I’m Poor, But My Wardrobe Is Still Fabulous by Betty Le Bonbon

I’m a single parent of an autistic child, and in the early stages of setting up my own small business. Goes without saying: money is super tight. Yet my wardrobe is stuffed full of beautiful dresses, fluffy petticoats, and shoes (glorious shoes!), and I rarely step out without a shiny red lip.

So it goes without saying that I quite often receive frankly intrusive questions about how I manage to afford my wardrobe. If I dare to mention that a new dress has just arrived in the mail, I’ll quite often be met with an eye-roll and rudely snapped “Aren’t you supposed to be an impoverished single mother?”

As someone once said to me: people always presume poor people shouldn’t have nice things.

Darlings. This simply isn’t the case. We all deserve a little glamour in our lives – especially if we’re poor!

I’m poor. But my wardrobe is still fabulous!

Here’s how I do it.

First: don’t think you need to rush out and buy everything at once. It takes time, thought, and planning. Which is great, as it gives you more time to save money!

I started accumulating all these bits and pieces about four years ago when I started burlesque dancing (which also coincided with some fairly significant weight loss and the need for a new wardrobe). I was trying to redefine my style (which, at the time, was largely post-pregnancy-full-time-post-grad-tracksuits-I-hate-myself), and started by reading a lot of blogs and getting an idea for what I liked. I kept images of ‘inspirational’ outfits I liked. When I started to get a really clear idea of what I liked, I made my first purchase: a Vivien of Holloway dress and petticoat.

I was sensible about it. I bought the dress second hand on Ebay for less than half the cost price. I bought a middle-range petticoat to go with it. The dress was black with red polka dots, the petticoat was red. I already had a pair of black heels for burlesque dancing. It was a fabulous outfit, cost less than $100, and at first I kept it for special occasions.

Not long after, I bought my second VoH dress. I made sure it went with my petticoat (a red petticoat for a black/red dress and then a blue/white dress). I had a red belt that went with both. You see what I’m saying here? Then – and now – when I purchase anything, I make sure I already have coordinates in my wardrobe. It means I don’t need to buy anything else just to go with it, and it doesn’t languish unworn in my wardrobe because ‘I have nothing to wear it with!’

In short: do your research, and don’t impulse buy. Know what’s in your wardrobe, and if you need to, keep a written list of what you need to round out what’s already in there. If most of your wardrobe is in blues, reds, and blacks … red shoes are a solid investment.

Always keep an eye on Ebay. Living in Australia, the cost of returning clothes to the US is absolutely prohibitive, so anything I buy that doesn’t fit goes straight to Ebay – and I’m not the only one who does this. PUG, Vivien of Holloway, Bernie Dexter, Trashy Diva, Stop Staring … there’s a constant supply of new and near new dresses on Ebay. Sometimes you won’t save much on the cost of the dress – but you can save a lot on postage! Also for Australian/NZ ladies, you’re less likely to encounter the epic Australian mark-ups you’ll find in Australian stores.

Join the Facebook page of your favourite stores, sign up for newsletters, and register for a member account online. Promotions and discounts will be posted in these places first. Some shops will offer you a discount on your birthday, others will offer a discount just for being a member (What Katie Did comes to mind). Always Google for a promo code before you go through the checkout! If you’re not in a hurry for a particular outfit, it can be worthwhile to wait for a promo code to become available.

On the topic of Facebook: increasingly there are groups dedicated to swapping and selling pinup clothing and accessories. Some are brand specific, others are more general. This is a great way to swap a dress that didn’t fit or hasn’t been worn, or to outright sell an item.

The likes of Bernie Dexter, Pinup Couture, Trashy Diva, Hell Bunny and so on have dozens if not more retailers online, and the prices vary wildly (I’ve seen Bernie Dexter dresses as low as $98, as high as $190, though the RRP is $156). RESEARCH AND COMPARE PRICES! Shop around! Also: don’t be scared to ask about price matching. You can also ask about discounted/free shipping if you’re spending a significant amount of money, particularly with smaller businesses who really do rely on each and every sale – at Betty Le Bonbon, we offer discounts to repeat customers and anyone placing a particularly large order. It’s our way of saying thanks to people who support us.

