How to Build a Wardrobe for $10 (or less!) per Item

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Anyone familiar with my fashion philosophy knows that I advocate frugality. Whether you’re buying a coat, sandals, or jeans, there’s no reason why you should ever have to spend more than $10 per article of clothing (with three exceptions to this basic rule: 1) you are investing in a rare or very high quality fashion find, 2) you have medical needs that require you to wear special attire, like therapeutic shoes, or 3) you feel like splurging on something because you absolutely love it and have been dying to own it). Even with those exceptions, the majority of your wardrobe can be thriftily obtained and still look absolutely gorgeous.

You might not believe that such a lean budget could possibly buy you anything of any aesthetic worth, let alone a real eye-whopper. This is where you are wrong. What if I told you that nothing I’m currently wearing cost more than $8 with tax? And what if I told you that everything I currently have on is cute, comfortable, and flattering? Now any of you chronic mallrats and hardcore fashionistas are probably scoffing or rolling your eyes right now. But if you’re willing to give it a go, here are my tips for building a stylish wardrobe at $10 (or less!) per item:

*Go to discount stores: I recommend any store that has a reputation for bargains. Wal-Mart, Target, and Old Navy are obvious ones but Wet Seal, Forever 21, Gadzooks, JC Penney also offer good deals. I’m less of a fan of Fashion Bug but they advertise low prices, too. Steve & Barry’s, a lesser known store mainly because they do not advertise and therefore rely solely on word-of-mouth, promises that everything in their store is $20 or under. Celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Amanda Bynes design for them. You can read an article about Steve & Barry’s in the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/fashion/01STEVE.html?th&emc=th

*Wait for mark-downs: If you don’t like the selection at discount stores, hit more expensive ones but limit yourself to sales and clearance items. You’d be surprised by how much even the priciest stores mark down their goods at the end of the season. For example, I’ve bought several items at Urban Outfitters that were $10 or less each. Sometimes marked-down items are hidden at the back of stores or in remote corners near the dressing rooms. If you can’t find the sales rack, don’t be afraid to ask an associate where the marked down duds are.

*Visit thrift shops: There is no shame in buying secondhand clothes. There are also no health risks so long as you wash the clothes before wearing them. Be sure to always try the clothes on before you buy them; thrift shops have a wide variety of new and old brands that you’re probably unfamiliar with so you don’t want to risk buying something only to later discover that it doesn’t fit you. Many hospitals and churches run thrift shops as side projects so buying from them is essentially the same as sending them a charity paycheck around the holidays. Consider it an act of kindness that also allows you to walk home with some new-to-you treasures! To search for thrift shops in your area, go to: http://www.thethriftshopper.com/

*Haggle at flee markets: With a mixture of new and old, rare and run-of-the-mill, classy and trashy, flea markets are exciting places to shop in general. Flea markets, like thrift shops, often carry a plethora of interesting clothes but, unlike thrift shops, you have no place to try the duds on. As a result, you should be especially careful about what you buy and just how much you pay for it, unless you’re confident that it will fit. Always ask for a lower price if possible, too! Find flea markets in your state at: http://www.fleamarketguide.com/

*Frequent yard sales: Yard sales are basically mini versions of flea markets. The main difference is that whereas there are multiple vendors at a flea market, there is only one at a yard sale so you can’t comparison shop. Another difference is that people who hold yard sales usually do so because they’re cleaning out their house or moving away, which often means they’re a little desperate to get rid of things. As a result, don’t shy away from haggling—you might get some real bargains. Besides street signs, look for yard sale ads on bulletin boards in schools, community centers, churches, and grocery stores.

*Shop online: Considering that I have never bought any clothes online, I am not a big advocate of web shopping. Why? You can only go by the vendor’s photograph of the item for reference (which isn’t necessarily the best representation) and, even worse, you cannot try the item on. I do, however, have friends who swear by online shopping. If you’re willing to take the risk, it may just be worth it (just always remember to factor the shipping and handling charge into the total cost!). eBay is probably the most classic and popular example but there are many other sites you can look, too. Whenever possible try to find someone else who has ordered through the site before, though, so you know that it is credible.

*Throw clothes swaps: If you can’t afford to spend any money on clothes and you have friends who wear your size, throwing clothes swaps is a great idea. Simply find a time and place to hold the event and call/email your friends to bring several pieces of clothes they no longer want. The more people who attend and the more each individual person brings, the greater your chances are of finding items you can adopt into your wardrobe. You can even host a clothes swap at your church, dorm hall, or community center for a bigger turnout and wider selection.  

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