Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What Does Affordable Mean in Fashion?

While The New York Times, particularly the Style section, isn't known for its populist approach, a recent Critical Shopper column was particularly generous in defining what's affordable when it comes to clothes shopping. The reporter, Zarah Crawford, visited the Diane Von Furstenberg and repeatedly referred to DVF's signature wrap dress as "affordable" and "not high priced." Beginning at $325 and priced as high as $385, I was surprised that Crawford considered those to be reasonable prices for what even she admitted was a printed piece of silk with "less than perfect finishing."

I'll be the first to admit that the wrap dress is a classic; it's versatile, flattering and is unlikely to go out of style. But we're talking about a piece of clothing that has been knocked off so many times that you can buy a virtually indistinguishable copy (albeit, in a slightly less luxurious, but more forgiving material) for less than $100. I know, because I have four of these dresses myself.
So often I'm reading a magazine or blog and the word "affordable" is used to a piece of clothing or an accessory in the $250-$500 price range when similar items are available for much less. Affordable is one of those annoying words that don't have a real meaning, because it's different for everyone; what I view as affordable may vary greatly from what might be affordable to you in your financial situation. And if affordable only refers to something you can afford to buy, it doesn't mean that you should buy it (you might have more important things to spend your money on) or that it's a good value. Even this Carolina Herrera gown can be considered affordable if I move in with my parents and subsist on Ramen noodles for the next 3 months.

I think that most of us keep a mental list of what we're willing to pay for various items (what we consider affordable), based on our priorities and how much we've budgeted for clothes. Browsing through my closet, I realized that in the last year, I haven't spent more than $140 or so on a single item. I thought about my own price limits and how much I'm willing to spend on my clothes: $125 for dresses, $100 for jeans, $90 for shoes ($30 for sandals), $60 for nice tops and sweaters, $60 for skirts, $50 for bras, $50 on purses, $25 for "going out" tops and t-shirts, $10 for underwear. Granted, these numbers often shift depending on what I'm into at the time, but if I decide to spend more on one item, I usually have to spend less on another.

I thought it would be interesting to open up a discussion about spending limits and affordability, and I've got a couple of questions for you guys. What articles of clothing or accessories do you spend the most and least money on and why? And at what price point do you stop considering something "affordable?"

I'm looking forward to reading your comments and getting some different perspectives on the topic!


Gala said...

Well, I try to spend as much on clothing as I can afford at the time -- & of course, this changes as my income changes. If you buy quality, ultimately you'll save money because it means you don't need to go & buy another thing when the first cheap thing wears out. I wouldn't blink at spending $450 on a pair of jeans, & I recently bought a pair of Manolos for $490 (but they were marked down from $1300!). The thing is, both of those things will last me a really long time, so I think it's worth the money. Affordable is a very subjective term, but obviously when writers use it, they're addressing a specific market & writing to that brief.

Rachelle said...

I'm a college student so things like going out tops must be very cheap. I'm talking Forever 21 or the like, under $25. That's mostly because everyone expects you to be very trendy at parties, plus I frequently spill/get spilled on so it's better if things are disposable. I like to spend money (when I have it) on shoes and bags because you can wear them multiple times in a week and often make my older outfits look different. I also get cheap accessories for updating outfits. I usually search for well-fitting jeans that are under $50 rather than spending tons on those. At the end of the day, we're still talking about miner's pants so I can't justify anything higher.

Anonymous said...

i think sometimes it really depends on location. if i'm at h&m i will not spend more than $30 on ANYTHING. but if i'm at nordstrom, i'll drop $100 for a wrap dress in a second...

Cate said...

jeans are my number one investment, followed by handbags. i've found that designer jeans last longer and are more flattering on my body type (tallish and curvy with really long legs and a REALLY short waist) that it makes more sense to drop $300-$400 on one pair of those rather than $60-$80 on several pairs that i don't really like. handbags are also a big one because i go for very traditional styles, and i have bags i bought 10 years ago that i still carry around. i'm totally with you with the going out tops--keep 'em cheap and from forever 21 or charlotte russe! also, i like to update my very tailored/classic wardrobe with fun pieces that i also keep inexpensive....for example i bought 3 brightly colored patent leather wide belts to wrap around my button downs, as well as cute gladiator sandals and an inexpensive pair of wedges from target. that way, my wardrobe can keep working year after year (and season after season!) while still looking up to date.