Speaking of shipping: In the case of some stores (such as Pinup Girl Clothing), it’s cheapest to purchase directly from them. Postage is expensive, but if you spend over X amount, postage is free – for international customers, if you spend $300, you get free shipping. $300 is a lot of money – so I maintain a wish list, and I save my money until I have enough to place an order.

Don’t buy cheap knockoffs that are poorly made and last only a few washes. There are a lot of them on Ebay, and while it can be tempting when you’re poor, you’ll just be left with a rag after a handful of washes. There’s a couple of stores I can think of who seem to have zero shame in cashing in on well-established brands, branding and designs (Queen of Holloway is particularly notorious for ripping off other designers, and they’ve even pinched images of bloggers in the original brands and used the images to advertise their knock off clothing). The clothing is crap … and you’re supporting intellectual theft and dickery. Please don’t support dickery.

Bide your time! As I mentioned above, keep a written list of what you want to add to your wardrobe. When you have a reasonable list, see if you’re able to get a few of those items from one shop to save on postage. Pinup Girl Clothing offer a range of items, not just clothing. Perhaps you’re planning to buy a dress – why not see if they’ve got a black cardigan, red ballet flats and purple hairpin you’ve got on your list? You can also try ASOS, Modcloth, Unique Vintage or various other online stores who offer more than just clothing.

Where possible, support small business women! Not only are you supporting an independent business, but you can build up a rapport with the owner, and there’s a good chance she’ll support you in return (helping you to source dresses in your size, offering payment plans, giving you a head’s up on sales etc).

Finally: I’m absolutely ruthless when it comes to culling my wardrobe down. If I haven’t worn an item in a year, it goes on Ebay. If something arrives and it doesn’t fit, it also goes straight to Ebay – I don’t shove it to the back of the wardrobe for ‘when I lose weight’, or hold onto it and hope one day it’ll inexplicably look better when I wear it. I’m regularly going through my wardrobe and know which items are no longer working for me. When people ask me if I’m wearing a new dress and start carrying on about me being poor, what they’re not realizing is that I probably sold another dress from my wardrobe in order to fund the new one.

What are your top tips for saving money when shopping for your wardrobe?

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For more great posts by Jasmine, check out Betty Le Bonbon’s Cheek Boutique’s Blog! www.bettylebonbon.com

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8 comments

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  1. Lura L

    This was great, thank you! I also sometimes have people ask how I get new things in a squinty-eyed manner, but I’m the same way! I make sure something is on sale, discounted, second hand, or all of the above. I make sure it fits, and if it doesn’t it gets sold. I am not receiving unemployment and due a back injury, getting work isn’t very easy, but I don’t think I can’t look good while trying to make things work! I think the biggest (and hardest) thing that is necessary is self-control. Even if I REALLY want something, if I can’t afford it, I can’t buy it. Simple as that. I keep it on my list and, like I said, it’s HARD, but that really is a key with all these other great things. Best of luck with your fab wardrobe!

    • Jessica Meloche

      I am SO guilty of buying things on impulse or just because I “want” them even if it’s not in my budget at the time. Thankfully I’ve started to part with the clothes I haven’t been worn and try to put that money towards new items. Unfortunately there’s a few items in my closet that don’t get worn often but can’t seem to part with them because I LOVE them too much. Self control is the hardest part of being an online junkie like me. lol

      > Date: Fri, 1 Feb 2013 19:27:13 +0000 > To: jessimeca@hotmail.com >

  2. Lura L

    Oh and thank you for participating in the blog contest! It’s awesome that even with a newer company, you are willing to be a part of it!

  3. nadine

    Awesome post! I routinely go through my closet and sell things to get my new fab wardrobe and people often wonder how I do it! Love your advice on buying things that will coordinate!

  4. Marie Gogo

    Very nice blog. I can relate to the subject. I am a singer and as everyone knows, unless you hit the big time, entertaining for a living doesn’t bring in a lot of money. Luckily no one make coments like that to me but it does cross my mind that some poeple might think it.
    I have very kind doctor’s who often give me samples of medications that I need which I am very greatful for. I am careful what I wear to visit them in case they might think that I am trying to fool them about my income.
    The main reason I was able to buy so many wonderful clothes and costume items in the past few years was that my Mother passed away and I recieved an inheritance. I think that both my Mom and Dad would have been pleased to see what I bought to wear in performances and just to wear in everyday life especially because they were performers as well.
    I hope to become a customer of yours soon.
    All the best, Jasmine. XO

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