new thing for me.
So, I have to be willing to accept that I am a size 10 in pants, even though I used to be a 2, because size 10 is what actually fits. And if I wear size 10 pants that fit, I feel way better than trying to squeeze into my stretched-out size 6s just so I can wear a smaller size.
[This actually backfired on me recently: I convinced myself that a size-medium vest fit (hello, I’m not a small anymore, right?) because they didn’t have a small in the color I wanted. (Even though the small I tried on in another color fit quite well.) And then when I got it home, I decided that I really should have waited to find a size small because I totally would have bought the small over the medium if I could have when I first had it – I just convinced myself that the medium fit because I’m more of a medium now. Agh! I did exchange it and now am happy with the size small. :)]
I recently found a site that has a bunch of different free ebooks about how to dress for your body type (and they even have body type + petite!). When I first found it, I totally thought I’d somehow stumbled on an ebook that wasn’t supposed to be free, because the info in it was super good and there was tons of it! (But no, they are really free!)
Rule #2: Buy high-quality fabrics.
I remember the first time I put on a dress that had what I would classify as a high-quality fabric. I couldn’t believe the difference in how it felt and hung on me! I’m not sure I can put in words just how high-quality fabric feels, but to me, it’s heavier and sturdier (in a good way). I won’t wear anything once it pills, so being able to identify fabrics that won’t pill is a big deal to me. I generally stay away from cotton shirts at places like Target, because they invariably end up pilling. I am definitely still learning in this area, and it seems to me that this is more of a “feel” thing than an issue of what type of fabric or fabric blend the item is.
Rule #3: Look for signs of quality construction.
I’m learning that it’s not just fabric that makes a garment high-quality. You can look at things like how well buttons are sewed on, the quality of the zipper (just pull it up and down and you’ll be able to tell a lot!), whether or not it’s lined, serged seams (which are a sign of cheaper construction), etc.
Oh, and if a garment is already starting to come apart at a seam or lays funny on the mannequin, I usually pass it by because those issues are only going to get worse.
Rule #4: Don’t buy based on brand name.
Oh how nice it would be to have a brand where you knew everything was going to be fantastic quality! But alas, I have discovered that is not the case. I have to perform my little tests on every single garment at any store, because I’ve found it can vary wildly, even in the same store.
I’ve also discovered that just because a brand has always been seen as a “quality” brand in my eyes, doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. Just because a store is in a “nice” shopping center does not mean the clothing is quality.
Rule #5: No solid colors without texture.
While I definitely have some things that I only wear when I leave the house, I still try to dress nicely when I’m at home because I feel better when I put some effort into getting dressed. However, this means that I am cooking and doing dishes in “nicer” clothing, and I’ve found that solid colors really show stains. So, I will no longer buy solid-color shirts because I almost instantly stain them through everyday wear.
I can do solid-color shirts if they have some texture to them, like a lace overlay or even just some texture to the fabric. And solid-color sweaters are fine, but I stay away from anything that’s flat and solid.
Rule #6: No sheer shirts designed to show a tank top through.
I added this rule after my first Stitch Fix. The stylist sent a cute navy polka-dot sheer blouse with a tank top to go underneath, and as soon as I tried it on I realized that I totally do not like the style of shirts that are designed to actually see the tank top underneath.
Rule #7: Find liner tops that fit well because I’m going to have to wear them.
This rule used to be “Don’t buy anything that requires wearing a tank top underneath”. But, I’ve changed it because there are so many articles of clothing that just have to have a tank underneath them these days. So, now I just need to make sure that the liner tanks I buy are actually comfortable to wear and don’t move around. I’m on a hunt to find liner tops that fit well so that I’ll actually feel comfortable in them and not have to pull them down or up all the time.
Rule #8: No horizontal stripes.
See Rule #1. I’m not a size two anymore, and I finally realized it after I bought several striped tanks this summer. (I think I could wear a striped shirt under a blazer or vest and be OK, but at this point, I’m not going to be buying horizontal striped shirts unless it is super cheap and I know I can wear it with the aforementioned coverup.)
Rule #9: No clingy tops.
