How to be a ‘Recessionista’

A fashionista is someone who devoutly follows fashion, like the Carrie Bradshaw character in Sex in the City. Fashionistas often put fashion before comfort or even common sense, often wearing clothes that are inappropriate for the occasion or the weather. I know. I used to be one. When you follow fashion to the extreme, you’re known for your clothes, not for your restraint or fiscal savvy.

But times change. Like the Dow.

With the sluggish economy and tightening credit, many fashionistas are going into serious withdrawal. Fashion, like eating out, is one of the first things many indulge in when times are good – and one of the first things they go without when times get tough.

Gone are the days of expensive trendy bags and favorite styles in multiple colors. Instead, logic and fiscal responsibility are being forced into the mix. Fashionistas have become “recessionistas” – following their “passion for fashion” but doing so within the constraints of the current economy.

They’ve become – oh, say it isn’t so! – much like the rest of us. Only they still look very chic. The wardrobe strategies they’re passing around during these tough times are the same I’ve espoused for years, once I “saw the light” and learned to focus on style instead of fashion. If you follow just a few of these tips, you can look good whatever the economy or your own household budget.

Here’s how to be a recessionista:

1. Spend the Most on the Clothes You Wear the Most

Investment dressing means spending as much as you can afford on pieces you expect to wear A LOT. Coats, shoes, handbags, suits – the backbone of your wardrobe, like the backbone of your body, needs to be strong and sturdy. If you spend $400 on a beautiful wool overcoat that you wear five days a week, four months a year for three years, the cost per wear is just $1.67. (5 days x 16 weeks x 3 years = coat is worn 240 times. $400/240 = $1.67). You get your money’s worth wearing investment pieces.

Conversely, if you spend $400 on a special occasion dress that you wear just once or twice, the cost per wear is a killer ($400 or $200, respectively). Yet, that’s exactly what many people do: they “go all out” for the special occasions in their life and “go cheap” the rest of the time. Don’t do that. Like a carpenter with his tools, a dancer with her shoes, or a musician with his instrument, you need to invest in the clothing and accessories you wear all the time. Otherwise, they’ll wear out quickly and you’ll have to replace them frequently. In the end you spend a lot more doing that than buying quality from the start.

2. Restock Your Basics as Cheaply as Possible

Now that you’ve got the big ticket items out of the way, replenish those basics you buy every year, like underwear, pajamas, t-shirts, socks, etc., as cheaply as possible — yet still look for quality. You can’t expect these everyday items to last forever, but they shouldn’t fall apart after a few washings, either. Go with the names you can trust, like Hanes, Gap, and H&M for your day-to-day basics.

3. Build on Your Signature Style

When money’s tight is NOT the time to explore your other clothing personalities. You may feel the need to channel Marilyn Monroe one day and Fergie the next, but really, getting the bill for all that exploration will take the artistic joy right out of it. So don’t do it. Build on your signature style, add whimsical pieces as the mood strikes, but don’t do a whole closet makeover on a regular basis. It’s too exhausting. Not to mention expensive.

4. Go Cheaply on Trends – Or Skip Them Altogether

If your budget’s particularly tight, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot on trends that won’t be around for long. Go cheap-cheap on them – or just skip them altogether. Or, go look in your closet and see if you can re-create or approximate a current trend from something you already have. You can look up-to-date without spending a cent.

5. Mix Up Eras, Labels, and Price Ranges

If you really feel the need to be creative, put down the current issue of your favorite fashion magazine, back away from it slowly, and look elsewhere for fashion inspiration. Like vintage shops or discount stores or even your own attic. Mix old with new, high end with low end, this season from seasons long passed. People will admire your ingenuity.

I attended an event this summer wearing a designer dress from the clearance rack at Marshalls’ ($22), a pair of sandals from DSW ($34), a pair of pearl earrings I received as a graduation gift, and a pearl-beaded evening bag my mother used in the 1960’s. I was treated like a princess the entire night. Total cost: $56.

So keep these tricks in mind, particularly if you’re used to dressing a certain way that a new reduced budget can’t afford. Looking good and spending a lot don’t always go hand-in-hand. I’ve seen women stop traffic in $40 worth of clothes from Walmart, and I’ve seen women become wallflowers wearing thousands in designer apparel. It’s not about how much you spend or how much you have; it’s about being clever with what you have or can afford. So don’t pine over the impact of the economy on your wardrobe. Get tough, get creative, and become a recessionista.

Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant
and author of “Wardrobe Magic,” an ebook that shows
women how to transform their unruly closets into workable,
wearable wardrobes. Visit her online at