Stylish investments
February 10, 2011 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me build a better, more cost-effective wardrobe! What's the one clothing/bag/accessory item that give the most bang for your buck?

More fun money + online shopping is helping me discover the clothes/bags/shoes obsessions that I never knew I had! I want to use my money wisely when it comes to clothes, but suddenly everything is calling to me. I try to consider my existing wardrobe when buying new items, but I frequently end up with things that I thought I would use/wear a lot...and they just end up sitting in my closet. I want to build a wardrobe around clothes I could wear many different ways, over and over.

I know there are some threads about general wardrobe tips/list of staple items that you should have (I think the Capsule Wardrobe thread was most helpful), but I'd like more specific suggestions on what you feel to be the "best return on your investment" items in your closet (I'd appreciate it if you shared your experience--why it was the best). They don't have to be the most expensive items...could be that $5 shirt you picked up at a thrift store, which you ended up wearing every day. If the item is a specific brand known for lasting quality (proven by your experience), please mention that, too! I know there are personal tastes in play, but I'm sure this will give me some good ideas.

Clothing/shoes/accessories/bags examples welcome! I'm a lass, but I also welcome input from the men here.
posted by sprezzy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I love Gap shirts--camis, tanks, t shirts, and long-sleeved shirts. They layer well and in multiple colors can really bulk up your wardrobe while not taking up much space.
posted by MsKim at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good pair of nice flat boots that can be worn with jeans or skirts or dresses. These are the best thing I own.
posted by something something at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is less of a specific-item-recommendation and more of a mentality idea, but I've started asking myself "am I in love with this?" before I decide to take it to the counter and buy it. Regardless of how much it's on sale, if deep down I don't really have to have it, I leave it on the rack. I've spent significantly less money this way, and my closet isn't bursting with clothes that I only felt "meh" about to begin with.

That said, I've always been thrilled with my finds on Anthropologie's clearance racks.
posted by litnerd at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Black collarless, long-sleeved flat knit cardigan. No buttons, no ribbed cuffs, just plain, hits about mid-hip from Eileen Fisher. Works over sequins or teeshirts, doesn't wrinkle. Less stiff than a blazer.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Slim black blazer. It works as light outerwear, looks professional at work, looks casual but put together with jeans, layers well over all kinds of dresses.
posted by mchorn at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Get a rock solid handbag.

I've got a deep red leather handbag from Andrew Marc that cost a pretty penny new, but I have carried that bag with me every single work day for the past 3 years. It's not over sized, but can carry my lunch + basic necessities and is well finished. Over time it's become more "distressed" but that's adding character to the leather, not actually looking shabby. Also since it's red it can go with brown, black and grey jackets equally well AND I don't misplace it because hey, it's BRIGHT RED.

Prior to this handbag, I'd get a cheap knock off, that would last only 6 months, and be disspointed that I was constantly looking for a new bag. (I hate shopping)

It's very much the principle behind Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" theory of socioeconomic unfairness: "But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten year's time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."

I have also applied this theory to a very well made wool coat (Moschino) that cost $600!!! on sale. I'm still wearing it 5 years later, and it still looks amazingly sharp. (did replace the pocket lining last year, but I'm notorious for jamming weird stuff in my pockets; and now I have velvet pockets! extra warm!)

Neither my coat nor back are well known flashy brands, but they are solidly built with good construction.

Key point: make sure to try on expensive things before you buy them, you want to feel the quality before buying something.
posted by larthegreat at 12:40 PM on February 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have a plaid uniform skirt that goes with EVERYTHING, but especially things in dark blue.
posted by NoraReed at 12:40 PM on February 10, 2011

Maybe it's just this hellish winter talking, but coats. Every time I zip up my long down coat, which I get tons of compliments on and picked up on sale for like $90, I think of how much value it adds to my life.

I have several Gap t-shirts that I've had for more than 3 years now, including backpacking trips overseas where I wore the same couple of shirts every day for months.

