Prev Next

The Smart Way to Overhaul Your Wardrobe

By Amalah

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!

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?

Published June 16, 2008. Last updated June 16, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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.

icon icon
chat bubble icon