Teek said...

My number one rule for clothing is that I don't even LOOK if it's not on sale. So, keep in mind, these are all sale prices. Usually I aim for at least 50% off, ideally 75% off. I am a cheapskate and I own too much clothing already: it's a helpful limiting factor on my spending that i have to trawl through clearance racks to find a few good pieces.

Leather boots - up to $100 (most have been under $60)
Dressy shoes - up to $50
Sandals/casual shoes - up to $30
Dress pants - up to $60
Jeans - I would definitely pay up to $75 or so but have not found it necessary. I work in an office and rarely wear jeans.
Nice sweaters - $50
Dress camisoles/layering pieces - $20 (a little more if they're silk or cashmere)
Skirts - $30 casual/$60 formal
Blouses - about $30
"Going out" tops - $25
Dresses - $150 but again, have never found it necessary. My last few dresses have all cost under $50.
Handbags - usually no more than $50. I am not a handbag person.
Bras - I will pay more if need be: am in the market for a longline bustier and I will pay probably about $60-75 for that, but I have lots of "normal" bras I love that all cost under $20.

My big splurge of the season for a single piece so far has been a Calvin Klein swimsuit on sale at Nordstroms for $102. Which, I think, you recommended!

Jenifesto said...

Just getting out of school and into the workforce, I've had to strongly reconsider everything in my wardrobe, and am basically starting from scratch. I didn't realize that I too had a limit per item - scarily similar to Meg's - but I'll certainly be thinking about it now that I'm buying new clothes for work.

As an aside, I'm intrigued by this Forever 21 business. We have two in all of Canada according to their website, and I can honestly say I've never been. All the fashion blogs and columns I read refer to it almost as a type of store (such as, "I can go to a Forever 21 type store for a knock-off of that shirt"). I think I can get the gist of what that means, but their website just looks so... not awful? In a clothing hierarchy, is it worse than H&M? I'll be checking into this the next time I get to the U.S.

Engelfluglen said...

i never pay full price for anything... having a jewish mom leaves lasting impressions...

i don't buy "super current uber trendy" pieces cause i like to buy nice clothing that will stay in style for a few seasons, so when i lived in the US i'd go to sample sales, or tj maxx/marshals. and clearance rack shopping at my mall.

that being said, if i find a pair of D&G jeans that fit perfectly on clearance for $100, ill buy them... if i see a pair of express jeans full price for $80, screw it. they'll be on sale sometime...

i realize that this dosent work for everyone, but i have a distinct personal style, and i only buy stuff that i know will compliment what i already have.

right now thought, i have a really cush job in europe with a lot of disposable income. and i just bought my first Hermes scarf for 250 euro... i guess there is no real logic behind my consumption patterns, but i just like nice things, but i **rarely** will pay full price

Julie said...

I will pay the most for jeans and handbags. I'm 5'4" and short waisted and curvy, so buying a pair of Sevens (which fit me the best) is worth it to me because I'll wear them to death and look and feel fabulous doing it.

Handbags are my next splurge-- I'll use a handbag forever, and I have a thing for Coach leather (their legacy stuff is to die for) and louis vuitton.

I do not pay more than $50 for shoes, because I tend to buy on sale (TJ Maxx, etc.) and get $150+ shoes for cheap. I like my leather soles and uppers. Even my wedding shoes-- Vera Wang-- were only $60 on ebay.

For tops, skirts, etc, I almost always shop sales and rarely pay more than $40 for anything I wear to work. I shop Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, The Limited, TJ Maxx (where I tend to buy Michael Kors) and Off Fifth (where I buy Theory and Laundry).

