Do a wardrobe audit
In the UK the average person owns 115 items of clothing, 30 of which have never been worn. So before you buy more, go through your entire wardrobe. Get everything out; reconnect with that once-loved dress and ask yourself if repairs or alterations would breathe new life into what you already have.
Also consider selling, donating, or giving away items you don’t wear. This will help you make room to see and appreciate what’s left. Analyze the items you wear the most – think color, fit, silhouette, fabric and print – to focus on your personal style.
This will really help to avoid future failed purchases. Look at how similar items are styled on fashion retailer websites for ideas on how to combine them into new outfits.
Used or “pre-loved”
With £140million worth of clothes ending up in landfill every year, many environmental campaigners advocate buying second-hand first.
Even if you don’t have a shiny charity shop nearby, the online market is booming: there’s eBay, Vinted and Depop for high-street clothing and Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal for designers.
Many charity shops also have online portals, says Wendy Graham of sustainable living platform Moral Fibres.
Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Cancer Research and Barnado’s on Asos Marketplace are among his favourites. Thrift+ is also worth exploring.
Filter by category, size, brand, color, condition, and budget, and you can set up eBay alerts to find specific parts.
Shopping out of season can reduce the competition and therefore the price (now is the time to seek out that Toast Fair Isle jumper).
If you have items to sell, do so first and use the proceeds to purchase used items that are new to you.
Swishes – events where you swap your old clothes for other people’s – are popping up all over the country.
Search Eventbrite for those in your area – Green in London; A point to wear in Sutton, Surrey; Beg Steal & Borrow in Manchester; We Wear the Trousers in Norwich and Shrub Coop in Edinburgh are just a few examples.
Try Big Sister Swap or Don’t Shop, Swap or start your own party with friends or family.
Sending an SOS outfit to friends of similar size on WhatsApp before a holiday or event could also save you a bundle.
Try the rental
With judicious research, the rental market can be of great value for one-time events. For example, a £210 Reformation dress would be ideal for a wedding guest and costs £25 for four days via Rotaro; a £1,980 red mesh Alexander McQueen number would be a great memorable birthday outfit for around £100 for four days via Hurr Collective.
There are plenty of sites to try – from My Wardrobe for luxury to cheaper Hirestreet – as well as maternity clothes at For the Creators; (from around £15 for six days) and basics via ethical brand Baukjen, which starts at £13 for a simple dress for a really useful two week turnaround.
Read the fine print – check if repairs, cleaning and delivery are included and what the refund policy is if an item isn’t right for you. Many sites offer 10-20% off the first rental.
Use the “100 times rule”
Buying clothes is one of the most personal purchases there is, an expression of identity and taste tempered by budget constraints, size options and body image angst.
No wonder we often mess it up. Things just aren’t as difficult when you buy a vacuum cleaner. What we should all aim for when shopping for clothes, according to journalist Lucy Siegle, is longevity. She suggests only buying clothes that you see yourself wearing 100 times, because of the environmental balance.
The 100 times rule likely reduces excessively cheap items to the value end of the market, most of which fare poorly on ethical production measures.
Of them all, only H&M scored “it’s a start” on ethical fashion app Good On You, while Primark is rated “not good enough” and Shein “we avoid”.
However, mid-priced high-end brands aren’t always more ethical, and it’s worth checking your favorite store’s rating on Good On You. You may well be disappointed.
Ethical brands aren’t usually the cheapest, for obvious reasons, although some may surprise you: Yes Friends sells t-shirts at £7.99 and hoodies at £29.99; People Tree has dresses from £29.50 in its summer sale, although most are closer to £60; The Mayamiko sale starts at around £29, although the options are necessarily limited compared to the high street.
Avril Mair, Fashion Director of Elle UK, recommends looking to brands “that don’t constantly change their aesthetics”. For Mair, it could be The Row, which she buys at a discount on Outnet, or used at Vestiaire or The RealReal, but the concept could work at Toast, Cos or The White Company.
Think about fabrics when buying with longevity in mind – and the environment. You’re likely to keep a dress around longer if it’s not made of form-fitting, clingy polyester.
Natural fibers, such as organic cotton, are always a better choice than fossil fuel-based virgin polyester, says Graham, who adds that some of the newer wood-based fabrics, such as Tencel and EcoVero, are much more sustainable. than conventional rayon, viscose and modal fabrics.
Points of sale and tips
Most experts approach sales with caution. “Because fashion is all about trends,” says Alexandra Stedman, editor of The Frugality, “those are usually things brands need to change, and almost never a longevity purchase.” The exceptions, she says, are classic purchases, such as a Whistles coat, which she found for £100 a few years ago and wears constantly.
Factory outlets are springing up online, with Mango, Adidas, Kurt Geiger and Office now offering them. Some are hosted on eBay, but it’s often all too easy to see why items didn’t sell the first time around.
Many fashion types recommend the Gold Label section of TK Maxx, which features Gucci eyewear and Stella McCartney children’s clothing.
Visit Bicester Village, the outlet in Oxfordshire where Prada and Loewe are selling last season’s stock at a discount, but to avoid overspending it’s probably best to pick up just one special thing, like a handbag or a winter coat, and with a clear idea of your budget.
It’s often a good idea to find something you like at full price first and then try to find it at a discount. Price comparison sites such as SuperSales.co.uk and PriceRunner.com will tell you if it’s cheaper elsewhere.
Look for discounts for new customers or sign up for newsletters and wait to be invited to loyalty events like flash sales.
Oli Townsend, bargain expert at MoneySavingExpert, recommends using free internet browser extension tools such as Honey or Pouch, which automatically apply discount codes to your online shopping cart.
Another trick, he says, is to log into your account on a site, put items in your cart, but abandon the sale. Sometimes retailers will email you a discount code over the next few days to try and get you to come back. It doesn’t always work, but even if it doesn’t, it will give you time to think about whether you really want this.