After a long, frigid winter of wearing bulky coats, heavy boots, and hair-flattening hats, you are SO done with cold weather gear. You’re ready for flowers, sunshine, and balmy evening breezes. But most of all, you’re ready for bright, colorful spring and summer fashion. But before you whip out that debit or credit card or your checkbook, take a moment to strategize about precisely how and where you will spend your fashion dollars. With careful planning, you will be able to enjoy the lift that refreshing your wardrobe can provide – without blowing a hole in your budget.
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Is It Tax Deductible?
If you’re hoping to save a bit of money with your shopping purchases at tax time, you will probably be disappointed. If (and only if) you spend money on uniforms or other clothing that can ONLY be worn for specific positions, you MAY be able to get an OK from the IRS. But the IRS routinely disallows deductions and credits for expenditures such as interview suits, hosiery or spiffy hairdos for especially important meetings. Nonetheless, if you think you have a legitimate reason to claim a tax break for a clothing purchase, save your receipts and make your best case.
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Fill the Gaps Before You Buy
You’ve mapped out your route of which stores to hit first and what sales are hot. Hold up. Do you really need ANOTHER pair of skinny black jeans? Take time before you go to the stores to check your closet. You may re-discover an awesome pair of barely-worn skinny black jeans that fit perfectly. While you’re at it, hit up some of your friends for possible exchanges – his great blazer could become a “boyfriend” jacket for you. Your matches-nothing pumpkin-colored skirt may be just what your orange-loving BFF covets. Think of it this way – the money you don’t spend can be allocated toward higher quality items once you’re actually in the stores.
Balancing Trends With The Classics
“Everyone” says you should spend the bulk of your budget on classics that never go out of style. Guess what, “everyone” is right. Spend as much as you can afford on basics such as gray, black and navy blue slacks or skirts and plain white or light blue blouses or shirts, plus at least one good suit. Two suits would be even better. The construction and materials of the pieces matter more than whether a designer has attached his or her name to the label. Another area where you should allocate more of your budget is toward good quality shoes. While it’s OK to pick up a cheap pair of cute flip-flops, the majority of your footwear should be top drawer. Your feet, ankles and even your back will thank you.
Not to say you should sacrifice style on the altar of practicality. Whether you are 15 or 75 you also want to look stylish and current. So do set aside a few of your dollars for that hot trend that everyone is wearing. Fashion is more than just body covering; it reflects your personality, too. You’re allowed to have a little fun.
Ride The Jeans Revolution
Jeans have become a universal fashion staple for nearly every occasion from weekend brunches to Casual Friday work wear. If you have found a label that you love and ALWAYS fits, stick with it, regardless of the cost. But if you’re not convinced a pair of jeans is worth $150 or more, you’re probably right. On the other hand, going super cheap can backfire. Those flimsy $15 jeans may rip in just the wrong location at precisely the wrong moment. Awkward!
Prioritize On Workout Gear
Workout gear is worth whatever you can afford. Think specialized footwear, sports bras, goggles, and helmets. Fancy yoga pants or color-coordinated aerobics ensembles? You can afford to skip them altogether for plain old shorts and t-shirts. But if you must have them, shop sales and markdowns to save $$$.
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Don’t Forget Accessories
You love, love, love that designer purse or top of the line briefcase, and you will be miserable without it. If you can afford it, buy it! One signature accessory piece can provide a punch of color and add impact to your overall image. And if the accessory is top-quality, it will last longer than a series of cheaper knock-offs. You should also hold out for the real thing when purchasing leather belts as well as gold, silver, and precious or semiprecious jewelry. But saving a few bucks on “fun” jewelry is totally OK. And unless you’re purchasing a special anniversary or retirement gift, a good-looking, mid-priced watch will tell time just as well as a big ticket timepiece.
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The Bottom Line
The take-home lesson when budgeting your fashion dollars is to be frugal and practical while still having some fun. Spend liberally on the things you need and save where you can. Be mindful. Don’t give in to impulse purchases. Follow the 60/40 rule. Spend 60 percent of your fashion budget on classic pieces that are always in fashion and 40 percent on trendy pieces. Sure. Classic styles have a longer lifespan but you don’t want a wardrobe full of black suits, gray sweaters, and white shirts. Make your splurges meaningful. Most of all, buy items that you will wear and use. After all, it’s not a bargain if it hangs or sits in the back of your closet with the tags still attached.
Audrey Henderson is a Chicagoland-based writer and researcher. She holds advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. Her writing specialties are sustainable development in the built environment, policy related to arts and popular culture, socially and ecologically responsible travel, civic tech and personal finance.