Sunday, August 19, 2012

On "Frugal" Fashion & "Budget" Shopping

I have a confession to make: I read fashion magazines and blogs like it's goin' out of style.


Ha ha... ha.... ha.

Okay, so that was a really bad pun. I could not help myself.

Bear with me and I promise I won't make any more.

I read Lucky and InStyle so far as magazines go, occasionally picking up Marie Claire or Glamour when in the bookstore with a cup of coffee and some time to kill... even the very occasional Vogue.

I used to read Vogue somewhat religiously way back in the day, although 'read' is a very loose term. As a middle- and eventually high-school wannabe artist, looking at the images in Vogue was actually a great way to get a sense of how the human body can contort. The women in Vogue are often in the strangest positions, and with their clavicles and shoulders photographed so closely, I would even get a sense of how the bones connected to one another.

Eventually, I bought a couple of actual anatomy books and Vogue fell by the wayside, replaced by actual instruction and drawing from life.

I still tend to think now and then about all the very strange looks I used to get from the odd teacher or administrator during class who caught me carefully copying the way the bones in a woman's wrist were shadowed by the careful lights placed just off-camera.

Although that is in no way what I actually wanted to write about today... but I guess you can just consider that little anecdote a bonus "Katie is weird" story to light up your day.

I try not to disappoint when it comes to providing you with "Katie is weird" stories.

In any case, I read those magazines, though mostly just Lucky and InStyle (and also Garden & Gun and Whole Living but don't you judge me because I can absolutely tell that you are judging me). I read the occasional fashion blogs as well, because don't judge me.

Fashion magazines (and the really successful, monetized fashion blogs) have this odd disconnect with the world most people live in. For example, they write that they are 'obsessed' with the perfect motorcycle jacket which one absolutely must have and which will go with everything  - which just happens to cost over $1,000. Which is more money than my brain tells me any article of clothing should cost unless it is dipped in pure gold.

What I've been thinking about, though, is my increasing incredulity about what is considered "budget" or "frugal" fashion.

To show me a $72 T-shirt that is "an incredible value! Really, it pays for itself! Look at these seams!" is to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that your frugality and my frugality live in whole different income brackets.

Possibly different universes.

Don't get me wrong - I am a huge fan of the concept of frugal fashion spreads, lists of ways to get the look you're going for without dropping your entire paycheck. I am such a huge fan that I give myself pats on the back whenever I pull off a particularly successful shopping spree (give myself a smallish budget, stick to it or come in under it). Despite my steadfastly less-than-stylish tomboy instincts, I do like to get ideas from magazines, and it's even better if those are ideas I am actually capable of affording.

I do find it bothersome, and I wonder if others do as well, to see something labeled as frugal, cheap, or "value-oriented" and realize that it's not just out of my particular budget at this particular point in my life, but out of the budgets of most people. Or if it's in their budgets, it's as a one-time splurge; a pair of custom-made jeans you may not be able to afford except due to some kind of financial windfall, or the "investment piece" - the expensive handbag, shoe, piece of jewelry, etc. that you budget carefully for with the intention of keeping it for years and years.

Obviously the men and women running these fashion magazines are not themselves hurting for money, and to them their $90 bracelet or $275 date-night dress aren't investment pieces at all - they are heavily budgeted cheap buys. I don't really even blame them for the problem, exactly; would a fashion magazine/blog that is both for-profit and actually attempts to showcase seriously budget-oriented style actually be able to make a profit? We seem really inclined to cling to the dream, the photoshoots and items that we like to believe that one day we might afford, those clothing items we would buy like hotcakes if we just had some more money.

I'd like to see a magazine that attempted to actually be stylish and stick within, say, something that someone making $50K a year or less would be able to afford, but I realize it's not really part of a dream to look at items from Target or JCPenney, Kohl's or even Walmart. There are some blogs operating like this, and that's at least a start. But I don't know that those blogs are monetized, and if they even are I couldn't tell you if their owners and operators are making a serious profit on them.

