Talking Money

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Posted: Aug 06, 2009 12:01 AM

Sometimes, you feel like you just have to have something new to wear. Trust me, I understand the impulse. After months of cutting back on your clothing budget, there may come a time when you feel as if you don't have the appropriate attire for that important job interview, a summer wedding, or even that hot date.

Last week, I was able to sit down with Stacy London, co-host of TLC's "What Not To Wear." On the show, London trashes a person's entire wardrobe, then hands over a $5,000 debit card to replace it, assisting in their complete style makeover. I asked her (and a few other experts) what to do when the rest of us aren't as lucky:

-- Shop in your closet first. You'll be surprised by what's there, particularly if you didn't have time to do a good spring-cleaning this year. I like to pull everything out, spread it all on the bed or the carpet, and do a quick inventory. Trust me, there are pieces in there that you probably forgot about years ago. Some things may be out of fashion, and that's fine -- either donate them to a charity or put them in storage until they come back in style. (They almost always come back, so if they're expensive pieces in good shape, you want to hang on to them, says London.) Then work with what you have left to come up with new outfits that you wouldn't otherwise have thought of.

Note: When you put everything back, organize your closet so you can find things easily. That may mean grouping items by color or by style -- whatever works for you.

-- Find a good tailor. Everyone has items in their closet that no longer fit. Heck, most of us have things that didn't fit when we bought them, and we hoped we'd either lose the weight or make it work. Yet, after a few months or even years, the tags are still on. Take those items to the tailor immediately. To find one you can trust, ask around with friends, or start by taking something that's relatively simple, like a pair of jeans that need hemming. "Even if you're talking about your neighborhood cleaner and you want to test their tailoring skills, give them a pair of jeans and ask them to hem them identically to the hem they already have. If they can master that, they're going to be fine with a trouser," says London. But tailoring doesn't stop with a hem -- you can have sleeves shortened or taken in, revamp a suit, or refit the shoulder on a jacket. All of these tweaks make use of what you already own, and they're relatively inexpensive.

-- Know when to splurge and when to save. Men and women should both spend on shoes, says Sharon Haver, founder and editor-in-chief of focusonstyle.com

. "Women need a good pair of boots with a classic toe and a nice, stacked heel. You'll get several seasons of wear out of them. Men should spend money on a nice pair of loafers with a sturdy sole, because they last." Women also need to have a well-made, versatile leather bag, one that goes from day to night and dressy to casual, and men should have a well-cut suit in a neutral color like charcoal. Get one in lightweight wool and you'll be able to wear it year-round, breaking up the pieces as necessary. What can you skimp on? Anything trendy. Gladiator shoes, for instance, aren't going to be in style forever; so don't lay out a lot of cash if you want to jump in on the trend. The same goes for chunky fashion jewelry that you may hate by next season.

-- Stock your closet. If you have the essentials at hand, you'll be ready for any occasion. You can never go wrong, for instance, with a cashmere sweater, and you can find them on sale as winter comes to a close. Pick one up in a nice, muted color or even black, so you can mix and match it with other, more colorful pieces in your closet to create different outfits. Haver also suggests investing in a nice pair of dark jeans. "This is especially important for men, because if you have a pair of premium denim jeans, you can wear them with a button-down shirt and a blazer." Make sure your closet is also home to a crisp, white button-up. Women should have a few dresses that can go from work to night relatively seamlessly, says London.

-- Take care of your clothes. No matter what you spent on them, you want them to last. That's what's going to save you the most money in the long run. "Maintaining your wardrobe is really the best investment you can make," says London. "Try and keep your clothes in the best shape possible, to extend their life. That's a return on your investment." That means limiting dry cleaning -- the chemicals can do a number on fibers, so hand wash whenever possible -- and even re-soling shoes. It's very inexpensive -- I recently had seven pairs of shoes and boots fixed up for under $150, much less than it would have cost to replace even a single pair. With reporting by Arielle McGowen