Clothes are a basic necessity that also express your style—but building a good wardrobe can be expensive. According to Statisticbrain.com, the average American spends about $120 a month on clothes. No matter if you’re way above or below that number, the challenge is to get the most out of every piece that you bring home.
In this article I’ll give men and women eight smart tips to spend less on clothes and build a better wardrobe at the same time. You’ll learn how to create a wardrobe strategy, know what’s a good deal, how to get deeper discounts, and how to care for what you buy the right way so it lasts longer.
Tips to Spend Less on Clothes and Build a Better Wardrobe
Use these tips to build a great wardrobe for less and protect your purchases so you can enjoy them for years:
Tip #1: Set a “one in, one out” rule
A few years ago I noticed that I kept running out of clothes hangers and my big walk-in closet kept getting more and more crammed. I was adding new items but rarely purging old ones and it was finally catching up with me.
So I created a rule that every time I buy something new, something similar has to go. For instance, if I buy a new pair of shoes, I better be ready to sacrifice an old pair that I haven’t worn in a while. Or if I buy a new sweater, I need to throw one out that doesn’t look so great anymore.
If you want to be aggressive about paring down your wardrobe to essentials, get rid of 2 items for every new one that you bring home. This strategy will really make you reevaluate what you like and wear often versus what’s just taking up space in your closet.
If you truly have a gap in your wardrobe—like no black boots or running shoes—that’s one thing. But in general we tend to buy more and more of what we already have. And the more stuff that’s in your closet or drawers, the easier it is to forget about the good pieces you already have because they get buried.
Decide why you need another top or pair of jeans before you buy it. Is it because what you already have doesn’t fit, is out of style, or just looks shabby? Be clear about why a piece in your wardrobe isn’t working and make the decision to donate it to Goodwill or throw it away before or immediately after you replace it.
Be clear about why a piece in your wardrobe isn’t working and make the decision to donate it to Goodwill or throw it away before or immediately after you replace it.
Tip #2: Create a clothing baseline
While I can’t tell you the exact number of garments you should have in your wardrobe, I recommend that you create a clothing baseline. This is the total number of items in your closet.
I settled on my hanging wardrobe baseline when I got rid of all my mismatched hangers and invested in Huggable Hangers. These amazing hangers are thin so they save space, and have a curved shaped with a non-slip, velvety surface. This prevents the shoulders of tops from getting stretched out and keeps clothes from falling off.
If you saw the 2015 movie Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, it tells the story of Joy Mangano who invented Huggable Hangers and many other products that sold millions on the Home Shopping Network and QVC.
These hangers make my closet look more uniform and organized, but they also keep me honest. If you only have 100 special hangers, then you can’t exceed that amount of hanging garments.
For items you typically fold, like jeans, sweaters, or t-shirts, decide how many is reasonable and stick to it. If 10 pairs of jeans is more than enough, make a deal with yourself to throw away any unused pair before expanding your wardrobe to 11 pairs.
The baseline and “one in, one out” strategy helps me stay away from mindlessly buying sale items. Even if something is at a rock-bottom price, I remember that I’ll have to give something up in order to bring it into my wardrobe.
Tip #3: Buy quality basics
I’m a big believer in buying better quality basics. Think about the foundational pieces you wear over and over, like black pants, black shoes, suits, long-sleeved white shirts, or a black sweater.
These wardrobe staples won’t last or look good for very long if they’re cheaply made. A pair of shoes that are trendy, but not well-made or don’t fit well, won’t give you any satisfaction or value and will probably gather dust in your closet.
It’s better to buy trendy items cheaply because they’ll be out of style very soon and just end up taking up space in your closet. So consider buying fewer trends and investing a little more in your basics so they last longer and prevent you from having to constantly replace cheaper versions. That saves money, time, and hassle in the long run.
Consider buying fewer trends and investing a little more in your basics so they last longer and prevent you from having to constantly replace cheaper versions.
Tip #4: Buy clothes that fit now
Never buy clothes that don’t fit you perfectly right now. I always feel like I should be a few pounds lighter than I am. But I know that I’ll feel and look better in clothes that are the right size when I need them.
If you’re in the middle of a big weight loss program or are starting a new exercise program to lose weight or build muscle, I don’t recommend buying key clothing pieces. Wait until your weight and body size stabilizes before investing a lot in your wardrobe and purging items that don’t fit anymore.
Tip #5: Never pay full price
One way to afford better quality clothes is to never pay full price. There are so many sales at top retailers and ways to get discounts online, paying full price should be the exception and not the rule.
If you find a wardrobe staple or something you need right away for a special occasion that’s a perfect fit, color, and style, then I might consider buying it. But it’s likely that you could find the same item or something similar on sale.
If you’re in a local store, don’t be shy about politely asking for a discount if an item isn’t perfect. Any damage that you or a cleaner could easily correct—like a loose or missing button or a stain that probably isn’t permanent—is fair game for at least a 10% reduction.
When I try on clothes in a store or see a handbag that I love, I typically wait and buy it online instead. Not only does that give me time to think about whether I really need the item, but it typically allows me to buy it for less.
When you start your online shopping at free sites like Ebates and Giving Assistant you get cash back. Ebates sends you a check or makes a deposit in your PayPal account for your rewards every quarter. Discounts vary depending on the retailer, so find all the major stores that sell the item you want, and then purchase it from the store that offers the best cash back offer.
