My Clothes Philosophy

Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Consignment Shop

Recently, one of my articles from this summer was picked up on MSN Lifestyle. I received a…shall we say “interesting” e-mail as a result. Among other things, they told me I needed to upgrade my purse.

Ah, women and shopping! Am I right? Of course a high-earning woman needs to upgrade her purse. I just NEED something expensive from a fancy brand so everyone can see just how successful I am. Louis Viton, Michael Kors, Gucci, Coach… need I go on? Maybe one of each!

Oh wait. I hate shopping. And I hate buying new clothes, for a variety of reasons. You might find this funny – I actually had to go Google “fancy purses” to come up with the brand list above.

My $8 London Fog Mom Purse
My $8 London Fog Mom Purse

I happen to love my $8 purse. I got it at a consignment shop. In fact, if you meet me in person and ask me about something I’m wearing, Just wait. You’re in for a discussion of the consignment shop or thrift store I got it at. If it’s not from a consignment shop or thrift store, it’s a gift or something I’ve owned for over a decade.

Same thing with my little guys clothes – they’re all from the kids consignment shop and thrift stores.

Back when my oldest son was born, getting kids clothes at yard sales, consignment shops, and thrift stores wasn’t a choice. He was born only a few months after I turned 23, and my husband and I worked split shifts to avoid child care. We didn’t have friends or family with clothes to pass them down to us.

Back then, there simply wasn’t money for cute new clothes.

Nowadays, I don’t “have to” buy secondhand clothes. But I choose to anyway.

My current clothes philosophy is simple:

  • Buy less. Much less.
  • Use it up, wear it out, make it do (or do without).  I do a lot of repairs to clothing, and typically it gets used until it’s beyond repair.
  • When I absolutely have to buy, I buy used.
    • You could change this to “buy sustainable” if you prefer.

Why would I do this when I could, theoretically, afford to hit the malls and head out with numerous large bags on my shoulders?

The Money

Frankly, you can’t beat the price of used clothing.

That great shirt you scored on sale for $40, or that awesome pair of shoes you got for $50 with a coupon, can be bought secondhand for $5-$10. I can buy five pairs of shoes from the consignment shop for the price of a single pair of new shoes. FIVE. I can buy a pair of $300 shoes for $10 – and I have. Check out the red ones below.

Fancy black shoes Fancy red shoes Like new sneakers

Strappy Shoes Alligator Shoes

More than once, I’ve gone to the consignment shop and spent $50, walking away with multiple shirts, pants, shoes, and even a new purse. All for $50! This isn’t low quality stuff, either. My favorite consignment shop has higher-end brands, only takes high quality items, and has good prices.

I’ll also look through options at thrift stores whenever I happen to be there. Over the years, I’ve found thrift stores to be much more hit or miss than a consignment shop. There are some treasures to be had, for sure, but you have to be willing to dig through a lot of, um, not-so-good stuff to get there.

It’s much easier to find good kids clothes at thrift stores, but the selection seems to be smaller. I’m fortunate to have a great kids consignment shop about 30 minutes away. Whenever the little guy outgrows his clothes, off to the consignment shop we go! We sell back what he’s outgrown, and buy him “new” clothes. Wash, rinse and repeat.

The Environmental Cost

Clothing manufacturing takes a huge toll on the environment. If you care about clean water and air pollution, consider this:

It takes 5,000 gallons of water to make a simple t-shirt and pair of jeans.

Polyester production for textiles produces as much waste as 185 coal plants.

Most cotton is genetically modified, and textile dying is the second largest polluter of clean water.

Whenever I’m faced with deciding to buy clothes, I often think of the environmental impact. Buying used clothing helps reduce that impact by essentially re-using clothes instead of making new ones.

The Human Cost

When you’re shopping at a mall for the latest cute fashions, these are the kinds of things that aren’t obvious on that little tag that tells you where the clothing was manufactured.

Child labor is still common in cotton production in developing countries.

Garment workers are often forced to work 14-16 hour days, seven days a week, in unsafe conditions.

Sometimes, forced labor is used. As in, people are forced to leave their homes and labor to pick cotton for your clothes.

Companies find it hard to pay a living wage to workers who make their clothing.

Oh, and it’s not just cotton production. Child labor is pretty common elsewhere in the clothing supply chain.

You can, of course, try to buy new clothing manufactured without child labor, and with good labor practices. But it’s so hard (not to mention expensive). Why?

Companies don’t want you to know their labor practices. They want you to feel good about your purchase, not guilty that a child picked the cotton for the shirt. Oh, and then a garment worker sewed the t-shirt at 2 AM after working a 16 hour shift in a poorly ventilated room.

