I hate clothes shopping. Numerous friends tell me that they have entire closets full of clothes for different seasons and across different sizes. I am basically the opposite of that person. Both Mr. Steward’s clothes and mine hang on the same single side of our closet. I purposefully buy clothes with sleeve-lengths that can be worn year-round with the addition of layers. I also wear pretty much the same few colors, so that I always know that everything will match. (Shout-out to the genius who decided that capsule wardrobes are a thing, so I can pretend to be trendy and wise instead of just lazy.)
Clothes shopping is an anxiety-inducing experience for me. I’m nervous I’ll spend money on something, then decide I don’t like it a short while later. I believe this stems from teenage years, when my awkward body shape made clothes-finding hard, but I was still figuring out my “look.”
I also have a hard time wrapping my mind around the impermanence of fashion. (You’d think this would be a comfort, given my former concern.) Even if I take exceptional care of my clothes, there are very few buy-it-for-life clothing items. As someone who values maximizing the value of anything I own, I find the fact that clothing wears out to be really annoying. Often, I go shopping for an exact replacement of something I owned before, then rapidly become frustrated when I can’t find it.
Despite my hatred of clothes shopping, I have spent more money on clothing this year than in the previous five years combined.
Why Have You Spent So Much?
It turns out that post-baby bodies, even if you get back to your original weight and size, are shaped differently than before. My older clothes did not look quite right with my now more prominent postpartum belly, and I often felt self-conscious. Also, my old clothes were wearing out. I don’t mean they were slightly faded or a little stretched. I mean the underarms were worn so thin on some shirts that I couldn’t wear them without jackets over them. I had sweaters with hemlines that unraveled as I sat at my desk.
Moreover, I got a new job. My new workplace has a less casual dress code, so about half of the outfits that I wore previously were no longer appropriate. I also have more upward mobility in this position, so I felt it was important to dress the part of positions I would someday like to reach. “Dress like the person you want to be” and all that jazz.
What Did You Spend, On What, From Where?
I spent about $400 this year on clothes. Now, you may be thinking that is pocket change, or you may be bemoaning how I could waste so much money on something so frivolous as clothing. For me, this is a huge amount to spend. In the past five or so years, I have spent maybe $75 a year on clothing; usually just enough for a new pair of work shoes and perhaps a top.
My $400 got me two pairs of flats, a pair of boots, two dresses, a decorative scarf, a new everyday bag, three button-up shirts, a sleeveless blouse, three blazers, two sweaters, and two pairs of leggings. In rough numbers, I’d say 35% of the money was spent at a department store, 25% at a discount retailer, 15% at LuLaRoe, 15% to a charitable organization, and 10% at secondhand shops. To highlight what a huge markup new clothing prices have, half of the items I purchased were secondhand.
Anything purchased new were classic pieces that I knew I would wear until it they were completely worn out, such as a black dress for work, my everyday purse, or shoes. Everything else came from secondhand shops.
Was It Worth It?
Definitely yes. I did not realize, until I started regularly wearing clothes that made me feel good about my body and seemed appropriate for my surroundings, just how much unnecessary grief I was putting myself through by not parting with a little bit of money. I not only felt less self-conscious (which makes for one less thing to think or worry about), but dressing more professionally at work made me act more professional. By dressing like a high achiever, I found myself striving to achieve more. A classic case of faking it until you make it.
I think naturally frugal people (at least me!) can pat themselves on the back for not spending money when, as I’ve discussed before, this is actually a sign of dysfunction or miserliness. Frugality should be about maximizing the happiness and use you gain from the things you do buy, not refusing to buy anything altogether. I think I thought new clothes wouldn’t make me any happier, both because of the annoyance of having to purchase them, and also because I thought clothing was not something I cared about enough that it could enhance my life (at least relative to the cost).
Partly I was also buying into the minimalist/no-spend trend, which says purchases aren’t going to make a big difference in happiness. While I agree in principle, what I overlooked is that I already wasn’t looking to clothing to bring me happiness. I didn’t need a “reset” on spending I already wasn’t doing. I’ve learned that having a modest wardrobe of clothes that fit well and are appropriate to your day-to-day tasks is a joy, one I can offer gratitude for continually. Clothes are the things that are literally closest to us all day long. I’ve decided it’s worth it to ensure that those items are in good repair, appropriate to the situations I am routinely in, and pleasing to me. I can sit comfortably surrounded by threadbare sweaters and money I didn’t spend, or get over my self-righteousness and get a few items that will fulfill their function beautifully.
Do I expect to spend $400 on clothes for myself next year? No. But I also do not intend to let my wardrobe degrade so far before I purchase new items moving into the future. I’ve discovered that it’s worth the small effort and the slightly greater expenditure to find good clothes.
How much do you spend on clothing per year? Have you ever discovered a financial blind spot where spending a little more money did a lot of good?