Minimal Wardrobe, Maximal Cost

Clothes 1

In my recent budget post, I noted I had completely blown my clothing budget. Furthermore, I will spend more on clothes before the year is out! How did this happen in Exacting Land?

When I set my clothing budget for the year, I allocated enough money for all my bills and savings and then looked at discretionary areas. Clothing was one area where I could cut back, so I set an amount lower than last year and said it would do. It turns out this was a false economy. I have to keep a functional work wardrobe, good quality footwear, and good quality outerwear. I had several items in these categories wear out and need to be replaced in the first half of the year, and I expect more by year-end.

Clothes 2

I wanted to try a new clothes shopping strategy this year. Instead of looking for an item that met my needs exactly, I would thrift shop and find an item that “would do” instead. I haven’t done extensive thrift shopping this year, but I’m not finding this strategy works – yet, anyway. For example, I don’t like the blazers I wear to work. The trend for the past 5 years has been very short blazers that just go to the waist. I do not like them and they don’t suit my body type. But with no other style being available, I own a couple, and I’ve been trying to replace them. In the thrift and consignment stores, people are off-loading just the kind of thing I’m trying to get rid of, so I’ve had no luck. I eventually spend $150 on a new, brand name blazer with the proper length and fit for me, and I was thrilled to find it after 2 years of looking. I feel fortunate to have the resources to do that.

I had a pair of black leather ballet flats, not cheap, that I loved. I wore them until they were ragged. I was discouraged that for what I spent on them, they only lasted a year (in rotation with several other pairs of shoes). So I replaced them with a synthetic pair from Wal-Mart. I hate them! I don’t know if it’s the fit or the materials, but it’s a purchase I regret.

I have more regrets. I had always thought that a plain white shirt was a classic wardrobe piece. I could wear it with jeans and still look somewhat dressed up. I hadn’t owned one for a few years, but was convinced it would fill a need. Wouldn’t you know, I bought a lovely quality white dress shirt for $35 and I’ve only worn it once. All my other tops are in bright colours and now I know I want to keep it that way. The white shirt made me feel invisible. Maybe I will have to learn how to wear scarves 🙂

I made one big mistake. In March, I bought a new pair of olive cargo pants. They had been a wardrobe staple for me, but I hadn’t owned any in a couple of years, since paring down. They “just” fit, but of course I would lose 5 lbs before summer. You can see where this is going! Not only did I fail to lose the 5 lbs, but I gained a couple, and I have this new pair of pants I haven’t been able to wear once! I will be lucky to get them on by the end of the summer. Shame on me!

Here is the list of what I’ve purchased this year with my $900 annual budget:


  • Rain suit for walking to work (100% happy with it. Calling this an investment piece)

Clothes 4


  • Workout sneakers/trainers – New Balance (Love them. Used only for workouts so they don’t get trashed)
  • Casual sneakers – Converse slip-ons (love them)
  • Black flats (very unhappy with)
  • Short brown fashion boots (happy so far, should be just right for Fall and Spring)
  • “Croc” style garden clogs (for stepping out into yard to take out garbage, etc.)

Clothes 5

Work Wardrobe:

  • Blazer (just right)
  • Teal colour jean jacket (just right)
  • White shirt (not the “experience” I thought it would be)
  • White T-shirt for layering (functional)
  • Vintage orange floral shirt (not sure if funky or ridiculous, but don’t care)
  • Periwinkle blue cardigan (functional)
  • Charcoal grey tunic to wear with leggings (decided I don’t like wearing leggings to work so have reserved this for casual wear)

Clothes 6

Casual Wear:

  • Cargo pants (Fail!)
  • Black warm-up jacket from Bench (a first for me – NOT a hoodie!)
  • Long sleeve CBC T-shirt (very over-priced but love it)
  • 2 workout tops – replacements (both great)
  • Canada Day T-Shirt (frivolous purchase but enjoyed it)

Small Stuff and Accessories:

  • Black zip Che cap (couldn’t resist, love this style)
  • Winter scarf (destroyed already – chewed by cat)
  • Winter gloves – purchased for next winter
  • 3 bras – replacements
  • 6-pk. panties – replacements
  • 3 pair black socks – replacements (hate buying socks when I have so many, but no black dress socks left!)

TOTAL $1101

Budget was supposed to be $900 for the year.

In the Fall I need to replace my everyday winter parka which will be another “investment” purchase. I’m not going to buy a Canada Goose, but I will be buying a good quality, built-to-last parka. I don’t live in Iqaluit or anything, but last year I did walk to work on some -17 days.

All my shopping has meant that my wardrobe has increased by 7 pieces, after adjusting for what went out the door. So my total for significant wardrobe pieces is 157. That includes tops (103), Pants (24), Footwear (15), Dresses and Skirts (7) and Outerwear (8).

