How to shop for great items on a tight budget
By: Ashley Williams
With every screech of the metal hanger before, the search for the perfect fashion piece becomes more intense. Browsing through the racks and racks of shirts, dresses, skirts, and pants, brings about the excitement and thrill of finding the perfect item in any vintage store. This store in particular hosts garments and accessories from the 1940s to the 1990s. Each piece, unique and one-of-a-kind, subdues any shopper’s passion of finding items seemingly created solely for them. Looking through this quaint vintage store, the super short, shapeless mod dresses from the 1960s and the knit off the shoulder sweaters from the 1980s all hit the right spot in my fashion-filled mind. But as I glance over to the accessories counter in the little vintage shop, I notice a 1960s vintage Dooney & Bourke bag that only my grandmother could have owned. When I realized Dooney & Bourke bags cost about $300 plus I knew I had to have it. Retail price: $60. The all leather, emerald green, navy blue, and cream handbag with brown detailing is the perfect fit for my purse collection, actually, the perfect fit to anyone’s collection. So of course, I got the bag. A unique find like this can be achieved by anyone. Having a good eye and knowing where and when to shop are all factors of buying on a budget for any fashionista, or anyone interested in fashion, that is. With some tips and hints I’ll show you the best places to shop when you want to buy a great piece on a tight budget.
Thrift Stores Companies like Goodwill and Salvation Army have been around for over 100 years, and many people have utilized their services. However, many others have shunned them, only shopping at department stores, boutiques, and malls. When we think of items at the Goodwill or Salvation Army, we think – sequined holiday sweaters, pasty black high-waisted “mom jeans” and run down Reeboks from the 1980s. Nonetheless, through some of the fashion faux pas throughout the store, there are many hidden gems to be found. Mostly, it takes a lot of patience and a good eye for a good find. Remember that many of the people who are able to donate their clothes away are usually have somewhat of an idea of current fashions. When they no longer can use these items or simply don’t want them, they know that donating to these services is a tax write off and a great way to give back. Searching through these stores, you can find many great designer pieces that are either gently worn or have never been worn before (with tags). A great item I found on shopgoodwill.com is a silver Diane von Furstenberg cocktail dress that was auctioned off for $26. Originally this dress was about $485 and is still being auctioned off on websites such as ebay.com at this price. Finding items like these are not always going to be easy, but when you do come across them, you know it was definitely worth the try. Ekom Ekwere, a fashion merchandising major, purchased a black and pink, Bisou Bisou, three-quarter length shirt with a black detailed bow on the back for $4.99 at a Goodwill store in Pembroke Pines, FL. Remember that if you have no luck at one particular thrift store, most likely there is another somewhere around your town. What one Goodwill or Salvation Army might not have, another may.
Fashions Recycle When one style goes out, it is only gone for so long. While shopping at Goodwill or Salvation Army, you may come across vintage clothing that was once out of style but now is in fashion and for a much cheaper price, such as denim wide leg jeans from the 1970s that have now hit the runways in 2009. Vintage boutiques are also a great way to find once out-of-date clothing at cheap prices. Now, not all vintage boutiques are inexpensive, especially in cities like New York or London, but nonetheless, you can find those great gems in the midst of the racks. While shopping at Sick Boy Vintage right here in Tallahassee, I found a vintage 1970s Florida State Football shirt for only $7. Usually, our FSU logo shirts run around $20-$30 at the bookstore. I was also able to find vintage 1980s Levi’s 501 high-waisted jeans for only $14. Currently, the Levi’s 501 jean runs from $68-$78 on levi.com.
Vintage You must have patience and an eye for what you want while shopping vintage. While there can be many great finds within vintage shops, just be careful of broken stitches, zippers or holes that compromise the item. Because these items have been passed along for so many years, some malfunctions may occur that can ruin a piece. However, something great about all vintage clothing is that they are one-of-a-kind. For young girls shopping for a prom dress, vintage shops may be better than going to the mall because of the unique selection. Or even for young women going to a cocktail party where they want to stand out; vintage clothing can set you apart.
Grandma’s Closet If your grandmother is like mine, and keeps almost all her key pieces throughout time, then you may find some special items hidden in the back of her closet. Grandmothers are a great way to reminisce on previous trends and fashions throughout the 20th century. Especially since many of the high-end designers we know of today (Lacoste, Chanel, Yves St. Laurent), weren’t as expensive during their time. I know that my grandmother bought many designer items back in the 50s and 60s, which were considered cheap back then, but now can cost well into the thousands of dollars. That’s how I snagged my vintage Louis Vuitton Speedy bag, which goes for about $700 today. Okay, so you may not find that perfect dress for a first date or high-wasted 1950s dark denim that has made a come back in 2009, but accessories like jewelry, bags, and scarves are always items that never go out of style.
