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What’s Worth It? | Manolo for the Big Girl

What’s Worth It?

When compiling your perfect wardrobe, you’ll get a lot of advice about getting ‘investment pieces.’ These are the staples of your closet that will form the building blocks for your personal style for – hopefully – years to come.

The thing to remember when you’re on a budget is that not everything you buy needs to be an investment piece. In fact, there are some things that do not make good investment pieces.

So what is it worth spending as much as you can possibly scrape together on? What’s a waste to spend big bucks on? Here are my choices.

Investments:

Good shoes. Say what you will, your feet are important. Taking good care of them is important to your legs and spine as well. Never wear shoes that don’t fit properly. Don’t spend a lot of time in shoes that don’t offer good support. A good classic pair of boots, a classic pair of pumps or flats (both if you can afford them), a solid pair of athletic shoes appropriate for the activity of your choice, and a pair of sandals that actually support your foot properly should cover you for all the basics. Keep the styles on these classic and simple. Stick to colors you know will never look inappropriate. These are worth spending good money on because they will be with you for as long as you can make them last.

A really good winter coat. Again, keep it fairly classic in both color and style because you’ll be wearing it a long, long time if all goes to plan. Make sure it’s well constructed and adequate to the conditions of the winters in your area. For instance, my winter coat is also my fall and spring coat because there’s only a few degrees difference around here between those seasons. It’s more a case of how often it gets worn.

A business ready skirt, pair of trousers, and jacket. Even if you don’t work in an office, these can be useful separates in your life. Get the best quality you can afford, check the seams and hems for good construction, make sure they’re properly lined. Again, keep them classic.

At least three quality bras. You need something to support you properly, and enough of them that you can always have at least one in wearable shape every day.

A fairly simple dress in a neutral color that can go to the office, a nice dinner out, a wedding, or a funeral in a pinch. Most women cover this with the infamous ‘little black dress’ but we all know how I feel about that. If black works for you (in which case I’m going to beg you not to wear it to weddings), go for it. For the rest of us, consider brown, beige, navy, forest green, or any other relatively neutral color that appeals to and flatters you.

A couple statement accessories. Whether your thing is hats, rings, brooches, earrings, scarves, or bracelets, get one or two that will last you forever. Ignore classic or trendy in this and go for what speaks truly to your heart. These will be your style calling card, and you want it to say your name loud and clear.

Not Investments:

Sure to be short-lived trends. Sure ruffles and metallics are big right now, but what about two or three seasons from now? Other things that you can guarantee will go by the wayside very quickly when they appear: lime green, neon, extreme platform shoes, open-toed boots, very long or very short skirts, puffed sleeves, harem pants, short shorts, gladiator sandals, and very large or very small glasses frames.

These are things where if you choose to follow the trend, it’s better to go cheap and cheerful. After all, by the next time they come around, either they won’t fit anymore or you probably won’t be into the trend anymore. Me? I have loved gladiator sandals all along and probably will until the day I die (don’t tell Plummy!), but I’ve seen the trend come around and disappear often enough not to bother investing big money in it.

A quick word about classic cuts and colors. When I say classic cut I don’t mean that everyone needs the same one. When I say classic color, I don’t mean you’re limited to black, beige, grey, and brown. What I mean is something that isn’t an extreme trend. For your perfect coat, you may choose cherry red. It’s not boring, certainly, but it’s a color that will never make you look like a fashion victim. My jacket happens to be burnt orange. It’s not always a popular color, but it’s one that comes around pretty often and always makes me look my best.

As for cut, you may find a more fitted or a more flowing style is better for you. Just don’t make those office trousers palazzos or jeggings. Whether your most flattering skirt is a pencil, and a-line, or a dirndl, get the best one you can afford. Handkerchief hems and car wash panels? Don’t bother spending too much.

10 Responses to “What’s Worth It?”

  1. lucy September 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I’m low on money this season since I decided to put the job on hold and take a few months off to learn… something. And I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether I should by good quality shoes for the fall even though my current shoes (hand-me-downs) hurt like hell. This is a really timely post for me. Thanks Twistie!

  2. Twistie September 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    @lucy: I learned the importance of good, supportive shoes a long, long time ago. I was working in a book store where the floor was composed of an extremely thin industrial carpet over poured concrete. I realized about two days into the job that there were two kinds of people in that store: those who wore Birkenstocks, and those who went to the chiropractor three times a week. Guess which group I decided to join. I’ll give you a hint: I don’t go to the chiropractor three times a week.

    My life may not require Birkenstocks anymore, but I am fierce about the importance of good footwear.

