Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheap Chic

Many moons ago, when I was either in high school or college, there was a bestselling book on fashion titled Cheap Chic in the U.S. Lately, I've been thinking about what I remember from the book (it was a LOOOONG time ago), and I wish I had paid more attention to it than I did back then.  The book was about how one could dress fashionably even if you didn't have a lot of money, and interspersed throughout the book were bios of real life young women and how they shopped and dressed on a  limited budget.  The book promoted shopping in thrift stores as a way to combat the high cost of fashion at a time when, I realize now, people who were not "poor" never ventured into such stores to shop.  I know the concept was new to me. Heck, I've never even heard of it until the book came along!  I also remember myself feeling somewhat superior to a high school classmate who I ran into at a mutual friend's party after we had all graduated from college, when she mentioned how she regularly shopped at Goodwill so she could save money. Oh the horror! The truth is, she was waaaay smarter than me. I was downright STUPID.

Back in the day, I thought nothing of buying 10 ( ! ) pairs of shoes on one shopping trip. But that person no longer exists. . . I don't remember buying any "retail" new item of clothing for a minimum of 5-6 years.  I've shopped at thrift stores and garage sales for at least 20 years now.  The other week, a neighbor gave me the opportunity to look through some discarded clothes from someone she knew before she took them over to the women's shelter. I gladly took what fit me. New clothes from heaven! So what changed?

I think when one settles down and start a family, and you are no longer responsible just for yourself, one's priorities takes a big hit of reality check.  I know mine did.  Especially so after the birth of our first son.  We went from two paychecks to one paycheck in addition to the added burden of moving to a city with a higher cost of living (San Diego).  Something had to give, and that was paying full price for things.  If we could find it used, we did. If it was free, that was even better. And if we could do without, then we went without.

That doesn't mean we will never pay retail.  Another important concept I remember from Cheap Chic was the idea of "Price Per Use."  This is where that cute outfit you absolutely had to have because "it was on sale and so damn cheap" ends up costing you more in the long run if you end up wearing it once or twice or not at all, than the expensive, top-of-the-line item because if you divide the purchase price by the number of times you use it, the expensive item comes out cheaper than the throwaway item.  For example, if you purchased a classic blazer for the ungodly price of $500.00, but you wore that at least once a week for 5 years, then your price per use would be less than $1.92. But if you bought an outfit for $15.00 but only wore it once or none at all, your price per use is $15.00!  I'm not trying to rationalize here, I don't think I can fork over $500.00 for one item of clothing, but you get the idea.  Just because an item is expensive should not deter one from purchasing it if you absolutely know that it will be used over and over, and you can afford to buy it without putting it on credit.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you can't find what you need used, you don't necessarily have to dismiss buying it retail. But if you can't, or if the used item will end up costing you more to use it, as the case may be with old electric appliances, then you might consider buying it new (but preferably on sale).  Cheap Chic is all about being smart with your hard earned money. 


  1. Love, love your blog! I remember Cheap Chic back in the day. She did a lot of interesting things with shawls, if I remember correctly. I remember the book opening up all kinds of possibilities using accesories you had on hand. Now, I too, proudly cloth myself from thrift stores and tag sales.

  2. I love the whole concept of cheap chic. I have been thrift shopping for almost 30 years now. I love a bargain and I love letting everyone know how little I pay for things.

    I do occasionally splash out on eBay for horse riding stuff. Even then I can justify it on a per wear basis, as you said.

    Great post!