“Help, I’ve nothing to wear” is a very common complaint from women, especially.
When you open your wardrobe does your heart sink at the poor choice and state of the garments facing you?
Some have simply seen better days, others demonstrate the trademarks of a lack of tender loving care - creases, missing buttons and dried in stains - while more look good but have little hope of mixing or matching with anything else you own to create a complete outfit.
Clothes shopping is fraught with difficulties. You can spend a fortune on something only to discover it does little for your appearance or you can dismiss an outfit in the shop because it lacks hanger appeal but then see someone else wearing it on the high street and looking great. Slavishly following fashion trends is costly and you can end up making expensive mistakes and of course, unwise choices as you try to adapt catwalk looks to everyday lifestyle.
As we battle through the recession becoming increasingly conscious daily of our diminishing personal budgets it is especially important to get the most value from our clothes. That means making fewer but more versatile purchases and getting a longer life from the items we already have.
So where should we begin and what are the secrets of building an extensive wardrobe on a shoestring?
1. Avoid shopping out of necessity or pure desperation. Men are particularly prone to this (women tend to shop for the sheer pleasure of it! ). Often when they go shopping it is out of desperation because they need a new shirt or suit for a wedding or important meeting.
This approach is not advisable because it is all too easy to adopt a “that-will-do” attitude when your back is to the wall and snap up anything that remotely fits the bill. On mature reflection (a few days later! ) you realise your fashion faux pas. Aim to buy before desperation sets in. Anticipate your fashion needs at the start of the year, ideally around sale time, and always give yourself plenty of time to shop around.
2. Aim to buy a complete look. This is easier and cheaper than buying bits and pieces because it will eliminate the effort of co-ordinating garments. Opt for classics, these are the backbone of any wardrobe. They will take you from day to evening with maximum impact. For men, a tailored suit or trousers and jacket are always good investments because they are so versatile. Buy two pairs of trousers at the same time as you buy the jacket for the suit. You will end up wearing the bottom part more than the jacket and the colour may fade due to wear and tear and dry-cleaning. The same advice applies to women buying skirt or trouser suits.
Avoid novelty items and aim for classic styles which will take you through several seasons. Good quality fabrics look, wear and last well. A little black dress, shirts, accessories and jackets are ideal investments. Remember, do not buy anything that does not go with at least two other items in your wardrobe.
3. When buying garments look for excellence of design, cut and cloth. Check the finish of the outfit, both inside and out. This advice applies particularly at sale time. Examine seams, buttons and zips. These are a good guide to overall quality. Sometimes hems are badly finished or there may be loose threads hanging.
Read cleaning and washing instructions carefully before you buy an outfit. Check how colourfast it is and if it is pre-shrunk.
4. Colour co-ordinate your wardrobe. If you want to extend it start with a few neutral colours which suit you and then build around these. The most versatile neutral bases are navy, grey, black and beige. You can then add additional colours to give these a lift. The majority of people can wear most colours, it is the shade and intensity of these which determine whether they will work for you.
Grey, black or navy are the most practical colours for men. These work well for all occasions. For women, grey is again a winner. It may be wise to confine yourelf to three or four colours for the rest of your working wardrobe, such as white, black and pink or red to add a splash of colour.
5. Use accessories to update and expand your wardrobe. They are an ideal way of adding colour, wit and glitz to an outfit and they offer great scope for individuality.
Have a good selection, including jewellery, bags, belts, scarves and hats. These can change an entire outfit, disguise figure flaws, take an outfit from day to evening or update last year’s favourites. Scarves can look great on men but many shy away from them. They are an ideal way of revitalising a dated, low-cut overcoat. Some men baulk at wearing gloves or carrying an umbrella but these can add the finishing touches to an outfit. Spectacles are important accessories. Make sure you do not look overpowered by the frames and if you spend time in front of an audience choose ones with anti-reflective coating.
6. Be kind to your clothes, it will extend their lives. Sponging and pressing may be a better option sometimes than drycleaning. When getting clothes cleaned point out any stains or marks. When you get the items back remove the cleaner’s plastic cover from anything pale in colour, especially whites. It can yellow or dull fabrics.
When hanging heavy clothes ensure their weight is evenly balanced, advises author Barty Phillips. Skirts should be hung by two loops from the waistband, notches cut in the hanger will keep them in place. Clothes which cannot be hung up should be folded over bunched-up newspaper to prevent creases.
7. Clothes can last twice as long if stored properly. Ensure they are as clean and dust-free as possible before you put them away each season. Woollen jumpers should be carefully washed. Coats, dresses and suits should be thoroughly brushed - dust, dirt and stains attract moths. Mend anything that needs attention and get clothes drycleaned if necessary before putting them away.
8. Buy non-iron garments that are easily washed. Avoid “high maintenance” outfits unless shopping for a special occasion.
9. Hang suits together. That way you will recognise them as one oufit. Use quality hangers to keep clothes looking good. Choose padded ones for knitwear, wide wooden or plastic types for jackets and shirts and hangers with hooks for skirts and clips for trousers.
10. Experiment with different styles and shades to see if you can make your wardrobe go further. Mix and match and see if you can breathe life into jaded outfits with the skilful use of accessories or a dressmaker’s touch. Be a targeted shopper buying with the aim of plugging gaps in your wardrobe. Look for specific items, such as inexpensive scarves or jewellery, to revamp and revitalise your existing stock.