Sometimes the seller won’t even know much about the manufacturing process, or the cotton picking process. A maze of subcontractors obscures the journey from field to store, making it impossible to tell where the clothes came from or how they were made.

Ethically manufactured clothing is expensive. It costs more to treat workers well. It costs more to employ adult workers instead of child labor. And it’s more costly to know where your cotton came from.

If it’s too much for your budget, used clothes are the next best thing.

The Waste

Do you have any idea how much clothing waste there is in America?

The average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year.

Read that again.


The average person buys twice as much clothing now as they did in the year 2000, and wears each piece half as long.

What about clothing that isn’t thrown away? Those that you toss into the donation bin, or bring to Goodwill?

Only about a fifth of it is sold here in the US. The rest ends up being recycled, with 45% of it being sold in other countries. Seventy percent of the worlds population uses used clothes. You can check out more about where you clothes end up here.

Women are conditioned to consume fashion at a much higher level than men. This shows itself in the used clothing market – there are seven times as many womens clothes as there are for men.

Brands Are Meaningless

I am not defined by the name brand on my purse.

You are not defined by the brand of the clothes you wear.

Pricing has nothing to do with the cost of actually making the clothing, and everything to do with branding. Companies position their brands and shopping experience to make you feel like you’re joining an exclusive club. The salespeople, the lighting, the music…it’s all there to make you feel like you must be special because you’re shopping there.

People are willing to pay $650 for $20 shoes. Have you ever shopped at “Paylessi?”

Fast Fashion Is Stupid

Companies go to a great deal of effort to make you feel somehow “less than” if you don’t participate in regular shopping rituals.

Back to school time? You need to buy your kids new clothes and shoes, even if their old clothes still fit and their shoes are fine.

Got a new job? You need new clothes!

New year, new you? Time to be fashionable! Head on out and get new clothes. After all, you wouldn’t want to look out of place, would you?

Is it Christmas? We all need holiday pajamas!  Have some from last year? You need new ones!

Fast fashion is all about making you feel like you’re out of style, and need to upgrade, lest you be out of fashion. You need clothing for each season, and each year you need something new.

It’s just crazy. Why did we all buy into this?

Guess what? You don’t need to. You don’t need to do something just because a brand says you should. And you don’t need to feel bad about your clothing choices, just because a company wants you to spend your money buying new stuff from them.

My Philosophy

Buy Less. Much Less.

Just don’t buy stuff. It’s simple, yet profound.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do (or do without)

Recently, a pull on my purse zipper broke. I tried to repair it a few times, but it just wouldn’t stay on. Instead of buying a “new” $8 purse, I attached a keychain to the zipper. It works fine, and it means I don’t have to buy another one.

It’s also winter here in CT, and that means it’s time to break out my winter coat. I have a black one that’s many years old, but it was missing buttons, a bit dirty, and a pocket was broken. Guess what? That’s all fixable. Could I have spent just a bit more than the cost of repair and gotten a new coat? Yes. But that would have been wasteful for a number of reasons.

Do you know why I can find so much great consignment clothing? Because many women don’t wear their clothing out. They tire of shoes they wore a few times, decided that last seasons purse just wouldn’t do, or got rid of that shirt they “had to have” but never wore. Men and older male children tend to wear their clothes out. That’s why it’s so much harder to find good used mens clothes.

When you must buy, buy used (or sustainable)

If you don’t give into fast fashion, you’ll actually have a lot more money in hand than you think you would. It can seem really expensive to buy sustainable or ethically sourced clothing. And it is! But the average household clothing budget is about $134 per month, or over $1,600 per year. Believe it or not, there are recommendations that you spend 5% of your monthly income on clothes. So if you take home $3k per month, that’s $150. A month.

If you could, for one year, follow the above two tips and buy used, I guarantee you would spend a fraction of that. You could then take those savings and buy sustainable clothing.

Or you could continue to buy used, which is what I’ve chosen.

Looking For A Good Consignment Shop?

I’ll be honest – it took me a long time to find my current consignment shop, where every time I go in I can find something I like. A lot of shops I’ve visited over the years had only older or dated clothing, or clothes that were poor quality, or in poor condition, etc.

After sharing this article online, my Twitter friend Jim Wang from Wallethacks let me know that they had an article on finding a good consignment option. Be sure to stop by and check it out so you can find a great option that works for you.  

Tell Me

Did you learn something new today?

What are your choices when it comes to clothing?

