Upgrade Your Outfits Without Downgrading Your Net Worth

With a little creativity, those ragged clothes that fill your closet don’t have to define the way you look. You can class up your wardrobe if you’re willing to put in enough work to shop for steals at the right places

On his One Money Design blog, Jason lays out a 10-point plan for improving your clothing roster. He says you should start by weeding out your closet of the undesirables, then start scouting garage sales, thrift shops and consignment stores for some replacements. Jason is confident that diligence pays off at such secondhand treasure troves, which fill up with excellent finds.

Or you can be like me and never, ever buy new clothes, defining your look as “slovenly slacker chic.”

10 Ideas For Updating Your Wardrobe On A Budget [One Money Design]


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  1. Alvis says:

    While it may have worked in the 90s, where not caring about clothing was taken to an art form, trying to subside off secondhand finds nowadays is a slippery slope to hipster, where you have to put just as much thought into your outfit as someone wearing couture, but still end up looking like a joke.

    • JonStewartMill says:

      I’m guessing you haven’t been in a consignment shop at least since the 90s. I buy everything except socks and underwear at Plato’s Closet, a local consignment shop, and I often find designer clothing that’s been worn once or twice — sometimes not at all, as evidenced by the fact that it still has the retail tags attached. Half price for Gap, Banana Republic, Express, Hollister and Ralph Lauren apparel that looks brand-new? What’s wrong with that?

      But by all means, keep on paying full price for your clothing. I don’t like crowds when I’m bargain-shopping.

      • denros says:


        I like to supplement my thrift store / consignment shop finds with some nice “base” stuff I’ve purchased new (khakis, ties, dress shoes).

        I remember a suit I wore to a friend’s wedding – I know people always joke about thrift store suits, but I literally went to 4 or 5 thrift stores and found a *very* nice suit super cheap. I probably tried on about 15 or 20 jackets before I found one that fit well, but it really ended up feeling like it was tailored. I received a *lot* of compliments about how I looked that day (I was an usher!), especially about the suit , both from friends and loose acquaintances (so I know they weren’t just empty compliments).

      • Hello Jodi says:

        I also buy every piece of clothing except socks, stockings and undergarments from thrift stores (though I did find a pair of thigh-high stockings from Victoria’s Secret at a thrift store, still in the package) and I would venture to say I’m the best dressed person at my office and almost anywhere else I go. And I wear mostly classically styled pieces: pencil skirts and sweaters, lots of dresses, heels. No hipster here.

    • LadyTL says:

      Not everyone cares stupid fashions of the week. Some of us are smart enough to just wear what looks good on us, not some stick thin model and that means not always being “fashionable.”

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      I can find brand new or gently used, recent, department store clothes at Goodwill. That doesn’t even include looking at consignment stores. Those tend to have higher end clothes than Goodwil though they do cost a few dollars more. I’ve scored Givenchy at Goodwill and Michael Kors at consignment stores, just to name a couple off the top of my head.

      You sound like you don’t actually go into those stores. I bet more people than you think are wearing items from resale/second-hand stores, you just can’t tell.

  2. mfergel says:

    Don’t forget eBay. I’ve bought everything from Affliction to Bed Stu to True Religion jeans at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately, people gain and lose weight all the time so one persons loss (or gain) is…..well, your gain.

  3. Ilovegnomes says:

    Also check Criagslist and freecycle. I just gave a huge box of business clothing away because I admit that I’ll never be that size again.

  4. Beeker26 says:

    Bedazzler FTW!!!

  5. WeirdJedi says:

    What is wrong with the standard jeans at Walmart? I keep hearing “this brand is better” or “this style is in season” when really all you need is something to cover up your legs. You can always get cheaper jeans at thrift stores, like Goodwill. I guess I will never understand the need to get these clothes that cost four times the amount because some model decided to wear it down a walkway.

    • Ilovegnomes says:

      To shed some light on this topic… some people are shaped differently (more or less curves) and some types of jeans fit those shapes better than others. So it isn’t necessarily about which model wore it as much as it is comfort. There are still ways to get those more expensive jeans for less.

