19 Wardrobe Hacks for the Forever Frugally Fashionable Part 1: Women

Fashion is a big business and expensive. All those glossy fashion magazines are designed to make you buy way more clothes than you need. Now, that being said, I love fashion. I love trends and pretty clothes and expensive handbags and cool tops and yes, Project Runway while we are at it.
I love fashion. I just don’t love what it does to my budget so I’ve designed some wardrobe hacks that help curb fashion spending.


  1. First find your muse. I don’t want to be seduced by the latest trend so I follow a couple of popular fashion bloggers in my age group who are also businesswomen. I let these industry influencers be my first line of defense in what to buy, what I don’t need and how to frugally interpret the latest trends. Or not.
  2. Figure out the type of clothes you need to suit your lifestyle. If you are retired, you likely won’t need a lot of work clothes. If you don’t go to church or attend a lot of posh charity events, you probably don’t need a bunch of dressy clothes.
  3. Figure out your style early on. Are you bo-ho chic and like hippie-esque clothing? Do you gravitate toward classic and clean lines? Are you a fan of Channel? Whether your style is romantic, chic, glam, exotic or a mixture, figure out your style and avoid styles that don’t resonate.
  4. Know your body type well. I give the newly minted Duchess Meghan Markel credit, she knows what works for her body type and what photographs well. Most of us don’t need to worry about being red carpet ready or being stalked by viciously critical paparazzi every time we step out of the house but it helps to figure out what works for your body type and gravitate toward the lines and styles that work best with your body type. My BFF is a double (triple?) D and has to work to find flattering tops that work with her generous bust. She tends to buy at Chicos where she can find tops that both flatter and work for her figure. I personally always found Chicos a bit matronly for my style but during a recent shopping trip I discovered that the cotton they use in may of their tops is incredibly soft and luxurious. I found a couple of basic long sleeved oversized shirts that I love and wear often now so I am a convert. I probably will never buy their pants but the tops I found are now part of my foundation wardrobe of basic tops.
  5. Divide and conquer, using math. You have 168 hours a week to clothe yourself, give or take a few hours for showers and baths. So, figure an hour plus a day and you need clothes for 160 hours or so. At least 25 percent of those hours might be for work or daytime, 40-60 hours. That’s roughly a quarter of your wardrobe but I suggest using fully 50 percent of your clothing budget since those clothes must be quality. The rest of your clothing budget is for recreation and rest and the occasional specialty item like a wedding or party dress. Figure 30 percent for recreation (including working out), 10percent for sleepwear (jammies, we are talking jammies unless you don’t wear them of course) and 10 percent for specialty clothing. These percentages can change depending on where you live. You won’t need a heavy coat if you live in Hawaii but you might need three or more if you live in Minnesota.
  6. To build a workday wardrobe, you need a foundation. Stick to the basics. I prefer navy and black but find for yourself a couple of neutrals that work with your coloring and spend your money on quality here. Jackets, skirts, pants…you only need a few of each but they should all have simple classic lines and last a long time. Consider your foundation a canvas on which to paint your style.
  7. Once you have a foundation, back fill with colorful tops. I buy mine at discount outlets from stores I love such as Ann Taylor and Zara. I wait until they are deeply discounted, from $39.99 or more to $9.99. I stick to patterns that are classics, like polka dots and smaller, interesting prints. Anything too wild is already out of style and will look dated quickly.
  8. I like dresses but try to stick to basics here so I can change them up with jewelry and scarves. If you like dresses, buy a couple of basics that will last. The little black dress endures. model-2758787_1920
  9. Buy your unmentionables in bulk. Find what works for you and buy in multiples on sale.
  10. Accessories are one area you can have a bit of fun. Stick to less expensive options like trendy belts and costume jewelry. I tend to buy scarves because they can be worn so many ways and last for years.
  11. Shoes, like that epic episode says on the show Sex in the City, can cost more than a condo if you don’t watch your spending. Again, build a foundation with several pairs of neutral-colored pumps and work shoes and then fill in with fun shoes that are on sale only. I love a stylish pair of pumps but after a sudden hip replacement, I had to embrace flats too. Make sure all of your shoes are supportive. Nothing is worse than painful shoes. high-heels-2184095_1920
  12. Don’t be seduced by fancy work out gear. I spend a lot of my free time at the gym where, while toiling away on the elliptical and wondering how many calories are in a croissant, I see many women prance around in $200 leggings and impractical workout shirts, which are all, in short order, going to be ruined by sweat and wear. I also see the serious gym rats, in torn sweats and baggy shirts and applaud them. They are there to work out, not impress, unless you count the girl who can bench press my SUV, she is impressive no matter what she wears. I buy $15 leggings and use tee shirts from my travels and concerts (they often make for interesting conversation starters and are the only tee shirts I buy because they are memories as well). I have been teaching yoga for decades and I can assure you, my basic workout gear lasts far longer than the trendy, designer dudes worn to impress. Spend your money on really good workout shoes for your sport of choice, that’s where you need to put your workout clothing money. yoga-263673_1920.jpg
  13. Snooze fest. My partner thinks a clean white tee shirt and jammy shorts are pretty hot so I don’t spend my clothing budget on fancy lingerie. I also don’t like being cold so any money I do spend goes toward sale priced sleep pants that are warm and durable. yet soft because I am a textural sleeper. Crisp clean sheets, firm pillows, soft jammies, all contribute to a better night’s sleep. I find the big box store occasionally has good deals, as do the discount stores. My sleepwear lasts for years so I don’t spend much here.
  14. Find and embrace one off beat signature color as part of building your signature look. Mine is currently an alarmingly putrid shade of yellow/green. I know that sounds bizarre but I have very pale skin and intense green eyes so unusual colors work on me. I am fond of asking startled sales people what they have in colors of death because shades of decay work for me. What can I say, I am easily amused when I shop. My BFF is a classic winter so she gravitates toward strong shades of purple. Even her go-to daily tote bag is softly deep shade of purple and it works for her look.
  15. Speaking of handbags, don’t try to have too many. Invest in a good bag and watch for sales. I find Coach bags are always classic and I wait for sales to find a new one every few years. Like shoes, this is one accessory that quality really tells. Don’t skimp on a good handbag.
  16. Outerwear can be expensive so again, if you live in a region where it snows or gets cold, invest in a decent coat with simple lines and a classic look. In the Bay Area where I live it doesn’t get very cold but I travel on business to some pretty frigid locations so I have a couple of investment coats. If you just need something casual or utilitarian, think Army/Navy surplus. I bought a green Army coat that I wear for all casual cool occasions and it wears like iron. winter-3052624_1920
  17. Speaking of military, take a look around your local Army/Navy surplus store for casual duds. Military garb is designed to endure a lot of rough and tumble wear (think Navy Seals on a mission in the Middle East) and as such is usually very durable. Shirts, jackets, and pants of many types can usually be had on the cheap and can last a long time for a lot less than you would pay in an upscale jeans store.
  18. Seasonal savvy. You know where you live and what the weather is generally like so plan your wardrobe budget accordingly. If you have short summers then you don’t really need a lot of breezy, cool sundresses. Conversely if you live in an area with long, cold winters, be sure and invest in warmer clothing such as wool pants, bulky sweaters and ankle boots.
  19. For spring and fall, should you live in a region with four actual seasons, learn to layer and thus extend your basics. This is where light sweaters and jackets in less heavy textiles in neutrals can extend the versatility of your foundation wardrobe.
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