Here are my top ten suggestions for giving your summer wardrobe the boost it needs without straining your budget. At the end of the list, please respond and share your own suggestions - I'd love to hear them!
1. Visit the outlets
If you are generally drawn to the more expensive fashion brands, it is likely that you can find these brands for less at an outlet store near you. If you can get over the idea that you will be wearing last year's or last season's collections (which most people would never even notice!), this is a perfect opportunity to save some cash. One tidbit that not many people realize is that at most outlet malls, you can go online beforehand and sign up for their "VIP club" (for free) and they will e-mail you coupons and sales whenever they are happening. This way, you are not only saving the amount you normally would save at the outlet, but you might even be able to do so at an additional sale price!
Some local outlet malls worth visiting:
*Wrentham Village Premium Outlets (Massachusetts)
*Kittery Outlets (Maine)
*Freeport Outlets (Maine)
*Settlers' Green Outlets (New Hampshire)
Do you remember what you purchased last year? Before you head to the stores this year, take a few hours to go shopping at home. Pull out EVERYTHING that you could possibly wear during the summer season (yes, even from WAY in the back of the closet!). Chances are, you'll find an item or two that you forgot about. Most likely, you will save money since you won't have to buy as many items as you thought. Some things that went out of style several years ago could be back! Additionally, this is a great chance to make a donation pile for all the clothes you are sure you'd never wear again. Make sure you keep a list of everything you donate and get a receipt for next year's tax purposes.
3. Host a shopping party for you and your friends
Once you have gone through your closet, invite your friends to your very own "shopping party"! As you went through your closet in the previous exercise, you probably came across a handful of items that you are simply tired of wearing. Ask your friends to pull together those same few items that are CLEAN and in good shape from their own closets and come to your house. Figure out a nice way to display all the clothes, serve some wine and cheese, put on some fun music, and you have your own little boutique! Everyone can look through all the clothes and pick out what they want. When there are a few items left over at the end, gather them and bring them to your local donation center. This works well when you and all your friends share similar body types. It will still work if that is not the case if you include items such as purses and accessories in your shopping party.
4. Sign up for the mailing list at your favorite clothing store
Most clothing stores offer a mailing list through which they will notify you of upcoming sales and even send you coupons for a dollar amount or a percentage off the price of your purchase. If there is a store that you love that is a bit out of your ideal clothing budget, this can be a great opportunity for you to save some good money. However, I would caution you against two temptations related to this tip. First, you can sign up for their mailing list, but please avoid signing up for the store credit card! Store credit cards are usually not a very good idea for a few reasons. Having a store credit card does affect your personal credit history, the interest rates are usually horribly high, and in this day and age, an extra credit card in your name is an extra opportunity for an identity thief to take advantage of you! My advice would be to avoid store credit cards at all costs. The immediate savings that they offer you off your purchase at the time is not worth the long-term affects of having the credit card. Secondly, don't use the coupons the store sends to you as an excuse to shop. If you are worried that the coupons will tempt you to buy more than you were originally planning to buy, perhaps you should not sign up for the mailing list in the first place. In this way, you will be saving more money by not having the coupons than by having them!
5. Don't rule out department stores
Some people feel that it's difficult to find high quality, fashionable clothing items in department stores. While it may sometimes be more difficult to do so, it is certainly not an impossible task. Department stores can be more of a treasure hunt, but the high quality items are there, and there can be great deals to be had. If you make a special point to save your shopping until immediately following the holidays and just as the seasons change, you can really get some great bargains as well!
Specifically, my favorite for women's and menswear is Kohl's and I've been pleasantly surprised at the great selection of menswear at Target. Both generally have reasonable prices and quality year-round, but offer wonderful discounts when they are moving inventory.
6. Listmaking - It's not just for groceries anymore!
All of our moms always taught us to never go food shopping without a list, since without one we will be too tempted to splurge on snacks and items that we don't really need. You may have never considered the fact that the same principal can certainly hold true when shopping for clothing.
