Quality over Quantity in the Closet
Part of wanting to do with fewer clothes is making the ones you keep last. And, I have to admit- I’m not all that good at it. Sure, I can physically hold on to a shirt for a decade, but that doesn’t mean it’s still in good shape.
I know the general laundry tricks- follow wash instructions, wash in soft water, hand-wash delicates, skip the dryer, etc. But rarely do I follow them- I mean, skip the dryer? What do I have it for, then? And where, in an apartment, do you suggest I hang 3 (soon to be 4) people’s clothes?! But we’ll talk about that another time.
The biggest part of my problem, I think, is that in general, we own cheap clothes. Stuff I grabbed on sale for $6 or less somewhere like Target or Meijer that was made somewhere overseas for pennies. And I don’t just mean “cheap” as in the cost- I mean “cheap” as in the workmanship. You know the stuff- fades or pills on the second or third wash and might even have obvious flaws like off-kilter seams.
Not that there’s anything wrong with having cheap clothes- some stuff it’s better to have cheap, in my opinion. Anything where you’re trying something new for your wardrobe and you’re not sure it’s a look you love is a good place to start cheap, or secondhand and inexpensive, at least. Camis that are usually under something else and T-shirts you don’t necessarily plan on wearing more than one season I would also say are good things to shop cheap. For example, I know, thanks to my PCOS and overenthusiastic sweat glands, a light-colored T-shirt is NOT going to get more than one summer of wear for me unless I am very, very diligent about my stain-fighting (and one trip through the dryer with a stain still in- toast!), so I won’t pay more than $5 for a pale T if I can help it. It’s just not going to last, even if the materials are great, so it’s not worth an investment for me.
But I can see the difference in the things we own that weren’t cheap- and my best illustration is my husband’s collection of polo shirts. He wears them frequently- not necessarily every day, but 3-4 times a week, and he definitely has favorites. Most of the polos are roughly the same age, circa 2011/2012, however, some clearly show more wear than others. And, since I have a fantastic memory for money, I remember roughly how much each of them cost and where they came from, and it definitely tells me where I should be spending our clothes budget. I can also see differences in materials within a brand- for example, he has several Croft & Barrow shirts from Kohl’s, and the ones that are 60/40 cotton/polyester have held up better than the 100% cotton ones. I know they’ve been worn about the same, too- the two I’m comparing here are both in the laundry basket pretty much every week. The light blue one is the blend and the black one is 100% cotton, and the black one is definitely more worn and much less true to its original color.
The idea of spend more, less frequently is a tough one to get on board with for me, even though I know it’s a time and money saver. I’ve spent so much of my life squeezing every penny to its last drop of zinc that even spending $30 in one place not on groceries makes my heart rate increase. I’m serious- even at the discount clubs when I pick up 3-4 months’ worth of toilet paper and wipes (and once a year, trash bags) and it costs me about $40, I panic a little, and those are things we need regularly and is even a good deal at a little over $10/month of use.
I bought 4 new nursing bras for myself about a year ago to the tune of $77, and I sat in the parking lot staring at the receipt, wondering if I should go back in and return them- but they fit well, I needed them, and they are all still in great condition and in use today. Obviously, that was a great buy- even when you just think about the fact that one bra at Victoria’s Secret can easily run you $40-50 on its own -an excellent one, in fact, if you break it down to cost per use.
Cost-per-use is what I’ve come to use to help me jump that hurdle- rather than simply going off the amount leaving my wallet, considering how much an item is going to cost me per time I use it makes me not only more comfortable with larger, necessary purchases, but requires thought pre-purchase about how often the item in question is actually going to see use. Meaning, if I buy a $20 pair of shoes I wear once, and a $50 sweater I wear once a week, the shoes have actually cost me more than the sweater.
I need to learn to keep this in mind while I’m adjusting and paring down my closet contents- I can build a quality, long-lasting closet with fewer items for the same as I’ve built a too-large, worn-looking one.
Now, this doesn’t mean stop looking for deals- by all means, if I can score a $70 sweater I’ll wear and love for $30 or less, fantastic! A lower pricetag does not necessarily mean lower quality, just like a higher tag doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality; it’s just about doing some research and shopping smart. I’ve gotten sweaters at Forever 21 that’ve outlived and outworn sweaters from Nordstrom (gifts…I’ve never had the cash to even walk in the door of a Nordstrom’s!). And I’ve gotten some higher-end items in great condition at thrift stores, too. Take the time to feel the fabric and look at the seams- try stuff on and feel how it fits. If it doesn’t feel and look like they made it for you, put it back.
And then…I need to learn to take care of it. I have a laundry system I haven’t changed since college…one hot load, one cold load- the hot load is socks, underpants, towels and the like (anything extra dirty or germy by nature or effort) and the cold is, well, everything else. I know I can do better than that, and I will be. This whole thing is a process, and old habits die hard, so I need to gather the arsenal before I dive in!
Any tips for shopping quality for me? What brands and stores have you come to trust with your clothing budget?