I just know that it is, occasionally, a little bit isolating to realize that the "Outfit for Under $100" special (in which each individual piece of said outfit must be under $100, not the outfit itself) does not contain a single piece I could afford except for maybe a single finger-ring... and sometimes not even that. Yet this is the magazine writer's (or sometimes just the guest stylist's) idea of rock-bottom budget prices. It's... annoying, I guess, at least annoying enough for me to write a blog post about it, and if you've made it this far I assume it annoys you, too.

It's all castles in the sky, I suppose. I'm not sure that I can really fault people for which castles they choose to build, and there are clearly thousands upon thousands of people who can afford these things so easily they don't think anything of it. To the magazine editors and writers, and the guest stylists they utilize, it's a sincere attempt at being careful with money. It's just that their "careful with money" is my "there goes our grocery budget for the month". No one can really be faulted for that; it's just a fact of life.

It is something I've been thinking about, though, and I'd be interested in any opinions on the subject you'd be willing share... just e-mail me or leave a comment through the comment form below.

Maybe it's my understanding of what is frugal that's out of whack,...

But I'm still not going to buy a $72 T-shirt, no matter how great the seams are.


  1. I stopped reading "fashion" magazines years ago for his exact reason. "The perfect lipstick for under $20!" Umm, I'm looking for something around $2... I have seen some blogs where they actually go to thrift stores and then alter the clothes into something more fashionable, and there was a really good TEDtalk on true thrift shopping as well.

  2. i love what I call HK-Ebay (cheap fashion pieces on ebay from China). The quality is about on par (or slightly better) than wetseal (most hkebay stuff will last a few years as opposed to 1 season). The same earrings francescas sold for $18, i bought for $1, my fav. dress that i get comments on all the time for $15. You do have to wait 2-4weeks for it to get all the way here from china and through customs, but a lot of it is truly different from what we have in the states. And these are usually cheap "buy it now" items where you don't have to bid to get a great price

    Also, if you have never been in an ICING by Claires, (i hadn't until perusing the mall once while on break at franny's) it's actually a claire's geared toward twenty-something adults (i mistakenly assumed it was going to be an extra glittery version of a regular claires, it's not). I would frequently see the same fun things francesca's carried (i'm sure we've talked about franny's before, cute little indie boutique, same suppliers as anthropologie, etc) for half the price.

    As for makeup, i found silknaturals (indie mineral makeup, quality and affordable) and i am never going back ;p (though i still buy my mascara during avon sales. lol)

    Maybe we need a magazine, Katie!!!lol

  3. Sarah: There was a blog I flipped through once that was a blogger who would buy these huge awful TENTS of dresses at thrift stores, then take in and alter them into cute custom sun- or shirt-dresses. I really enjoyed that. She was taking things she paid maybe 3.50 for and turning them into cute things. Of course, dresses aren't really my style, but it was still an eye-opener. Also I read one blog (which has finished now) that was one woman wearing the same dress for 365 days - she just changed accessories and cardigans, that kind of thing, to make different outfits. And that was a very good look, too, at how we sort of fool ourselves with the idea of "needing" new clothes. Not that I'm not so sadly susceptible to the same problem.

  4. Samantha: You know, I haven't really used eBay for anything in YEARS. It's funny, because I used to buy surprising amounts of Sailor Moon stuff off there in high school (yes, laugh if you will, I will never be ashamed of the Sailor Senshi!). I suppose I just kind of let it fall out of my mind. I also truly like to try things on and really get to hold them before I commit to purchase, so I might just have to adjust from my ideas on that.

    I knew ICING was a little bit different, but I had thought it was just aimed at a different version of teen. I may head in there next time I'm in the mall to see what they have - I'm always on the lookout for more jewelry.

    Hahaha, we should start an e-magazine. I don't even know what clever name we would give it, though.


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