Build A Wardrobe On A Budget: Fashion Essentials Every Frugal Girl Must Have

December 3, 2012

Fashion can be overwhelming, especially for those of us on a tight budget!  If you’re paying down your debts, saving for a big purchase or curbing your spending, this post will guide the way.  While trends are fun, every girl should invest in having some basic, universal staples that will survive short lived trends and be easily adaptable to any event or occasion with only minor fashion accessory supplements or adjustments.

I lived on an $800 monthly budget and still made my passion for fashion fit my limited spending.  Do your best to find the essentials as cheaply as possible and get creative with sales, shopping around and swapping with friends.  You don’t have to spend a lot to look fabulous!

Wardrobe Essentials Every Frugal Girl Needs:


1 Pair of Black or Nude Heels  (Suggestions)

1 Pair of Statement Heels (My go-to are Leopard Print)

1 Pair of Black Flats

1 Pair of Classic Boots (i.e. riding boots) (my faves, had them for 4 years!)

1 Pair of Sandals To Go With Everything


A Simple Pencil Skirt

A Work/Church Appropriate Blouse

A Black Cocktail Dress

3 Cardigans (Black, Tan, Bright Crazy Color)

3 Pairs Of Jeans (One being a classy dark wash)

4 Camis/Undershirts (to be paired with cardigans, layered or worn alone)

1 Black Trench or Peacoat


Pearl Necklace & Studs (try these)

Basic Silver or Gold Necklace & Studs

Leather Belt (to cinch dresses, layer sweaters)

Statement Accessory Pieces (Vintage Brooches, bright scarves – I love statement necklaces!)

Leggings or Tights  (to layer with your summer pieces for fall)

Basic Handbag (a bag you love so much you’d wear it with anything!)

A wristlet when you don’t want to lug a bag.  (these are my faves, I have 3).


Shopping With A Budget


Get Creative On Where To Snag Essentials:

If you’re shopping for fashion on a budget, you will have to think outside the box to get the best deals on pieces that are highly valuable to your overall satisfaction and appearance.  Most of us only think about fashion when we get a craving or see something that calls our name- but before you succumb to marketing or emotion, look elsewhere to get great deals on fashion.

Whenever you can, scour daily deal sites, clearance racks or thrift shops, but be cautious since many of the wardrobe staples can’t be found there (and instead, you’ll find last season’s trends that aren’t always conducive to a gal’s targeted fashion budget).

If you’re looking for a keystone piece of jewelry or a high-end trench coat that you couldn’t afford, ask for it as a gift or request gift cards to help you save up.  You can’t always get essentials in your traditional “money saving” shops- a good pearl necklace or a handbag you know will go with everything cannot always be found on clearance racks or thrift stores.  It’s better to save up to get a high quality essential piece or get it as a gift than to either buy a cheaper version  you love less, or try and save money by buying a trendy piece you don’t totally love.

Take Notes Before You Shop & Scour For Essentials:

It is so easy to get caught up in the latest trends- but keep it simple if you’re on a budget.  Whenever you buy an item, ask yourself “How many outfits will this make?” or “What Will This Item Complete?”  

One of my favorite tricks is to take a mental note or leave a note in my phone when I’m struggling to put an outfit together at home and wish I had “a black pair of tights” or a “blue cardigan” to go with it, I make a note.

Most of the time, we waste money at the store simply because we’re looking for that perfect “thing” without being able to pinpoint our dissatisfaction or remember what little item would have helped us use items we already have (like a cami to cover up a busty dress or a thick belt to cinch a waist on a boxy blouse).  Whenever an idea pops into your head, make a list and stick to it!


Invest In Wardrobe Basics, Lightly Supplement With Trends:

Trends are costly.  Every time animal print or neon or faux leather falls into favor, people rush to Forever 21 and discount shops to stock up on the latest trends. While you are getting a discount, the high turnover rate of “cheap” fashion -either in durability or changing trends, seems to add up quickly.

The great thing about the above staples is that once you have them, it’s easy to adapt them to trends you love with just a few simple additions that can be implemented each season for $20 or less.  Having a classy black cocktail dress can be dolled up with a feather pendant, a broach or hot pink pumps in a dozen different ways with affordable additions.

Focus your budget on the basics.  Trends are tempting, but usually end up being regretted later, but stick to only what you need and supplement only with any extra spending money you have left over.


Patience Is A Virtue. Being Frugal & Fashionable Doesn’t Happen In One Trip:

Seriously girl, slow down!  If you’re busy and fashion hungry, waiting around for the right piece especially at the right price is truly a test of grit.  Timeless pieces that last beyond a season or two aren’t easy to find.