    Just remember that there are lots of great deals on really good footwear in department store sales and at outlet malls. That way you can go as easy as possible on your wallet while being kind to your feet.

  3. Fabrisse September 11, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    Inflamed fascia and an enforced period in athletic shoes have made me very aware of the value of good comfortable shoes. I just got some lovely comfy and stylish Dansko ones for under $50 at Amazon. I’ve also gone to a local “Comfort Shoes” when they have their bi-annual sales to get great shoes that keep my feet happy.

  4. La Petite Acadienne September 11, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    I’m glad that you mentioned that a “neutral” colour need not be black. I bought a really pretty, deep purple dress last month. The style is classic and flattering, and it is that type of fabric that can be rolled up into a ball and still remain wrinkle free. I paid full price for it — $80 (which for me, is a LOT of money to spend on one item of clothing that isn’t shoes or a coat).

    Well, in that one month I’ve worn it to work four times, to two fundraising dinners, and I’m wearing it to a wedding next week. I never realized how absurdly versatile purple is, but it really does work for most everything and every season.

  5. Toby Wollin September 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    As someone who used to work a lot of tradeshows, I know whereof the ‘thin industrial carpet on top of concrete’. Anything with a heel tip which is smaller than about an inch in diameter will end up making you feel as if you have red-hot metal rods stuck up your legs into your neck. Which will put you definitely into the chiro’s office or flat on your back with a heating pad and the strongest analgesic you can find. Low and thick is the way to go there.
    As for ‘the best you can afford’ – here are a couple of tips on skirt/pant/jacket combos:
    Wool in the fabric mix is always worth it, even if you live in Texas. Wool in a rayon/poly mix wears really well (twills wear better than flannels by the way – just look for a surface that reminds you of denim, which is a twill weave also). You don’t need a lot of wool to get many of the wearability benefits of wool – even 10-15% helps a lot.

    The lining on jackets and skirts is literally ‘where the rubber meets the road’ – so look for a heavier lining and avoid acetate linings as much as possible (check the inside label; it should identify the lining and its contents separately from the jacket or skirt itself). Deeper hems on skirts denote better quality as do buttons sewn on with thicker ‘buttonhole twist’ thread. Tug on the buttons – they should not be loose.

    All things being equal, if you put on a jacket and notice that the sleeve dimples in toward the top on one and not on another, buy the one with no dimples; that means the manufacturer put in a ‘sleeve head’ in addition to a shoulder pad. This costs extra and means that other quality points have probably been built into the jacket as well.

    If you have an opportunity to buy the jacket separate from the skirt or pants, buy two of the mates (if you wear more skirts, get two skirts/ if pants, then get pants) and a second coordinating item if you can (like, if you are getting a plain color skirted suit, get two skirts to match the jacket and a coordinating skirt in a plaid or a tweed, for example). Not only does this give you two separate outfits for the office, but skirts and pants wear out much much faster than jackets do. With a second skirt and/or a coordinating skirt, you will get much more wear out of the jacket and for a much longer time. If you want to build a couple of other outfits around that jacket, look for dresses in prints that are tones of the jacket or contain a color that matches or almost matches the jacket’s color. Again – this will give you even more outfits for work or going out and will give you more wear out of the jacket.

  6. Thea September 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    Hey Toby, have you ever been in Texas in the summer? Unless you work in the frosty netherworld that is an office, which many people do, any wool is impossible.

    I once attended an Austin summer wedding where the groom’s family from Connecticut were passing out en mass in their ‘tropical weight’ wool blazers.

  7. ananas September 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Speaking of feet, if you’re on your feet for long periods of time or just have weird feet (I do, I do! Flat feet, but a heel like I should have high arches.) look into orthotic beds for your shoes. I recommend going to an expensive store where they will measure your feet and look at how you walk (a specialized running store for athletic shoes, or a store like the Walking Company for more casual shoes) and get their advice and purchase shoes there at least once. Then, in the future, look for similar shoes other places or online for less. For heels, do pad.

  8. ZaftigWendy September 13, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    @ Thea,
    I live in San Antonio and wear wool frequently. I find it much more comfortable than a similar weight of cotton.

    I would be willing to bet that the groom’s family in their wool blazers had nylon or acetate linings. THAT would make me die of heat even in the winter, as it doesn’t breathe at all!!

    Of course, linen is even better. Wrinkles and all.

  9. SusanC September 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Great tips from Twistie and all the commenters here. While I always paid attention to the lining, thanks for pointing out all the other details to look for, Toby.

    And yes- a really deep, dark purple can be a thing of beauty.

  10. Andrew A. Sailer October 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Relevant to my interests