Have you changed any of your clothes shopping strategies this year?


  1. There is so much pressure to buy, buy. This is the reason the industry invents fads to sell new stuff. I am proud of my wife for buying two $9 dresses to wear around the house, to the beach and to the store this summer. She looks great in them and we realized for $9 we should have low expectations for durability. She has a friend who likes nice things. I said your friend would have a cow if she knew you were in her company with a $9 dress. Best wishes on the second half of the year.

    • I mostly go shopping for replacement items and a few work updates. My only sucker purchases this year were a cap and a Tshirt! And the cargo pants that don’t quite fit…the white shirt was a no-go and the black shoes not good. Over all, I am satisfied I’m not wasting money or shopping just for something to do. I could use some $9 outfits, though 🙂

  2. I dont actually have a clothes budget! I only ever bought from thrift/charity, but with the new [old ]job I have had to get new work wear.. I gave up thrift/charity stores as was buying things that just ‘ did’ and didn’t feel comfortable or I didn’t feel nice in. So I have resolved to purchase 2 new work items per month, at full cost if need reduced commute costs will cover that. I am hugely impressed with the clothing items you have, I have approximately 8 tops I rotate for the summer and 5 pairs of trousers, but I have a whole wardrobe of items that are just too tight! I am aiming for a capsule wardrobe, so trying to keep to a black /white /blue pallet with a colour shock thrown in !
    By the way I love the vintage shirt!!

  3. I’m going to try and find clothes in charity shops (when I need them!)
    But I’ll try and have the same standards as when I shop in ‘normal’ shops, and thus avoid things which are not quite right…

    I’ll probably still need to buy basics, such as vest tops, from ‘normal’ shops…and shoes, which I am planning to get custom made from an ‘eco’ shop when my current ones finally wear out. (I plan to have a pair of sandals, a pair of boots and a pair of ballet pumps eventually, plus trainers, riding boots and walking boots).

  4. Hey, great post! I’m Cameron and I’m very interested in fashion and style. I think you would enjoy my posts; I would really appreciate a follow back! Thanks!

  5. EcoCatLady

    OK, first of all, the title of this post made me laugh out loud. Ain’t it the truth?

    I think I have a distinct advantage in the clothing department since other than bike riding and grocery shopping, I seldom leave the house these days, so looking presentable is not really an issue for me. But I do think that having the right clothes for the activity is sort of essential, so most of my clothing purchases are bike wear – and other than shoes & undies, that’s pretty much the only thing I’ll buy new.

    I think think thrift store shopping always worked for me because I never went into it looking for something specific. I always just tried to find things that fit well and were flattering. Of course, keeping my wardrobe to a certain number of items was never a goal for me, so I think that gives one more flexibility.

    • That’s something I’m working on – buying only clothes that are for real-life activities and purposes, and making sure I don’t buy stuff for a fantasy life I don’t really have! I do tend to dress down for the most part. I think I equate dressy clothes with being a person who doesn’t want to get in the thick of things. (In my case, maybe crawling under a desk to connect a computer cable, or accepting book returns which are grubby, like handling money!)

      • Haha, I also tend to dress for the possibility of crawling under/ moving furniture, so my clothes and shoes have to be fairly practical!

  6. I haven’t had any money for clothes this year! So I have just been wearing out old clothes. I have never had to do that before and, actually, I am quite enjoying wearing things until they are absolutely falling apart! I am sure next year, or the year after I will have to do some major shopping, but it will be fun to start afresh – most of my clothes were bought three years ago or more in some cases! And many were given to me this year.

    • I bet it will be fun when you get to start over! While I don’t envy your situation, there is a certain charm in being between jobs for a spell and wearing your comfies all the time.

  7. I love how exacting you are! Since we “went frugal” ALL of my clothes have come from the Goodwill (which I love, new clothes feel ick to me). I do splurge on new underwear, bras, socks, and shoes however (but only from Ross or TJ Maxx…no mall shopping at all). I’m glad you found a good blazer–the extra expense is well worth it to have one that fits well and you are happy to wear.

  8. $900 is not a lot when you consider all the outerwear and shoes/boots necessary in the northeast! I’ve gotten better about trying to get more seasons out of my winter jackets and boots and not just replacing them because I’m bored.
    I just had the zipper redone on a Patagonia down jacket (they also patched some micro holes) – per their policy they repaired it for free on the basis that their stuff should pretty much last forever. I love the jacket and I would have bought a replacement if they made the same style, but I didn’t want to toss it without having an alternative.
    I wish I was better at getting clothes I love – I wear my favorites over and over – I’m not that good a judge initially so I have several “fails” mostly because I like the item but it doesn’t quite fit (men’s clothing). I wish I had learned to sew and felt comfortable doing minor alterations .

