How I balance spending on clothing

March beauty favorites + 2 dud products

Occasionally I’ll be asked about where I shop for clothes, how I figure out what to invest in, or even my personal clothing budget. These questions made me realize that everyone has a different preference about what items are most important to invest in, and what items are good from a more inexpensive brand!

I can’t really address this subject without pointing out that I love finding great pieces to add to your wardrobe and sharing them on Instagram or here on the blog! While I’m certainly no fashion blogger, I probably shop more than the average person. On a similar note, everyone’s clothing budget is different, so my focus here is explaining my thought process to help you think through what YOU want to invest in so you can develop a wardrobe that you really love!

It’s kind of ironic to be writing this in my 3rd trimester of my 3rd baby but the idea came to me and I wanted to type it out!

I have memories of being in middle school and being so uncomfortable in my clothes. I remember noticing older women, you know. . . . women in their TWENTIES, and thinking that they looked like they had it altogether. I resolved that I’d probably find my personal style later in life, and that’s ended up being true!

In middle school, it was all baggy pants. In high school, I wore flare jeans and shopped at Delia’s. Then in the second half of high school, when I was also in beauty school, it was all black pointy high heels and tight flare jeans. In college, I shopped at American Eagle and Target, keeping the clothes pretty cheap and basic. When I moved to North Carolina halfway through college, I bought more polished clothes to wear while working at a salon and finishing up my degree.

From there, my wardrobe remained pretty predictable (which you can see from blog posts in 2011 or 2012). I took a strong turn toward neutrals after my first son was born. I was pregnant with my second pretty quickly after having my first, and so it felt like I was wearing maternity clothes for 2 years. My post-baby body was different, and a little challenging to dress sometimes, but I felt like I developed a wardrobe that really worked for being a mom and working from home.

So here I am, happily pregnant with my third, and I think I have a good grasp on what I want my wardrobe to be made up of. In an ideal world, I would be able to fit back into my old clothes, but it’s served me well to not set too high expectations for myself after having a baby. My body type doesn’t bounce right back, so I know I’ll be wearing some maternity clothes for a little while, especially pants, after the baby is here. The point of sharing all that backstory is to explain that I’ve fluctuated a bit on my style over the years, but I’ve also learned what items to invest in and when to save a few bucks.

I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl through and through. Oddly, shopping for and trying on dresses is something I love to do, but I’ve learned that I just don’t get as much wear out of them as I hope to. So I love a dress for Sundays and the occasional date night, but almost any day of the week you are likely to find me in jeans and a tee.

I’ve tried to implement a routine of asking myself a few questions to make sure I’m being thoughtful about my purchases.

  1. Does this fit my body and my lifestyle right now? 
  2. Can I picture it with at least 3-4 other items already in my closet?
  3. If I have something similar, what makes this better/worth it? 

The second question is the one I spend the most time on, and generally I’m able to answer that pretty quickly. My style is simple, easy, and comfortable, and I really try to mix and match almost everything I own. I never ever buy an “outfit.” I only look at my closet as a collection of pieces that I can mix and match together. Keeping my shoes pretty neutral means I can easily swap out slip-on sneakers for ankle booties or a wedge depending on the season. I truly don’t own anything that only goes with one other item!

The capsule wardrobe trend that popped up a few years ago helped me think about wardrobe versatility in a good way. I never followed through with creating an actual capsule wardrobe, but it challenged me to think of mixing and matching what I already have with other basics I felt good in.

So for me, as a jeans and tee kind of girl, I’m going to invest in 1. jeans and 2. t-shirts. Profound, right? Except for the occasionally splurgy dress from a Trunk Club order, I find great dresses at Old Navy, Target or LOFT. To me, these are solid price points (especially when LOFT runs a sale!).  However, my most-worn denim is almost always designer, (my favorite is AG) but I get years of wear out of it. I also found great denim at Madewell last year too.

For t-shirts, Madewell makes a great simple v-neck (at a great price!) but I recently found one that I like even better from Anthropologie. I’ve had some good experiences buying t-shirts from Old Navy in tall, because otherwise they can be a bit boxy and short for my taste. They also don’t hold up as well and I’m usually tossing them in a donation pile at the end of the season.

If I’m looking for shoes, I’ll typically browse in-store at DSW or online at Amazon or Sole Society. I find more of my winter boots and booties at Nordstrom, but summer shoes can come from Target, DSW, or online.

For outerwear, I found a great jacket at Old Navy this season, and I wear a lot of the same jackets I’ve had for years from J.Crew Factory or other outlets. I’m not a huge jacket person, so once I find a good basic, that’s what I’ll wear for a long time. I had a trench coat from Gap that I bought nearly 10 years ago that I finally replaced with this one from Amazon, and I’m hoping to get another good 10 years out of this one!

My favorite bras are currently from Gap Body, and I love finding pajamas and other undergarments at Aerie.

For bags, I typically stick to one “investment” bag a season and fill in with other cheaper ones if needed. I don’t like changing up my bag too much, and my most recent love is the Madewell medium transport tote. I love it so much that I got the pink version for spring!

