I have a friend who can walk into a clothing store, quickly scan the sales racks, pull out a marked down turquoise and brown paisley blouse and declare it the perfect thing to match a skirt, pants and capris she has at home. Bingo, the gal just got three outfits for $3.99. If you are a woman, you'll agree that this is a talent which ranks right up there with being able to style your hair after a new haircut, the same way the hairdresser did. Both are talents I do not possess. However, I have learned a thing or two from my friend about dressing stylishly while on a budget.
We've all heard the advice to buy some wardrobe basics, then mix and match them. But before you head to the store, look around your closet for things you can mix and match already. You may have a couple more outfits right there in front of you by just thinking a little outside the box (or hanger, in this case). Do you have a black pin striped suit and a black solid suit? Pair the solid skirt with the striped jacket or vice versa. What I love about my friend's style is that she is not afraid to mix colors. Pale pink or blue looks great with brown or black. If you have a turquoise print dress, throw that red suit jacket over it and see how it looks. Purple or lavender mixed with gray or black is another good combination. Whether you are conservative or flamboyant, you can probably mix up your current wardrobe to create another outfit or two.
When you do head to the store, which stores are best for bargains? This depends on the kind of shopper you are. Some people are impatient shoppers, and don't relish the thought of hunting through racks and racks of used clothing looking for the perfect blouse for $.99. Used clothing stores, garage sales, and flea markets or swap meets are great places to find good deals, but they do require some patience. Consignment stores or vintage clothing stores are more fun to look through, and you can find some unique pieces and accessories for pretty cheap. Look out for impulse buying - that beautiful beaded clutch purse isn't a good buy if it just sits in your closet because you rarely go out anywhere that you can take it.
Major department stores always have sales racks. Check those first when you are shopping. Look in your Sunday paper for advertisements for upcoming sales. Many stores like Macy's and Penney's send out coupons to customers that hold their credit cards and give additional discounts if you charge your purchases to their card. Be careful though! It's easy to overspend if you aren't shelling out cash. If you do charge it in order to take advantage of the discounts, set a budget for yourself first and pay off the card in the same month to avoid interest fees. Those can easily offset the discount.
Don't forget about the small retail stores in the malls too. All of these stores have sales worth checking out. Outside of the malls are discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, or Marshall's. These are favorites of my bargain-shopping friend. They carry designer names at a discount and have sales racks to boot. They usually have a great selection of purses and handbags too.
Shopping online is also a good place to find bargains. Just remember that when you get your order, if it isn't what you thought, or looks terrible on you, you'll have to spend time and maybe money to send it back. If you want to try out a new style, you would be better off going into a store and trying it on before you buy it.
Wherever you are shopping, it helps to keep your current wardrobe in mind while you are shopping for new pieces. That lovely green blouse does you no good if you don't have anything you can wear it with-unless of course, you are buying a whole new outfit. Even then, before you buy the skirt or slacks to wear with the lovely blouse, think about blouses and jackets you already have and if they can be paired with that skirt or slacks too. This way you are getting two or three outfits or more, for the price of one.
Don't be afraid to mix dressier pieces with casual ones for different looks. A pair of black, flowy crepe pants and a slinky camisole is a great look for going out in the evening, but throw a suit jacket over it and it's a dressy business look by day. You can also wear that slinky camisole with your jeans on the weekend. Using a few pieces to create several different looks is the key to stretching your wardrobe on a budget.
Lastly, accessorize! Wear the same suit to work on Friday as you did on Monday, only add a belt or a scarf and a different top. Accessories can change the whole look of an outfit. That camisole and jeans worn with some bohemian beads and bracelets is casual and fun, but pair it with a sparkly chain and earrings and rhinestone belt and you are ready for a glamorous night out. You can buy inexpensive accessories at any of the above mentioned stores, and even at Target. Claire's is a great place to find trendy, affordable pieces too.
Whatever your style, you can maximize your wardrobe on a budget by being creative, buying new things that can be worn with old ones, shopping sales, and using accessories. I asked my friend recently how she was able to always find the perfect piece to stretch her wardrobe. Her answer? "Keep your eyes and your mind open because you never know where you are going to find it." Good advice from a budget conscious shopper!