Why I Don’t Recommend The Look for Less

Wardrobe Oxygen - Why I don't Recommend the Look for Less and how to achieve personal style on a budgetI’ve learned a lot about you through my reader survey. I’ve learned what you like, what you hate, where else you read, and what you wish I’d provide on Wardrobe Oxygen. Some, I will try to do in the future (yes, there may be the occasional fitting room selfies to share my thoughts on a retailer’s new collection), but some I just won’t do because they don’t fit with the concept of Wardrobe Oxygen.

And one is getting the look for less.

I don’t believe in getting the look for less, because it NEVER WORKS. While it may be the same silhouette, the same color, or have the same trendy detail, it’s not the same and what made it great is usually lost with the loss of dollars. Sometimes, pieces are expensive for no particular reason, but often that pricetag is justified.

It’s fall, you may want to incorporate a couple current trends into your wardrobe that have an autumnal feel. A great choice is a tie-neck blouse in a dark red color. Marsala is the Pantone color of the year and all shades of scarlet, burgundy, and claret are hot because of it. The tie neck blouse has been stylish for a couple seasons now, but this fall it’s more relaxed, less of a pussy bow of last fall and a true tie. This is a garment that really runs the gamut in regard to price (I saw everything from $24 to $2,000 when searching to make this graphic), but also in regard to detail and what you get for what you spend.

The Look for Less - Red Tie Neck Blouses

$295.00 blouse | $56.00 blouse | $24.90 blouse | $56.00 blouse | $98.00 blouse | $99.00 blouse

Here are six red tie-neck blouses that are currently available at popular online retailers. The prices range from $25 to $295 and at first glance they don’t seem that drastically different. Without trying them on or seeing them in person, you may feel you truly can get the look for less. But looks can be deceiving.

Let’s first examine the $295 blouse. 93% silk, 7% spandex crêpe de Chine. Detachable neck tie, which makes this blouse more versatile and wearable once the trend passes. Button front closure under the tie (and it is a covered placket meaning fabric covers the button area), and double buttons at the cuffs; buttons are the same color as the blouse. The cut is tailored and has side slits so it can be worn tucked in or left out. The tie is long enough to knot as featured, or loop into a bow. While the product is made in China, the designer claims to have relationships with the factories and specifically handpicked which ones to work with.

And now the $24.90 top. 100% polyester, unlined, and even from this photo it’s clear the top is sheer and requires a camisole. What this picture doesn’t show is that there is a keyhole back; that is the way to put on this top as there’s no buttons down the front. And speaking of buttons, the ones on the cuffs are a brushed gold. The side view on the site shows the top is quite full, so full I am guessing the model is likely pinned in the picture I featured. The sleeves are also fuller; detailed shots show there’s pleating on the shoulders and at the cuffs. The ruffle over the bust provides some opacity, but that ruffle does not continue to the back of the blouse. While the description states the blouse has modest side slits, a photo of the backview of the top shows the slits go almost up to the waistband of the model’s jeans, making it difficult to tuck in and blouse out. On top of this, the company who provides this shirt has been sued for copyright infringement and has been busted for using child labor and unsafe factory conditions.

The other blouses vary in price, and much has to do with the following reasons why you often can't achieve the look for less:

Construction

Why is it that some retailers are so inconsistent with their sizing? I can go into a mall store and try on 10 jeans, same cut and same size and they will all fit differently. Some are shorter, some are longer, some have more narrow of thighs, and heck some even seem to be made of a completely different fabric composition. This is proof of getting what you paid for.

To save money and get product to the stores super quick, retailers will source from multiple factories in different countries. I remember when I worked for Express; I came to favor the tees made in the Mariana Islands because they had the best cotton/Lycra blend of all. Also, they seemed to be cut in the most consistent manner. For another way retailers save money is to cut higher piles of fabric. Trace a pattern on a piece of paper; place two pieces of paper underneath and cut out the pattern. All three pieces will be around the same size. However do this same exercise but instead cut out 12 pieces of paper at the same time, you’ll see that the pieces will really vary in size. This is why a pair of jeans may have one leg more narrow than another or one size 8 dress seems twice as big as another.

Cutting fewer pieces at a time and sticking to one factory and/or fabric source costs more. With higher-end brands you’re more likely to find consistency in cut, fit, and composition.

Choice of Fabric

The $56 blouse and the $98 blouse in the collage are very similar, but the biggest reason why the one on the left is almost half the price is because it is made of polyester while the other is 100% silk. And fabric details only tell so much; think about thread count when it comes to sheets. Two sets of sheets can both be 100% cotton, but the percale bedding will not be as silky, tightly woven, or comfortable as the 800 thread count cotton sateen set. This holds true for clothing fabric as well and is why your Old Navy tee shirt may start pilling after one wear while your James Perse tee looks new after a year of washings.

