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.
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.
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.
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?
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, 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?