February 15, 2012

The Argument For Quality Over Quantity…Even in a Mom-Drobe

Mamas, this question has popped up again and again from our lovely readers.  Many of you want to know simply this:  When buying clothing for yourself, which is the smarter move for moms: To buy fewer, higher quality items or to buy many low-cost items?

It's easy to be dismissive of the issue and throw out a cliche like, "you get what you pay for" or summon up some cool French-girl mind-set ("the French are so chic, and their closets are filled with exactly 10 perfectly chosen pieces…blah blah blah").

But for moms, it's not that easy. 

I can see why the temptation to buy low-cost items is high.  As moms, we're constantly dealing with spit-up, paint, mud, chewed up food, etc. And do cashmere and paint/mud/spit up/chocolate really mix?  For those of us who love being involved with our kiddos, the last thing we want to do is start screaming at them about mussing up our white vintage Valentino.

Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 9.29.29 AM

I mean seriously.  Who wears this while baking? (I hated this movie, BTW.)

So it makes sense, then, why so many moms turn to Target and Old Navy.  Why spend money on something that will be treated so terribly?  As I write this, my favorite cashmere sweater has pilled from all of the baby-picking up and currently has chocolate on one shoulder (from Raines' hug this morning), snot on the other (Pax has a cold) and a piece of red candy cane stuck to the bottom.  Is this really the best use for such an expensive sweater?  As a nose and mouth wiper / candy-cane dispenser?  Really, Shana?  Really?


As one of our readers, Jennifer, pointed out in a recent email:

I'm finding that with the amount of wear and tear my clothes get, things that I am buying new look old after a few wears. Sweaters and knit shirts are the worst. I'll admit that I've been shopping at Old Navy and Target as my size fluctuates, so the clothes may not be the highest quality. So how do I build a wardrobe of clothes that look well kept? Do I need to buy higher quality? Throw them out after a season? Wash them less (ha!)? How long do the workhorses of your wardrobe last (and still look good)?

And reader Jamie left this comment:

I keep seeing you out doing some hardcore romping with these awesome boots [my Fryes here]. How do they hold up in wet/damp conditions, and do you worry about scuffing them or getting them muddy or dirty?? I'm ashamed to admit that I don't own any boots yet, and I'm terrified of spending a good chunk of cash on something that will have to weather such…intense conditions :)

"Intense" is right. When Hanes confidently sent us those run-resistant stockings, for example, I had to chuckle.  "Run-resistant stockings" and "moms" are just two things that should never be mentioned together.  And while they did hold up nicely to Pax's confused biting right before date night ("Why do Mom's legs look so weird? I will bite them to find out.")…reader Juilana tested them while running around with the kiddos…and sure enough:  they developed a big run in the knee on day number two.  Reader Amber, our other Hanes tester, couldn't even get that far – they ripped while she pulled them on.  Oops.  But my $35 Plush tights?  In their third winter, and still going strong. 

My preference, despite the hard-wearin' lifestyle, is to buy fewer pieces of higher quality.  Quality does matter.  And if cost is a concern (and it is for most of us these days)….buy less.  It's amazing what one can do with very few pieces of clothing.  Think of the last vacation you took – I'm guessing that you probably wore the same outfit (or a version of the same outfit) every day.  Why can't we do that now?  If you can find a "uniform" that is comfortable, practical and makes you look and feel great…isn't that a win?   We're adults – no one will be making fun of you for wearing the same pants two days in a row.  Or, um…five. 

For some reason, this "buy less" mentality is a tough sell, or at least it's tough in practice.  Many moms, when faced with a $200 sweater, will balk at the purchase, even if they really will wear it everyday.  Especially when that $200 will buy an entire new wardrobe at Old Navy.  But is the low-cost fashion model really costing us less?  Elizabeth Cline, a Brooklyn-based writer working on a book about responsible shopping in the age of cheap fashion, doesn't think so.  She writes:

As clothes have become cheaper, our clothing consumption has gone through the roof. In 1930, the average American woman owned an average of nine outfits. Today, we each buy more than 60 pieces of new clothing on average per year. Our closets are larger and more stuffed than ever, as we’ve traded quality and style for low prices and trend-chasing. In the face of these irresistible deals, our total spending on clothing has actually increased, from $7.82 billion spent on apparel in 1950 to $375 billion today. 

