I went to see the movie Crazy Stupid Love the other day. My wife and I wanted to go on a date, so I suggested that we see this movie. From the previews, I expected a straight up romantic comedy. It's not that I thought that I would hate the movie, I just thought that it wouldn't be quite “my thing”. Well, it was, and for a very unexpected reason. Ryan Gosling. No, not the scene where he takes his shirt off, and not even because of the way that he acts or because he is a pickup artist. I really, truly, just liked his clothes.
Which is a little odd for me to say, because I have never really been interested in fashion before. I've been wearing jeans since I was 14 years old, and I was relatively sure that graphic t-shirts are the be all and end all of upper body wear. I have never been confused for someone who is fashionable, and I blame that solely on two reasons. First, I've just plain never been interested. For me, clothes were always functional – in that they kept me from being too hot, or cold, or naked. Wearing something solely for the way that it looks seemed downright silly. Second, fashion can be expensive. When I first married my wife, I was absolutely shocked at how much she was willing to spend on a pair of jeans. I still have to fight the urge to run away from denim that costs more than $20.

So I have gotten a little better about investing money in good quality articles of fashionable clothing (like $30 jeans. woo!). I have begun to recognize that it can be worth it to put more money down upfront for proper fitting clothes. Not only are they more likely to last longer, but you're more likely to continue to wear them if they actually fit well. While I don't recommend you take this as permission to go out and purchase some ridiculously expensive clothes, there are some things you can do to be in fashion on a budget.

Thrift Stores

You can actually get a lot of really good clothing from thrift stores to keep your fashion on a budget – if you know what to look for. I am not an expert myself, but I do know many people who prefer to shop at thrift stores. Not only are you more likely to get pieces for an inexpensive price, but a lot of the older clothes that people drop off seem to be “in style” right now anyways. Here's the trade-off, however. If you are going to be purchasing clothes from thrift stores, you are going to have to be willing to spend a lot of time and energy. You are going to have to go almost every day (or at least every day they get new stock), as close to when they stock the store as possible. Otherwise other people are going to get to the good stuff first. Which brings us to the second point. You're going to have to look through a lot of junk to find the good stuff. There's a ton of crappy clothes in thrift stores, and just a few gems. You're going to have to sort through all the crap. How do you know what's not crap? Well, that's the third part. You're going to have to do research and a lot of experimentation in order to figure out not only what is good quality, but what is good quality that also works for you, your body, and your style. So if you have a lot of time on your hands and love treasure hunting, consider making thrift stores your shop of choice for your fashionable wardrobe. Just don't forget that if you want to take full advantage of the thrift stores, you are also going to want to get a good tailor, or learn how to tailor clothing yourself. Even if you do find the perfect item, chances are really, really good it won't fit you perfectly – which is, of course, the most important thing when dressing yourself.

“Knock Offs”

While I don't recommend regular trips to China for “name brand” clothing, there are cheaper, legal options for clothing that looks similar to the more expensive, brand-name option. If you find something that you like, and it happens to be an exorbitant price, then step back from that item and shop around. You may find that you are able to find a very similar piece from another retailer for a much cheaper price. If you look around online, you'll usually find guides for clothes that take every price range into account. For jeans, for example, it seems like there's a good jean in every price range from $30 to $300+. The more expensive ones are “better” according to some people, but start by trying on the $30 jeans and seeing if those work for you. In my case, I found a bunch of jeans at Winners for $15-30 that fit me much, much, much better than my old jeans did. I was able to upgrade my wardrobe to a more fashionable option for a relatively inexpensive cost. Though those $300 jeans are really growing on me…

Slow and Steady Sales

Everything goes on sale eventually. It will either be an end of season or going out of business or store opening sale, but eventually, if you wait long enough, you should be able to find your desired item on sale. Potentially the best, though slowest, way of building a wardrobe is to figure out what you want, and then just sit back and watch prices while you slowly save for those more expensive options. Let's say that there's a winter jacket that you have your eye on. It's genuine leather, gorgeous, fits you perfectly off the rack, and you absolutely must have it. But it is $450. Well, maybe you have to realize that you can't have it for this winter, but you can start saving for next winter. You keep your eye on it, and winter comes and goes and suddenly, in the beginning of the next summer, it goes on sale. So you finally purchase it, but have to wait another 4 months before you can even wear it. It took time, and patience, and perhaps some frostbitten fingers, but you were able to get your fashionable item (of which there was no thrift/knock off option). Congrats! Now to start saving for some boots….

As you might be able to tell, fashion can be very expensive. It can also be very addicting, and it is one of those things that just never stops. No matter how many shirts you buy, there is always one more that you could use to really round out your wardrobe. Therefore, what I recommend is to always having a budget, focus on the core basics, and purchase clothes that can be worn through every season. Also, if you want your wardrobe to really last, try to get clothes that have a timeless sense of style to them, so that they won't be out of fashion in 6 months.

About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.