March 11, 2013

Reader Question: Stylishly Frugal

It's been a while since I posted a reader question and this one from Alex echoed a lot of similar issues I hear frequently, so I thought I'd share:


Hi JJ,

I always read GQ and lots of fashion blogs, but the problem is I can never afford any of the clothes I see featured. I really try to look my best, and I like quality stuff, just can't afford it without blowing my whole paycheck. Any suggestions?



Hey Alex,

It's great to hear that you seem to be pretty well-read and conscious about your style. I tend to view magazines, like GQ and Details, to be primarily inspirational (and occasionally aspirational). The vast majority of the pieces featured are out of the realm of possibility for most people. There may be the singular piece that you really want and save up to get, but in general no one is going to go out and buy the head to toe look right off the page. As the editorial content continues to slip and style recommendations turn into obvious paid advertorials, I view the print magazines the same way I view runway shows, as more of a place to look to see the best pieces styled in an interesting way that I can interpret and adapt to my own wardrobe.

Blogs are a great place to get advice and inspiration, as they can adapt more quickly to changes in trends and give more specific recommendations on places like where to shop and what to buy. You are absolutely right that a lot of blogs out there feature nothing but expensive designer pieces and a lot of blogs lately have turned their focus to recommending pieces that they get referral fees from but aren’t necessarily the best options.

That said, there are definitely some sites that will mix high and low to give you a good range of price points (you'll notice I love featuring Uniqlo and thrifted pieces). If you aren’t already, check out Style Girlfriend, An Affordable Wardrobe, and Valet Mag for some more great advice.

There are a lot of options to pick up some stylish clothes at a reasonable price, each one having its pros and cons. My favorite is end of season sales at department stores. It is always a huge gamble (especially if you wear a M like I do), but when final markdowns hit you can find some fantastic designer pieces at major discounts. In this instance, it helps to know the labels' quality and track record. Ralph Lauren's assorted brands tend to be overpriced for a lower quality, whereas Lacoste, Vince or Jack Spade provide a better price to quality ratio, which means better value.

Overall, the best advice I can give you is to hit up a variety of places – resale, vintage, consignment, thrift, sample sales, outlets, and off-price retailers. This is obviously much easier to do if you live near a larger city and persistence pays off, but I have gotten some of my favorite pieces from resale stores, like Buffalo Exchange, and various vintage shops, such as David Owens Vintage Clothing. Consignment stores tend to be a little pricier, but you are usually guaranteed to find higher quality in better condition on a consistent basis.

I listed outlets and off-price last because I have a personal aversion to them. Don't get me wrong, I have found some incredible finds at places like Century 21, but it is harder to find an incredible piece for next to nothing because they purchase wholesale like a department store so margin is a key factor.

Outlets provide their own obstacles, because the majority of the product that they have for sale has been specially produced at a lower quality for sale in the outlet. Brooks Brothers, for example, tags their outlet product as '346' which distinguishes it from their regular product. You can definitely find some gems, and sometimes the quality difference is negligible, but it is something to keep an eye out for.

Department store outlets, like Off 5th or Nordstrom Rack, are usually a better deal because aside from the house lines that they produce the designer product is simply out of season pieces. Prices will still be a little higher, but if you are a fan of a particular label you might just get lucky.

If, on the other hand, you want decent quality at a reasonable price, I would recommend places like Uniqlo (who now does e-commerce) and J Crew. A lot of people really like Banana Republic, but I find the prices hard to justify given the quality of the garments they produce.

There is no singular solution to finding good pieces at equally good prices. It really depends on what your style is, where you live, and what you are looking for to round out your closet.

Thanks for reading and stay stylish,
- JJ

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