Location of Manufacturing

It’s cheaper to manufacture clothing in other countries, and while many of us hate to think about it, the reason is because many other countries don’t have regulations to enforce fair wages, safe working conditions, or to prevent child labor. While there is surely a markup on clothing, there’s likely some unethical practices taking place to be able to offer a blouse for only $25. I am learning as I go when it comes to ethical manufacturing; I am working to purchase and feature brands that stand up for where they make their product and am trying to purchase less in general. This is an opportunity to make change with your wallet.

Attention to Detail

Did you ever wonder why cheaper clothing seems to be more… elaborate? Going back to that $25 blouse, it has the shiny buttons, the keyhole back, the ruffle in the front… is this all to add style or to hide the fact that it’s not well made? It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, and cheaper retailers often hide shoddy construction or cheaper fabric with embroidery, studs, rhinestones, ruffles, and fluff.

The thing is, all this extra embellishment takes away the style. Look at celebrity fashionistas, fashion editors, style icons. Do they have rhinestones on their ass? Do they wear blouses with ruffles and bows and cut-outs and shiny buttons and pleats and and and? No, because they purchase quality and quality doesn’t have to be hidden under sparkle and shine.

What If You Can’t Afford Quality?

Quality can be found at every pricepoint, but not every look can be found for less. Style doesn’t come from adopting trends, but from creating a wardrobe that fits your life, your personality, and your figure. If you have a limited budget, the last thing you should be purchasing is trendy pieces like tie-neck blouses, ponchos, and super-flared jeans.

Consider your current wardrobe and your current lifestyle. If you see the need for a not-so-little black dress in your life, shop slow and with care. Visit retailers you would normally consider out of your pricerange and head directly to their sale rack. Feel the fabric, look at the details, see the piece past the pricetag and how it makes your boobs look. Whether a piece is $20 or $200, if it’s well made and of good fabric, it may be a sound investment to have it tailored to fit properly. You don’t need a dozen pairs of jeans, you don’t need 8 work dresses, a drawer full of knit tops for the weekend. Buy less, and buy with care. You can rock that same blouse every week to the office and Saturday night for drinks with the girls and no one will care or question it if it’s a great fit for your figure and personal style.

Check out retailers known for classic quality.  I adore Lands' End; their prices are reasonable (and they have amazing sales) and their quality is excellent.  They have more classic of pieces, but often incorporate a bit of current trends and color palettes.  If you find a purchase doesn't live up to your expectations, return it.  Lands' End has a lifetime guarantee.

Keep your wardrobe simple, and add trends and personality with accessories. Head to Nordstrom Rack or TJ Maxx and get great scarves, necklaces, and bags for less. You can transform your look from summer to fall with the quick change of your lipcolor; go from desk to drinks with the addition of a smoky eye. I believe in the power of a leopard print pump; it makes a black dress festive and takes jeans and a simple white shirt to style icon level.

Blogs and magazines that create the look for less are rarely looking deep into what they are selling. For rarely can you truly get the same effect, quality, fit, and ethics when you try to go on the cheap. Keep costs down by buying less and honing your own personal style.

53 Comments

  1. November 13, 2015 / 10:56 am

    My favorite way to get “the look for less” is to hit up thrift shops, starting with small ones and then hitting up larger stores that require more time investment. I volunteer with a small nonprofit thrift shop in Silver Spring and am always amazed at the pieces that get donated, sometimes still with tags. Chico’s, Lands End, Ann Taylor, and other really good brands are now part of my wardrobe but for only a few bucks each (I think the top price I’ve paid was $10 for an amazing vintage dress that I wear all the time now). Plus, I feel better not adding to the waste of manufacturing new clothes by buying clothes that already existed.

    Not to say that I never buy new, but I try to check out thrift stores first.

  2. October 28, 2015 / 11:43 am

    Definitely agree! “Buy less, and buy with care” love this! There are so many ways to save on quality pieces – sales, Nordstrom Rack (like you mentioned), flash sale sites. I’m glad you won’t be doing these types of post 🙂

  3. October 25, 2015 / 12:59 pm

    Great article with so many details to think about! Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what pieces are worth the investments, but I’m going through a slow learning process. This article definitely helps a lot.

