12 Ways to Save Cash on New Clothes

Photo: senza senso

As someone who preaches the value of a frugal lifestyle, I have a confession to make: My name is Mikey, and I’m a clothes-aholic.

But as textile prices continue to rise — I honestly don’t know how retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch stay in business, selling the same designs year after year at premium prices — my bank account seems to stay at the same level. Inflated prices in all sectors of our economy are to blame (along with status-quo salaries), which has caused me — and many of you — to cut back and search for savings wherever I can.

Still, I can’t seem to shake my clothes habit. I don’t shop as much as I did when we where in a boom economy, but I’m not as disciplined as I should be. Admittedly, I do feel less guilt when I shop smartly, hunting down the best deals possible.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are some ways that I stay stylish without losing the shirt on my back. (See also: Spend or Save: The Fashion Edition)

1. Buy Kids’ Sizes

This is not for everybody. I realize that most people are full grown, but I’m not, so I can get away with it. At 5’9” and 140 lbs., I can fit in most large-size kids’ clothes — a medium if I don’t wash the item (I like my clothes fitted), although that leads to the extra cost of dry cleaning (Dryel has saved me a lot of money in that regard). The benefit of shopping in the kids’ section is that the same styles — Ralph Lauren polos, for example — are almost half the price, especially if you’re shopping at an outlet. When I first started shopping in the kids’ sections, I’ll admit that I was embarrassed — I didn’t want to look like a creeper — but I’m over it now. When someone reminds me where I am (“You know this is the kids’ section, right?”), I tell them I’m shopping for my nephew...who gets a lot of my clothes when I don’t want them anymore anyway.

2. Visit Thrift Shops

My friend Katie and I bonded in high school over a place called Value Village, a department-store-sized thrift shop that often stocked popular brands. We’d visit the store often and spend an hour or so scouring the aisles for great bargains. I’ve purchased belts, shoes, sweaters, vests, pants, and more during my trips. What I like most about shopping at thrift stores is that it’s highly unlikely that anyone you know will have something similar in their closet, which can’t be said if you stick strictly to mall shops. Consider, however, that a vintage store is not a thrift store. Vintage is a word that shop owners use to validate inflated prices on the same used garments you can get at a place with thrift in its name.

3. Trade With Friends

When I clean out my closet, the first thing I do is let my friends know. I would rather give my unwanteds to someone close to me than donate them to a charity that doesn’t align with my personal beliefs. This system is even better if you strike a deal with your buddy to check out each other’s stashes before doing what you will with the leftover pieces.

4. Make Old Stuff New Again

Every summer, I go through my old pants. If I haven’t worn a pair in a year or just don’t like them as pants anymore, I cut them off at the knee to make new shorts. This tip alone has saved me hundreds of dollars. Earlier this year I took two pairs of J. Crew corduroy pants and chopped the legs off. At the start of the summer, similar cord shorts at J. Crew were $59. I wasn’t about to pay for something that I could make with a pair of scissors.

5. Buy Clothes You Can Both Wear

This only works if you’re in a same-sex relationship, which I am. At Christmastime, if I’m buying my husband ties, hats, or other one-size accessories, I buy him designs that I would wear. Frankly, he couldn’t care less what things look like — so he’s happy about it regardless — but I do. By buying styles that I like, we can both share, which prevents me from purchasing double.

6. Sign Up for Members-Only Deal Sites

Sites like Gilt Groupe, Juxtser, and Plndr (there are plenty more, I’m sure) have pop-up shops that offer deep discounts on popular brands. I’ve purchased shirts and shoes from American Apparel and Toms at way below retail. These sites often offer free shipping and other discounts, like first-time buyer and refer-a-friend coupon codes, that can save you even more.

7. Shop Sales at Factory Outlets

Outlets are excellent for scoring great deals, but you do have to be careful. I’ve definitely been to supposed “outlet” stores where the prices are comparable to regular retail prices. Another good tip for shopping outlets is to stop by the center’s customer service booth and pick up a coupon book, which includes extra discount coupons for your favorite places.

8. Search for Coupon Codes Before Checking Out

By now, every frugal shopper knows this trick, but I’m still surprised at how many people are too lazy to search for a coupon code before checking out when making purchases online. Five extra minutes of my time hunting down these deals is worth it when I find a working 20% off discount.

9. Sell Old Clothes on eBay

My friend Tara unloaded scarves and skirts to great success recently. She sold the pieces in lots so bidders felt like they were getting a great deal, and it worked to her benefit in the end. Many of the lots sold, which made her extra money that she could put toward new items.

10. Apply for the Store Credit Card

Before you go crazy with the comments on how this is a bad idea, hear me out. As someone who shops primarily at J. Crew, it was my wallet’s best interest to get the store credit card for several reasons:

  • By signing up in-store I received an automatic 15% discount.
  • When I call the store and set up a FREE personal shopping experience, I save 20% off my purchase.
  • When I charge $500 or more, I receive a $50 gift card.

Many stores offer incentives like these. Gap, for instance, gives credit holders gift cards for certain amounts spent as well as sign-up discounts.

This is not to suggest that you should go crazy with your store charge card. That totally defeats the purpose. You should practice discipline and put the card in a safe place — outside of your wallet or purse — until you feel you’re ready to use it on something worthwhile.

