Your Fashion: Frugal or Flush?
All my life I have loved the excitement of going into a shop and browsing the new season’s stock in the hope of chancing upon some perfect item to make my fashion dreams come true. I’ll admit that my biggest problem is that I get very bored with my clothes and, as each season rolls around, I start to long for something new and different to wear.
All of which runs counter to the notion that, at my age, I really should be less interested in novelty, extravagance, display and consumption and have my mind on higher things, like the ethics of the fashion industry and how very damaging fast fashion is to our planet.
On Tuesday this week in my Teatime with Tricia chat, I had a wonderful conversation with Penny Kocher who writes a blog called ‘The Frugal Fashion Shopper’. They say that opposites attract and Penny and I come at fashion and dress from very different perspectives, which I want to explore here. We initially ‘met’ on Twitter when I discovered her excellent blog. I had just started writing my own LFF blog and, like her, I had discovered a passion for writing about being an older woman in the world today. Our first encounter was for a fashion related exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum which (before Covid) had become a regular twice yearly date in our diaries. I love her company and find her slightly eccentric but in an interesting rather than an odd way. I also love the way that she dresses whilst not having the courage to wear some of the things that she chooses (very natty hats for example).
Penny's Frugal Approach To Fashion
If you love to look good and long for a wardrobe refresh from time to time whilst on a restricted budget then what should you do? Penny’s answer is clear: you head to your favourite charity shop and have a good old rummage. She believes that charity shops are the perfect place to experiment with personal style and sums her own style up as ‘a bit more steam punk, a little bit goth and at the very least edgy’. It helps that she’s tall and slim and during lockdown has grown her hair from a chin-length bob to a long and flowing mane. I have shopped with Penny in a few charity shops and can attest to her skill in truffling out the (often well hidden) gems. This is her advice:
1. Research the area and learn which outlets have the best stock
2. Pricing should be reasonable that means £7 not £70!
3. Don’t drop your standards. Look for known labels and brands.
4. Have fun and experiment but don’t impulse buy.
5. Expect an adrenaline rush when you unearth a true ‘find’.
6. Feel good that you are recycling rather than adding to landfill.
The Alexander McQueen window that inspired Penny
Penny's secondhand Alexander McQueen dupe
Penny summarises her approach by saying that she feels good about looking for the £10 designer item whilst contributing to a charity rather than buying cheaper mass produced clothes. Charity clothes shopping is also a way to try different looks because there’s no choice as such and that one item you spot might look great on you, despite not being something you would normally choose. Like me she also gets bored with the ‘one good, expensive item per season’ mantra of some older women and likes that she can refresh her wardrobe very inexpensively. And finally the ethical nature of buying from charity shops appeals to Penny’s belief that we all need to reappraise our shopping habits if we are to save the planet.
My Approach to Fashion
I admit to having fewer restraints on my budget for clothes shopping but at the same time I do love a bargain! So my answer is to head to certain shops and hope to find something that might fit me, something that might suit me and finally something that works for the life I lead. How would I describe my style? A bit Theresa May, a little bit Angela Merkel (I do love a jacket) and at the very least a tad safe and unlikely to scare the horses. Penny was kind enough on Tuesday to describe my style as ‘classic’, but I sometimes wish I could look a bit edgier like her!
Penny employs the ‘heat-seeking missile’ approach in a charity shop whilst I tend to employ the ‘scatter-gun’ tactic. I instantly dismiss around three-quarters of what is there and then take as many things as I can carry into the changing room from the remainder in the hope that one or two of these items might just look ok. My advice:
1. Know which brands work on your body. For instance Zara trousers in ‘large’ are invariably perfect on me. Hobbs is great for jumpers.
2. I find that ‘price per wear’ is a good measure of how expensive something really is.
3. If it doesn’t look good the instant that you try it on, don’t buy it. Sleeves and hems can be adjusted but ‘fit’ is much harder to alter without remaking the whole garment.
4. Use accessories to add interest, colour and quirkiness - one size fits all!
5. I tend to swerve away from black. It’s tempting to think of black as slimming or sophisticated but it really drains the life out of my face.
6. If, like me, you play it quite safe then at least try on the odd thing that you initially dismiss, especially if it’s a colour that really suits you.
Me in my new Massimo Dutti shirt and Zara jeans
My NRBY silk shirt
The gorgeous pink Zara jacket
As life slowly thaws from our frozen state of lockdown and we emerge once more into the sunshine, I feel totally justified in treating myself to some new clothes. As Penny demonstrated so eloquently on Tuesday that ‘treat’ could be a £6 tulle skirt very similar to one that she’d seen in the window of Alexander McQueen in Bond Street.
For me, last week it was a trip to Sloane Square where within yards I can find my favourite hunting grounds - Zara, Cos, Massimo Dutti, Whistles and Peter Jones (a John Lewis store). I managed to find the pink jacket and the white jeans above in Zara, a linen shirt in Massimo Dutti and Peter Jones yielded up a gorgeous silk blouse. Satisfied and with spirits lifted, I returned home and made some room in my wardrobe by filling a couple of black bags to take to the Oxfam shop. I don’t think Penny would want any of my ‘pre-loved’ clothes, but someone who is channelling Angela Merkel will doubtlessly be delighted!
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