Ninety-percent of the size 2 to size 10 transition took place in my waist. Enough said.
Rule #10: Nothing that requires a belt or tucking in.
See rule #9.
Rule #11: Look for colors that complement my skin tone.
This is hard for me to do, because it seems like every season of fashion has its own color palette, and the odds that it’s going to match up to what looks good on me are low. But, more and more I’m realizing that I feel better in colors that look good on me! I’m now trying to keep to off-whites instead of stark whites, and muted colors that look good on me. (I’m still not sure what palette I am.)
Rule #12: No blue shirts too close to denim blues.
I wear blue jeans 95% of the time, and I am not good at mixing denims or even blues that are close to denim. So, I generally stay away from blue shirts for this simple reason. (This is actually one of Jeremy’s rules, too.)
Rule #13: Be able to specifically identify why I want this item.
When I got my first Stitch Fix, I pretty quickly decided what I wanted to keep and why. Yes, it fit, but on top of that, it was a very nice fabric weight and it was off-white. I could also specifically identify why I didn’t want the other items (they broke some of the above rules). Now that I have clearly defined rules, I should be able to make decisions much more confidently because I’ll be able to say exactly why I want it.
Rule #14: Be very careful about buying items that need something to go with them.
I don’t shop enough to be able to pick up a cute pair of pants one day and then find the perfect top to go with them another day. I have bought so many things that I thought, “I just need to find a basic ________ to go with it” and then never ended up wearing it because I never found the basic _______.
I think a big part of this is because if what I’m buying doesn’t already have something that goes with it my closet, it’s probably not “me” and I won’t end up wearing it. Say I buy a shirt that just needs a basic black skirt to go with it. Well, if I don’t already have a basic black skirt, it might just be because I haven’t ever been able to find a basic black skirt that I like. So the shirt that needs the skirt will go unworn because I won’t be able to find a skirt to go with it.
One thing I loved about Stitch Fix is that since the clothing is shipped to my home, I could try what’s in my Fix with what I already own. So, I can decide if this shirt goes with this sweater that I already have, or if I’d have to buy a different one to go with it. I shop mostly online for that very reason.
Rule #15: When buying second-hand, remember that someone got rid of it for a reason.
Clothes shopping at thrift stores just isn’t my thing, but I’ve started to seek out consignment stores some. When I was in a consignment store the other day, I realized that when I’m trying to decide on whether or not I like something at a second-hand shop, I need to ask myself, “Why did the original owner get rid of it?”
Or similarly when shopping the clearance rack, “Why did everyone pass this over?” Chances are that if I ask that question, I’ll be able to identify the reason and know if it’s something I want to live with.
Rule #16: If I have to ask for opinions, it’s probably a no.
I texted my mom and sisters a picture of a vest when I was shopping the other day to see what they thought. And as soon as I sent it, I realized that the answer was no. If I’m not sure about it, I should probably just skip it.
Rule #17: Shop for petites when I can.
I ordered the above-pictured off-white, 3/4-length sweater from Land’s End and immediately loved it. It fit well, and I realized the reason it fit so well was because it was cut for petites, so the sleeves are actually the right length!
That’s it! Really! Shopping with me is so easy and FUN!
Haha. I shop online a lot now and do lots of in-store returns, and I recently even did a couple of mail-in returns. Yes, with all those rules, it’s somewhat difficult to just go shopping and find stuff. On the other hand, what I buy I actually wear, and ultimately that’s my goal.
Now about Stitch Fix…
So, with Stitch Fix you fill out a Style Profile that is pretty extensive. You will view photo examples of styles and rate whether or not you love or hate them, tell them all your sizes and preferred rise and length of pants, tell them to avoid certain colors or prints, whether or not you want to show off or hide certain parts of your body, the price range you prefer, etc. There’s also a place for additional comments, and after reading a lot of reviews about Stitch Fix, I realized that I should be really specific in what I wrote in those additional comments. So here’s what I told them:
- NO sheer tops that you can clearly see a tank through.
- NO horizontal stripes unless it’s more of a color block.
- NO bulky sweaters; define my figure!
- NO clingy or crop tops; hide my muffin top.