Another way to avoid paying full price is to buy out of season. You probably know that if you buy a heavy coat at the beginning of winter, you’ll likely pay much more for it than at the beginning of spring. That’s because season-specific clothes—like bathing suits, summer shorts, and winter coats—hit the shelves about a month early and then are likely to go on sale about halfway through the season.
Retailers have to turn over merchandise frequently in order to make room for the next batch of incoming items. So keep the big picture of the retail industry in mind and resist the urge to pay full price for the coming season. Instead, buy quality pieces after they’re marked down, but that you can still wear.
I know that it can feel strange to buy a wool sweater when it’s hot outside or sandals when there’s still snow on the ground, but filling gaps in your wardrobe in off seasons and using online discounts are the best ways to build a quality wardrobe for less.
Tip #6: Buy easy-care clothes
The more clothing you can buy that doesn’t require expensive, professional cleaning, the better. In fact, many clothes that say “dry clean” can actually be washed at home, if you’re willing to do it carefully.
The more clothing you can buy that doesn’t require expensive, professional cleaning, the better.
I routinely wash wool sweaters, silk tops, and linen items in a cold delicate cycle with a gentle liquid detergent, like Woolite. Never put them in the dryer; let them dry naturally.
You can speed up the process by laying out an item out on a bath towel and then rolling it up, pressing moisture out as you go. Then unroll the towel and reshape the garment on a dry towel or hang up lighter pieces where they can air dry.
Some fabrics, like silk and linen will need to be ironed after they’re dry. Items that I really love are tops that have the look and feel of silk, but are polyester. They can be tossed in a cold, delicate cycle, hung up to dry, and don’t even need an iron to look perfect.
Now, certain types of clothes, like suits and party dresses, must be dry cleaned in order maintain a crisp look and to avoid shrinking. Leave woven wool fabrics or any clothing with delicate stitching, beading, or sequins, to the professionals.
Tip #7: Extend time between cleanings
No matter if you send out clothes to a cleaner or wash them yourself, remember that cleaning stresses fabric and can cause clothes to wear out faster. So forget the idea that you need to wash everything you wear every time you wear it. Extend the time between washes by spot cleaning pants, jeans, shirts, jackets, and dresses.
One trick I use for jackets and blazers is to turn them inside out, spray on a fabric refresher, and let them naturally air out. This works perfectly when the item is basically clean, but just has a little armpit odor.
Febreze is the best known fabric deodorizer and it’s not just for couches and carpets—it works great on clothes. Lysol and Dreft also make fabric refreshers and there are eco-friendly products like Biokleen and Eco Breeze.
Woolite has a product called Dry Cleaner’s Secret, which is an at home dry cleaner for delicate items, like silk, linen, and cashmere that works in the dryer. I’ve never tried it, but it claims to remove odors, stains, and body oils in about 20 minutes.
Another tip is to wear an undershirt or a basic, thin cotton t-shirt under shirts and sweaters. Men usually do this, but women should do it more often when possible.
A short sleeve shirt that covers your armpits is better than a tank or camisole so you really protect clothes from sweat stains and smells. You wash the t-shirt, but may be able to skip washing the garment you wore over it.
See also: Cool Tips to Save Money on Utility Bills
Tip #8: Take care of what you buy
There are many ways to make your clothes last longer and still look great. In addition to washing them less, you need to launder them the right way. Follow laundry basics, of course, like washing like colors together and not over-stuffing the machine.
When you get a stain, the trick to making it disappear is to treat it as quickly as possible with a stain stick, spray, or liquid stain remover. Clorox 2 is one of my favorite detergents because even when I’m sure that a stain has ruined something, if I follow the instructions, it always comes out.
Another tip is to keep clothes with elastic or spandex—like underwear, athletic shorts, yoga pants, and bras—away from dryer heat. Let them tumble on a low setting for a short period of time or lay them out to air dry. Using the dryer less protects your clothes and saves money on your utility bill!
Also make sure that any item with a zipper—like pants, skirts, and hoodies—are completely zipped up before they go in the washing machine and dryer. Zipper teeth can easily pull and destroy other garments in the same load.
If an item that you love does show damage or wear, have it repaired by a professional. Missing buttons, a small run in a sweater, or a worn heel are easy to fix and cost less than buying a new item. I’ve had quality boots re-heeled and re-soled many times and they come back looking like new.
Missing buttons, a small run in a sweater, or a worn heel are easy to fix and cost less than buying a new item.
How you store clothes is also really important for making them last longer. With dry cleaning, remove the plastic bags before putting them in your closet.
Cleaning chemicals can cause fabrics to yellow and weaken over time, so let your dry cleaning air out. For long-term storage for suits and dresses, choose garment bags made from natural fibers like cotton or canvas that can breathe easily.
How to Build a Better Wardrobe
Building a better wardrobe is about picking pieces that reflect your personal style, are appropriate for the type of work you do, and complement your lifestyle when you’re not working. You’ll get the most bang for your buck when you choose items that can be worn interchangeably with everything else.
Clothes don’t last forever—even when you care for them meticulously. As you need to replace old pieces, it’s a great opportunity to invest in affordable basics and update your look at the same time.
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