    • K-Bo says:

      I actually looked at walmart’s lei jeans, and decided not to buy them because at $22, I could go to Marshall’s,Target or Kohl’s and get a better fitting, more well made pair for cheaper. My favorite place to buy jeans is Ross, I only find a pair I like 1 in every 5 times I’m there, but when I do it’s $10-$12

    • Bohemian says:

      At least with Levis, you can get a pair at Walmart for $22 but the fabric is thin and cheap. Buy a pair at Kohls or Penny’s and the ones they carry cost more but have much better fabric. Worth the $39, or less if they are on sale.

      You can find good quality nice clothing at thrift stores and on ebay, you just have to look and know what you want.

    • mbz32190 says:

      Walmart does not sell classic Levi’s…they sell something called “Signature by Levi’s”. The fabric is thinner, and it is not the same quality. You are much better off going to Goodwill and getting a real pair of Levi’s. Mine always seems to have jeans that still look fairly new..and for $4 to $6, the price cannot be beat. Ross is also a great store, especially if you are a weird/smaller size. I got a new pair of Levi’s there for $10 or so, and the majority of the clothing is a name brand. I could care less about it being an “old” style. I do Kohl’s once in a while…when I get 30% off coupons. I stopped buying anything other than socks and underwear and solid T-shirts from Walmart or Target though.

    • GGV says:

      It has nothing to do with which model wore what. It has to do with people taking pride in their appearances and wanting to present themselves to the world in a positive way. That means purchasing pants that actually look good and fit their body type. Walmart clothes are poor quality and cheap looking and only fit a very narrow range of body types. If you don’t care about your appearance and only want something to “cover up your legs”, that’s your choice, but don’t disparage those of us who don’t want to look sloppy.

    • Snaptastic says:

      I just hate shopping at Wal-Mart because I always feel the need to burn my clothes after hanging around in their stores.

      Kidding–I just dislike the crap material that they use and the creepy guys lurking around the changing rooms. If I go to Goodwill I can get better quality, a better deal, and I can actually feel a warm fuzzy that my money is going towards something better than it would if it went to Wal-Mart.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Jeans from Wal-Mart may work for you but they don’t always work for other people. I know people who have the same mentality – “what’s the difference?” – but they wear clothes just to cover up – there’s nothing wrong with dressing for your body type, and to look good. If Wal-Mart jeans fit well, that’s fine, but if they don’t, it would be a waste of money and foolish to buy them anyway.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      They work for me, because the Riders are made by Lee, the ONLY brand of jeans that actually fits me. I’m wearing a pair of the Riders stretch khakis (not jeans because I’m at work) right now. If you take care of them, like hanging them up to dry and removing spots right away as the article says, they can last a couple of seasons.

    • ames says:

      “I guess I will never understand the need to get these clothes that cost four times the amount because some model decided to wear it down a walkway.”

      I love it when people slide in these subtle digs at those of us who choose to buy nicer-quality clothes than those available at Walmart. Are your judgey-pants too tight?

      1. Their clothes do not feel good. The fabric is cheap, the seams are cheap, they’re cheap.
      2. Their clothes do not FIT me.
      3. Their clothes do not tend to last more than a year or so. I buy clothes for the long-term; “buy it for the season” doesn’t fit my budget.
      4. Yes, we wear clothes to cover our bodies, but there is no reason why I can’t look nice while conforming to public decency laws.
      5. Runway models don’t tell me what to wear. I am fully capable of making my own sartorial decisions, thank you very much.
      5a. For that matter, models don’t choose the clothes they wear down the runway either.

    • WeirdJedi says:

      All I meant was that you can find cheap, obtainable, non-designer articles of clothing in your everyday low pricing convenient stores. I usually just pull out a belt when the jeans don’t quite fit me since I seem to always lose and gain weight, depending on what food my family feeds me. I never keep the same figure and gotta’ adapt with whatever is available.