I also dig my Uniqlo cashmere sweater. This is its third or fourth winter and it looks as good as the day I bought it.
posted by Sara C. at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2011

At least two good cashmere cardigans (classic styling, crew neck or v-neck) -- one in black (or another neutral) and one in a color that flatters you and goes with other key pieces in your wardrobe that you can wear year-round. Very easy to dress up or down depending on what you layer it with, belts, etc.
posted by scody at 12:44 PM on February 10, 2011

I dress very casually and have a lot of accessories so keep this in mind

shoes that you will actually want to wear all the time - in my case it's these Sanita clogs

jewelry - artist made rings in silver - like these Lauren Wolf ones

my toss around nylon bags like this because I dont' worry about messing them up Tumi

a good wallet - I'm using a discontinued 49 sq mi one but I change wallets much less often than bags.
posted by oneear at 12:54 PM on February 10, 2011

Red handbag for sure, but I got mine cheap. Here it is (Buxton Everglade Mini in red). It's quite small, usually I just have keys/phone/lippie, at a pinch it'll fit a tiny, tiny purse umbrella. I've gotten a ton of compliments, and it's held up really well (6 months as my every day purse and it looks brand new). Oh, I did have to take in the strap, but it was trivial to do.
posted by anaelith at 12:55 PM on February 10, 2011

I think the best possible bang for your buck is a pair of perfect jeans. I have really gotten my money's worth out of my designer jeans. A dark wash is usually the best, but do whatever you like best. Try on the three million pairs it takes to find that perfect one. Then shell out. Then wear them every freaking day. It's so worth it.
posted by chatongriffes at 1:03 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

For me, choosing a super effective wardrobe is as much about what I won't wear as what I will. I avoid clothes that require ironing or dry-cleaning, that are thin enough to require an underlayer, that only coordinate with a couple things I own, or that aren't suitable for either work or going to the grocery store. I also avoid embellishments (rhinestones, metal bits, those messy chiffon flowers and trims that are everywhere this year) because they fly out of style, are less versatile, and wear out more quickly.

My absolute staple is a good 3/4-sleeve t-shirt with a moderate scoop neck or V-neck. (Boatnecks are also good, but they interfere with necklaces and sometimes show bra straps.) They go with everything and can be worn year round. Unfortunately these are surprisingly hard to find.

I've found the Gap Outlet to have a surprisingly good hit ratio for fairly trend-resistant staples, more than the regular Gap. Most of my go-to cardigans and work pants/skirts have been from the outlet, and I usually get a good three or four years of wear out of them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Awesome shoes. I recently realized I've had my Danskos for over six years, re-soling at about the three year mark. They are my primary work shoes, they were my only work shoes for about a year and a half, and I still love them and get compliments on them. They're cordovan, which goes with everything while still being a neutral. They're kind of a monkstrap style. I buy one pair of shoes a year, which ensures I get ones I love and will wear like crazy.

Consider only buying things you find you miss having (independent of when you're shopping). My black flats have been getting tatty after four years and are hurting my feet - time to look for new ones. I also run out of nice shirts to wear under cardigans - time to buy some more. Shop with a specific purpose in mind.
posted by momus_window at 1:23 PM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I find that having a chic pair of flats in a neutral color is a great investment to my office wear. I leave these gold flats under my desk to slip into when I arrive at work, they are cute with any of my outfits.
posted by lizbunny at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2011

My best investment was probably a Wacoal bra that is very comfortable and fits/lifts perfectly, so well that I tracked down other colors on eBay - worth the extra money. A great investment is good underclothing that fits very well, doesn't ride, and you barely notice you're wearing it; this makes what you wear over it look so much better.

But you're saying clothing/shoes/accessories, so in case underclothes don't qualify - I would say my best bang for the buck was embracing the fun of large slightly-flashy earrings. I love my big silvery hoops - in fact I have a few different versions - all under $5. I have a pair of large flat filigree dangles that cost $4 at H&M. These instantly make me feel more dressed-up and a bit exotic, even in jeans and a t-shirt. And when I actually dress up, they're usually all I need for jewelry - my one big statement piece.
posted by flex at 1:31 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Depends a lot on your preferred wardrobe (I'm more of a suit/dress dressy person) but here are my critical items:

1. Kitten heeled, round toed pumps in brown and in black. They never seem to go out of style.
2. Mid length comfortable black blazer in wool gabardine
3. Slim black skirt
4. Black pants.
5. Really well cut white shirt.

