5 Wardrobe Basics for Women That Are Worth Investing In

I am not the most clothing-minded individual. I enjoy dressing up and looking nice, but buying new clothing makes me grind my teeth. Everything seems so expensive! Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm a big proponent of thrift-store shopping and clothing swaps (as well as hand-me-ups, which is what I call the cast-off clothing my younger sister gives me).

However, there are a few wardrobe items that I think are worth more of an investment, because spending more money means you'll end up with a substantiallly more comfortable, flattering, or long-lasting garment. I'm not suggesting that you drop outlandish amounts of cash; many of the the items on my list can still be found for substantial discounts at places like Overstock or T.J. Maxx. But when you're shopping for the following five things, it will serve you well to consider quality and fit above cost. (See also: 6 Work Wardrobe Staples to Invest In, via Currency)

1. Shoes

Shoes are one of my biggest splurges. There are many reasons why expensive shoes are worth the indulgence, (Chris lists several in his Case for Expensive Shoes), but my big two are comfort and longevity. In my experience, it's much more likely that cheap shoes will cut into my feet, cause blisters, and generally provide poor support. Furthermore, well-made shoes can last several seasons as long as you show them some TLC. Have a cobbler fix any rubbed-down heels or soles before the shoes become unwearable (I find that once a year is usually enough, and I tend to drag my heels).

2. Handbags

Like shoes, a well-made bag can continue looking posh for several seasons, and it's much less likely to suffer from ripped straps, broken hardware, and fussy zippers. Don't go all out for a bag that's made to get dirty — a cheap canvas tote does just fine for the beach — but a stylish clutch in a color that matches a lot of your going-out wear should serve you well for quite some time.

3. Coats

A good-quality coat can last for several seasons, as long as you don't purchase anything too trendy. Vintage stores can be a great place to find classic wool coats — just check to make sure the lining, buttons, and pockets are all in good condition.

4. A Dress You Love

I have a wedding problem. Every time one comes around, I poke around my closet until finally settling on the same meh cotton dress that I wore to the last three weddings I attended. I look fine in it, and it's dressy enough for most celebrations. But I don't feel wildly attractive or fancy in it, and even though I'm not the girliest person ever, I do think every woman should own a dress (or similar fancy outfit) that she loves. Whether it's the "little black dress" or a bright-red stunner, this should be something that looks great on you and you can always count on when you need to look awesome. If you can dress it up or down, even better.

5. Good Jeans

I don't care if you think your butt is weird, you don't like your thighs, or you feel like your inseam is outlandish. There are so many companies making different cuts of jeans now, you should be able to find a pair that fits and flatters you. Like other items on this list, properly cared for jeans can last for years. That said, don't think this is an excuse to pay $300 for jeans. There's a difference between paying for quality and paying for a brand name.

What other wardrobe staples are worth investing in? Share in the comments!

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Guest's picture

All great tips! I think it's smart to buy shoes and a bag you can wear anywhere--perhaps with that dress or pair of jeans! Having a go-to signature item is part of who you are!

Guest's picture

"Having a go-to signature item is part of who you are!" How shallow and materialistic. My clothing does not define who I am, my personality does that.

Guest's picture

Flutterby, fashion is not in and of itself materialistic and shallow. Having a personal sense of style and choosing to dress in a way that expresses your personality, your taste, or your culture, is a part of being human and I think it's wonderful.

Feeling you have to wear brand name clothing or what everyone else is wearing, to feel good about yourself, is perhaps more problematic, but wanting to look good and dressing nicely is a perfectly good way to behave. And it's only really in the U.S. that people feel like walking around in baggy sweatpants and running shoes all the time.

Guest's picture

Great suggestions! I follow most of these myself.

I agree that clothes doesn't define who I am, but it is an extension of who I am. I think it's a matter of knowing what to splurge and save on. A go-to signature item should reflect your personality and if you get it for less -- even better!

Guest's picture

I believe that appropriate clothes definitely make the woman in the office. These tips are very helpful.

Guest's picture

That one "dress you love" is totally shot once someone takes a picture of you at a wedding and it gets posted on facebook for all to see!

Meg Favreau's picture

This is really a matter of personal preference, but I think it's OK to wear a dress that's been posted around again and again -- especially if you get something that you can pair with several jewelry/shoe/sweater options for different looks.

Guest's picture

Any high-quality shoe brand suggestions for women? Perhaps it’s in my head, but it seems like men have more options when it comes to quality shoes. Even the “nicer” brands for women tend to be poorly made and made of mostly synthetic materials. I’d love to find some quality shoes that’ll last for years but I’ve had a hard time.

Meg Favreau's picture

I think that part of the problem might just be that women have more options.

Personally, I've had good luck with boots from Frye (I found a pair on Overstock) and Bronx, although my longest-lasting pair of boots came from a vintage store. Right now I'm wearing a pair of Birkenstock clogs that have been my "house shoes" for the last seven years. As for dress shoes, I've had good luck getting a pair of shoes from Aldo reheeled.

I also haven't shopped there much myself, but I know my mom often buys shoes at Bass, and they've lasted her quite some time.

Anybody have other suggestions?

Guest's picture

I think you should invest in classic pieces as well: a tailored suit (skirt or pants depending on your preference and job), a pair of black pants (maybe a few pairs), and a white button down blouse. These things will never go out of style. You should also shop in stores that have classic, well-made clothes. And investing in tailoring your clothes will look like you had your clothes made for you. You will always look put together.