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The Smart Way to Overhaul Your Wardrobe

Jun16

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Hey Amalah! I just had a baby back in February, and I’m in sore need of a wardrobe update. I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that there is no one-stop-shop for cool clothes that a) don’t bare your butt crack and b) don’t look like something my mother would wear. SO. I’d like to posit the question to you and your readers. What are the brands and styles of clothes that have it all – easy wash and wear, minimal ironing (preferrably none, but I understand that I can’t always have this), long lasting, non fading AND stylish. Is this possible? I’m also willing to pay a little more for my clothes, because I think that this is an example of you get what you pay for.
For example, I know the wrinkle resistant blouses from Talbot’s are a good thing – but I know there are a lot more out there and I’d love to hear what everyone has to say!
Thanks.
Ginny

Oh my goodness, this question is HUGE. The possibilities are ENDLESS. I could go on and on and on if I wasn’t sitting here at the computer drawing a complete blank.
Mostly because clothing brands that are the complete opposite of what you’re looking for are popping into my head — Old Navy, H&M, etc. — you know, the places you go for super-cheap trendy clothes that barely last out the season. Then I’m thinking of stores where the price tag is high but the quality is admittedly hit-or miss — Banana Republic, Anthropologie, etc. THEN I am filled with follow-up questions about what sort of clothing you are shopping for. Work? Business-y work? Business-casual work? Casual-but-not-frumpy stay-at-home-mom wear?
I guess I’m spinning my wheels a bit because I gave up the search for One Perfect Brand several years ago and have been randomly mixing and matching ever since. I am very choosy about what I spend more money on and keep it limited to stuff like jeans, dress pants, nice dresses and shoes. This is the stuff I regret when I cheap out. And so instead of owning 10 pairs of jeans I got on sale at the Gap mostly because they were on sale, I own just a couple pairs of designer jeans that are just drop-dead holy-crap fabulous and look good with EVERYTHING. (Although don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with sale-rack Gap jeans. They just discontinued my favorite signature style a couple years ago and I am still bitter.) Poorly tailored dress pants or ill-fitting khakis look terrible, a good party dress can be worn over and over and your feet just don’t deserve to be shoved into cheap plastic shoes anymore.
Then I mix. Tees and tanks from Old Navy, a blazer from H&M, a knit casual dress I picked up on the sale rack somewhere. I’ll pair cheap jewelry from Target with a dress from BCBG, but if the dress is from Target I wear expensive heels and a Tiffany pendant. I do enjoy dipping into the occasional flash-in-the-pan trend (yeah, I wore minidresses over skinny jeans last year, you wanna fight about it?), but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend a ton of money on something like that.
All the fashion magazines are really pushing the mixing of brands and price points idea these days, which is, for one, totally great and practical advice. (Although I imagine my brands and price points are a leeeeeettle different than theirs, what with the “Pair a $78 Michael Stars tee with your Chanel jacket! This dress was a bargain at $395, so we dressed it up with $1,250 Gucci heels!”)
Dressing head to toe in a single brand looks kind of dumb, or at best, hopelessly uncreative and boring, like you consult the store’s catalog and mannequins before you get dressed in the morning. It’s also kind of impractical, since I know my budget doesn’t allow me to just wander into J.Crew twice a year and blow hundreds of dollars at once.
You can stretch your clothing dollar farther with a little patience and a good set of priorities. Figure out what you wear the most (and are, perhaps, the most consistently unhappy with). Do you need tailored pants and shirts for work? Are your feet always killing you? Do you rarely go out in anything other than jeans? Go for high- or good-quality here — Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, the shoe department at Nordstrom, and a try-on marathon at a local denim boutique (I love Joe’s Jeans, since they offer a slew of non-butt-revealing but trendy styles, while my best friend lives in Sevens, like seriously, she’ll come over in designer jeans and a pajama top and it works).
Then fill in the gaps from there. Use outlets and factory stores wisely (sometimes you get amazing bargains, other times you get irregular poorly-made seconds). (I adore Filene’s Basement and Nordstrom Rack, but it does help to have a pretty good working knowledge of a LOT of different clothing brands and prices before you shop there — it’s a pretty mixed bag in terms of quality and how much of a discount you’re getting.) Remember that a white tee from Old Navy looks exactly the same as a white tee from Calvin Klein when it’s under a suit jacket, and would probably need to wear out five times as fast to make up for the price difference. (Make no mistake, it WILL wear out faster, but as someone who is a menace to her own laundry, I prefer my basics to be something I can toss guilt-free after a Bright Red Sock In A Load Of Whites Incident.) Don’t buy ANYTHING unless you can already think of something you already own to pair it with, because trust me, you will never get around to finding that perfect green shirt to go with that skirt, and I don’t care that it costs $6.99, you will never wear it. Buy some cute tights instead.
And instead of the “I need a new wardrobe so I’m off to buy EVERYTHING in one shopping trip” mindset, be pickier and grow it with time. If you happen to come across a totally awesome machine-washable dress at Banana Republic that you can immediately think of a zillion places to wear, just buy it. If it goes on sale within two weeks, march your receipt back in and get the price adjustment (you can do it via email as well), but if you instead chose to wait for it to go on sale and it never does or your size sells out, you’ll kick yourself, and probably end up buying a dress you don’t like as much somewhere else.
I know, I know. You asked for one-stop shopping and I gave you the exact opposite. I’m so super-helpful like that. So here, I will toss this one out to the commenters, with some guidelines…
What’s YOUR shopping priority list? What do you spend extra money on because it’s worth it, and where are your favorite places to spend that money? And then where do you happily cut corners, and what stores do you depend on for that stuff?