As to accessories, my favorite are a Brahmin bag in classy but neutral colors (brown and black) and pearls or gold chain with similar style earrings.
posted by bearwife at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2011

On the same sort of theme as litnerd's comment, someone, somewhere, once told me to always ask myself, "Will this ever be the *best* thing in my closet?" If there's not going to be some occasion where it's the best thing, why bother buying it (or, for that matter, why bother keeping it if it's already in my closet)?

My staple is button-down shirts, mostly in jewel tones, some pastels for summer. I buy most of mine at New York & Co., not because they're the absolute highest quality or anything, but because they fit me the best of any major brand I've tried and I can wash and air dry them and not have to iron them.
posted by mskyle at 1:38 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out the current issue of Lucky magazine. They've answered your question pretty spectacularly (I could not find the article online, unfortunately).
posted by halogen at 1:38 PM on February 10, 2011

nthing the Gap stuff. Gap Body Pure body long-sleeved tees in particular. Very comfy and thin enough to layer, but wearable on their own. I've tried buying other shirts for layering and they languish in my drawer.

A good pair of stretch-jeans. Dark. Spent a lot on them, but worth it. Wore them 2-3x a week for over two years.

Boots that work in snow and sun. I'm still pining after the pair that died. Hard to find black leather no-heel platformish boots with a zip and no embellishments. Still seeking after two years. Sigh.

Comfortable flats. I liked the Nike ballerina ones that were nice, but not too formal. Sadly, they don't make them in that style anymore. I'm currently seeking replacements.

I also would support the no-fuss laundering clothing choices.
posted by jlunar at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2011

I love the basics I have from American Apparel. They cost a little more than I usually spend on clothing, but I wear both of the built-in-bra camisoles I have from them every week, and zip up hoodies almost every day. They have held up very well.

I have switched to only buying real leather shoes (canvas or other materials is fine, but no faux leather), and my shoes are holding up much better. I only buy shoes I LOVE. I find that I only wear black shoes, so I stopped buying other colors (i.e. brown).

I also realized that I rarely wear colors - I usually wear black and gray. I stopped fighting that and now I just buy colors I know I'll wear, rather than trying to branch out and ending up with closet decorations.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:53 PM on February 10, 2011

nthing the only buy what you really like. I've started embracing the utility of shopping without actually buying anything.

I've found that buying nicer, expensive basics but cheaping out on accessories works for my wardrobe. I wear a lot of plain shirts + jeans + flats or boots, plus a rotating cast of not overly expensive scarves and earrings and things. My new thing is adding color to my wardrobe- I wear a lot of neutrals, and my favorite thing right now is a cheap bright yellow pashmina I bought off the street.

Also, earrings! Earrings are the cheapest jewelry, on average, and really easy to wear. I finally pierced my ears less than a year ago and I wish I'd done it earlier.
posted by MadamM at 2:09 PM on February 10, 2011

Seconding something something on flat or low heeled boots. I have a pair of Born boots (1" heel max) and they are awesome (becuase they make me feel like a sexy badass.) They go with nearly everything I own.

DKNY tights (but not the ones at Costco!) are the best value for money in terms of tights.

A pair of oxblood/cordovan shoes can often be worn as a neutral. They go with blue, they go with black, they go with khaki.
posted by vespabelle at 2:19 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was a gift, but the simple Coach handbag (old enough that it would now be called vintage) my mother gave me when she got tired of it. Simple, black, goes with everything except dressy evening clothes, and I've been using it every day for years. It's in need of a vacation at the shoe hospital or the leather cleaner's for some TLC and I'm not sure what I'll do without it. Note: modern Coach handbags aren't as nice! Look for a vintage style.

The single item I bought for myself was a faceted tanzanite, certified conflict free, that I bought at an "international gem and jewelry exhibition" and had set by my favorite jeweler in a simple setting. I wear it with a nice chain probably 3-4 days a week. It cost me several hundred dollars, but amortizing it out over time, it wasn't that expensive per wearing. But I loved it on sight, it goes with everything I own, and it makes me happy to wear it.
posted by immlass at 2:41 PM on February 10, 2011

If I could only grab a few things from my closet, it would be these.
A perfectly proportioned white linen camp shirt from JJill.
A pair of black wool crepe pants that fit perfectly and only go to the cleaner's 1x year.
A lime green tshirt.
2 3/4 sleeve cotton tees that can be worn together or alone - 1 blue, 1 olive.
A great jacket with lots of zippers.
A black linen jacket.
A perfectly-fitting pair of jeans.
A great pair of khaki shorts.
A pair of brownish-gray linen cargo pants.
A navy blue travel knit skirt.
Black & brown Danskos, black loafers, gray tights, my favorite scarves.