  4. Jen
    October 24, 2015 / 8:19 am

    I think this goes along with the greatness of having a Gwynnie Bee subscription, too! I’ve been a subscriber for three years (since your very first post about the company) and I’m able to combine the variety of those pieces with some of the more expensive classics in my wardrobe. Being 6 feet tall and a size 18/20 means most of my classics come from Lands End, BUT I know those sturdy ponte knit dresses are flattering and going to last for many seasons. I love this post!

    • October 25, 2015 / 9:54 am

      Agree! I love that I can buy basic, classic clothing but switch it up with funky prints and fun silhouettes. And when I tire of them, send them back for more!

  5. October 24, 2015 / 2:06 am

    I love Land’s End! I buy all my work shirts and basic t-shirts from there. Their clothes last for a long time and can handle how hard I am on my clothes.

  6. Emily
    October 23, 2015 / 3:45 pm

    YES YES YES – 100% agree with this post 🙂

  7. Helena
    October 23, 2015 / 11:33 am

    I love this idea in theory, but I find it hard in practice – even the so-called “classics” seem to change from season to season! What are the classics anymore – do you have a recommendation? Thanks!!

    • October 23, 2015 / 11:40 am

      The classics really are up to you. I know, annoying and vague answer, right? 🙂 I’ve gone through trying to buy what people call classics and after a year hate them or they seem dated, dowdy, wrong. I started looking in my closet with what I wore year after year and defined my own. Straight fit jeans, one-button blazers, moto-inspired leather jackets, ponte dresses with a tailored but not tight fit, printed maxi dresses, merino v-neck sweaters, pointed-toe pumps and ankle boots. Even if the moto jacket is no longer trendy in three years, I feel confident still wearing it because it defines me. Find the length of skirt, cut of jeans, style of shoe that feels right to you and buy the quality you can afford. Some seasons it may be tough to find what is right, but other ones you’ll be able to stock up.

  8. Anastasia
    October 23, 2015 / 4:25 am

    Loved the post! It actually is like that most of the time: I often think it would make sense to save money and get a better item which would world and which I’d wear a lot instead of getting a cheaper one right now which would not meet my expectations and would be left tossed in the drawyer for ages. It is even more evident with shoes and bags. In the last two years reading your blog I’ve got on sales really good items which I love and which look great and make me feel good and comfortable. In these terms planning is the key: I make a list of things I need/want to bye and hunt them and then wait for sales if they are still available. If not, there’s almost always a valid alternative.

  9. tracy
    October 22, 2015 / 10:24 am

    I’d like to know more about how to tell if shoes are resole-able and if a fabric will release stains. What if I buy something expensive – but I stain it – it’s the worst feeling.

    • October 25, 2015 / 9:53 am

      I have resoled shoes from Payless; if they fit and are comfortable and you like them enough to have them last another season, a resoleing is usually cheaper than a new pair of shoes, and you’re insuring your “new” shoes will be exactly what you desire. As for fabrics releasing stains, I find synthetics are usually the ones that won’t let stains go more than natural fabrics (cotton, silk, wool, linen, etc.). I do a mix of peroxide and Dawn detergent (http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/2008/12/stain-removal-recipe-for-success.html ) and have used this on most every fabric in my closet (except cashmere and anything beaded; I’ve even done it on blazers and dry clean only pieces as a pre-treat before taking to the cleaners).

  10. crtfly
    October 21, 2015 / 7:22 pm

    Allie,

    Wonderful post! I agree completely and I learned some new information about retail.

    I’ll chime in with a Lands End vote also. I think they do an excellent job of balancing all the elements that you talked about Allie. I think Lands End has good choices for young, middle aged, and old ladies.

    Chris

  11. October 21, 2015 / 7:15 pm

    And this is why I sew 90% of my wardrobe. I can’t always justify spending money on high-end items. However, I am dissatisfied with the quality found in many stores. I can make items with beautiful fabrics for a fraction of the price of high-end items. I can customize the fit to get a flattering look. And I would boast that my sewing is almost as good, if not the same as those high dollar items.

  12. Karen Kaigler-Walker
    October 21, 2015 / 6:26 pm

    Excellent article. I write the Ageless Beauty Endless Spirit blog, and am often asked why I don’t recommend lower-priced, similar items. Some time back, I posted a response, using jeans as an example. Your article goes into greater detail.

  13. Pam S.
    October 21, 2015 / 5:19 pm

    Great post Allie. I really like how you pointed out the details of why the cheaper blouses were of lesser quality. The older I get the more I look at the quality of the garment I’m purchasing and consider how much wear I’ll really get from it. The ethics are starting to coming into play as well. John Oliver did a great piece on it awhile back. Keep up the great work!