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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27 Responses to “The Smart Way to Overhaul Your Wardrobe”

  1. Daisy Duke Jun 16 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a recently graduated law student with a small budget for clothes & dry cleaning, but I need to look decent among the muckity mucks who actually have a decent salary…. and some of my favorite “go-to’s” for stylish yet conservative clothes (in case an employer were to stumble upon a photo of me taken on a Saturday afternoon outing and not think “ack, we hired her??”):
    Brooks Brothers no wrinkle shirts…they really, truly work
    JCrew khakis & chinos- they have lots of fits & colors for everyone’s taste
    Ralph Lauren outlets- hello oxfords, cable knit sweaters, polo dresses & other basic casuals at a much better price
    And the one place I refuse to go “bargain” on? My shoes. I have found a few brands that fit my feet (hello Cole Haan with Nike Air technology!) and I’ve found I’m a much happier person if my heels or flats don’t hobble me with blisters and foot cramps and I can actually take an after-dinner stroll without saying “We have to go home my feet hurt….”

  2. Sarah Jun 16 at 12:33 pm Reply Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree with Joe’s Jeans being great for being non-buttcrack revealing! And they’re SUPER comfy too. Although I have to say, I wish they had a style that was more of the “straight leg” type – somewhere in between the boot cuts and the skinny legs.

  3. Bailey Jun 16 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    Now that summer is here, I would highly recommend investing in some great dresses – there are many out there that are made out of fabulous wrinkle-resistant technology (i.e. not made out of cotton!) and work great for any occasion. Best part – they work great with a post-baby body and don’t require a lot of prep time. Also – easy to change with a few accessories and fun shoes!

  4. Lauren Jun 16 at 1:59 pm Reply Reply

    My favorite go-to store for quality, style, and lack of ironing required is Ann Taylor Loft. It has a great mix of work and casual stuff, and the prices are good. They always have stuff on sale or are running some kind of special.
    Shoes are one thing I will spend the money on, cause it can make a huge difference. But if they are a real trendy style I’ll buy cheap. (I bought $5 gladiater style sandals yesterday)

  5. Cassandra Jun 16 at 2:19 pm Reply Reply

    I absolutely refuse to crap out on jeans, because I live in jeans. Literally, I feel super uncomfortable when I put “work clothes” on. Also, you can’t crap out on those, though admittedly I try.
    However, I do look for super cheap shoes, because shoes and I have the kind of relationship where I fall madly in love for three or four wearings and then come to despise them shortly after.