  6. Julia789 says:

    I get our family a few good reasonably priced items at Lands End. When the sales come, I stock up.

    Their fabrics are good quality, mostly natural fiber, many come in classic cuts that don’t go out of style, and the stitching is pretty durable. We’ve had some of their pants and shirts for years.

    If you just stay away from their tapered leg “mom jeans” and look for the classic straight, leg mid-rise cuts (same goes for men’s pants) they will last for years and still be in style.

  7. shthar says:

    My fashin choices are based on what aint itchy.

  8. MaytagRepairman says:

    I’ve found numerous high quality, barely worn shirts in Goodwill stores. Sometimes I will find a a good coat too. My luck varies from store to store. I rarely find any jeans or dress pants in my size though so I just buy them new. Develop an awareness for the higher quality brand names and look over each piece carefully for stains, missing buttons, or signs of shrinkage. Check the tags. Many of them list the date they were donated. If it has been there for a long time try to think why.

  9. b.k. says:

    “#7 – Have a clothes swap with your friends.”

    I have never actually seen this “swap party” thing work. You’re not going to swap your best clothes. You’re going to swap the stuff you hate and the stuff that doesn’t fit, which — SURPRISE! — your friends probably don’t like and can’t fit in, either.

    • K-Bo says:

      My best friend has given me all kinds of amazing clothes she outgrew. It’s unlikely everyone will come out of a swap meet equally happy ( I have nothing to give my friend clothing wise as I’ve always been 1-2 sizes smaller than her) but it’s not impossible to get nice, fashionable clothing. Also, for things like party dresses that you don’t want to wear more than1-2 times, trading is a perfect solution.

      • Phil Villakeepinitrreal says:

        This is one of those ideas that bugs me. Party dresses you don’t want to wear more than one or two times? I can’t even fathom this concept. Going to all the trouble to pick out the perfect, flattering dress that will make you look good at parties, then barely using it….for God’s sake, WHY? God forbid some nasty busybody remark that you wore the same dress at another party…

        • K-Bo says:

          Parties are events where you are often photographed, who wants to have on the same dress in 5 years worth of christmas party pics? I’ll wear the same dress again if it’s with a different group of people, but other than that, I trade and thrift for something new to me (easier for me to do since I don’t insist on wearing $200 dresses) I bought an awesome Anne Klein dress for $6 at a thrift store for this christmas. It’s in perfect shape, and when I’m done with it, it will probably go back to the thrift store for someone else to wear.

          • FatLynn says:

            Are you familiar with Rent the Runway? They mail you a dress, you wear it, and you mail it back. They almost always have coupons, so you can get a rental for around $50 with shipping and all that.

        • theduckay says:

          Because wearing the same dress to every fancy occasion is boring and makes you look like its the only dress you own. Not all of us want to feel that way, and most of us girls enjoy wearing different dresses because its fun…which is why swapping party dresses is a great idea. Would you wear the same Halloween costume every year?

    • richcreamerybutter says:

      A swap can be incredibly successful if you include people who have the same taste, and for the most part, are within a certain range of sizes (but even those too big or small for most of the selections can score in shoes and accessories). Generally you also bring wine and snacks so it’s also an inexpensive social event. Items that are left over can then be easily bagged up and brought to Goodwill.

    • GGV says:

      I was iffy on this idea too but for another reason. It sounds like the “take a cooking class to meet a guy”-type advice. Somehow, it makes it onto every list, but it doesn’t work. I’m not saying that no one would ever do it, but I doubt it’s useful advice to the vast majority of people who would read this list. Overall, everything on this list was basic advice that we should all know by now. Nothing groundbreaking. I’m not sure why it warranted a post on consumerist.

      • GGV says:

        I should clarify that I meant I don’t think it’s good advice because I don’t think that most people would ever do it, and considering that the list is (to my knowledge) aimed at the general population, I would expect the advice to have widespread appeal.