  14. lcts0703
    October 21, 2015 / 4:52 pm

    I love this post, Allie. It really breaks down how to judge what is well made and worth the price. I’m really enjoying the information posts you have done recently. (Off topic, but please please do a capsule wardrobe using the upper end of the plus sizes. I want to have a classic, well put together wardrobe, but I find it difficult with the choices for the larger plus sizes.)

  15. jenny sparks
    October 21, 2015 / 4:48 pm

    What an excellent article thank you. I am at a stage where I too want to pare down my wardrobe and start buying quality pieces over the three wardrobes of cheap clothes I currently have. The few quality pieces I do own are far superior, and are a pleasure to wear. I need to change my attitude when shopping and you have helped, thank you, Jenny x

  16. Anne
    October 21, 2015 / 3:35 pm

    Great informative article Allie. Thank you. Much shopping strategy comes down to discipline and patience; things that come with time. I guess that’s why Charlotte Russe and Forever 21 cater to younger women.

  17. Val
    October 21, 2015 / 2:22 pm

    As someone who sews and pattern-drafts, I have been singing this tune for years and years. There’s a limit to how extensively you can mechanize clothing manufacture. It will always involve at least some degree of human labor, which means there is a limit to how low one can ethically drive down the price.

    • Ros
      October 22, 2015 / 9:20 am

      I think ‘ethically’ is the key word there, and what more people should be aware of/care about/be willing to spend for.

      (Also, the ethically-made clothing should come in sizes larger than a large, but that’s a separate discussion altogether)

  18. Heather
    October 21, 2015 / 12:32 pm

    Allie, this is so on the mark — I totally agree with your philosophy and reasoning, and applaud you for clearly articulating why you aren’t a fan of the “look for less” type of post. This is the first time I’ve commented, btw, although I’ve been reading your blog for years. Thanks for all the good advice and interesting outfit posts. 🙂

  19. Chicatanyage
    October 21, 2015 / 12:05 pm

    I agree with all you have said. Quality is worth the investment. I still have pieces in my wardrobe that I have had for over 10years and they still look good. I don’t feel comfortable in cheap polyester.

  20. Lisa
    October 21, 2015 / 11:51 am

    Absolutely 100% agree. I have pieces in my closet that are 10 and 15 years old. Pricey at purchase, priceless over the life of the garment. And throwaway fashion is horrible for the environment, besides.

  21. Ginger
    October 21, 2015 / 11:50 am

    One thing I have noticed is that low-end blouses seem to have lost their collars.
    I’m always on the look-out for blouses with collars because I like the look of a collar under a sweater, and they’ve become harder to turn up lately.

  22. AlisonCSB
    October 21, 2015 / 10:32 am

    Hmm. My only issue with not having a drawerful of things is that I sweat, a LOT. And this is DC — everything gets gross in the summer (and for me, the spring and fall too!). My things need to be washed twice as much as my husbands’. So, there’s a balance…I buy nice things that will be worn indoors, but for jeans that I wear every day right now? I need 3-4 , because things at LEAST need a day or three off between wearing, plus more time for washing. And laundry more than once a week just ain’t happening 🙂 I’d love how to deal with this issue!

    • October 21, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      I hear you on that (and my constant bottle of Certain-Dri on my nightstand would agree). I love NYDJ but they’re pricey so I look on Poshmark and 6pm and get them on sale. I loved the old version of Old Navy vintage v-necks so I bought 4 of them in the same color. I have the Gap Real Straight jeans in faded, distressed, and two in rinse because I found a second pair on clearance. I’ve bought in bulk at Lands’ End when they have sales; I have a matte jersey tank from them in a print and two in black so I have it when the others are in the wash. The plus to buying something that’s really good (and good is at any pricepoint, it doesn’t have to be James Perse) is it will survive all those washings so you don’t have to replace your wardrobe each season!

    • Karen
      October 21, 2015 / 8:13 pm

      I can’t help with any suggestions for jeans, but my daughter has hyperhidrosis and swears by these t-shirts: http://www.thompsontee.com/women.html

      She uses them in the winter under sweaters, even button down shirts and polo shirts. She says they’re not too bulky, they protect her clothes and she’s not left with huge sweat stains under the arms.

      • Susan Ashworth
        October 22, 2015 / 2:13 pm

        I raced right over there to look, and their sizes are laughably small. What is UP with that?