Have you narrowed down what items in your closet you like to invest in, and which pieces you find are okay to go a bit less expensive with? 


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Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog says · 03.29.18

Great questions to ask! I’ve improved my budgeting for clothes over the years as well, but still have some way to go. I’ll be keeping these tips in mind. 🙂

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

Allie says · 03.29.18

I also like to invest in jeans, and shoes I wear all the time (sneakers, boat shoes, while sandals, basic flats). For dresses, I wear them a lot, so I like to stock up on quality pieces when brands I like have a sale (especially the Lilly sale). I don’t like to spend much on tops, but I’ve found some great basic ones at J.Crew Factory! I’ll have to try the Anthro one, thanks for the tip! xAllie

Erinn says · 03.29.18

I rarely buy items that aren’t on sale! So that is one major restriction I put on myself with clothes shopping. I also make sure I have several outfits in mind if I want to buy a pricier piece…great tips!

Elizabeth says · 03.29.18

I love thrift store and garage sale shopping. There are always people who, for whatever reason, practically get rid of newish designer clothes. I’ve gotten wonderful peices at a fraction of the cost. Just have to have a keen eye to look for wear and tear and make sure it’s a good fit but there are great finds out there if your budget doesn’t allow for brand new designer clothes.

Mary Anna says · 03.29.18

Goodwill is my go-to! I’ve bought clothes with tags still on them before, and save SO much money! We have a joke in our house, that most of our clothes are GW Fashions… LOL

Kim says · 03.29.18

I definitely invest in Jeans too! Love these tips. Especially the idea of imaging the item with other items in your closet!

Kim .. LAST MINUTE Easter ideas!

Mary Anna says · 03.29.18

Goodwill is my go-to! It takes some time, but you can find such nice clothes at great prices sometimes! I bought a JCrew skirt the other day, in perfect condition, for $6, and I know it had to be at least $40 new. It’s a hit or a miss, but I usually have good luck. I also don’t buy anything unless I absolutely love it. This helps me avoid buying clothes that I may be hesitant to wear, and will not get put to use.

Shannon says · 03.29.18

I too am a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal! Lately I find myself buying solid color tees and cute blazers to wear with them to work.

Aerie is one of my favorite places for undergarments and yoga clothes!

Michelle says · 03.29.18

Great post! That Madewell tote is super cute, but can someone please explain the purse with no zipper thing? I don’t like the idea of someone being able to look into my purse and even put their hand in it! Would love to hear your thoughts!

Kate says · 03.29.18

I guess I’m not often in a place where someone could just look into my purse AND it’s a pretty deep bag so a stranger would have to be RIGHT next to me to see in it!

Nicole says · 03.29.18

Hi Kate!
What was the name of the ruffle dress that you showed yesterday on Targets website? I think I need one. 😊 I looked and can’t find it. Please help.

Shelley says · 03.29.18

Women’s Striped Short Sleeve Asymmetrical Ruffle Hem T-Shirt Dress – A New Day™

Lg says · 03.29.18

We are the same age and I’m laughing about flare jeans and black high heels in high school… so much YES! Ha! I don’t have a huge clothing budget and I’ve learned to go for more timeless pieces so I’m not spending money on trends that will be out next season. I never got into the cold shoulder thing for this reason. (Sorry to all the people who love the shoulder cut outs lol :D)

Bethany from CuteCapsuleLife says · 03.29.18

I completely agree with you on buying quality pieces that fit your lifestyle and that you love and will last! I made the switch to a capsule wardrobe last year and now feel the freedom to buy better clothing because I buy fewer overall items! Loved hearing your approach!

Bethany | Cute Capsule Life

Megan Forbes says · 03.30.18

Last year I saw “The True Cost” on Netflix and it completely changed the way I think about clothes. Buying fair trade and organic clothing is such a great way to go! And the aesthetic of most fair trade companies would fit your style. 😊

Belinda D Green says · 04.01.18

Well said!!!

Leah says · 04.01.18

This is awesome Kate! I’m a nurse and for work I wear my scrubs (so no need for a work wardrobe) and when I’m at home I’m chasing two toddler boys around so I strongly identify with you on being a “jeans and t shirt” kind of gal. I also live in Minnesota where it’s winter 7 months out of the year so I’ve started to invest more in sweaters and jeans with some t shirts and tank tops to swap out with in the brief summer.

Nicole A. says · 04.11.18

Kate I have to tell you that I bought a bunch of those Gap tees in the tall size after you recommended them and I’m so glad! They are my FAVE! I wish I had bought two in white, black, and grey so I would have back-ups!! Another jeans and tee gal right here 🙂

Lindsay says · 06.22.18

Wearing a Gap tee right now! I owned them (5 of them!) before Kate mentioned them, however when she mentioned them I ‘knew’ I was on to something. ha!

Tricia says · 05.09.18

I was thinking of buying the madewell tote you have but I was concerned because it didn’t look like there was any way to hold it close, like a magnet or snap. Do you find that’s a problem for you? I just worried about things falling out or someone being able to take something out.