I didn't shop specifically for any of these things. They were all seriously on sale or from Goodwill. I try to subscribe to the do not own anything that you do not know to be beautiful and/or useful philosophy. When I find some piece of clothing that I just love, and can afford, and I buy it, it will just fit into my wardrobe, filling a void I didn't know existed, and I start wearing it all the time. And even though I didn't necessarily think so when I bought it, it will go with everything, and create new and unexpected combinations. Things have to fit well. If it's loose, it has to be loose in a way that suits me. It has to be comfortable, and really should have pockets. I do a lot better with clothes that are well-made, which often means expensive labels - at Goodwill.
posted by theora55 at 2:42 PM on February 10, 2011

Wow, I hardly know where to start. There's a Ghost bias-cut dress that I thrifted for 7 quid and wear all the time. I also got one of their skirts at a warehouse sale 20 years ago for £10 and still wear it.

Most things don't come up in the rotation that often... but my favourite things are ones I spotted in a thrift store and wasn't sure about but kept getting drawn back to because I fucking LOVED them.

Well, I guess there's my vintage (maybe somewhere around late 1960s?) Burberry trench coat which is the household's most prized possession and which feels like it was made especially for me. Every nook and cranny of it hits the sweet spot. It was 25 quid and, I think I can safely say, that was the day all my Christmases came at once and I'll probably have to get some really horrible disease to counterbalance that piece of luck. But even if it had cost 400 quid it would have been worth every penny (although I wouldn't have spent that much, which is proof of how foolish I am).

Or the skewed felt trilby I got from Peacocks for £6, I've been wearing that most days this winter.

...look, they're ALL wonderful. I love them ALL. You can't make me single one out over another. (Except the vintage Burberry.)
posted by tel3path at 4:40 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

...and I originally meant to say: the Topshop "true ballet" slipper. I carry a pair everywhere for total foot security.
posted by tel3path at 4:41 PM on February 10, 2011

The $8 black v-necks from Target, and the $10 H&M scarf. I literally get more attention by wearing my scarf. This may have to do with it being colorful and girly, which contrasts with my usual black shirt/dark jeans look.
posted by shinyshiny at 6:58 PM on February 10, 2011

There's an article in this month's Lucky magazine about how to put together 90 days of outfits with only a handful of items, totaling $500
posted by FlyByDay at 7:32 PM on February 10, 2011

These are the things that I wear into the ground, and will happily pay for good quality when they need replacing:

- big-ass tote bag. I have a few really spendy handbags and they just don't get enough use to justify the price. But a big leather tote, yes. Not crazy Olsen twin oversized, but big enough for a laptop
- leather boots. Bought a few rounds of vinyl boots before I learned this. Unless you're vegan, real leather is worth the money
- gladiator sandals in summer. Not the really fancy ones, just plain gold or tan. Dressier than flip-flops, cooler than ballet flats and looks nice with dresses and shorts
- men's dress shirts. I like the Esprit ones, they're cut quite narrow. Women's shirts sit too short on me unless I'm tucking them into a skirt. I feel like men's clothing generally is a bit better quality (and has more pockets) so I buy or borrow lots of shirts, peacoats, jeans...
- I wear jeans every day that it's cold enough (I'm a student), but I don't spend too much. I was lucky enough to find a chain store whose $20 denim fits me better than anything :)
- I have one beautiful cashmere sweater from Armani I got for $35 at thrift. I would wear it so much more often if I wasn't terrified of ruining it. But a nice cashmere (or merino, for non-pilling and washability) v-neck gets a lot of wear
- casual blazer with three-quarter sleeves. I bought a grey one on sale at target and have since duplicated it in a few other colours. Good over dresses, jeans, cutoffs, everything
- I like t-shirts but I would never spend big on them, they just don't last. Find a cheap-ish brand with a flattering cut and replenish as often as needed
- a leather jacket. I bought mine on a whim because it was on mega-sale and wore it all winter
- I don't wear much jewellery, but I get a surprising amount of wear out of nice hairbands - ones that match my hair colour but are made of feathers or ribbons or whatnot. I generally look a wee bit butch (see: above list) so it's a nice contrast, and cheap too, and doesn't get in my way like jewellery does

