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Recession Fashionista: 9 Ways to Stay Stylish in a Recession

Worried about a recession, fashionista? Yeah, I don’t blame you, what with that global pandemic that seems to rage on and on unchecked. We had a good economic run between 2010 and 2019 but like all good things…

Anyhoo, you can still be stylish even in a recession and even if you don’t have a dime to spare on new clothes. Here are nine secrets to being a recession fashionista.

1. Develop a signature piece

Your signature piece is the garment you’re going to be known for, sort of like your calling card. It could be fabulous shoes, earrings, blazer, dresses, etc. — but when the budget is tight, choose an accessory. It could be the crazy necklace, bold earrings, or hair clips. Focus your shopping dollars on an assortment of your chosen signature piece. Shop thrift stores, Forever 21, and Walmart.

2. Shop by cost per wear

You know this is something I’ve been preaching for years. Value is the key when you want to be stylish on a budget. The Budget Fashionista cost per wear formula will help you get the most bang for your buck.

To recap, the cost per wear is the price of an item/divided by the number of times you’ll wear it. So if an item costs $100, and you wear it ten times, the cost per wear is $10. The more you wear an item, the cheaper it becomes. This tip is especially important as it forces you to focus on the utility of an item rather than just the price. As an example, I have a $3 dress I’ve never worn. That’s $3 wasted.

3. Break up with your dry cleaner

I’ve not been to the dry cleaner in ages — maybe since before the last recession! You can lean on your dry cleaner for quick nips and tucks to extend the life of your clothes, but you don’t need to get your suits cleaned every week. Try two to three times a year and even less for coats. In between cleans, spritz clothes with a fabric freshener like Febreze.

4. Learn to sew

You don’t need to learn how to create your own fashions from scratch like a Project Runway contestant. But learn how to hem pants, fix torn seams, and make other minor alterations. Those skills open up a whole new world of thrift shopping — you can add darts to that blouse that doesn’t quite fit for example — and also helps you extend the life of the clothes you already own.

5. Follow the 70/30 rule

Seventy percent of the stuff in your closet should be classics that never go out of style. Think white button-downs, straight-cut jeans, blazers, neutral cardigans, and v-neck t-shirts. Use the other 30% to dabble in trends and focus on accessories, because they’re cheaper. Don’t spend a lot on stuff that’s not going to be wearable next season.

6. Create a shoppers savings account

Open a high-yield savings account and deposit your monthly clothing budget there. When buying clothes, only use funds that are in that account. You can buy down to a zero balance if you want, since that’s not the account from which you pay your bills. This comes with a caveat, though. Don’t try to get more out of your budget by using credit and thinking you can pay the bill from your monthly budget. That works initially, but eventually backfires as you start rolling over balances and incurring interest charges.

7. Swap before you buy

Get your friends together for swap parties. Bring your used, but still stylish items and swap them for your friends’ used, but still stylish pieces. Free and fun!

8. Use gift cards

I use this tip especially during the holiday season. I put my entire holiday budget on a VISA gift card from my bank. Once the money is gone, I’m finished shopping. This strategy also works well for back-to-school shopping.

9. Shop used

The experience recession fashionista knows that shopping secondhand clothes is good for your wallet and the planet. If you don’t have the patience for thrifting, try online vintage consignment stores. Shop by brand for clothes that are chicer, cheaper, higher quality than what you can brand-new in any store.

Victoria L

Tuesday 29th of May 2012

Great tips! I love the Cost Per Wear concept. I do this all the time with my groceries and other items but I never thought to do it with my clothes! That makes some of the items in my closet pretty expensive by themselves...


Tuesday 29th of May 2012

It does totally change the way you look at your closet. Items that seemed "cheap" actually become quite expensive because you never wear them.

Leslie Perry

Monday 21st of May 2012

Wow, these were some really great tips, will certainly make me rethink and reevaluate what I have been doing for way too long!!!!!!!!! I appreciate your work.........................

Natasha @OneWomansStyleE)

Friday 17th of February 2012

I absolutely love these tips, especially number 6. I'm surprised that you didn't include thrift store shopping (consignment and vintage stores are not for frugal people). Last but not least, hand me downs. Yes, I shop my Mom's closet.

Sexy Girls

Tuesday 31st of January 2012

Thanks for the great tips.


Wednesday 28th of December 2011

Great tips!! Just rad across your site this morning. However, I must admit that I have been using the "Cost Per Wearing" tip for over 25 years. I came across this tip in a Beauty Basics book and it has helped me to make "WISER" decisions, pass up some fads, and save tons of money. I will definitely give you mad props and refer others to your site.

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