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Finances & Money

Cheap clothes aren’t always a value

We’ve both been complaining for months about needing new work clothes. My pants are about 5 years old, and many of my dress shirts are just too baggy. Stacie needs more skirts and light sweaters. This weekend we decided to go shopping at the Leesburg Corner Outlets, which is about 45 minutes away (in Virginia) from our Rockville, MD home.

Normally we just drop by the local malls, or Kohl’s, for cheap clothes, but I’ve learned that cheap clothes just don’t last long, and don’t usually fit well. When I say cheap, I mean $15-20 dress shirts (not on sale), and $30 dress pants (also not on sale). Also, we can NEVER find professional clothes for Stacie in her size. She’s a tiny girl, and can never find anything even in the petite sections of stores like JCPenney. She’s had to resort to shopping in the teen section, and has even bought 2 kid’s bathing suits (which surprisingly fit well). However, the teen sections don’t carry very professional clothing.

We’ve toyed with the idea of switching to places like Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Ann Taylor for her clothes, but just can’t fathom spending $80-120 for clothes. That’s where the outlets come into play.

We’ve gone to the Leesburg outlets a number of times in the past, but we’ve always pinned ourselves to strict budgets. We’ve always balked when we saw the price tags, even when the clothes fit great. Most of the times, we never even tried on the clothes! But this weekend was different. I was tired of skimping on clothes, only to need new pants in another year or two because the last pair fell apart or stretched out. I don’t have this problem with the expensive pants I bought in college for about $80. They have held up for 8 years now with no signs of wear and tear.

So this weekend, I gave ourselves a $500 budget. That sounds like a giant amount for a single day of clothes shopping, and it really is for us. Looking through Quicken, we’ve spent about $800 on clothing each year for the last 4.5 years. That doesn’t count Christmas gifts or other gifts (like Stacie’s $200+ Coach handbag I got for her birthday this year); just plain old trips to the store for shopping. Both Stacie and I hate shopping, so we avoid these trips like the plague until our clothes are so worn out that we just have to go shopping for replacements.

Generally, when we find something that fits Stacie well, which is rare, we get it (as long as it’s on sale). For example, while on a paid conference trip to San Francisco last November, I brought Stacie along (at our own cost). We stopped in a Benetton near Fisherman’s Wharf, and they had some pant sales. Stacie tried on 3 pairs that fit amazingly. We walked out with all 3 pairs for $100. Each pair was originally $80 each.

This weekend was mostly to shop for me. As I mentioned, I need dress pants and shirts. We ended up getting the following:


  • Geoffrey Beene: 1 dress shirt, 1 dress pant for $67.18
  • Van Heusen: 2 dress shirts for $32.53 (ok, all done with shirts)
  • Factory Brand Shoes: 1 pair black dress shoes, 1 pair black walking shoes for $112.32. I wasn’t as pleased with the prices, but my shoes are falling apart. I walk to and from the metro on most days, so I need new walking shoes. Also, I need something less conspicuous while wearing dress pants. My light gray New Balance shoes don’t match so well.


  • Bass Outlet: 1 sweater for $19.94. It’s a really cute blue sweater in a style that Stacie hasn’t had before.
  • Calvin Klein: 1 sweater for $26.24. I hate shopping at brand name stores like CK, Abercrombie & Fitch and Polo, but the sweater fits Stacie really well, and was really discounted.
  • Ann Taylor Outlet: 2 skirts for $62.98. I think Ann Taylor has become my new favorite store for “Stacie clothes”. They have her sizes and nice styles. I won’t shop at the regular store because the prices on these clothes are insane.

Total Cost: about $320. Well under our $500 limit.

As for our old clothes, we’ll be pulling them from the shelves, drawers and closets, take pictures and itemize them for donation to Goodwill. I want to cover my butt for taxes, which is why I’m cataloging each donation (in batches, not one-by-one). I’m excited as I have about 6 pairs of old shoes to donate, including 2 pairs of 6-year-old Kenneth Coles that have just run their course. I would hold a yard sale, but for the time involved, and the stories I’ve read about others’ experiences, I’ll just donate it all and save the hassle.

What are your shopping stories? Any stores you absolutely MUST frequent? How do your cheap clothes hold up against more expensive counterparts?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Many times companies make separate clothes lines created solely for outlets. In some cases, these lines are of a lower quality than what you’ll find in the store, so sometimes the clothes hold up better when purchased from the regular retail locations. It’s good to learn of the brands you like whether the outlet clothes are worth the money.

    After having sewn clothes before, you gain new insight into what well-made clothes actually cost, both in terms of material and in labor…that helps me figure out how much I feel like I should pay for an item.

  • Macy’s, Ann Taylor and the like have terrific sales. All of those $80 and $120 Ann Taylor’s dresses will cost $40 and $60 in a few weeks. I have an Ann Taylor nearby, and I often notice stuff I like, wait a few weeks, then come back. Most often than not it is on sale. I bought tops there for $20 and skirts for $30 and $40 by just waiting. They usually have more than one item I like and I only need one, so if 4 out 5 things are gone before the sale, there is always something left. If everything is gone – OK I saved money, there’ll be something else.