In the last few years, fashion icon Tim Gunn (of "Project Runway" fame) created and starred in a short-lived show on Bravo called "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" based on his book of the same name. The show was revolutionary and simple at the same time in that he believed that every woman's closet revolved around 10 essential items (this list translates well to men also, except for the dresses!). If you concentrate on building your wardrobe around these 10 items (and purchase somewhat high-quality versions of these items), you will have far fewer clothes to deal with and you will end up spending less money over time, since these items will not go out of style with the trends, and will mix and match to go well with a variety of options. Copy down the list, check your closet to see which items you have, and then bring it with you when you go shopping for clothes. Don't buy anything that's not on the list. You'll be surprised how effective it is to shop this way! Here are the 10 essential items from Tim Gunn's list:
* Basic Black Dress
*Classic Dress Pants
*Sweat Suit Alternative (Examples include khakis, cords, a cotton dress, etc. - the thought here is that it is easy and possible to feel comfortable without looking sloppy.)
7. Get creative and make a totally unique item or two for your wardrobe!
I know you took home economics in junior high school - and I'm sure you were very proud of that bag you made! If you have a sewing machine hanging around the back of your closet, it is really not too difficult to pull it out and make a simple item or two for your summer wardrobe. This may not be a solution for everyone, but if you are feeling creative and you want an item or two that are truly unique, this might be the way to go for you! A great place to visit to come up with ideas and order patterns is www.sewingpatterns.com - they sell all the patterns from all the big names and also many independent pattern makers as well.
Around the city of Boston, fabric stores are sadly few and far between these days. However, it's not hard to find them, if you know where to look. Here are a few worth your while:
*Winmil Fabrics 107 Chauncy Street, Boston, MA 02111
*Sewfisticated Discount Fabrics Somerville and Dorchester
*Sew-Low Discount Fabrics 473 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02141
If you need a refresher course on sewing, check out:
*Stitch House Dorchester 846 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, MA 02125
8. "Vintage" is so hot right now!
Everything old is new again... and the Boston area is full of stores ready to sell you cool vintage items. What a better way to update your wardrobe than with items from your all-time favorite decade? Some stores can be more expensive than others, so you have to know where to go. An easy choice would be a place like Goodwill or your local church thrift shop. However, here are a few fun, creative options worth exploring:
*The Garment District 200 Broadway, Cambridge, MA, 02139 (Kendall Square)
*Poor Little Rich Girl 255 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144 (Davis Square)
*Oona's 1210 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square) (617) 491-2654
9. Shop the clearance racks at the trendier stores
Hopefully you are still with me and you've found some inspiration in my first eight suggestions! If you still can't bear to give up shopping at your favorite stores, you may be able to find some good deals at those trendy stores by heading right for the back of the store as soon as you walk in the door. Certain stores are well known for having fantastic clearance rack deals since the styles tend to rotate so quickly through these types of stores. If you can bear to wear clothes from "last season" (which can essentially be as recent as a couple of weeks ago!), there are wonderful deals to be had.
My personal favorite clearance racks are Ann Taylor, (which also has sale and clearance sections on their website) H&M, and Urban Outfitters' extensive Bargain Basement in Harvard Square (11 J.F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138) has been recommended to me as well, but there are certainly many stores around with fantastic clearance racks. The key is to ignore the window display all-together and head right for the back of the store. Those great items in the window will be in the back of the store soon enough anyway!
10. Shop online and compare prices before buying
Comparing prices online is more of a general recommendation, and applies to anything you might consider buying, but you may not usually consider doing so with clothes. However, larger stores sell the same clothes through their websites that they sell through their brick-and-mortar stores. Even if you plan to go try the clothes on before you buy them in the stores, shopping online first can help you find the least expensive option for your desired item. Personally, I love the website Froogle.com. This is Google's product comparison website. You can type in the name of what you are looking for and compare the options at various stores and online sources. For example, if you try typing "men's black cashmere sweater" and then sort by price, you'll get 186 results ranging from $10 to $675. It's a great way to get a sense of the types of products available and the price range you should be expecting, and many times, it can help you find great deals!
Please respond to this blog entry and let me know your great ideas for updating your wardrobe less expensively ahead of the upcoming summer months!