Frugality in Fashion

I’m what you could call a bargain braggart. Instead of maintaining a mysterious vagueness about my penny-pinching, I’m prone to broadcast the fact that: These sandals? They were $.79 at the Goodwill! And: that vest that my son wore to church last week? The one that could have passed for Gap Kids finery? It was $1.99 on the clearance rack at Wal Mart! I bloom for the fact that I get more compliments on the ninety-nine cent wedge slides that I found on an end-cap at Target than any pair of shoes I own. And that I bought them for less than a dollar. I can’t even find my favorite brand of gum, (Orbitz: cinnamon,) for less than a dollar.

Fact is, frugality and fashion are not mutually exclusive. And it’s easier than you think to pay less, way less, for clothing and footwear that will probably have fallen from fashion in a few short seasons.

Here are four of my favorite tips for finding a fashionable bargain:

Start looking around in local newspapers, church circulars and online message boards for consignment sales in your area.

Not only are consignment shops a fantastic venue for fashion bargains, but sometimes consigners will set up shop in a local convention center or other public arena for a multiple-day sale and allow the public to place their goods on consignment. I peruse the Spring and Fall offerings of a local consignment sale on the half-off day and have successfully outfitted my three year old son in the likes of Gap Kids and Gymboree for less than fifty dollars each year. The only additional items I find myself needing in between are socks and underwear, which I purchase, as needed, from Target or Wal Mart.

Be aware of clothing needs in advance and peruse the clothing clearance racks when you’re out shopping.

Shop with next year in mind; when retailers are clearancing out summer items, buy a size or two bigger than what your child is wearing and stash it away for next season. This may take some advanced planning, so be aware of your clothing needs by taking frequent inventory of the closets in your household. Plan ahead for the wedding outfit you’ll need next month or the Easter dress your daughter will need in the Spring and be looking for bargains in the mean time. I find that if I can acquire clothing gradually, with generous “heads up” on specific needs, I am able to purchase with greater discretion, waiting for a good deal, rather than scrambling to make a rushed purchase when a need becomes urgent. Just to give you an idea, it is not uncommon to find children’s tops for less than two dollars at Target and Wal Mart. In fact, I often find that if I’m savvy enough in the clearance section, I can buy new for the same amount it would cost me to buy used at a second hand store or on consignment. I have made it a habit to pop over to the clearance rack in the little boy’s section every time I’m grocery shopping at Wal Mart. And I browse the clearance racks at Target each time I’m there – it’s paying off in three dollar maternity shirts and seven dollar yoga pants. (And, of course, those ninety nine cent slides.)

Get over the stigma you’ve attached to buying used.

Perfectly good clothing ends up at the Goodwill all the time and after a cycle through your washing machine, it’ll be as clean and presentable as any of the other item in your closet. Here in Dallas, designer threads from places like Herald’s, Jones New York, Banana Republic and Anne Taylor, rejects from the wealthier contingency in the area, show up on our local racks all the time. And in many instances, items on the shelves of second hand stores aren’t even used – they’ve still got tags and original packaging. Here, for example, Target and Fossil donate their overstocks and seconds to the Goodwill, so on any given day, you can find brand new items from those retailers at huge savings. And, because I can’t resist a plug for the earth, I also love buying used for the environmental implications. If I can wear the skirt that’s now too small for someone in Fort Worth, that’s a whole skirt’s worth of resources that don’t need to be used again to create a new one. Other viable venues for bargain clothing include Craig’s List and Ebay. And garage sales, though less convenient than their online counterparts, can be a wallet-friendly option for finding quality used goods. And the perk about garage sales, which I’ve learned from some of my more seasoned yard sale-ing peers that the sticker price is never the bottom line. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the seller for a lower price than what they’re asking. People hosting yard sales are usually eager to get rid of their wares; you never know what kind of bargains you’ll end up with at the hands of an anxious seller.

Finally, talk to your frugal friends to discover their favorite discount locales and bargain shopping secrets.

Ask around about consignment shops, community sales, the ins and outs of garage sale-ing, and annual retail sales. Let friends know when you’re looking for something specific and put feelers out for a bargain. Sometimes this might even pay off in a timely hand-me-down. Just the other day I mentioned my need for some new maternity clothes and one of the moms at our playgroup lit up with the realization that she has a box of them that she won’t be needing, and promptly offered them for my perusal.

Don’t be embarrassed about clothing yourself and your family frugally. You’ll quickly discover that frugal living does not require a tearful sacrifice of style on the altar of parsimony. And as you ditch your reservations about engaging in frugal jabber, you might be surprised to discover that most of your well-heeled friends have less discretionary cash in their couture clutches than you thought, and that your frugality may in fact be as fashionable to them as their designer jeans are to you.