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Savvy fashion on a budget

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Can you look as good as you used to when you have less money to spend? Yes! Says guest contributor Mimi Spencer.

If you have (a) won the lottery or (b) are married to someone who has won the lottery, you can zip straight to the end of this piece. Better still, buzz off to net-a-porter and buy another Marc Jacobs handbag. Bye then.

Now, for the rest of us – it’s tough out there, isn’t it? Money’s tighter, yet fashion keeps rocking on, tempting us with morsels of delight (like Bottega Venneta’s entire spring/summer collection). What to do? Here’s what…


1. Buy less. Spend more. Look, we’ve all realised that bargain-bucket T-shirts are hopeless. Not only do we know, thanks to the campaigning work of groups like Labour Behind the Label and War on Want, that their past can be very murky; but we also know that cheap kit looks decent for about five minutes before collapsing in the first wash. If you want to save money, your first duty is to buy fewer clothes – and ensure that those you do buy are priced right. This may mean (here’s the good bit) spending more not less on individual purchases. A fabulous coat that you wear for years… A brilliant handbag that becomes your faithful friend… A cashmere sweater that you treat with care and consideration because you love it so… these are the pieces which will last the course and pay rich dividends because of their longevity. Take the price divided by the number of times you wear a garment. That’s its true value.


2. Reuse, recycle – or DIY… there has been a huge renaissance in the arts of sewing, knitting, pattern cutting and customising as consumers realise the value in the clothing they can make or already own. Tesco has seen a 198 per cent leap in the sales of its sewing machines (the company now sells 2 machines every minute), while knitting groups are a social hit across the country. There’s nothing to stop you having a go (glean inspiration from threadbanger.com or sewmamasew.com). And if starting from scratch is way too much, try your hand at customising your clothes – turning old jeans, tees, tops and leggings into something fresh for the new season. While you’re at it, root around in the attic and salvage anything you last wore in 1993. Cycling shorts, bum-bags, hoodies, bra tops… they’re all on their way back and you may as well wear the originals. People will be wildly impressed and you’ll have spent precisely nil. Score.


3. If you have a real and unquenchable trend-thirst, make like everyone else and get into ASOS.com, with its replica celebrity hits. If you want the real thing, become a member of vente-privee.com (‘designer brands for smart shoppers’). The site, originally French, operates as an exclusive private club which is free to join as long as you are referred by existing member. Once in, you get access to designer brands at up to 7 per cent off recommended retail prices. Each sale lasts between two and four days and is not advertised outside the club. In 2008, the company hosted 1,250 sales and sold 28 million products. Total membership now stands at 8 million and the UK site has already attracted 200,000 members. That’s a whole lot of fashion.


4. Swish and swap. Swishing is a brilliant recession-proof phenomenon which is sweeping the land. Just think: arrive at a party, offload that Emporio Armani jacket you’ve never liked and leave with the best-looking shoes in the room. Win, win, win. Alternatively, get into glorious vintage for one-off originals. Trawl markets, car-boots and charity shops (if you want the good stuff, get yourself to the right postcodes; you get more Chanel in Chelsea). You can do it online too. Visit whatsmineisyours.com, rehashclothes.com, or swapstyle.com for more tips. While you’re at it, butter up your local dressmaker so you can have swished or rediscovered clothes tailored to fit your changing frame. You’ll be surprised what a difference a bit of nip and tuck makes to a forgotten frock.

Check out the SuperSavvyMe article all about holding your own swap party.


5. Rent your clothes. Not in the way a heroine in a Greek tragedy would rent her clothes. I mean hire them. According to the Government’s waste watchdog, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), “clothing is only being used, on average, for 66 per cent of its potential lifespan. Using items for their full lifespan would save consumers £47 billion a year.”  Start simple, by renting designer handbags at bagborroworsteal.com or fashionhire.co.uk.


6. Get sales savvy.
The credit-crunch means that more retailers host more sales more of the time in a bid to shift stock. But don’t go at it with a scatter-gun approach or you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. Do your research, know what you want, and stick to the programme. Don’t go off piste and come home with a new canteen of cutlery, a Breville sandwich toaster and seven shades of duvet cover. If it’s a Miu Miu skirt you want, you’ll get points (from me) for coming home with that and nothing else.

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