    • goodfellow_puck says:

      I never do clothes-swap as a party, but my friends and female family members often do informal swaps of clothing and shoes.

    • Hello Jodi says:

      I agree. How about, if you have something that doesn’t fit any longer or you no longer want it, ask a friend if they’d like to have it? They’ll do the same for you, I imagine.

  10. ChuckECheese says:

    Or you can live in a large city with a larger poor and disenfranchised population, and you will almost never find anything worth buying at thrift stores. If anybody knows a more or less sure thing for men’s clothes in Phoenix, holler.

  11. Senchou says:

    Or do what I do. Shop off season in clearance; just get basic stuff that will still be usable next year.

  12. AgentDaleCooper says:

    Actually Phil, I think this post was written by Jocelin Boutet. (bottom of the page)

  13. GoSpursGo says:

    I just wait for coupon codes to come out for American Eagle and Aeropostale, and end up getting polo shirts, dress shirts, and jeans for less than $10 each over the price of lesser known brands at Walmart/Kohls. Some brands just fit differently. I wear a lot of t-shirts, and I’ve noticed Nike/Adidas fit a lot better and last longer than other athletic brands like Russell and Majestic. Although I am the type that would only buy the name brand, it’s a lot easier to stomach when the markup is just a few dollars over the lesser known brand.

    • "I Like Potatoes" says:

      My kids like Aeropostale (like most teens) but I think they have some of the poorest quality stuff I’ve ever seen, especially the shirts. The fit is awful and the material is the thinnest, cheapest stuff out there. They’ve never bought jeans there because I like my girls to wear jeans that actually cover their rear end.

      • JennyCupcakes misses her grandson says:

        This comment made me laugh. I think I was one of the few teenagers that actually *wanted* to cover up… then again, I wore giant band t-shirts and Kikwear/JNCO pants so I was pretty much nothing but yards of fabric and awful band advertising.

  14. goodfellow_puck says:

    After you go through things and toss out/donate the things you never wear, the next step is making a list of things you NEED. Have 60 T-shirts? You don’t need more. It’s funny how we forget what we actually need, whether we’re shopping at the thrift store or not. If you make a list, you find out you actually have a lot more than you thought (or else, more stuff that you’re unlikely to wear and should really, really just donate).

  15. IvansMom says:

    In 2008, I had to go on a very strict budget and at the same time, lost weight due to a medical problem. I had to buy new clothes and had very little money. I started shopping at the Goodwill on weekends and I was really surpised by the great deals I found. I love the GAP long sleeved perfect tees and I found several for an average price of $3, I got some great pants, dress shirts, shoes (I know – eew, to some people – sorry) and a Coach bag for $2.50. I found that “finds” vary by location and that particular location was the best one for me. This past Friday, I realized that almost my whole outfit was from the Goodwill, except for my bra, underwear, socks, and a dress shirt from Lands End (clearance buy w/free shipping)

    • 12345678nine says:

      I bought my favorite pair of brown leather cowgirl boots from Goodwill for 4 dollars. They retail for 80.
      They did not smell, they were clean, I lysoled and popped in a new insole and bam, awesome shoes for cheap.
      I also got some sweet heels just last week. Lysol wipe and we are good to go!

  16. LunaMakesThings says:

    I get great stuff at thrift stores all the time. I also tend to be more experimental at thrift stores than I would at regular stores, which gives me more options. Like, if a skirt is only $3 and it’s a bit too long, I’ll buy it and hem it, but if it’s $30 I probably won’t. Also, I’m fat with big boobs, so sometimes maternity tops actually fit me pretty well, but while I’d never browse the maternity section at a department store because of embarrassment, I will at a thrift store. I never really examined it before, but I guess on some level my brain is like “We’re already at Goodwill, here there is no shame.”

  17. myCatCracksMeUp says:

    I used to shop at thrift and consignment stores, but that takes a LOT of time to find things I like and which fit.

