Recession-Proof Style: Dressing Well and Responsibly With a Small Budget


I’m not a financial expert, and I don’t watch the news, but even I can’t ignore the 9-letter word that’s been floating around for months following the recent global pandemic and subsequent inflation and high interest rates. That’s right, friend! I’m talking about the very real possibility that we’ll be entering into a RECESSION.

From my limited research and knowledge on the subject, it sounds as though this isn’t isolated to the United States. There are countries in jeopardy all over the map. And while I’m typically one to look at the glass half full and make lemonade out of lemons, I do want to tackle the challenge of how to look your best on a budget.

Because recession or no recession, we all go through periods of having more or less funds to invest in ourselves and our wardrobes. So no matter where you are today or in the coming months financially, this episode will equip you for shopping smarter and buying less, but better. So let’s get into our conversation on Recession-Proof Style: Dressing Well and Responsibly with a Small Budget.

A Word on “fast fashion”

I had to get a bit creative with this episode. Because normally, when people advise you about how to find the “look for less”, it involves shopping from a lot of fast fashion retailers. 

Fast fashion, if you’re not familiar with that term, refers to ‘cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest runway styles and get pumped quickly through stores in order to maximize on current trends’. It involves rapid design, production, distribution, and marketing of clothing, which means that retailers are able to pull large quantities of greater product variety and allow consumers to get more fashion and product differentiation at a low price.

So what that means is you can buy designer looks for less. BUT this comes at a cost. These fast production methods yield a ton of waste and make an alarming environmental impact. The fashion industry is the second largest consumer industry of water, requiring about 700 gallons to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that 35% of all microplastics – tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic – in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. According to the documentary released in 2015, The True Cost, the world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than the consumption twenty years ago. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste every year. There are also concerns over energy and global greenhouse gas emissions, human welfare, and animal cruelty. 

And so in this episode, I wanted to support you with dressing well AND dressing responsibly even with a small budget. Because I believe you can do both. You can look well-styled and put together without an obscene amount of cash in your pocket and without shopping solely at places like Zara or Forever 21. I want to support you with finding a balance and keeping in mind what matters most when you’re allocating whatever size budget you have. Now, let’s get into some tips to help you make the most of your funds and recession-proof your style!

Start shopping consignment

Rather than running to your nearest fast fashion retailer, you might do well to start shopping consignment and secondhand stores instead. I’m not just talking about visiting your local Goodwill store. There are some amazing options out there, including online sources like ThredUp and Poshmark or in-person consignment boutiques or you can seek out limited-time sale events like Just Between Friends, which happens all over the United States. You can even find gently used designer pieces for less from sites like TheRealReal and Vestiaire Collective. So whatever price points you’re shopping within, this is a wonderful way to keep pieces out of the landfill AND buy looks you love for way less than their original list prices.

Choose one investment piece for the season

Another great way to maximize your budget is to choose one investment piece for the season. It doesn’t need to be a break-the-bank investment either! You might spend a bit more on this item than everything else or want to stretch your budget just a bit. But the key is to pick one star piece that you can wear confidently and regularly to elevate the rest of your wardrobe.

It could be a stylish coat for winter, a great scarf you can tie around your neck, your handbag, or a signature piece of jewelry you can wear everyday. Think about what will get you the biggest bang for your buck and make everything else you pair it with feel a bit more polished.

Remember the cost-per-wear rule

The basic concept is taking the total cost of an item and dividing it by the number of times you think you’ll wear it. That will give you the cost-per-wear. And it’ll help you get an idea of how useful a piece of clothing or an accessory will actually be to your wardrobe. It’s way more important than the price alone. 

I’d rather you invest in a higher ticket item that’s way more versatile than buying a piece just because it’s on sale. If you don’t love it, you won’t wear it. And it’s just throwing money away if it sits on a hanger at the back of your closet with the tag still on it for eternity. That is the opposite of a good deal. So think about how much use you’re going to get out of an item and that will help you break down the total investment so you can see what’s actually the best buy.

Earn free shopping money

No, I’m not talking about joining a pyramid scheme or anything sleezy or scammy you need to do to make this work. But with this knowledge comes great responsibility. If you’ve gotten into trouble with credit cards in the past, this tip is NOT for you. In no way am I encouraging you to accumulate credit card debt. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m about to say. So please read this very carefully.

A couple of years ago, my husband decided we should no longer use our debit cards to make purchases. I guess it’s just not as secure of a way to buy things, because if someone happened to hack into a company’s credit card processing system, they could potentially get access to your debit card and any amount of money available in your checking account rather than whatever limit you happened to have on a credit card.

When he made that decision, I got on board right away, because the only credit card I happened to have at the time was my Nordstrom Visa.That’s still the only credit card I have currently. And now, rather than using my debit card, I make all of my purchases on my Nordstrom credit card. I’m talking groceries, gas, Amazon purchases, you name it, that’s what I use. And I bet you can guess what that means… I accumulate a LOT of Nordstrom notes, which are $10 vouchers I can use to make purchases at their store. 

Important Note: Utilizing credit card rewards ONLY works out in your favor if you pay off your credit card statement IN FULL every single month.

Store credit cards have a very high interest rate. So you don’t want to use one for all of your purchases like this unless you can pay it off entirely right away. Since I use my Nordstrom card as I would use my debit card, I know we always have enough funds in our bank account to cover our regular monthly expenses. I don’t go crazy with this! It’s about the same every single month. And you want to keep an eye on that, because credit card spending can be sneaky and add up. This is the same way people rack up airline miles, but instead of taking trips, you can earn free money to shop at some of your favorite stores. I’m a big fan of Nordstrom, so that’s what works for me. Do some research and see where you might want to open a credit card and do something similar.

Focus on fit

The last piece of advice I want to give you around looking stylish at any price point is this: The #1 factor in looking stylish is the way your clothing fits. It’s important to create smooth, seamless lines in your silhouette. If your clothing has ever felt lumpy or loose, you know how equally uncomfortable and unflattering this can be.

I promise you, having a well-fitted look starts at the foundation. So while it might feel like a waste to invest money in undergarments that no one’s going to see or in taking the extra step to have your clothing tailored, it goes such a long way! In fact, style icon Jennifer Aniston once admitted to having her t-shirts tailored. And while that might sound completely crazy, she understands how important the right fit is to having an effortless and enviable style. It’s her secret to looking flawless in everything she wears! When your clothing fits properly, it will elevate your wardrobe and make everything look more expensive.

You do not need to have it all OR spend it all in order to look and feel amazing. Keep taking those baby steps to thoughtfully curate your closet, invest your money wisely, and remember that it’s about quality over quantity. The process of building a wardrobe you love is a marathon, not a sprint. So if the gloom and doom of an impending recession gets you down, just stick with your basics and remember that feeling confident is all that matters at the end of the day. 


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