If you wait for good sales, it can be a nice opportunity to road-test things you're not sure about, which is how I discovered my love for skinny jeans and leather jackets. I recently bought a cheap pair of those skinny khaki cargo pants and now I'm frantically buying all the cheap pairs I can before they go out of style - they look so good! I do make some planned "big" purchases, like good boots, but some of my best buys have been things on sale or at thrift where I just said "what the hell" and gave it a try (caveat: this works best with neutral things that tie in with your existing wardrobe - so, black skinny jeans, not the pink ones. All my best ROI items are neutrals).

One last thing: military surplus is fun for solid boots and coats.
posted by jaynewould at 4:54 AM on February 11, 2011

Oh wow, I forgot my best purchase ever - a $2 black cotton scarf at a Cotton On outlet. It's massive, like 6 x 3 feet. It's a scarf! A shawl! A blanket in over-air-conditioned lecture theatres! It's washable! I can squish it in the bottom of my handbag until needed! I wish I'd bought about 10 of them. I live in fear of losing it.
posted by jaynewould at 4:56 AM on February 11, 2011

One last thing and then I'll stop talking - if you can't get hold of Lucky magazine, there's a video about the article here which shows some of the outfits.
posted by jaynewould at 5:40 AM on February 11, 2011

Durable versatile ankle boots in a standard color. Weatherproof, all-purpose, classic, fairly comfy.

Oxford button-down fitted smart shirts in classic and expressive hues (French blue, salmon, etc.).

Trim durable but comfy straight black pants--awesome for work-to-play transition. I have a closet full of old Lerner NY&Co. trim black breathable trousers from HIGH SCHOOL I still wear constantly. Ditto similar fabric pencil skirts--comfortable, not too stuffy, but being standard issue black and fitted appropriately in a classic cut makes them super versatile.

A handbag that straddles the line between work and weekend shopping/schlepping. For me it was a pebbled leather off-white structured bag with a long messenger-style strap. It's tidy and structured enough for work outings but roomy enough and a color that works with jeans and grocery shopping too. The specs will vary wildly based on individual, but think through what things you most want in both a work bag and all-the-time-slumming-it bag and try to envision what would meet both criteria.

One classy signature accessory or jewelry piece. Again, the particulars depend on who you are. It might be a delicate pendant charm thing. Or one somewhat flashy chunky silver necklace or bracelet. Or a scarf that works for work and play. Whatever it is, it's what makes you feel "ready" for the day and works for your look/personality. Helps establish emotionally eahc day that you're polished and ready to present yourself to the world. /cheesy women's magazine speak

A bra and underwear that makes you look awesome, is comfortable and breathable, and never has you tugging at straps or worrying about what people can or can't see through your clothes during the day.
posted by ifjuly at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2011

I have a leather jacket from high schools that is very basic but has a zip-out Thinsulate lining. I wear it most of the year - in the spring and early fall without the liner and in the late fall / winter with the liner. It cost 99$ on sale in 1999. Deal of the century.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:52 AM on February 11, 2011

Great blazers and coats that are neutral and can be worn with anything. You can instantly make virtually anything look significantly dressier. And bonus that it's socially acceptable to wear the same coat everyday, which mean you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Very nice flat or low heeled shoes. I find 2 - 2.5 inch heels are the sweet spot where you get the most heel with the least pain. Of course this height is very hard to find as most shoes are either 1 and below or 3.5 and up. Basically any comfortable shoe that can be worn in place of high heels.

Purses are by far the most expensive items of clothing (if you can call it that) that I own, but it's also consistently the best investment. I'm hard on my purses and they rarely last more than 18 months, but they are still worth every cent. The one I have now is Marc by Marc Jacobs. After a year of abuse I still love it and get compliments on it.

Good white tank tops. It's very important to get the right length and fit. I usually get American Apparel. They aren't perfect, but better than most and j crew stopped making the ones I liked. It's worth it to spend a little extra money so that they keep their shape.

I also get a lot of use out of my big cheap pashminas (fake). But shop around. All fake pashminas are not created equal and a lot aren't soft.

I also wear a lot of large cheap jewelery. Oddly World Market is great for this.
posted by whoaali at 3:43 PM on February 11, 2011

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