Right now, I'm wearing a $10 limited skirt, a $20 Ann Taylor blouse, and $35 Zinc heels with a Movado watch (another splurge). It's all about how you put it together-- but I'm preaching to the choir, I know!

Anne said...

I am tall with overly large feet so have determined that I will spend up to about $75 for jeans or pants that are long enough and $80 has been my limit so far for attractive, functional shoes (I heart Clarks of England but for super dressy stuff the limit is still about $25 at Payless).
I still haunt the Gap, Old Navy and Express for their two-fer tees and won't pay over about $30 for tops in general, but I have recently discovered the sale racks at my local Ann Taylor Loft and Banana (both at the brand new mall so formerly not an option) and thus have found out that my limit for sweaters is around $50.
The one place I will splurge is at the Patagonia Outlet because they make really good clothing that lasts well and I would never buy it at normal prices. Due to an awesome chain of events I just got what looks like a sweatshirt but in super-soft wool (and will get worn all winter) for $30 down from $100 (and I would never buy a $100 anything, basically) so I had to pounce!
And accessories? That's what hippie stores are for! I am realizing my style is eclectic and I can't dress up where I work so $490 for on-sale Manolos isn't going to happen but heck, $23 for a batik purse with elephants on it that will get carried every day until I get sick of it? Awesome.

willikat said...

well, i would spend more if i had it, but i don't. so i usually think i get a deal for shirts between 20-30 but 'm willign to spend 50-60. i wish i could get to that $78 range at banana, but i just can't. i will spend $150 on jeans. i'm also very shortwaisted and have long legs and they last longer and fit much better. i have wasted much money trying to buy cheaper ones, so it's better ot invest in like three good pairs rather than 5 or 6 cheaper pairs. i spenda bout $60-$90 on shoes usually. i like bcbg shoes a lot. and nine west. bags i try to get on the cheap but we al know the expensive ones usually look better. i hate logo/status things though. i like things to be plain and classic, but what i'm finding is that is much more expensive than the trends. i will spend 120-140 on a dress, although i'dr ather it be around 70-80.
i also try to buy things with coupons or on sale, and try to invest my money in more classic pieces. btw, i never find anything at forever 21. i see other people wearing it but either it never fits me, there's no sizes when i'm there or it's a total mess, or i'm astounded by the cheap quality and would rather put the $30 towards something more expensive later on. i do love the accessories in that store though. you can get great designer knockoffs there.

Fashion Weakley said...

It's all in the rationalization or fashion math as i like to call it. I think aobut how many times I would wear the piece I'm debating on purchasing, what other clothing in my current wardrobe compliments it, and if it's worth it to me I buy it.

I'm a sucker for timeless pieces, and would rather save all of my money up for one fantastic dress that I will have until the day I die rather than buy something I 'sort of' like, but is $300 less. Screw it. Spend the extra $300. I've always found I'm happier in the long run.

Also once the money's gone and spent I never think about it again. No regrets.

I've spent the most on an Acne cocktail dress. It was originally $800 and I got it for $500 at Opening Ceremony. I've worn it to numerous events and it was/is worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet I'm not the only person who plays the price-per-wear game, because it's a great rationale for spending more on an item than you should, and a decent way of identifying the part of your closet where you're wasting money.

Divide the purchase price of an item by the number of times you've worn it. A $200 dress you've worn twice means it's got an actual value of $100 per wearing. The gold standard is to wear something enough times that the value goes down to a penny.

Joanna said...

First off Meg, I love your blog and recently found it off a link on The Beauty Brains.

I certainly wouldn't find $300 'affordable' and i'm looking forward to the day that I do.

The two items I'm willing to spend the most on are jeans and a good winter jacket. I guess I define my price points on a cost per wear basis. Basically, I could probably wear a pair of jeans that I adore like 200 times, thus reducing my cost per wear to a $1 even if I spent a $200 on them. I love dresses but can't justify spending a lot on them because I don't wear them as often.
If I do spend more than $150 on an article of clothing. Being a student and all, I wouldn't consider it 'affordable' just yet..I guess i'd call it splurging?
Keep the posts comming! I love reading them =).

