One of the best things about being The Budget Fashionista is the ability to “help” love ones. I often get frantic calls from friends and family members—asking for help with a major fashion emergency—like “My boyfriend has finally decided to take me to Sunday brunch at his parents. It’s Saturday night at 6pm. What do a wear?” I love helping my peeps look fabulous and out of the bind—it makes me feel like a fashion version of Mother Teresa.

My most recent pleasure was helping one of my dearest and arguably fashion-deprived friend develop a professional closet. My friend, Monique, has been buried deep in the recess of a hospital for the past three years, finishing a residency in Orthopedic Surgery. Needless to say fashion is not at the top of her do-to list, her closets consists of white coats, worn scrubs, and these tank top bra things that make her look like she has a “uni-boob”. The girl needed help.

It is not like Monique doesn’t have style—she has quite a bit.  But her style is most suited for the warm, tropical climate of her native Jamaica rather than the harsh winters of Connecticut. Plus, she doesn’t have much time for the pursuit of fashion between removing bullets from people’s butts and reading thrilling works on the treatment of scoliosis.

So, last week Monique called up and said “I have a big problem.” Okay, I thought, she has finally snapped from all those hours spent under horrible fluorescent lights and wearing plastic clogs. As a made a mental list of the possible attendees for the upcoming intervention, she continued, “I have a free weekend and desperately need a professional wardrobe. Help!”. Having not seen my friend since my wedding two years prior, I jumped at the chance to spend sometime with her and willingly offered my services in exchange for lunch.

When I arrived in New Haven, the first thing we did (after eating about a billion maki rolls) was to develop a budget. By some brilliant banking maneuvers, Monique was able to gather $600 for this new wardrobe. Our goal was to focus on quality, rather than quantity. She needed a wardrobe that would last her until May 2007, the end of her residency. 

This was our shopping list:

- Bras and new underwear (no matter how much money you have, always start with the underwear.)
- Layering tops (great for wearing under suit coat jackets, sweaters, and other t-shirts)
- Black velvet suit jacket (very sexy and slimming)
- Basic Black Dress (can dress it up or down)
- Pair of earrings (something basic that could be worn professionally)
- Shirts (white, black)
- Pants (black, grey, brown)
- Shoes (black boots, black heels)
- One fun item/shirt

We set out in Monique’s 1989 Nissan/Toyota/Hyundai (it is so old that I don’t think it had any label on it) to Westfarms Mall in central Connecticut. The main reason we chose this mall was because it had a Lord & Taylor and a Nordstrom—two key stores to look for when trying to build a professional closet on a budget.

We head to Nordstrom first because they were winding down their semi annual women’s and children’s sale with an additional 30%-50% off. At Nordstrom’s, we were able to pick up a pair of Ralph Lauren (green label) pants on sale and had them tailored to perfection for $83.63. We decided to spend a little more on the black pants, because she would wear them quite a bit. We also pick-up a pair of black suede pumps and knee-high black boots for $80.00 total.

Total at Nordstrom: $163.63

The next stop was to find some basic layer tees. The best place, hands down, to find high quality stretchy t-shirts is Old Navy. Yes, other places carry them, but Old Navy Me and Mo: A Shopping Experience t-shirts are the same quality and are usually 2 for $22. Unfortunately this mall did not have an Old Navy. As the Budget Fashionista, I am used to being in less than ideal shopping situations, so we headed to the GAP. At the Gap Me and Mo: A Shopping Experience we found 4 layering t-shirts (in black, white, pink, and purple). One was on sale for $3.99.

Total at GAP: $49.93

After the GAP, we headed to Lord & Taylor, one of my favorite shopping haunts. They were having a big sale on their early fall stuff, so Monique and I hit the racks. We tried on several pairs of pants, but nothing seemed to work. It is very important to wear GOOD underwear when going shopping for pants. Monique, whose main criteria for good underwear is that it is clean, did not wear the proper undergarments. It is all about the “drawls” folks. Not letting poor undergarments disrupt our flow, Monique bought a nice black Ralph Lauren cotton dress blouse and a pair of “diamond” earrings. We figure she will be able to replace them with real ones after her residency.
Total cost at L&T: $49.18

Propelled to action by the sad state of her underwear, we headed to straight to the intimate section of Filene’s department store.  Now, I really truly love Monique, but I am NEVER going undergarment shopping with her again. First we had an argument over the tank top bra issue. She said that they were comfortable (they are). I said that they make women have a “uni-boob” (they do).  After spending 15 minutes arguing, during which she threaten to strangle me with a padded demi-bra, we reached a comprise. She got the tank top bra thing and several pairs of sensible underwear with a little nylon to help uplift and hold in the her “goods”.

After leaving the intimates, we headed to the women’s department, where we proceeded to wrap up the shopping. It was like, we were in a trance. We found a great white cotton dress shirt and a black knit top from Kors-Michael Kors bridge line found in stores like L&T and Filene’s, a pair of grey tweed pants from Ralph Lauren, and a beautiful Kelly green suede jacket from Inc. We did find a great black dress, however Monique felt she wouldn’t wear until summer. Flashing back to my near death experience with the padded demi bra, I decided not to push the dress any further.

Total at Filene’s: $313.00

So this is what we got
- 1 bra and 6 pairs of new underwear
- 4 layering tops
- 1 pair of earrings
- 2 shirts (white, black)
- 1 black sweater
- 2 pairs of pants (black, grey)
- 2 pairs of Shoes (black boots, black heels)
- 1 suede jacket/top

Total spent:  $575.74 for a completely new professional wardrobe, with designer items and tailoring, from head to toe.

Time spent with one of my best friends: priceless.

Nordstrom Me and Mo: A Shopping Experience