    I also bought there a really fancy cashemire sweater in Ann Taylor (not outlet) and I only paid $40 on it. They started from $120, marked down to $90 the following week, then to $60 the week after until I bought it for $40. I always have a specific amount in mind and I don’t loose sleep if something you like is gone — there is always something else.

    Other good places to buy good quality stuff for less are – Lohemanns, Filine’s Basement, Syms. New arrivals could be somewhat expensive, but sale price way better than in JC Penney and much better quality. Out of those Lohemann’s usually have the better stuff and terrific sales.

  • Kitty, thanks for the advice. I did stop in Loehmann’s to try and find a nice purse for my wife, but I didn’t like the styles (not their fault). I ended up buying a Coach at Macy’s. I splurged, but it was her 30th birthday. Can’t be cheap all the time.

    I like shopping for clothes for myself at Syms, which is right down the road as well. We have a Filene’s Basement down the road, but I haven’t gone in before. I didn’t really know what it was.

  • My wife is also “petite,” and has found very nice clothes at Ann Taylor outlets. The cost at the outlets is within budget range.

    I have found that the wrinkle free shirts at JoS. A Bank are the best money can buy. They are fairly expensive ($30-45 on sale), but last for a few years (once or twice a week wear), and barely need an iron out of the dryer. The investment is a lot, but I like them over any other shirt I have owned. I had a gift certificate for my first purchase, since then, I have asked for gift certificates for b-days and Christmas.

    I have a pair of Nunn Bush dress shoes ($45) I have had for 5 years (I wear them 3x per week), and they are still in great condition. All you need to do is polish them to keep them looking good. I even wrote a post about polishing shoes on my site. (of course I had to throw that in!) 😉

  • Thanks Patrick! I have a Jos. A. Bank down the road (yes, we have everything “down the road”), and I know they’re pricey. I’ll have to check them out though.

    My current dress shoes are actually Nunn Bush. They fit well and look good, but the heel is pulling away from one pair. A few times, I had to walk home from the metro (1 mile) in them, and I wear them 4-5 days a week otherwise. This time I got some Dockers shoes on sale for about $50.

  • I am also rather petite-a girls XL/16 fits me just right. I now buy a lot of my casual clothes in the children’s dept. I have also started purchasing Ann Taylor clothes on ebay. The sizes run true, and I can usually get a pair of pants for ~$20 or less, including shipping.

  • I love Ann Taylor clothes. If you buy things on sale, you can get them for the same price as the regular Ann Taylor store and they are better quality that most of the outlet items. Some outlet items at AT come from the regular stores, but most are made for the outlet which means cheaper materials.

    Similar to Kitty, I have purchased $40 two ply cashmere sweaters at AT.

  • My family of 6 lives off my one modest income.

    Our best clothing strategy is the clothing sharing we have established with other friends and family members. Once a clothing’s size is passed by kidlets, it is passed on to the next kid in the bunch with the same gender needing that size next. Literally boxes of stuff passes thru our house at changes of season, but it really keeps our costs low. Sometimes, there might be a serious lack of anything day to day, but dressy stuff survives on. The main understanding is that NONE is to be sold at garage sales or eBay- it is only to be passed on. Sometimes, only socks, underwear & shoes are needed when we get lucky.

    As for the grownups in our house, my partner is a stay at home parent, so casual is all that’s needed- plus a good suit for when she participates in her church work.

    I work at a business casual office- jeans allowed. That does not mean ripped t shirts or junky stuff. I usually wear summer cotton dresses when its warm and nice pants with a sweater or blazer in the winter (I bus to work- rarely wear dresses past November). I take particular care of my clothes and rarely spend much on my clothing.

    When we spend on adult clothing, we live by the least possible theory. We start at Rescue Mission, work thru the Marts/Target, onto JC Penney, etc in line of the least cost to the most. If we are lucky, we can find what we want at a thrift store like the Rescue Mission or the Label Shopper. We also think ahead and work the garage sales for everyone, knowing what might be lacking for the next season. I never find anything at outlet malls that I couldn’t have found equitable or better thru our way of shopping.

  • As far as the regular ol’ mall stores go, I’ve found that the parent companies always stock a better quality product than their spinoff stores. e.g., Gap holds up far better than Old Navy, Ann Taylor will look great after Ann Taylor Loft shows significant wear.

  • I haven’t bought clothes in probably a year and I usually tend to spend $30ish per shirt/pants.

    I guess I never got into fashion and as long as it fits and looks good, I really don’t care what others think. I am starting to notice some rips in my shorts though, so maybe it is time to start doing some budget shopping 🙂

  • Cheap clothes are only valuable if you can score a good deal online from a major brand. Going to a store that sells poor quality clothing, no matter the price, isn’t a great deal.

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