11. Download Money-Saving Apps

The app that I use the most when shopping is shopkick, which geo-locates deals nearby. American Eagle Outfitters in particular has partnered with this app. On a recent trip to Atlantic City, I saved an extra 15% on a bag that was already reduced by 40%.

12. Never, Ever Pay Retail

When I enter a store, I head straight for the clearance rack. It is my personal policy never to pay full price. Most new arrivals are generally reduced after a month or so. I can wait.

Do you like to shop for new clothes? Tell me your tips for getting the most for your money in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Regarding #5-- "Honey, look what I bought us...me...I mean, you!" ;)

Back in the '80s, I discovered Goodwill, and my wardrobe got instantly cool. I can also do basic sewing, so that helps. Now that I'm older, I save money by going the "buy classics" route. Of course, trying to live simply has made me less clothing obsessed!

Mikey Rox's picture

I totally agree with the classics route. If you buy tried-and-true pieces that have stood the test of time, you'll never go out of style. Thanks for the comment!

Guest's picture

Buying classic clothing is a definite must!

Guest's picture

#5 doesn't only apply to same-sex couples. Although this doesn't go both ways, I certainly shop my boyfriend's closet. He's very toned & slender so I can fit into a lot of his stuff without looking bummy. My "boyfriend jeans" are ACTUALLY my boyfriend's jeans and a lot of button-up shirts have ended up as very adorable outfits for me. :)

Andrea Karim's picture

Agreed! I steal my husband's jeans and shorts all the time.

Guest's picture

agreed. as long as you're close in size to your mate, bingo.

if you're smaller than your lover, you can still double-shop: just buy something he or she will like now, then wait up for the day of the scissors. there are tons of tutorials online about making men's shirts into cute little dresses, for instance. and for the other way around, i (a woman) tend to buy pants that are rather unisex looking. eventually they become shorts for my shorter-legged man.

Guest's picture

Store credit?? Please stay away from more borrowing money. The snakes will eventually bite you. I like real deals and not playing the shell game of store financing. Cash is king.

Mom's Deals

Guest's picture

I totally agree with this. Store credit cards are the WORST option for anyone. There's a reason they're begging you to sign up, they make more money on interest than anything they sell. it's such a scam that I practically put it in the same category as the Nigerians sending emails claiming that they're a relative lost at sea and need you to wire money into an account. ;-0
zbeksw mony,

Guest's picture

My #1 tip is to sign up for the store's email list. Most of the time, they send a coupon when you sign up. This also works well if you have particular stores that you like. New York & Company seems to be constantly sending out coupons via their email listing.

Also, if you have a store you like (and a location in particular), ask one of the associates what days they put new inventory out on the floor; they might do it every Monday and Thursday nights (for example). They have to move old stuff from the floor to clearance in order to make room for the new items, so the day after (Tuesdays and Fridays in my example) are a good days to go through the clearance section (this is a tip just given to me by an associate of my fave store).

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

Finding out what days are best to shop for clearance is an excellent tip, Claire! Thanks so much for sharing.

Guest's picture

Asking about the times of the year when they tend to clear a lot helps too. Chat up an associate and you'll learn all kinds of things. Speaking as an associate myself though, don't make it obvious that you only want to know when to get stuff cheap. Spend some time talking fashion or asking our opinions, we'll be a lot more likely to volunteer what you want to know. We'll also do a surprising amount for customers who come by often and treat us well. I've been known to call regulars when something they love has been put on sale, and even hold it for them far longer than I'm supposed to.

Guest's picture
Caroline H

By joining the mailing list for my favorite stores, I frequently get emails providing online coupon codes and private sales. You can frequently get free shipping this way too.

Guest's picture

Booohhhh for number 10! Even with your reasoning...its still a bad idea.

Andrea Karim's picture

Maybe it depends on the person? I can't be trusted with credit, but my mom saves a bundle on clothing by using her Macy's card. They send all kinds of crazy reward coupons in the mail. Combine them with clearance-rack clothing, and you get leave with half a new wardrobe for under $100.

Guest's picture

I enjoyed the reminders in this post. When go shop at my local resale shops, I enjoy stopping by frequently with my cash envelope. They're always getting new stuff, so if I build around classic lines and neutral colors, I can grab just a few really colorful/trendy pieces and keep my wardrobe fresh and my budget plump.

Thank you for the timely reminder as we go back to school and start new jobs for so many of our college grads!

Guest's picture

If you have some extra time and a friendly personality (and your favorite store's employees seem to be fairly happy at their jobs), see if you can get a part time job at the place you love to shop! You'll get a little extra spending money, plus first dibs on clearance merchandise and often a hefty store discount (it depends on the company, some give up to 50% off or more). Then once you're there only buy pieces you absolutely love; there will always be more styles coming in the next shipment.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this post! I very much like thrift stores. You can usually find good quality clothing if you can find a good vintage boutique.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the article - I was looking for some good ways to save money on clothes, and you came up with a few that I hadn't thought of. I admit, I still shop in the juniors department (can't quite get away with kids' stuff), and I can save a lot of money there (shopping the sales and clearance racks of course).

Guest's picture

I enjoyed your post - I am a BIG fan of shopping at Thrift Stores and Outlet malls. You find things at Thrift Stores that you would never find anywhere else - especially if you stop through a town of eccentric folks :)