This is a guest post from Carrie at It’s Frugal Being Green. My own “fashion” is limited to Costco and Goodwill, so it’s difficult for me to offer advice for those who want to dress for success. Carrie has some tips for those who need to be fashionable and still save on clothes.

The spring clothes-shopping season is rapidly approaching, and I’m ready. I have my calendar marked twice a year — once in early February and once in early August — to clean, inventory, and organize my closet. That way, I’m fully prepared to shop wisely when the major spring and fall collections hit the stores.

My strategy
Shopping at sales isn’t effective for me because the low prices lead me to buy things I don’t really like or which don’t fit right. I’d rather pay full price for things I actually love.

I allot 5% of my take home pay for clothes. Five percent each month doesn’t seem like much — but 5% per year is a sizable chunk. By breaking down my clothing budget and adding to my wardrobe only twice a year, I’m able to curb costs and still purchase a variety of useful items. In order to find pants and jackets in tall sizes, I frequently shop online. I may go into a store to try on an item if I’m not sure what size I need, but I avoid buying items in the store for a few reasons.

Placing larger orders less often allows me to take advantage of discounts and free shipping offers with higher minimum purchases. A policy of not shopping in the store significantly limits impulse purchases. And shopping online has the advantage of making it easy to see your total before committing to the purchase — it’s a lot easier to remove an item from an online cart than it is to tell a sales associate I don’t want an item after they’ve already rung it up!

When shopping online, it is critical to understand return policies. Sometimes items arrive not quite as you expect them. I tend to order online from either sites that allow me to return items to a brick-and-mortar location, or from sites that pay for return shipping so that I don’t incur extra costs. Also, make sure you try things on as soon as they arrive; return periods are often limited.

Be prepared
Before I buy anything, I make sure all of my current clothes are cleaned, ironed, and repaired. I also take time to throw out anything beyond repair. Anything that doesn’t fit or no longer suits my style gets donated to charity or auctioned on eBay. Then I make sure everything is put away in an organized manner so I can actually see what I already have. I sort things first by type: pants, sweaters, shirts, shoes, etc; then by situation: casual, work, and dressy; then by color.

Once organized, I can take stock of my wardrobe. With everything in its place and in ready-to-wear condition, it’s easy to see what items I have in abundance and what areas are lacking. If I have any items that I want to wear more often, I can figure out what other items I need to finish the outfit. I can also start thinking about what sorts of items I’ve been wearing most often (these are the types of things I’ll probably want to buy again). And I can plan for seasonal items (swimsuits or coats), special occasions, and utilitarian items like running shoes, workout clothes, and pajamas.

Fashion on a budget
Between now and late February, I’ll start tearing pages out of catalogs when I see an outfit I like. I can try to recreate it with items I already have and see what I need to finish it. When the fat March and September issues of the fashion magazines come out, I can peruse them at the library and see what’s new that I like. I can also start adding items to online carts and wishlists and spend time thinking over my options.

I don’t target specific price points on particular items because I treat my wardrobe as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts — I’d rather have one quality item that I love and wear often than many that I hardly use. Still, the total price of my orders needs to be within budget, even if that means removing an item at checkout.

By early March, I’ll be ready to place a couple of online orders for a selection of items that I both need and love!

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