    • I had forgotten about Patagonia’s repair policy – that would be a good brand for me to check out in the Fall. I wear a few men’s items too, but tend to buy oversize because otherwise the fit is so difficult.

  9. Claire/Just a little less

    A really interesting post. I like to balance thrift pieces with investment pieces but don’t always get it right. Having a clothing wish list helps me to not impulse buy. I’ve never got on with white shirts either after several attempts, so I definitely won’t make that mistake again!

    • This year I’ve had to replace my rain suit, winter parka and a few pairs of footwear, which ordinarily wouldn’t all come up in one year. Maybe next year will be lighter on the budget?

  10. Fiona

    I’m really glad you got the blazer – I have the same dilemma and will greatly celebrate when I find the ‘right’ one! The funniest thing – I left a comment by phone last night that didn’t go through (sometimes happens.) I was lamenting the lack of a good winter coat. Well today at work, someone gave me a winter coat they were clearing out. It fits *perfectly.* I am so thrilled!

    • A gift coat – what a stroke of luck! I hope I don’t have to search for two years for a winter parka (but I doubt it, because so many styles are available).

  11. Gam Kau

    I used to do a lot of shopping as a leisure activity, but about 10 years ago I decided to spend a year only buying 2nd hand items. And the year turned into many years and somehow along the way I broke the habit of shopping just for fun. I now find it a chore to go shopping and only go if I need something. My lifestyle is very casual and I don’t need a lot of variety in my clothing so it is easy enough for me to have a limited amount of clothes. It’s pretty much some variation of leggings and a tee all year round with the exterior items varying from season to season.
    I love the vintage top, when I travel, popping into 2nd hand stores is something I really enjoy (along with supermarkets).
    I can embrace a white button front shirt either. I know it is always on the must have list and considered ultimately versatile, but somehow they just don’t work for me.

    • I feel I really should make a firmer commitment to buying used. I do like shopping vintage and consignment when I travel, but in my own city, it’s just far enough to be inconvenient. I also have to tread carefully because an item that would look vintage on a 20-year-old might look like I just pulled it out of my own dusty closet, and that is not cool at all 🙂

  12. I think you’ve done very well! Everyone always ends up with a couple of purchases a year that just don’t work.

    And the orange top is funky! Funky depends on how you carry yourself!

    I have decided to buy clothes that I love and want but not to go regularly looking. So if I go and find someone that looks good on me, I will buy it. But I won’t buy just because I feel like something new, and I won’t buy if I am a bit meh about the item. Like you I need a jacket that sits just right on me. I have a few dated ones, and they make me look boxy. But I won’t buy one until it is exactly what I want – and maybe I won’t care about the price, because I’d rather have the one thing I want than trying several cheap ones that don’t work. But if a cheap one comes along that is right, I’ll buy it – I’m not a snob.

    So that’s my clothes shopping plan, after a year of no clothes buying.

    • My plan has evolved much the same as yours – I go looking when I need to replace something, but otherwise would not go shopping just for fun. However, if I were at the mall to buy a birthday gift and happened to spot a clothing item I loved, I might buy it, as long as I felt it was justified and not totally frivolous!

  13. I’m lucky that I manage to find my clothes in charity shops or jumbles. It was easier when I was a size 8 (US 4?) as there was a lot more choice. Another incentive to lose weight.

    I do spend a lot on foot wear as I have a dodgy back, I spend stoooooooopid amounts on wellies but I do walk four dogs a lot of miles so I like the walking boot wellie crossbreed boot. Sometimes nothing else will do and you just have to work round that x

  14. Considering everything you’ve purchased, I think you’re doing well! I’m very similar in that I look for high quality shoes that will last for a while, but I struggle with black flats. Love to wear them, hate to shop for them. At most, I’ve gotten a pair to last for a year no matter the price (if I’m remembering correctly, I’ve had 6 pairs). My current ones are from Target.

    Thankfully I’ve never had to buy winter outerwear; I know it’s pricy. My parents bought me my winter coat when I was in high school, and my pea coat is older than that. They’ve needed some small repairs along the seams, but I’m hoping to get at least another few years out of both of them.

    • I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who goes through flats quickly! My winter wool coat is doing fine but I’ve gone through a few parkas. I like it when stuff lasts!

  15. Lane

    So great you’ve found a blazer you love! I wore them to work every day, with a pin/brooch on the left lapel, over a T or crewneck light sweater, usually pants. I had one from brooks bros, quite spendy but perfect, I wore for a decade until the shoulder style didn’t work. Now that I don’t work as much I need to deaccession some blazers.

    I’ll admit I buy mostly new clothes ( all used furniture, though); my girls are both complete thrifters and look adorable– I’m proud of them, but sometimes I want to but them something new! I have spent a lot less than usual b/o semiretirement; I might challenge myself to no new stuff for the rest of the year.