So if we're buying, on average, 60 new pieces of clothing a year, that translates roughly into 5 new pieces per month.  Even if moms are only buying half of that….we're still talking serious cash over the course of a year.  And doing this year after year?  Is it possible that we have closets full of hundreds of items?  It's almost shameful, considering that much of the world barely has a pair of shoes to their name.  

And Mamas….if we really stopped to add up that low-cost scarf at Target, plus those cheap acrylic sweaters at Old Navy, or that little dress on crazy-sale at the Gap…I think most moms grossly underestimate how much they spend each year on low-cost clothing. 

HOWEVER.

I do think there is a place for fast-fashion in our mom-drobes.  I honestly don't know what I'd do without my Hanes v-neck tees and Gap destroyed boyfriend jeans for art time.  Or my ancient Gap turtleneck sweater, bought on sale for under $30, that I've now worn through two pregnancies and multiple post-partum winters.  And every once in a great while, I score something amazing at Target.  Like my favorite going-out heels!  I only bust these out on date nights…but they are comfortable and fun and were only $20.

Shoes
(photo credits:  Jimmy Choo and Target)    

I certainly don't wish I had bought the Choos (as fab as they are)….because for my rare date nights, Target serves me just fine.

So what is the answer?  

Restraint.

If we selected our Target and Old Navy purchases as carefully as we selected our expensive Neiman's purchases…we'd all be much better off from a mom-drobe perspective.  

For example:  After searching my closet for lingering Old Navy / Target items….the only pieces that I haven't yet donated to Goodwill are pieces that are not in my daily rotation. 

I did hold onto a few Target/Old Navy items for date night or work.  Certainly not the hard-wearing, running around with the kiddos pieces that I turn to day-in and day-out.  And frankly, my Target / Old Navy purchases wouldn't stand up to the constant wear-and-tear, or the washing – at least not without showing it.  But that expensive cashmere sweater?  The one with the snot and the chocolate and the candy cane?  It washed up beautifully, and I'm wearing it again.  Looks great.  Feels great.  Washes great.  

Personally, I tend to spend more money on the items I wear everyday:  boots, flats, denim, tees, Screen Shot 2012-02-15 at 2.29.08 PM knits…and save on items like silky tops, date-night dresses, or trendy of-the-moment items, like my faux-leather leggings or these floral shorts (pictured), my most recent Target purchase (totally on-trend for summer, BTW, and a steal at $17).

In short, Mamas, we just need to be pickier.  And in being pickier, we will buy less.  And when you buy less, you have more cash to spend on any one purchase. 

My general rule of thumb?  Don't buy it unless you are willing to get rid of something else.  This rule of mine has stopped many a purchase.  

(Full Disclosure: I also try and "outsmart" myself by holding onto a few hated items instead of donating them just to get around my own rule.  Crazytown, I know.) 

Now would be a pretty great time for a shopping ban, wouldn't it?  I know many of you have done it….thoughts?  Banning anything never works for me (I'm too much of a rule breaker…see above), but I'm intrigued by the whole "pick 30 items and only wear those for a month" games that go around the blog-o-sphere.  Spill, Mamas.  I want to hear your thoughts on this one.  Could you do with less?  What do you choose to spend your money on?  And how do you deal with the low-cost buying frenzy?  

xo,

S

 

19 Comments
  • Heather
    February 15, 2012

    You make some awesome points! I’m totally with you on the “less is more”/”quality over quantity” approach. Got so little time to shop! And I’m frustrated that my Old Navy clothing gets holes in it after like one season of wear.
    But I’d like to add that because clothing is so much less well made and fashions are so much more casual now, we actually spend LESS on clothes than we used to (your quote above does not take into account inflation.) “In 1973 a family of four would spend, on average, nearly $750 more a year on clothing than such a family would today… a family spends, on average, 21 percent less on clothing today than in the early 1970s.” – from Warren and Tyagi

  • Denise
    February 15, 2012

    I LOVED this post, I just finished doing my closet edit and discovered that I love the things that I don’t get to wear much, suits, cocktail dress, regular dresses for that matter. Since I can’t justify too many of these items I make sure they are perfect(cheap or expensive). Now I need to remember to do that with my everyday clothes which I have more of but I don’t spend much for them because of how they are treated. My goal is to buy what I love only no matter the price for the everyday items. I loved that you spend more for the things you wear everyday,I need to remember cost per wear, and your get rid of something for a new item. That might make me rethink a purchase. Must be pickier.

