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I stepped in to the store, taking stock of the room as I walked through the glass doors. I wasn’t sure where to start. My eyes scanned the displays and my heart skipped a beat as I saw the aisles of tops and dresses in a rainbow of colors. I carefully picked through several racks before I found a top I thought was perfect for the occasion. It was date night and it would be the first time I would wear a new outfit in a very long time.
Not because I didn’t want new clothing, but because I didn’t think I could afford to buy anything new. For many years I claimed I was a blue jeans and t-shirt girl. I had one or two nice outfits and the rest of my closet consisted of jeans and shirts of various sizes, styles and many very old or hand-me-downs from friends or family. There are even a couple of thrift store gems. Spending the last several years as a WAHN (Work At Home Nana) I was convinced of two things – I didn’t need, I didn't deserve and I couldn’t afford new clothes. These were all lies.
I come from a very humble (interpreted: lower middle class) childhood. My father was retired Navy and a union man working on the aircraft assembly line for as long as I could remember. My mother didn’t work outside our home. I grew up wearing the clothes she made me, and clearly remember her cutting up her old dresses to make my clothes when she couldn’t afford fabric. She was not a woman of style and I never learned what it meant to dress any better than what colors match and some days my internal color wheel may not have been at its best. I learned to be modest and bland at an early age.
Bland served me well. I would try dressing with style, but I didn’t know what style looked like. I would dress in business suits fairly successfully, but it was easy to do. I just needed a suit and blouse and I was set. But add a little casual to my outfit and I was back to pulling out my sweatshirt and jeans or sweatpants. It’s what I wore for years. It was my go to outfit. I didn’t necessarily feel good about myself dressed this way. But it was easy and safe. Safe. Now that’s not a very fun place to be.
As I’ve overcome many of the lies I believed about myself most of my life, I’ve discovered a few things. I love to dress up. There’s a funny ad going around the internet depicting a quote from someone happy about a new store in town. This person states they don’t have to “dress up” like they do when they go to Walmart. This is the life I grew up with. Dressing up meant putting on a skirt and going to church. Today, dressing up means I leave my sweatshirt in the closet and pull out the cute dress, leggings and a fun pair of boots. I’ve discovered a new me inside who likes to wear fun clothes and feel good about having my makeup on and my nails done. I’ve recently discovered this new me feels good about these things because I’m taking care of myself. It isn’t selfish, it’s self preservation. When I take care of me, I am better prepared to take care of others. We’ve all heard this line, but the fact is it’s true.
I used to say I couldn’t afford new clothes. Then I discovered discount stores like Ross, or Marshall’s or sales at Kohl’s or Belks. During a recent trip to Ross I purchased a dress for $8.99 and a pair of boots for $24.99. These are not cheap, thin or badly made items. These are quality items for a great price. Did I have to dig? Yes, I did. But if you’re on a budget it’s worth the extra effort. There are many other great deals to find at these and other places. In fact, the resale stores are the latest craze in our area. It’s not the “where” but the “what” and “how much” that counts.
It took me a long time to realize the money I could spend on a new outfit was as much or less than what we’d spend on fast food. There is no rule saying you have to buy $100 worth of clothes in one stop. But what I do highly suggest is having in mind what you are going to pair your items with. For instance, I purchased a black shrug to match a specific dress. I then find myself purchasing other items this shrug will match. I’ve worn it countless times and each time it’s a new, fresh outfit. I plan to buy a couple more in other colors.
I’ve discovered what looks good on me and what doesn’t. I used to buy everything on clearance at Walmart. If it wasn’t less than $5 I didn’t make the purchase. But what’s worse is, I would buy countless items and never try them on. By the time I got them home whatever didn’t fit or look good wasn’t worth returning. I would end up with a closet full of clothes I never intended to wear. What a waste for someone who thought she couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. I’ve since realized trying something on is the secret to a great wardrobe. I have put back several items after trying them on only to realize they the fit was not right for my body type. So instead of spending $30 on a bag full of nothing I can wear, I spend $20 on a few items I love.
One of the challenges with articles written for purchasing clothes on a budget is the lack of reality for those of us who truly can’t afford to shop at high end stores. In many cases spending $75 on a $150 dress may be a good deal, but it may also be someone’s weekly grocery budget. The reality is there are still plenty of places to get quality clothing without breaking the bank account. Stay focused on what you want, what looks good on you and take a leap and have fun with it!