Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cheap Thrills - Quality VS Quantity: The Great Debate

This is the first post of a series on cheap fashion, Cheap Thrills- Quality VS Quantity: The Great Debate.  The following posts will detail some of my most triumphant steals as well as tips on how to score your own awesome deals.

One of the things I see most often on fashion and style blogs is the mantra quality over quantity.  Bloggers and fashion gurus urge us to buy classic, quality pieces that cost more, but that we will use repeatedly for decades to come.  To be honest, it's not much of a debate, since everyone agrees this is the way to approach shopping.

Except me!  I think a lot about my shopping habits, how much the pieces in my closet cost, where I buy them from, and how the way I shop flies in the face of that familiar adage.  Wait for it-- I do not think that quality over quantity is for everyone.

image (c) pieterbeen @

Well, why not?  What could be wrong with buying and accruing pieces that are classic, and thus don't go out of style, and are good quality, and thus last for as long as they don't go out of style (ie. forever)?  The principle of cost-per-wear (CPW) is often invoked to justify paying more for your items.  You'll end up paying more initially, but by being able to wear the items often for a long time, the CPW dwindles.  I do think that you should sometimes choose quality over quantity, and I'm not arguing that its something that you should never, ever do.  I live in Canada, the land of long, cold winters, and a good winter coat is a necessity.  While I would like to look cute, my main priority is staying warm.  To accomplish this goal, I usually buy an expensive ski jacket from a sporting goods store.  It costs a lot of money initially, but to this day I've never had a winter jacket rip a seam, get an unwashable stain or otherwise look less than pristine (save for a missing "button" that was purely decorative and hid the fact that one particular jacket had snaps and not buttons).  I wore one winter jacket from the sixth grade until I graduated with a bachelor's degree. 

However, I take offense that if I mostly choose quantity over quality, then I don't have real style.  My wardrobe is big.  I have enough clothes to fill a closet and a six-drawer dresser.  I do have some more expensive pieces, but most of my pieces (excluding a few notable categories, such as shoes and outdoor coats) I did not pay over $20 for.  I think I have about three thrifted items-- otherwise, the bulk of my closet comes from stores such as Forever 21, H&M, Smart Set, Urban Behaviour, etc.  Me buying something full price is a weird aberration.  But I like it this way.  It's a conscious choice of mine to maintain a larger closet of lower-priced, poorer-quality clothing.

Let me explain my reasons.

1) I don't make money.
This is now technically untrue.  I'm a student who lives with my parents, and until March of this year, I didn't have an income.  I now get a stipend for school that works out to approximately $2 an hour.  Still, $2 an hour sounds like something I made up.  I don't have the luxury of buying higher-priced items all the time.  Even factoring in CPW, I bring in essentially no money, and I would prefer to keep the cost of my clothing low in general from a personal finance perspective.

2) Spending more money doesn't always mean better quality.
It usually does.  I didn't spell it out earlier, but when I write quality VS quantity, I am also equating quality with expensive and quantity with cheap.  This is almost always true, but you can indeed get good quality for cheap!  Thrifting is one way, but not something I'm overly fond of doing personally.  Buying things on clearance is my method.  I've gotten a $130 trenchcoat for $25, and two $90 maxi skirts for $8 each.    Finally, the inverse is also something to think about.  I once saw a shop selling clothes of worse quality and variety than Forever 21, with prices magnitudes higher (similar to the Gap).  I rarely see things I want at Zara that cost less than about $80, even though I find their fit horrendous for my body shape, and their quality suspect.  (I once bought a pair of faux leather pants there that ripped up the front crotch seam the first day I wore them.)

3) My cheap clothing actually lasts a pretty long time.
Most of my clothes are intact years after buying them.  Of course, I do have closet collateral, but not a whole lot.  I have a $25 Urban Behaviour cardigan that I swear I basically wear everyday in the Spring, Fall and Winter seasons and it's holding up marvelously after 3 years.  I try not to put my clothes through too much-- I try to wear things as much as I can before laundering and I try to wear most of the things I own, so one group of stuff doesn't get worn out.

4) I can have fun with my clothes.
This is the essence of it.  By maintaining a larger, cheaper closet, I have enough variety to really enjoy putting together outfits.  I'm never bored by my closet, and can always find things that match other things.  I am able to partake in trends, as well as buy some wacky stuff just to see if I can pull it off.  I think because of my age and the point at which I am at in my life, I just want to experiment and have fun with fashion.  I don't want to have the same clothes ten years into the future.  I want to experience what's exciting now.

And that, my friends, is why my closet is the exact opposite of the holy grail wardrobe.  It's not edited to severe minimalism, with limited palettes and silhouettes.  It's full of basics, trendy things and items that were on clearance because no on in their right mind would buy them.  And that's exactly how I like it.

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