  • Kylie
    February 15, 2012

    This was exactly my New Year’s resolution! I will ask myself if I will still own and love something in five years, and if the answer is no, it doesn’t come home with me. I described my resolution to my husband as “I won’t buy stuff at Old Navy anymore,” but what I meant was that I’ll be pickier. So far it’s working. Of course, it helps that we don’t get out much–my Gap jeans and tees cut it most of the time. :)
    I notice when doing brutal closet purges (and I do these a lot) that the items that have endured through the seasons and the changes in my life have been the investments. J Brand jeans, Velvet dresses and tops, Frye boots. I have very few items that always go back in the closet immediately, but they’re always the pricey ones. The Old Navy stuff is usually out within six months.

  • Lisa
    February 15, 2012

    Shana, I think this is a really great post! It is a good reminder for me and I’ve been trying to follow this rule more and more since I’ve started reading your blog.
    One thing that would be helpful is if sometime you could devote a post to how you care for your clothes. Obviously it varies immensely with the style and fabric, along with whatever kid goo you get on it :) but as some of your readers shared, I also get stuck trying to decide when to wash stuff (other than when it has a nasty stain) or how to wash it or whatever.

  • linda
    February 15, 2012

    I completely agree with you. Growing up, my mom and I bought tons of things on sale and our closets were bursting but none of the clothing was nice or particularly flattering. I still love to buy clothes but try to really think about how much I’ll wear something. That means passing up lots of cute, outrageous pieces at Anthropologie that will just gather dust in my closet and spending more on great black shirts and items that I know from experience I will wear to death. Sometimes when I find a great piece, I even buy more than one. I now have a few outfits that I love and wear constantly. Just the other day a friend remarked that I always look so put together. I don’t think that’s true but having a great outfit that you can wear almost every day without much thought helps.
    I have to note that buying great quality doesn’t ALWAYS mean spending a lot. I’m getting much more wear out of my Levi 529s (thanks, Shana!) than my Citizens of Humanity jeans, which I don’t like nearly as well. I generally spend much more when it comes to footwear. I lived in NYC for ten years and don’t believe in leaving the house in anything I can’t walk at least a mile in. That means my daily uniform generally includes a pair of Frye Boots, which are cute and comfortable and (in response to your reader’s question above) hold up very well. I live in San Francisco, so I don’t really need a warm or cold weather uniform; this allows me to spend more because I know I’ll wear the clothing all year round.

  • Crunchy Con Mommy
    February 16, 2012

    I think another great option is stores like TJ Maxx where you can find higher quality clothes for lower quality prices. Especially for classic pieces that aren’t going to be out of style even if they are last season. I also find I can save lots of money by buying Hubby’s Dockers there, and then I can spend the money I saved on fun things for me and the toddler! lol.

  • JAL
    February 16, 2012

    Another thought is the style. To me, classic pieces that are pretty style-neutral are worth paying real money for. Then they can be updated with a few cheaper items, that you don’t need to last b/c they won’t be in style for long anyways.

  • Beth
    February 16, 2012

    Another great post! You’re right on. Now sticking to that idea that is difficult, especially when shopping time is little to none I tend to impulse buy both cheap and quality pieces. Thanks again!

  • Jamie
    February 16, 2012

    Thank you!!! Love this post :) I would like to second Kylie’s request – could you write a post on how to care for these investments?? You linked to a J.Crew cashmere sweater you were wearing in the fall, and I’ll be honest – I almost fell out of my chair when I saw it cost 168 dollars and was dry clean only!! Do you really dry clean that every time?! Please fill us in!! :)
    You are my hero – keep up the great work!!

  • JAL
    February 16, 2012

    And how to care for Frye boots? My husband bought me a pair for xmas. I never would have bought them for myself, but I’m so glad he did. The very first day I wore them I ended up having to wear them for 12 hours straight with lots of walking, and they were comfortable the whole time! I was stunned. But I don’t know how to care for them properly, and they deserve good care.

  • megan b
    February 16, 2012

    I totally agree with this post as well, even though I am so cheap.
    I have decided to only buy things I love lately. I have a lot less in my closet but I wear it all.
    I have also become a huge fan of polyvore pins on pinterest. It’s helped me figure out my true style. Now when I do shop I know exactly what I want. Sadly, it’s often harder to find exactly what you want sometimes!

