In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” Marge finds a pink Chanel suit at an outlet store.
It’s her ticket into the ritzy country club, but being on a budget she decides to alter the outfit on a weekly basis into new designs until it totally unravels at the sewing machine.
A lot of consumers these days can sympathize with Marge Simpson’s plight as they try to stretch their fashion budgets.
As the economy continues its slow and uneven recovery, many consumers are prolonging purchasing that new power suit for the upcoming interview, the trendy cocktail dress or even the new winter coat.
Some men don’t dare button the business suit purchased two years — and 10 pounds — ago. The female middle manager crosses her fingers walking to the office, fearing the 2-year-old heels she’s wearing will snap like her other trusty pair did last week.
But fashion necessities can be purchased on a budget, experts say. It takes patience. It takes a plan. Here are some tips on how to update your wardrobe, and make it last by saving where you can and splurging for quality.
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Back to basics
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When it comes to saving on fashion, experts say splurge on the basics that never go out of style, don’t get suckered in by trendy brands or en vogue styles, and always — always — seek quality.
For women, this translates into spending cash on that little black dress, and for men, splurging on at least one custom-made suit.
In the business world, men are often judged by their shoes while women are judged on their handbags.
Men need to stay away from the gum-soled shoes and splurge for a good pair of shoes that can be repaired and be kept polished. Women can go with one or two good pairs of pumps but can save money on the trendy shoes that come and go with each passing fashion season.
“My rule of thumb for saving and splurging is: I always ask myself how many seasons am I going to wear that for,” says Nikki Novo, a writer whose fashion articles have been published in Allure magazine and on NBC.com.
Novo says she’s willing to pay for a good pair of slacks or that little black dress. “Anything that has a solid color and has a classic silhouette,” she says. As for the flavor of the season, such as loud graphic prints and the cute little dress or skirt, she’ll go to a Target or Forever 21.
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Is a purse just a purse?
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Prices can reach the stratosphere for the well-known name-brand purses. The experts say trend away from brands such as Louis Vuitton or Coach, and spend that money on something that is high-quality but less expensive.
“Make sure it’s not imitation leather or anything other than good material,” Novo says. Cheap bags will break and become shiny with wear. They end up costing money because women have to buy another bag sooner than they would if they just bought a good one to begin with.
Natalie P. McNeal, author of “The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up The Fabulous Life,” says one good bag is good enough. Fashion bags that match a cocktail dress or a cute little summer bag to go with a sundress can be had for a steal at discount and big-box stores. She even used a makeup bag once as a purse, she says.
Women can also save money on secondary shoes. Shoe stores such as Nine West and Steve Madden turn out high-quality imitations of brand-name shoes that sell for 10 times the price, Novo says. So don’t overpay for those peep-toe heels, she says, because they are probably manufactured in a foreign factory just down the street from those expensive brands using the exact same material.
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Fit to be ‘tied’
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For men’s basics, it’s trickier because they have fewer. There’s the power suit for work, the polo shirt for weekend casual outings, khakis or jeans. It’s the male uniform.
Novo says men should have at least one custom-fitted classic suit, most likely in black or gray, for special occasions, be it a wedding or a funeral. But for every day wear to the office, they can go for the two-for-one deals that men’s stores specialize in every spring, fall and holiday. Also, department stores offer quality suits and slacks from quality name brands.
One of the more perplexing items to shop for is the men’s dress tie. They can be very expensive. Novo suggests buying quality, keeping the colors bold and classic, and staying away from cartoon and novelty ties.
“Stay with style, and spend a little more,” Novo says. “I always notice a man’s tie.”
McNeal says, “No one wants to look at a Bozo tie.”
Women should not forget they can dress up a drab outfit with a scarf, many of which run for less than $20.
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Accessories vs. necessities
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Women have to think about what accessories they can save on and which necessities to splurge on.
Men and women should follow the same rule of thumb for handbags when it comes to belts. Buy one made of quality leather and not plastic. “You don’t want them puckering,” Novo says.
And go costume on jewelry, McNeal says. “Rhinestone studs, you can fake it with that,” she says.
Watches are a little more complicated, especially in the business world, McNeal and Novo agree. While a Rolex may not be within one’s price range, a good mid-range watch should complement a professional look.
When it comes to underwear, McNeal says men should stick with the big-box stores like Target or Kmart. They can skip the Calvin Klein underwear. The significant others in their lives are just happy if they are clean and without holes.
The same goes for women with items such as girdles and hose, which will run whether they cost $40 or come three to a pack.
But McNeal says it’s important for women to have quality lingerie, especially bras that fit properly. “It looks good, and you feel good on the inside,” she says.
While women can splurge on lingerie, it’s best to skip the top-of-the-line workout clothes. McNeal says not to become a gym queen and even suggests buying workout gear in the boys’ section of big-box or department stores if you can.
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Even when you splurge, look for deals
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And finally, for men and women, be a savvy shopper. Your investment, in time, will pay off. High-quality clothing, even expensive name brands, can be had if the consumer is patient and timely.
Hit the mall during holidays such as Labor Day or after Christmastime when stores are shedding. McNeal says look for “flash sales” at the online clothing sites, which are proliferating.
And don’t be shy about going into a thrift store. They are full of treasures, especially in expensive neighborhoods.
But remember, even if you buy on the cheap, never look cheap. Because, McNeal says, in the professional world, the way you dress is the way you brand yourself. In an economy where jobs are scarce, every little advantage helps.