    Now most of my wardrobe is from Costco. Their prices are really low, and when they have something I like I’ll buy several in different colors. Recently I bought 3 pairs of corduroy pants in black, navy, and brown, for $15 each, and 4 button up blouses in different colors for $13 each. All the blouses come with an extra button, but I’ve never needed to use one – the buttons stay on. Everything I’ve bought there lasts and looks good for a very long time.

  18. Chooi says:

    I don’t mind thrifting for shirts or jeans, but I could never buy used underclothes. Just eww.

    • Snaptastic says:

      ditto. The only time I made an exception is when I found a quality, steel-bone corset on the rack. It’s comparable to the corset I purchased for $200, so there was no chance in hell I was letting it get away from me at only $3. ^_^

    • lilyHaze says:

      I recently donated some of my bras to the local Goodwill/Salvation Army. I take very good care of my clothing, and they were in excellent condition. They came from very expensive brands (retails of $70-$100), so I hoped that someone else less fortunate could have them for a cheap price.

  19. FatLynn says:

    Grab a seasonal position at a department store so you can work one shift/week for a little extra cash and the big ol’ employee discount.

  20. SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

    the only problem ive run into with consignment shops and thrift stores is imho they tend to be limited for mens clothing. women always brag about all the great stuff they find but ive gone to different thrift/consignment shops and never found anything to my liking ymmv tho

  21. chargernj says:

    So when would be the best time to go shopping at Thrift stores. My guess would be after the holidays when people clean out their closets to make room for new clothes.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Summer is a good time because a lot of people move during the summer, and take clothes to the thrift store.

    • lilyHaze says:

      I would assume that December/January is an excellent time to get decent merchandise. A lot of people who itemize use November/December to donate goods for a write-off.

  22. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I can’t really find stuff at the thrift stores, because I’m taller than most women and have kind of broad shoulders even at my thinnest. Pants, shirt sleeves, coat sleeves, etc. are always too short.

    There is a scratch-&-dent store here called 1/2 of 1/2 that sells irregular and discarded clothing from department stores. I’ve found stuff there before. My last two coats came from there. I got a Liz Claiborne red wool jacket pretty cheap; it only needed to be cleaned. It’s right across the road from the mall too, ha ha.

  23. TheGreySpectre says:

    Outlet malls can work pretty well. Having a significant other that works at a clothing retailer that gives significant discounts also helps a lot.

  24. Smultronstallet says:

    I found a J. Crew wool pencil skirt at The Goodwill this past weekend. It only cost me $2.71 with tax! A similar style would cost one $118 in stores or online. Excellent finds can definitely be found at secondhand stores; it just takes a bit of time and lots of patience.

  25. saveourthriftysouls says:

    Goodwills, at least in the CA Bay Area, have a once a month 50% Off Clothing sale. Shirts for $1.98 and Jeans for $3.98 work for me. The sale date varies, but it’s usually on a Saturday (this Friday being an exception) and if there is a holiday in the month, they may try to use that date.

  26. Kate says:

    I’ve found some good deals at (gasp) Walmart lately – classic hoodies and a really warm lined denim coat for only 15 dollars each. There are closeouts in t-shirts that are only a dollar – you can’t get a decent tee at Goodwill for only a dollar. The shirts I’ve been buying there are cotton, nice and soft and well structured, the biggest defect is that they don’t resist stains as well as it seems other clothing does.

  27. shawnamuffin says:

    My new policy is to stop caring so much about specific prices and care more about finding the RIGHT item that 1) is well-made and 2) I will want to wear all the time. Frequently spending small amounts of money on cheap clothing because it’s cheap will empty your wallet out just as much as infrequently spending large amounts of money on good clothing. Plus, you’ll feel good about yourself because you’re in quality, first-hand clothes.

    Of course, this only works for people with my temperament, but trust me, it’s made a huge difference in my confidence at work b/c of my nice clothes. I wear each item more frequently than I used to, but I don’t feel weird about it b/c they all look so good, and because they coordinate I can make a huge number of outfits out of the same basic pieces.