  6. Lynne Jun 16 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with the comment above – don’t go cheap on shoes!
    I also adore the Ralph Lauren outlet shops. But I’ve found a gem in New York & Company. Decent quality and they have some classic stuff, mainly in their trousers. Plus they have great sales!

  7. Erin Jun 16 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    Mine is more about the structure than the clothes.
    Spend money on a really good bra–and some good quality make-up.
    A must!

  8. KM Jun 16 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    I work for a non-profit but need to look professional most of the time–even on casual days. I’ve found a lot of good deals at Ann Taylor and really love most of their cardigan and shell twin sets. Their dresses are also great.
    I pick up things at Banana Republic and JCrew when I can afford it and I stick to Gap and Old Navy for a lot of the basics.
    I love Nordstrom for shoes, although I’ll admit to buying some trendy styles and colors from DSW or even Target.
    I get most of my pants from Express or The Limited, and even though they probably don’t hold up as well as others, I don’t have a problem with throwing them in the wash and line drying and they just fit really well.
    I’ve yet to purchase designer jeans because my Levi’s Super Low Rise fit better and are more flattering than anything I can find. I’m not opposed to spending the money on things that fit and are high quality, but they need to be both in my opinion.

  9. R Jun 16 at 4:03 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely do not cheap out on your jeans. I love to go to Bloomingdales or Saks and just pick out dozens of different brands and styles to try on. It’s a full day affair. But, that’s how I found my favorite pair (also Joe’s).
    For shoes, DSW is also a great alternative. I’ve found lots of great deals there. Also, save some money for a quality bag. A nice bag can totally up the ante of an otherwise head-to-toe Target outfit.
    At the risk of sounding silly, I really like Forever 21 for sundresses. They’re pretty flimsy and disposable (take extra care when washing) but you can get some adorable dresses to wear all summer for next to nothing.
    And, I love to bargain shop at T.J. Maxx, Ross, and Filene’s. You have to be diligent about sorting through the crap, but I’ve found awesome deals on beautiful things there…PLUS it’s *the* place to find cute, but cheap gym wear.
    Amy’s advice is spot on. I don’t really know of ONE BRAND either. You just have to be diligent with your shopping money and vary up the stores you hit.

  10. Dawn Jun 17 at 7:50 am Reply Reply

    My wardrobe is a combination of Ann Taylor (not Loft), Target and Marshall’s, with shoes from DSW. I love Marshall’s and Target for trendy (one season) looks, and Ann Taylor for great fitting pants, blouses, skirts and dresses that are usually higher quality classics.

  11. MLB Jun 17 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    I second the recommendation for Ann Taylor Loft. Not too old fashioned, but not teenager either. And I found a fantastic pair of non-revealing jeans at Lucky a couple of months ago and love them. It’s so important to be able to bend over and not expose yourself.

  12. Julie Jun 17 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to reiterate the vote for Ann Taylor Loft. Over half of my closet is Loft clothes. They are good quality, hold up to washing well (almost everything I have from there is machine washable), and they fit great. The clothes are cut for those of us whose hips and boobs won’t fit into clothes from the Jr’s dept anymore – nothing too low rise or skimpy, but still very cute and fashionable! I’m 30 , but feel 23, so this is perfect for me! :)
    They sell a lot of what I call ‘basics’; pieces that I have been wearing for several years now, and they still look good. But they also have a couple of trendy things thrown in for fun each season…
    Most tops are between $39 and $49, pants are between $40 and $80 and dresses are usually between $59 and $120. It is definitely my go-to choice for any clothes shopping (they always have stuff on sale, free shipping online, or percentage off offers, etc..).
    Hope that helps!

  13. pseudostoops Jun 17 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    I own two pairs of jeans, both pricey, and about 4 million $5 old navy tank tops, and they look awesome together. An excellent fitting pair of jeans that make you look great are, for me, totally worth the investment. I will also spend a little more on a winter coat so it will look good and polished and not all threadbare by the end of the season. J Crew has nice winter coats that they often put on sale.
    I also buy short sleeved sweaters from Banana Republic on sale- as comfortable as a tshirt but looks much nicer for work, and they hold up well.