Joanna said...

I just scrolled down to read the comments and realized 'anonymous' and I really do think alike! ;)

Julie said...

I have to agree with anonymous, too. I'll pay far more for a good pair of jeans, a nice pair of black wool pants, or a pair of black/brown boots than I will for something I wear once or twice.

Anonymous said...

Jeans- $150
Bags- $900 (maybe more if I REALLY like it)
Tops- $60

ambika said...

I've started playing the price-per-wear game with dresses after I realized an Anthro dress was a complete black hole in terms of budget while jeans more than make up for their price in a matter of 60 days.

As a habitual thrifter, it's rare for me to spend a lot of money on anything but shoes--I have wide feet and they seriously suffer in anything cheap or non-leather.

Even now that I can afford nicer things, having worked in retail and knowing how much things cost the store to buy AND how much they'll eventually mark it down, I balk at paying full price ever. I just end up feeling ripped off.

Anonymous said...

To Jenifesto -

I don't think most girls on a budget are really knocking Forever 21. They produce cheap, disposable knock-offs and lots of trendy styles. So you can get a 70s patterned tunic top for $20 and not care much if it goes out of fashion, or it rips, or someone dumps a bud light on you. They are pretty comperable to H&M, price, style & quality wise.

Personally I don't shop there much because many of their clothes don't fit me or are designed for casual college kids and teenagers. Their largest size is "large" and I'm a 12 and sometimes can't even get into them.

Meg said...

(from the All About Appearances Meg)

I'm super frugal when it comes to clothes, despite what some family members and friends might think.

I spend $20-30 on dresses unless it's a very special occasion (i.e. prom, my own wedding, graduation - and those were about $115, $800, and $150 respectively) or a very awesome dress. I believe my "little black dress" was about $65, but I knew that I'd get lots of use out of it and I can't think of another dress off hand that was so expensive but bought "just because".

Jeans I'll spend about $50 on if they are great because it's hard to find a pair that fits, but I don't wear jeans much.

I usually spend under $30 for shoes, and even then usually under $20.

I usually spend under $10 for tops, or under $20 for a really nice top. I shelled out a bit more for a couple of sweaters because I didn't really have any and I wanted to get some nice ones.

Skirts are about the same as for tops except that I wouldn't mind going to $30 for a really nice skirt.

My jackets have ranged from $20 for my new white cotton jacket to about $50 for my brown leather jacket and to about $100 for my big winter jacket.

I try to spend less than $30 for bras. Underwear are 3 for $10 for modal undies at Target.

I've spent about $40 or $50 dollars on a nice tote, but the rest of my purses were under $30 I believe, with most being under $20 and many under $10.

There are of course the occasional exceptions, but that's pretty much what I spend. I tend to shop Ross, T.J. Maxx, and other discount stores. I get the stuff new and I've seen the exact same items (same brand even) in department stores weeks AFTER I bought it. Usually the discount I get is 50%-75%. I have also bought a few things from Stein Mart, but they are more expensive.

I've also like consignment shopping and going to Goodwill, but to be honest I rarely go here in town. It's fun to do on trips, though. I got a white Neiman Marcus for $1. I also like freecycling. I got a Chanel scarf (dark blue with gold chain patter) for free yesterday along with shoes, clothes, belts, other scarves, and purses! Of course, some of it will be passed along to other freecyclers or to Goodwill. I may be frugal, but I am very, very picky (which makes me even more frugal in the long run).

Meg said...

P.S. That was a white Neiman Marcus tote that I got.

Also, I don't buy crap. I check to make sure that clothes fit and look great and I don't buy things that I think will fall apart. If I get things home and change my mind, I take clothes back. I'll even shop around for a week to get the best selection of clothes, then return the ones that don't make the cut.

Jenifesto said...

To Anonymous - Merci! I was trying to think of what a Canadian equivalent would be, and was maybe low-balling the Forever 21 style/quality.