    • Jane Jestson
      October 23, 2015 / 4:22 pm

      There is a great product I once used called Drysol. It is (or was) Rx only and prescribed by my dermatologist. It can actually burn the skin if not used according to directions. I share from experience because I have a habit of ignoring directions. I literally sweated through tops to my jackets. I ruined many shirts and even jackets that way. So give it a try. It will save you money and discomfort in the long run.

  23. B.A.
    October 21, 2015 / 10:06 am

    Thank you, good food for thought.

  24. Susan Ashworth
    October 21, 2015 / 9:58 am

    I appreciate your inclusion of ethical manufacturing as a decision-making factor.

  25. October 21, 2015 / 9:56 am

    I think dropping the look for less happens once you leave your 20’s. I swear once I turned 30 (now I’m 37) I was like oh I only wear cashmere sweaters because I want to invest in something that looks and feels good. I’d rather have 3 amazing sweaters than 12 crappy ones. I do try a trend sometimes and go for the cheaper to see if I like it before I drop the big bucks. And I knit and try to save just to buy the best yarn to make it worth the project. Totally agree with you on this one.

  26. Mallory
    October 21, 2015 / 9:45 am

    I think a few years ago you wrote a similar comment regarding knock off scarves. Something along the lines of ‘don’t buy a fake McQueen, just buy a different accessory in your price range.’ Since then I’ve really noticed how much the ‘look for less’ suggestions (scarves, shirts, etc) always end up looking cheap and sloppy, so this post really brings that home.

  27. bubu
    October 21, 2015 / 9:25 am

    Insightful and educational post — thank you.

  28. October 21, 2015 / 9:05 am

    Standing ovation for this post!! You’ve explained this throroughly and brilliantly.

  29. October 21, 2015 / 8:56 am

    Great post. So much to think about there. The information about how high they stack the material when they cut it answers so many questions!

  30. Nicole Reed
    October 21, 2015 / 8:53 am

    This was a very good post. Full of interesting information and advice.

  31. Ros
    October 21, 2015 / 8:52 am

    I think that you’re right (in that the look for less = a crappy investment for less quality), but at the same time budget impacts decisions. For example, I won’t be buying a blouse with a neck-tie because I don’t think the fashion will hold up, and I seriously absolutely no-way can afford 300$US for a blouse.

    And, on a personal level, while I would love to find ethically-made clothing that fits me and that I can afford, it’d be great if companies who make such clothing started marketing above an L. I would spend SO MUCH on Everlane tshirts if they came in XL, no joke.

    • October 21, 2015 / 1:55 pm

      If you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t be buying tie-neck blouses. It’s just not a smart move financially. And YES YES YES to the larger sized ethical clothing! Stay tuned, I have a post coming in a couple weeks that delves into ethical fashion and I hope to have more in the future that share ethical brands that go above a Large!

  32. Patricia
    October 21, 2015 / 8:43 am

    Ah, the lure of the look for less. Makes a great blog post but in the long run, doesn’t really go with the “Buy less but buy better” theme I’m trying to follow. It’s hard to resist the lure of a bargain, but as you point out, is it really a bargain if you only wear it a few times before it looks shabby? This is why I’m on a shopping moratorium.

  33. Tiffany Lynn
    October 21, 2015 / 8:31 am

    I second Lands End. I always thought they were an older lady brand, but as a early 30s girl I am loving tons of items from there. And there’s no reason to pay full price! They have 30% off sales all the time and it’s ridiculous the quality difference between a Lands End tee and an Old Navy tee. If you’re on the younger side of their clientele, just read the reviews to see what the young girls say and go from there.

    • mostlatestvegetable
      October 21, 2015 / 10:47 am

      I so want to love Lands End, but all the items I’ve tried just don’t fit someone who is broad shouldered with a narrow waist. I’ve accepted that they cut for a slim-shouldered pear shape, and turned my attention to their shoes! I have a pair of Lands End canvas wedges that are at least three years old, but you can’t tell because the stitching hasn’t pulled out and the rope detail on the wedge was very well glued. I give them a seasonal scrub with borax to keep them bright and they just keep going.

      • October 21, 2015 / 1:54 pm

        Have to second Lands’ End shoes! I have hiking boots and pumps, flip flops and swim shoes and they’re all so well constructed and last forever!

        • Ruth Slavid
          October 22, 2015 / 5:19 am

          I’ve bought several pairs of shoes from Land’s End and they never quite work. i think they are always too narrow.

      • October 25, 2015 / 12:38 pm

        I like classic looks Land’s End has but their clothing rarely fits me as well. They cut their shoulders two sizes too small, they are short-waisted and the sleeves are too short even in tall sizes (I am size 6 Tall, 5’10 1/2″).

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