  14. matter Jun 17 at 11:54 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t wear a lot of expensive clothes. I shop mainly at NY&Co and Ann Taylor Loft for pants; shirts I buy just about anywhere. I have a few nice pieces that I wear for many seasons.
    I mainly wanted to comment on shoes. I buy nice shoes, but I wait for them to go on sale. I will never buy another pair of shoes at DSW! Most people think the quality is the same as you find in other stores, and that DSW just sells overstocks, etc. It’s not true! I used to work at a shoe company, and from my experience, I believe that DSW negotiates with the shoe manufacturers to get the lowest quality, and therefore price, possible. The value is not the same as buying shoes full price at Nordstrom because the quality is so low.
    I have no problem with people buying cheap shoes; some of my favorite shoes were cheapo purchases because I just couldn’t resist. Just don’t get fooled into thinking that the quality is the same.

  15. Catharina Jun 18 at 8:38 am Reply Reply

    I’m really sorry that I can’t help out with specific brands because a) I don’t live in the same country (although I used to) and wouldn’t be of much help and b) I am also a total mix-and-matcher when it comes to brands.
    I just wanted to offer a tip that has helped me tremendously in making my wardrobe more…useful. I realized which colors I wore most often and that suit me best (white, brown, olive green, grey and black) and ever since then have pretty much stuck with those. I didn’t have to try all that hard, because I tend to reach for those colors anyway. And all of a sudden: All of my clothes match! It is amazing how many outfits I can combine like this. I used to buy a pink blouse on sale here and a blue shirt there and then I’d never wear it. In the summer, I do wear more colors, but I am just saying that as a general rule, it totally helps to stick with a certain color scheme.
    Since I am a graduate student, I mostly stick with cheap brands and things that are on sale, especially for shirts, buy a lot of basics (again, easy to mix and match and can be spruced up with accerssories) and if I really like a shirt, I go back and buy it in several different colors.
    The things I am willing to pay more for are the kind of things you wear all. the. time: winter coat, winter boots, good jeans (!!!) etc.
    I have no idea if this helped, but I hope it did!

  16. Ginny Jun 18 at 9:32 am Reply Reply

    Ya’ll are the BEST! Thanks for the great info – so, I’m going to Walmart for my shoes and to Value City for jeans? PERFECT.
    JUST kidding – and while I would LOVE to get it all done at once (I tried that for maternity clothes – it was a hot mess. I felt SO FAT, at 4 months, in those rather large clothes), I am going to step back and try and do it somewhat methodically.
    OK – so I’ll definitely keep you posted in a few months, once I’ve gotten over my fear of shopping (did I forget to mention that?) and taken the plunge!

  17. Mary Jun 18 at 10:59 am Reply Reply

    Just wanted to third the recommendation for Joe’s jeans…so comfy and they look great. I normally go try on jeans somewhere like Bloomingdales and then end up buying online. Revolve Clothing always has a 15% off code (sometimes more) and free shipping/returns. (check out retailmenot.com for codes). Bluefly is good for jeans as well and if you know the exact size, wash, style, etc that you want you can save some bucks buying from a reputable seller on Ebay. I never pay full retail price for HE jeans.
    Oh, and Sarah who mentioned wanting a straight leg in Joe’s – have you tried the cigarette style? To me they’re pretty straight leg and they also come in a high-rise style (aimee wash)…..most comfortable jeans I own.
    Can anyone tell I’m jean obsessed? :)

  18. Suzy Q Jun 18 at 3:17 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, where do you find places to buy H&M clothes in the U.S.? There aren’t any stores or even online sources, that I’ve found.