Discount Retailers If you’re not the type of person to shop at thrift stores, or you don’t like the idea of used garments passed along from the 1970s, then another great way to go shopping on a budget is at discount and off-price retailers. Examples of discount and off-price retailers are Wal-Mart, Target, Tj Maxx, Ross, Marshall’s, and Steinmart. Discount retailers are companies that sell their items at a discounted price to the customer, while off-price retailers are companies that sell merchandise that did not sell at other department stores. Today, discount retailers like Target have big name designers within their stores to offer quality clothing at affordable prices. Designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Mossimo, and Liz Lange are all featuring their items at Target for the woman on a budget. Stores like Tj Maxx and Ross offer designer clothing passed down from department stores. Many times these are the items that did not sell in the department store, while other times the manufacturer made a surplus of clothing and sold it to the off-price retailer. Latia Walker, a co-worker at Steinmart, stated they currently had in stock a “BCBG jogging suit that cost $52 for both the pants and a hoodie, while Macy’s sold it for $198 for each piece separately.” With a keen eye you can find great items for much less than if you were to go directly to the department store. Many people complain that off-price retailers are out of style and not up with the current fashions. Sometimes this may be true; however, other times, there are many pieces that naturally never go out of style, such as a little black dress, or a basic medium-wash bootcut jean. Jessica Octavien recently told me she “found Seven For All Mankind dark denim jeans for $50 at Tj Maxx.” These run almost $200 on 7forallmankind.com. Rarely do you ever find designer clothing on clearance, or even marked down a few dollars. However, knowing the right places to shop and at what time, you can find great deals or great items.
Good Sales After every fashion season, the items that did not sell usually go on clearance. But to know when this happens, you have to know some background information about the fashion industry. One, fashion only has two seasons – autumn/winter and spring/summer. At the end of each season is when items will go on sale, usually the months of February and August. At the end of February the spring items usually are coming in and the sweaters are going out. Same with August and summer items such as tank tops and shorts. During these times, and sometimes a little earlier, you’ll find great clearance prices on items that did not sell during the season. This is an easy way to pick up the knit sweater you wanted but couldn’t afford from Nordstrom’s to wear next winter. And if you happen to be looking for a gift for your sweetie, Justin Fort said that he bought a Perry Ellis, long sleeve button-up shirt from Dillard’s for $9.99 during the end of the autumn/winter season. Kirwich Joseph stated he purchased the trendy and stylish Creative Recreation sneakers, that sell for $100-$170, for $70 at a Nordstrom’s in Miami. Second, just because it’s the end of the season and these are the items no one wanted, doesn’t mean you can’t wear them next time around. Sometimes trends don’t catch on until the next season, and if you’ve already purchased those trendy items, you are ahead of the bunch.
Precautions There are, however, some outlets of shopping to take precautions with: outlet malls and online shopping such as ebay.com. Outlet malls are usually made to carry the items from the manufacturer at a cheaper price because they were usually overstock or they are items made specifically for the outlet store. With that, sometimes you aren’t getting the best deal possible. At Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets in Leesburg, VA, I purchased Lacoste polo style shirts for the same price as they would cost at a Lacoste retail store in the mall, around $70-$80. Make sure to know the retail price of items set by manufacturers and retailers before you look for sales. This will help you to instinctively know if you’re getting a good deal or not. Also, beware of sites such as ebay.com when shopping for designer pieces through the web. Although you can find great deals on used items (some new) through the site, you need to check for authenticity of the items and the ratings of sellers. Many people (myself included!) have been scammed on eBay and it’s difficult to get that money back. Nonetheless, if the seller or eBay can verify authenticity and the seller has positive ratings (not just a few, but a significant amount) then eBay is a good way to purchase designer pieces for a cheaper price.
While always wanting the best of the best, but not having the best of resources can often times be painful, finding ways to shop without breaking your bank account can be really simple. Knowing where to shop, how to shop, and what to look for will be extremely beneficial to your pockets. And although thrift, vintage, discount, and sale shopping may not seem all that glamorous, finding those hidden gems amongst the faux pas can bring allure to any closet!