Let me know! And if you have a favorite sustainable fashion resource, drop it in the comments. I am not a fashionable person, so I can’t tell you where to get the best bang for your buck on new clothes. But I’m sure others can.

Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.

14 thoughts on “My Clothes Philosophy”

  1. Nice. I saw that “Palessi” video and it made me cringe and laugh all at the same time. The superficial lives those poor folks lead. You could do the same thing to those poor saps with Trader Joe’s wine – give ’em a glass and tell them it’s a $400 bottle and they’ll wax eloquently about how it’s floral and how it has “notes” and it’s amazing etc etc.

  2. I loved that Payless did that! It’s probably one of my fav things from 2018. And props to you for still consignment shopping! It’s such a bargain, and gives you the same quality that you would pay much, much more for at a department store! I buy almost all of my clothes/shoes from consignment stores (sans running shoes, because I have a unique wear pattern, and if I use someone elses, I get shin splints…). Being able (and comfortable, there’s a little stigma about them in my area) to shop at used clothing stores has made my transition from college student (ie teeshirt and sweats version of me) to working professional (mostly dresses and nice tops version of me) a lot less painful on the budget!

    1. chiefmomofficer

      It’s a great, and under sung (in my experience anyway) way to build a professional wardrobe without dropping a ton of money. And if you need to rebuild a wardrobe due to size changes! It’s expensive to, for example, build a maternity wardrobe or buy new clothes after changing sizes.

      1. Yes! Since getting my job I’ve lost about 10 pounds (there’s a really pretty lake that I walk around during lunch), and I’ve needed to switch out a bunch of the new pieces I just bought. It would have been a lot more painful if I had spent $500 on clothes instead of the $50 I dropped.

    1. There are people who think because you earn a good income, you need to “look the part”. Luckily I have no such need.

  3. Second hand stores are great! We’ve used Goodwill for a lot of our Christmas decorations this year. We actually purchased a few outfits for my son there yesterday too. Great place to get deals!

  4. Thanks for talking about the terrible manufacturing processes. That’s the reason I like to buy from thrift and consignment stores. My money goes to small businesses and charities.

    I’ve found that having a capsule wardrobe really helps with clothing. By the time 4-ish months have gone by, the limited items of clothing I’ve been wearing regularly (which were used when I bought them) are very well used. Some get put away for the next season, some get donated.

    Also, as a fat woman, a lot of the pressure is off. Fashion designers still haven’t figured out how large (ha!) the plus-size market is. They don’t put any effort into making stylish clothing. Thus, I feel hitting the low bar of “presentable” is fine by most people.

    But fat women do tend to wear their clothing longer, especially pants. Those are hard to come by second hand, and I usually end up at Lane Bryant when I’m due.

    Portland, Oregon has two great Plus-sized consignment stores: Savvy Plus and Fat Fancy. I always find good things there.

  5. I’m lucky that I have a bunch of friends and family members who are willing to trade hand-me-downs. And thank heaven for eBay and Facebook groups! These are great for buying bunches of gently used jeans or tees in a specific size for kids. I have a niece who is two years older than my oldest daughter. Some of the items my niece has worn have made it through my two daughters and onto my younger nieces. It’s actually fun to look through family photos and see a bunch of the nieces all dressed in the same outfit from different years!

  6. So, I’m sitting at my 6-figure-income job in a $4 dress from Goodwill and boots that are at LEAST 5 years old. The tights I got at Target are probably the most expensive thing I’m wearing. And you know what? My boyfriend told me I look HOT this morning and the first human interaction I had at work was a female co-workers complimenting on “my cute outfit.” Did I mention the $5 purse from Goodwill? I’m no fashionista and my wardrobe is minimal. I do “splurge” on the occasional item from my subscription service. For me, the price of 1 or 2 items from that service saves me from the hell of having to shop at a mall and adds something “fresh” to my closet every couple of months. I’d also like to point out my sister-in-law started a kid’s clothing consignment shop which has blossomed into a HUGE money-maker with multiple locations and spin-off stores. In short, I don’t judge those that pay retail because everyone prioritizes their money differently but I will admit I just don’t get it. Another great article, Mama.

  7. Yes, yes ,yes

    This is exactly right. My daughter is 6 now and I have bought her such few clothes because we will happily accept kids hand me downs.

    I have been using a capsule wardrobe for a while. And I never put myself on a shopping ban but because I have plenty of clothes to rotate through seasonally I haven’t bought almost anything. I also use the phrase
    Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do with out
    On my capsule post.

    I am so happy I in such good company on that list on Forbes.

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