  19. JennyM Jun 18 at 4:30 pm Reply Reply

    Things I don’t skimp on? Jeans, dresses and shoes. I heartily second (third? fourth? etc?) Joe’s, and I also like Paige and AG. When I’m not at work, I live in jeans. And when I am at work, I pretty much live in dresses. I’m a lawyer and our office is pretty conservative, but I am a transactional attorney and can get away with “trendy business casual” on a regular basis.
    I’ve got a couple of stand-by J. Crew suits, but I wear dresses most of all — basic wrap or wrap-ish jersey-ish dresses mostly and I have a ton. A couple are from Target, and they’re cute, but side-by-side you can tell a distinct quality difference. I love BCBG, Max Studio and Max & Cleo to name a few designers that make great dresses for my purposes — if the v-neck is too low, stick a tank/camisole under it, or even a white button-down, and VOILA! Totally work-appropriate! My bottom half is not as easy to fit off-the-rack as my top half, and I don’t have to worry about getting these dresses tailored like I would skirts or pants in order for them to fit properly. And if you’re not in an office environment, a wrap jersey dress is a godsend — think about it: no iron, and just drop it over your head and you’re dressed without thinking about it. AND, you don’t feel shlumpy! And of course, color-wise, it’s hard to go wrong with some basics like black and navy, those will last through trends, too.
    And shoes — again, for the office, they have to look nice and I prefer they not shred my feet, so I’ve converted to the spend more camp on my shoes. (Cole Haan with Nike Air gets a WOOT from me, too.) But really, for the most part, more expensive shoes wear better, longer and tend to work more easily with your feet. (Unless you’re talking about strappy 4-inch stilettos, at which point I doubt even the Loubs are actually comfortable.)
    Are there any consignment stores in your area? That’s often a great source for more expensive brands at a much lower price — and I prefer it over eBay because I can actually try before I buy.

  20. Abby Jun 18 at 9:03 pm Reply Reply

    To Suzy Q – There’s definitely an H&M at my local mall…try going to http://www.hm.com/us/#/startpagedefault/ because I think just hm.com is the U.K. store so they don’t list US locations.
    I know they don’t have them in all states, but there’s a store locator on that site, so maybe you’ll have some success.

  21. ma Jun 19 at 12:25 am Reply Reply

    Suzy Q – here is a link to the H&M store locator (I just googled “h&m store locator”; it was the first result):
    http://www.hm.com/us/storelocator__storelocatorhtml.nhtml

  22. Meredith Jun 19 at 11:11 am Reply Reply

    I just have to give a mention of my favorite store that does not exist anymore – Casual Corner. They had a fabulous mix of cute casual stuff and totally work-appropriate stuff. And, they had the BEST sales! I once went in and bought a 3 piece suit, 2 shells (short-sleeved shirts), and another skirt – all of which mix-and-matched – for about $120!
    I miss them!

  23. Ginny Jun 19 at 1:16 pm Reply Reply

    Has anyone purchased anything from the Fossil line of clothing? It looks cute – but I’m wondering about quality, etc.
    http://www.fossil.com

  24. Suzy Q Jun 19 at 3:54 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks, Abby and ma. There’s no store in my state and apparently you (or is it just me being dumb again?) can’t shop online.

  25. Sara Jun 22 at 6:00 pm Reply Reply

    I do a mix of The Limited (coupons galore, and a great sales rack), Target, and Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. When I get out to the outlet stores, I like Banana Republic and JCrew outlets.
    Target has a ton of great dresses, and I like to wear them dressed up and dressed down, with cardis and tshirts over them to change up the look a little bit.
    I try and buy my shoes cheap because I wear them out really, really quickly!

  26. Crystal Jun 22 at 6:18 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a HUGE fan of the Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor sale racks. I often can get Ralph Lauren button up shirts for 30. I occasionally go full price with Ralph Lauren, Eileen Fisher, and NY & CO pieces that are versatile and worthwhile.
    I try not to go too cheap on shoes, but I’m pregnant right now and terrified that my shoe size will go up so I’ve said that my current limit is $50 per pair, but I hate most of what I see. I miss high heels.

  27. Kaelak Jun 23 at 5:39 pm Reply Reply

    Ann Taylor Loft
    Ann Taylor Loft
    Ann Taylor Loft
    That is all I have to say.

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