    The White Shirt Myth, we’ll call it! I find it hard to make them work,too. You really need one you can leave untucked and then put a cardigan or jacket over, maybe belt it, but much of the time I’m reaching for something else.

    Eat berries and nuts for a few days and those cargos will slip right on!

    • I wear my blazers with a round pin on the lapel that has a picture or message on it, music or pop culture type things. The White Shirt Myth, I love it! I have made some headway as to fitting into the cargos…looks promising by mid-August maybe?

  16. Holly

    I’ve changed my clothing strategy dramatically this year, and am working on reducing my overall wardrobe size, while being true to my own style. I chuckled at the white shirt example as I have done that (recently!) thinking a white shirt would be a great staple, and doesn’t everyone need one? Apparently not.

    I love your orange flower shirt. Ridiculous? Not. But I understand not caring. 🙂

    I don’t count shoes, lingerie or workout wear in my overall clothing count, but I do budget them there. I was contemplating a zero budget for next year, but I think that might be folly.

    It’s a real work in progress for me.

    • So far we have no votes for a plain white shirt! Glad you like the orange – it’s fun to wear. I could never manage a zero budget. I would have to replace things that wore out, got stained, or lost in travel!

      How much are you reducing your wardrobe? Have you had any major lifestyle changes, or just have too much stuff?

      • Holly

        It’s a little bit of both, too much stuff and a lifestyle change of sorts. My husband has a chronic illness and has been quite sick the past two years. I work a full-time job with intermittent leave (FMLA in US) to tend to him. There are many days I need to go to work (in my dressier work clothes) and then come home and take him to an appointment or go to the hospital with him. I don’t want to wear my work clothes to the appointments, but I don’t want to wear just any old thing. So I needed to upgrade my casual wardrobe while assessing my work wardrobe, and to organize the whole thing to make it easier to get dressed every day. Of course there is some overlap between the work wear and dress casual wear, but not as much as I might have thought.

        This approach of two distinct wardrobes has really helped me see what I need and where I have Too Much of something.

        In addition to the categories of work and casual, I also decided to separate by distinct seasons to a greater degree. I used to just have cold weather wear and everything else. Now I have 3 seasons of clothes: spring/fall (I categorize together as both seasons are short here) on blue hangers, summer on pink hangers and winter on purple hangers. With off season storage strategies in place too. So even though I could wear the spring/fall clothes now, in this very cool summer we’re having, I don’t. Because to add them to the mix would just jumble things together too much. It’s kind of a modified capsule wardrobe approach.

        I’m still in the process of counting everything, and figuring out how much of each item I truly need (i.e how many pair of work pants for the winter, based on # of times I will dress for work that season, and an average wear of xx times per pair of pants). LIke I said, a work in progress! So far I have cut the number of clothing items down by about 20%. I currently have somewhere around 230 pieces of clothing for the three seasons, not counting true lounge wear, workout wear, underwear or shoes.

        I really couldn’t do a zero budget either. But I’m trying to figure out what I really might need for next year, as I’ve done a lot of replenishing this year. I expect it will be a fairly small number, like maybe $600 or so? I’m a good bargain shopper. 🙂

        Sorry, long response. Then again, it took me two months to figure out what approach I wanted and another six weeks to sort through and get it all organized!

      • Hi Holly, You do have quite a situation to deal with. You must have some long and tiresome days. I hope you treat yourself well, and indulge in some treats of whatever you fancy!

        Your seasons sound like mine; so 230 items is not unreasonable, if they all fit, are in good repair, and are suitable for their purposes. Your methods are well thought-out. Others might like you to blog about it (hint, hint!) if you had the time.

  17. I got weary from shopping – so much I don’t like/want, but I know I don’t have enough work wear. But I don’t want to shop or spend anymore either! Whilst i was away, I bought 4 tops, a belt, 6 pairs of light coloured knickers (oversight I had two light bottoms and one dark, and too many dark knickers), and 3 pair of black ankle socks for slip on canvas shoes. Cost wise, I’m happy, but one top is too ‘baggy’ (but I did wear it twice whilst away, so not *that* bad).

    I suppose my mind is all muddled by needing to add clothes for work, and not really wanting to, but running out of things to wear that are work formal/appropriate (legitimately!). We’ll see how I go!

    • Hi Sarah, Hope all is well with you! I would say the belt, socks and underwear don’t count, so you really haven’t been doing much clothes buying 🙂 My old workplace was a dress-down environment. I can still wear the same things in the new one, but can also take it up a notch if I want to. So the opportunity is there to diversify my work wardrobe. Had you developed a management dress style?

      • I have noticed all the guys at my (acting) level are corporate wear, so I am trying to be too – with my existing wardrobe. It’s a challenge whilst it’s cold cold, but trans-seasonal should be ok

  18. Pingback: Right-Sized Wardrobe Report | An Exacting Life

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