ALS said...

I go in phases. One month I will be willing to drop $200 on jeans, the next I'll take that money and spend it on a purse. I'm a recent grad & new teacher, so I can only consider clothes in the 100-300 range affordable as long as I stay single sans kids. I'd also consider dropping 300-400 on something like a Kate Spade bag, only if it was marked down from say, 400-700. Sale prices influence my choice to purchase high end goods to an unhealthy degree. What's really persuaded me to start buying more expensive things, is realizing that some people ACTUALLY notice. This was an epiphany.

well said...

It´s always different. Currently I am saving up for a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, and when I bought them, I will maybe save up for another pair of jeans, this time Diesel (I *love* jeans, as you´ve probly realized). I'm a student, so I have to really save money if I wan to buy something expensive, and for that I have an extra box, and every month I check how much money I have and put half in the box, and half I leave for me to spend on something else. I would also drop 240 euros *I live in europe* for an Armani Jeans jacket, and I wouldn´t mind because I love designer clothes and you have only one life, so go for it. But if I see there´s something by, say, Gucci on sale, I do NOT rush in and buy anything just because it´s by Gucci, but I think it out before what I want to buy and advise myself firmly not to spend money on thing which I know I won´t wear/are bad quality/do not really want or need. What I would never do is carrying a designer fake, because people NOTICE *at least, I do*. Then I´d rather buy the original.

Fabulously Broke in the City said...

For me, affordable is the cross between quality and price.

If a top is $10, but is of a cheap material that I KNOW will pill and look awful after a couple of washings, it's not worth it.

But the same style of top, priced at $150, may be of a better quality ,but if I have to dry clean it, I pass right over it.

My range for types of tops between cheap + affordable is usually around the $30 - $60 range...

Actually, almost the same prices as yours. Sometimes maybe up to $150 for shoes, but not yet at $400, because I've only recently broken the $100 barrier with shoes (I normally buy $80 and under)

Anonymous said...

I am stunned by the people who think they are "investing" in jeans. What an odd word choice. A 401(k) is an investment; a new car is not. The new car may be the wiser purchase, but please be honest with yourself when you are plunking down cash for something consumable like clothing.

My grandfather took the following approach to sales: anything on sale was marked down because it wasn't worth the original price. It's worth what someone will pay for it, not what someone else wants for it. Harsh but I see his point.

Why would anyone pay retail for jeans when you can get brand names in any size on ebay for about $30? It just requires some patience. You can even have ebay send email when your favorite brands come up for sale.

The posts of "I don't have much money but I'll spend $100 on jeans" seem daft. If you aren't paying off your credit card debt every month, or you're living on your parents' dime... you know, Levi's won't kill you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you guys are willing to spend a lot more than I am, and I'm in my 30s, make six figures and am close to paying off my house and have no debt otherwise. I live comfortably and love clothes, shoes and costume jewlery. I own a lot of everything. I have so much stuff I turned a bedroom into my closet. But I rarely buy anything that's not on sale, and I often shop at TJ Maxx-type stores. I just went to the wedding of my only sibling, whom I love like crazy. I had a fall-back dress but wanted something better. The night before his wedding, I found a dress for $29.99 at TJ Maxx -- a silky blue dress that fit perfectly. I rarely wear such dresses and would've sprung up to 300 bucks for a dress to look "right" at the wedding, but I was thrilled to find something perfect for cheap. Like I said, I love fashion. But I worry that so many girls and women put themselves in debt to look good. I like to look good and my fashion sense has been widely complimented in several states that I've worked and lived in. But I would never put myself in debt for fashion. Fashion is about creativity and personality, not about spending money you don't have or about flashing brand names to prove your worth to people. If people judge you by name brands and such, you should really consider the value of those people's approval. To me, that kind of approval is worthless. I don't want this to come across as jerkish. I really hope that girls and women realize that fashion is about looking and feeling good, but it's fleeting. Being debt-free is much more important to your life.