  • Kristen
    February 16, 2012

    Before I leave the house to shop, which rarely happens, I always do 2 things. First I decide exactly where I’m going and what I’m going to buy. I do leave room for interpretation once I’m there but it gives me a plan. The second thing is I do the closet purge. If I haven’t worn it because it’s unflattering or unattractive it’s gone, even if I just bought it. Fortunately since I’ve started being smart and really thinking about things I haven’t made as many bad purchases so that’s a bonus.
    And let me add my vote to all the rest, quality always trumps quantity. Always. And one more time, always!

  • Polina
    February 16, 2012

    I just wanted to check back if there were any responses to my question and realized that my original post has disappeared :( Does it mean i said something inappropriate or is it just a technical glitch?
    My question was about how to determine of an article of clothing is of a good quality or not and also about pricing. For example how much should one pay for the summer cardigan? A jersey dress? I can determine quality pretty well when it comes to footwear and denim, but not when it comes to other clothing, so any tips on spotting a quality item would be greatly appreciated!

  • Shana
    February 17, 2012

    Polina – not sure what happened to your comment!!  We've been getting killed by spammers lately, so I suspect that either Typepad's filter was overzealous or I was.  In any case, thanks for reposting.  Let me think about this and get back to you.
    And thanks for the feedback, girls!  Am working on an article on caring for our momdrobes now…
    Sent from my iPhone

  • Fran
    February 17, 2012

    Great post! I’m on the quality train. I want an edited wardrobe that works, and I’m always working toward this goal. One thing that helped me were reading Kendi’s Working Closet series (http://www.kendieveryday.com/p/working-closet.html)
    I did most of the steps she recommends, including making a list of needs/wants in my wardrobe, and it has helped me focus on shopping for what I need. Lately I have been deliberately hurrying past the clothing section at Target.
    I’m also going to read The No Brainer Wardrobe by Haley of The Tiny Twig. I’ll let you know how it is. (http://www.thenobrainerwardrobe.com/)

  • Hadilly
    February 17, 2012

    Hi, I also had a disappearing post. Perhaps it was inappropriate…I hope not! I still want to chime in with my agreement that quality is better that quantity.
    I’ve been thinking a lot more about the colors I want for the season (white, blue, yellow this spring/summer) before buying and donating things that don’t fit. Clothes can have a real inertia. It took some real effort for me to wrap my head around the concept of getting rid of all my cheap jeans that fall down fifteen minutes after I put them on. (What would I wear?!?) But I did. I only have two pairs of jeans now, but they both fit and look good all day long.
    I think it really makes sense for me to do this now that I am done with pregnancy and my body is getting back to normal.

  • Marianne
    February 18, 2012

    I know it’s not for everyone, and not everyone has time to do this, but my husband and I have switched over to almost all of our clothes being thrifted – we’ve spent way less but have much nicer quality clothes than we did before. I probably have about 8 beautiful cashmere sweaters in my closet that I’ve scored for less than the price of the cheap cashmere Old Navy sweater I bought a couple years ago (they were all about $2-$5 each). It takes time, willingness to sort through the racks, and some hand sanitizer, but to me it’s worth it! Now, I do have a pair of beautiful Frye boots that I love and I do believe in the quality of investment pieces (those babies will last me forever!), but some really nice finds can be found thrifting! I think of it like treasure hunting. This morning I scored a beautiful leather Kate Spade purse for $20 at a garage sale!!

  • Bethcaron.wordpress.com
    February 20, 2012

    What a great article! It is really hard to invest in a wardrobe when, like me, you’re size 4 one minute and size 12 the next because of a string of pregnancies. However, I do agree with the quality argument. I love to shop at the Talbot’s Outlet nearby because I can find that $200 cashmere for 50% (or better) off. I can buy quality without breaking the bank. Also, this may be obvious to most, knowing what you like and what looks best on you is half the battle of building a wardrobe.

  • Everyday Mom Style
    February 22, 2012

    Thank you for this great article. I need to apply the ‘get rid of one thing’ when adding another! Great advice!
    I totally agree that we all need less stuff- and buying quality will in the end save money since you need to replace items as frequently.
    I actually just addressed this same question on my blog! Funny that it keeps coming up!

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