- NO cheap fabrics.
- NO solid colors without texture in the fabric (shows stains).
- NO vibrant colors; yes to warm colors, off-whites, olive greens, muted pinks.
- NOTHING that requires a belt or tucking in.
Another item that crossed my mind to include was “no dry-clean-only items”, but I decided to take a chance on that. (I was out of room to type additional comments, and I figure there are other things that are more important and far more likely to actually come up.)
I also started a Pinterest board of styles that I like (as well as things I already own and love), and recently I also went back and captioned all of the pins so that my stylist would know exactly why I liked something. (I’ve read in various places that a Pinterest board is really helpful to your stylist.)
So after you’ve completed your Style Profile, you schedule your first Fix and when it comes, you’ll get a box of five items (mine were all clothing; I opted to exclude accessories or bags). You have three days to try them on and decide whether to keep them or send them back. They include a postage-paid envelope for anything you want to send back.
Stitch Fix charges a $20 “styling fee” for every Fix they send you. However, if you buy something, the $20 is applied to any purchase you make. So, for instance, the shirt I kept was $64, so they charged me the $20 styling fee when the Fix was shipped, and then when I chose to keep the shirt, they charged an additional $44. If you don’t keep anything, you do still have to pay the $20 fee – so it’s really important to fill out a really good style profile so you actually get stuff you’d wear.
(By the way, the shirts I received were all in the $50-$70 range, and the jeans were around $80. From what I’ve read, you are probably not going to get clothing items for less than $40. Again, not cheap, but I think it can be a frugal option in some situations.)
What I liked about Stitch Fix
There were two big things I liked about Stitch Fix:
#1 – The Style Card that Stitch Fix sends with the fix proved to be super helpful. The card for the shirt that I kept suggested a black vest to go with it, which I found at Old Navy. (See my dilemma on vest sizing in Rule #1.) I knew that I had a couple of other tops that would go with the vest, so I feel like the one shirt + the Style Card helped me get several different outfits out of a few items. It helped me think of specific things I wanted to find, rather than just browsing to find something that fit.
#2 – I loved being able to try the items on at home with my own stuff. I think this is one aspect of the service that could be considered frugal, because now I’ll know if I need to buy something else to go with it or if my existing clothing already works.
What I didn’t like about Stitch Fix
After my first Fix, there wasn’t anything that I really didn’t like about it. However, my second Fix was just plain awful. It was a different stylist, and four out of the five pieces went directly against what I had told them I didn’t want. I was SO disappointed, and I emailed them and explained in detail how all of the pieces went against the very specific things I’d told them. (To top it off, several of the items were very similar to items I’d rejected in the last fix.)
They were very kind and scheduled a “make-up Fix” and didn’t charge me another styling fee. The make-up Fix was slightly better, but still didn’t have anything I wanted to keep, so I sent it back and canceled my upcoming Fix.
Unless I get referral credits, I don’t see using Stitch Fix again in the future. However – and I feel like this is a BIG however – the process of filling out my style profile, creating a Pinterest board and thinking of all the really-specific things I do not like about clothing was so helpful to me that I do not feel the two $20 styling fees I paid were at all wasted.
I totally think you could do the same process without having to pay Stitch Fix. You can totally fill out a profile on their site without signing up for a Fix, and creating a Pinterest board (be sure to name specifically why you like something – even if a stylist isn’t referencing it, it will make you think!) is a no-brainer. And then I would go to stores and try on clothing and think about why you do or don’t like something. I don’t think it would be at all dumb to write a list – there’s something about writing it that makes you remember.
(Like a lot of sites, Stitch Fix offers a referral credit if you sign up under a friend, so if you are going to sign up anyway, ask your friends if they have a referral link. Or, you can use my link. :)
Do you have clothing rules?
Do you have rules for your clothing purchases? Or do you have any tips for buying quality clothing? I would love to hear what yours are – I’ll bet you’ll help me keep expanding my own list!
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Welcome to Springs Bargains, a service of our real estate business, Circa Real Estate Group! I’m Carrie, and since 2008 I’ve been sharing free and discounted ways to eat, play, and enjoy life in Colorado Springs.