How to Be Cheap: Revolutionary Fashion

Be a fashion revolutionary, not a fashion icon! To do this, you must first forget the fashion falsehoods. Fashion sells the lie that you need new clothes every season, or even every year. This is not based in reality at all. I have clothes that have lasted since high school. Granted, they aren’t the most stylish (they weren’t back then, either). But if you buy quality basics, you should be able to wear them much longer than a season or even a year.

Fashion is really just another aspect of consumerism, but it’s particularly tempting as it’s so closely tied to identity, perhaps especially for females. In response to the air-brushed models and well-styled actresses flooding the media, we believe the lie that our looks determine our value. Soon we are slaves to our appearance. If we don’t have the right clothing, shoes, purse, jewelry, and make-up, we are unattractive and therefore worthless. If we say we don’t believe this, let’s live like it, too!

Fashion is sometimes beautiful, more often ridiculous.

To fight the fashion myths, wait until your clothes are really worn out or don’t fit, and then shop at thrift stores, clearance racks, and sales. You don’t need to be in style or have your clothes fit like they’re tailored. At the same time, don’t buy clothes that are obviously cheaply made. For example, many of the mall stores with teeny-bopper-type clothes have cheap prices but the clothes fall apart in less than a year. Find stores that sell quality items for less, but always consider whether you could do better at the thrift or second-hand store.

All the same principles apply for shoes, pursues, and other accessories. Why do you need five purses? Just get something basic that will match many outfits and seasons. Don’t buy into the myth that you need shoes and accessories to perfectly match every outfit. Who cares if the shade or style is a little off? We’re revolutionaries, not fashion icons!

While the fashion industry is quite artificial since no one needs new clothes each season, fashion itself can be an art form that reflects the beauty of God’s creation and His creative image stamped in us. So I’m not saying it’s wrong to match, or wear flattering clothing, or buy a new dress once in a while. It is harmful, denigrating, and enslaving to take our identity from what we wear and frivolously spend on clothes when there are better ways to use our money.

So what is a revolutionary to do?

Recognize the difference between want and need. Maybe you’d like a new pair of shoes to match a particular outfit, but if you’re like me and already own a dozen pairs, you probably don’t need them. Most likely you own something suitable, if not entirely fashionable. Learn to let go of the idea that you have to look red-carpet ready to go the grocery store, or even to a wedding.

When you do need something, shop around for a good price. Depending on the item, consider trying a thrift store or second-hand shop first. Most Goodwill and Salvation Army stores have dressing rooms, which is a big advantage because it’s a waste of money to buy something only to find out it doesn’t fit. And most thrift stores have “deal” days, like the Cuyahoga Falls Salvation Army has fifty percent all items on Wednesday. The Village Discount Outlet has different tag colors fifty percent off every day, and on Mondays one tag color is only fifty cents. Of course thrift shopping always involves the luck of the draw and takes more time. If possible, try to go early to get the best deals.

My favorite store

At the mall, avoid stores where clothing is inexpensive but cheaply made. I find that Express and Limited brands hold up well. Most of the clothes I’ve had since high school (I graduated seven years ago), are from these stores. So if you go to the mall, head to the clearance racks at the back of the store. If you’re looking for something in particular, keep in mind that the cheapest items are those just going out of season. So think ahead and then shop ahead (or behind) as appropriate. Kohl’s often has very good clearance, although I don’t fit into their misses sizes, and I find their juniors items to be less well-made. There are bargains to be had, so don’t give up hope. For example, I didn’t pay more than $10 for any of the jeans I own, and I bought them new at the mall.

If you’re small, try buying socks and shoes from the children’s section. I’ve found good particularly good deals on tennis shoes (half the price of the same adult shoes).

Buy men’s dress-casual clothes new, on clearance racks or sales. Men tend to hang onto their clothes longer than women, meaning that the thrift store collection is often missing buttons and full of sweat stains, food stains, rips, and holes. There are occasional deals to be had on unworn items, but generally I don’t find it worth an hour to find one such item. I usually get Neil’s shirts and dress pants on sale or clearance at Kohl’s.

Another good strategy is to borrow and get hand-me-downs from people less cheap than you. Here’s a dirty little secret: the cheap people need the not-so-frugal people to save money. Without them there would be no thrift stores, no hand-me-downs worth handing down, and no one’s closet to raid. My sisters and I share clothes sometimes, although less frequently now that we live further apart, and I welcome hand-me-downs, especially from my fashion designer sister! Always remember to take good care of other people’s clothes if they’re on loan, though. One of my sisters ruined a most fabulous find of mine, a light blue silk blouse I got on clearance at Banana Republic for $5. In trying to return it to me clean, she put it through both the washer and dryer. So be careful with other people’s stuff!

Once you’ve got your new or new-to-you rags, take care of them! This will make them last much longer. The best way to extend a garment’s lifespan is not wash it too frequently. Of course you’ll wash your undergarments and exercise gear often. But with jeans and sweaters, the more expensive items, don’t wash every time you wear. Unless you’ve spilled something on them, there’s really no need to wash after one or two wears. I wash one pair of jeans per week unless I spill something on them. My sister designed denim for Express and she agrees with this advice.

I barely believe in dry-cleaning. I’ve taken Neil’s suit to be dry-cleaned once in the five years he’s owned it. And I took a wool coat once, with a coupon of course! That’s the extent of my dry-cleaning experience. Instead of spending money at the cleaners, I avoid buying dry-clean only clothes. My husband is less careful about this and has gifted me with a number of dry-clean only garments like wool sweaters. He even managed to find a pair of exercise pants that aren’t supposed to be machine washed. Can you think of anything more impractical?

So what is a frugal wife to do with such items? It’s what I call “home dry cleaning.” First, wash items only when needed, like if there’s a stain or it’ stinky or sweaty. Next, most items can be cleaned in a gentle, cold water cycle in a washing machine. Just don’t put the item in the dryer—I shrunk more than one sweater that way. If the item will lose shape, lay it flat to dry; otherwise hang it up right away.

If the no-machine-wash item is extremely delicate, such as with beadwork or silk, wash it by hand when necessary. Use lukewarm water and just a dab of laundry detergent. Scrub stained areas or the armpits by gently rubbing the fabric against itself. Then wring it out and hang or lay flat to dry.

One of the big advantages of dry-cleaning is that your clothes come back pressed and ready to wear. But there’s
a way to avoid both dry-cleaning and ironing. I buy wrinkle-resistant dress clothes for Neil, and generally stay away from clothes that requiring ironing for me. Wrinkle-resistant fabric is very common in men’s dress clothes so it usually doesn’t cost more, especially when you’re shopping clearance and sales. Really resisting wrinkles takes some diligence with the laundry, though. You can’t let the clothes sit in the drier after the cycle is finished. It actually works best to take them out while they’re still slightly wet, or immediately after they’ve dried. Hang them immediately, squarely on the hangers, in a way that does not smash the clothes into each other. Using this method I only iron about once every three weeks because Neil still has some shirts that aren’t wrinkle-resistant. Using the method above makes ironing easier for all types of fabric.

To make bras last longer I wash them in a bra ball, also called a lingerie bag. It’s a little mesh bag that zips open so you can put small delicate items inside. I purchased one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $4 with a coupon, which is much cheaper than buying a new bra.