Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to upgrade your closet. It’s a totally legit concern; doesn’t your mom ever say, “Dress for the job you want?” Or maybe you’re burned out on buying a ton of cheap stuff at Forever 21 that you wear once and then throw away or donate immediately after. There’s nothing wrong with a binge trip to a fast-fashion store, but occasionally you start to yearn for something more. Something that isn’t made of polyester. Something that’s cut just so. Jeans that don’t lose their shape after one wearing. You know what I mean. Something nicer.
But you’re broke. Same here. Even though I don’t make a ton of money in my day job as a shopgirl and my night job scribbling for the Internet, I still know how to get the pretty designer garments I want for way less than the ticket price. It’s not as hard as it sounds; it’s not hard at all!
Before you start hunting, think about what you really need. Maybe it’s clothes for work. Maybe it’s a drop-dead dress for a friend’s wedding, or a perfect black handbag. I don’t advise spending your hard-earned money on something you might not wear very often, unless it’s too amazing to pass up. I bought a vintage sequined and beaded dress covered in sparkly stars and letters for $75 last year; I don’t wear it much, but when I do I get so many compliments. It’s one-of-a-kind and totally special. Another “silly” purchase that has paid off is my sequined jumpsuit, which I wear way more often than you’d think. But in all honesty, spend your money on things like a perfect black dress that fits you just so. You can wear it for everything.
Do a little research. If you’re totally new at the upgrade game, educate yourself in fabrics! Learn the difference between merino wool and real wool. Figure out which ones suit you best; I love mohair, but it gets in my contacts. I can’t wear it. Figure out which styles flatter you. You will have to spend some time in the dressing room, so get comfortable.
1. Shop resale or consignment.
For the most part, all of my great designer pieces have come from my favorite Minneapolis resale shop. I’ve gotten Chanel saddle shoes, a Dolce & Gabbana leopard pencil dress and many, many more great pieces, usually for less than $100. An owner who knows her customers’ taste and only buys pieces in excellent condition is worth her weight in gold or expensive purses. When I eventually buy my Balenciaga dream bag, it’ll totally be via a resale shop. Also, making friends with store owners means they’ll let you know when something you’ve been looking for shows up.
You can practically buy anything on eBay nowadays. However, do your research before you make a big purchase via the auction site; if you’re buying, say, a designer bag, make sure you have checked the seller feedback and examined the photos thoroughly to make sure you’re not buying a fake. I can spot a fake Louis Vuitton from a mile away. The great thing about eBay is that you can set up alerts for what you’re looking for, like “Manolo Blahnik Timberland boots size 38.” (FYI, I scored said Manolos, dream shoes since the days of Bennifer I, at a Buffalo Exchange for $37.)
3. Which brings me to my next point: stores like Buffalo Exchange, Wasteland and Beacon’s Closet can be FULL of awesome pieces.
You never know who is cleaning out their closet and bringing the goods in. When I’m not selling clothes because I’m desperate for cash, I like to accumulate some credit just in case I find something fantastic in their racks. The best thing I’ve ever found, besides said Manolos, is a Piazza Sempione wool pencil skirt, which I paid $40 for. It probably retailed for about $600. You can swap some of your old pieces out for new things. These stores can be hotspots for good inexpensive vintage too. Just make sure you examine everything before taking it home. (Pro tip: deodorant stains can be easily removed, but sweat stains are much harder to get rid of.)
4. Thrift stores.
Duh, right? But thrift stores can be a wasteland of bad 2001 American Eagle sweatshirts. I always, always look for cashmere when I’m thrifting, but I’m picky about it. I don’t buy cashmere from Macy’s Charter Club, for example; it’s cheaply made and doesn’t feel as soft and luxe as quality cashmere does. You really have to dig around at a thrift store and you will leave defeated and empty-handed once in awhile, but there may be a $2 Fendi cashmere cardigan in your future! It happened to my friend.
This is not an easy task! You can’t upgrade your closet all in one day, but you can definitely do it little by little. And the thrill of the hunt is the best part anyway, right? You might get addicted.