Just like a good meal that takes time to put together, you may not walk away with the perfect pair of jeans that hug you like a glove on  your first visit.  If you’re looking for the timeless essentials when you’re on a budget, know it will take some research and it will take some time to find on deep discount, thrifted or when swapped with friends.

When you’re out shopping, know stores are not geared to help us find timeless pieces, everything is tuned to make us “buy now,” and “get it now” instead of waiting for the right piece. It may be frustrating to exercise patience, but when you have finally a killer wardrobe that means you’re never without the right thing to wear, your pocketbook will thank you!


Where I Shop:

Zulily   (I get TOMS ballet flats, Spanx hosiery, and undershirts here…love this site!)

Hautelook (I got some gorgeous Calvin Klein shift dresses for work & some gorgeous statement jewelry here)

Kate Spade (sign up for emails to get their Surprise Sale at 70% off)

Shabby Apple (gorgeous timeless styles, great sales… great pencil skirts!)

 Levis (I will never buy cheap jeans again.  I’ve had 3 pairs for over 4 years and they don’t get flabby grandma bottoms, great investments)

Amazon (Prime baby! You save tons!)


34 comments so far.

34 responses to “Build A Wardrobe On A Budget: Fashion Essentials Every Frugal Girl Must Have”

  1. Lacey says:

    I’ve been trying to buy pieces that last season onto season. For example, I posted on Facebook that it’s better to spend $170 on a pair of good leather black heels vs. trendy Uggs. Meaning, the trend is here today, gone tomorrow. But those well made leather heels can last 20 years. I guess as I get older I’m getting away from trends and into staple pieces. One thing to mention, quality fabrics are also important, cotton, silk, denim, wool, etc. can be picked up at thrift stores for cheap and will last longer than rayon, spandex and the like.

    • Shannyn says:

      I still find I’m lured in by cute trends from time to time- but I know I invested about $100 on pair of brown leather riding boots that go with everything (and aren’t as casual as Uggs) so I get so much use out of them. I also bought a pair of designer LouBoutins and know I will treasure them for years, and years…. I’ve had many cheaper heels that don’t even last a season due to quality and a year due to style!

  2. Janine says:

    Lovely post! I’m working on my own wardrobe essential post, but it probably won’t go up until the new year!

    • Shannyn says:

      Thanks so much! I am trying to save money and not go crazy with “extras” that always end up hanging out in my closet without getting used. It’s so much easier to shop when you’ve been able to get a plan together for what you really need!

  3. Susan says:

    Every girl needs a set of pearls for a fancy dinner or wedding… when you wear them to the office they make a great impression!

  4. Chick Tyler says:

    This is a wonderful post with great advice. At Almost There we are all about being happy on a budget so this post totally hit home.

  5. Outstanding share, I’m often looking for everything you write to get more info, best regards.

  6. Great post! I really need to work on building my wardrobe as I’ve lost around 25 lbs but budget is definitely an issue so this post is really helpful! (fb)

  7. Ashley says:

    I am definitely going to bookmark this post – keeping up a great wardrobe while losing weight is hard!

  8. Ashley says:

    I am definitely going to bookmark this post – keeping up a great wardrobe while losing weight is hard! (fb)

  9. Kristin says:

    Would you consider a pair of brown flats a staple as well?

  10. […] years later, I have most of the staples I need for work. Yes, I am constantly replacing items like my workout shoes, but other clothing purchases have […]

  11. ugg boots says:

    finding for ugg boots may kind of serious selfishness so what you can do is attempt purchase your favorite pair that are now on sale!

  12. Adrienne Latimer says:

    I love the basics list! I have a bad habit of buying things on clearance because they are cheap and I want “different” clothes. Having solid, staple items will make it much easier to add in a random piece here and there. Thanks for a great post!

  13. Julia says:

    I can’t say it enough: almost always, the best way to extend your fashion dollar is to invest in bags and shoes. Don’t go for the $40 pair of faux leather boots– save your money until you can drop big bucks on a sturdy pair of plain leather boots or loafers with a thick sole that won’t wear out (and buy shoes in a dark color as they will be dressier and less likely to show stains.) Likewise, a simple leather purse with solid metal hardware is a must. Cardigans and breezy tees can be replaced easily and at a much lower cost than well-built leather goods can.

  14. Jessica L. says:

    Sticking to solid colors (with maybe one basic print like plaid or pinstripe thrown in for variety) helps me save money on clothes. I can combine my collection of neutral and bright tee shirts and button down sweaters into a ton of different “tops” for fall and winter and cooler spring days.

  15. Sarah Lynn says:

    An actual list that doesn’t tell me I have to have one of everything ever made but actually creates outfits using only a few basics!? I have been scouring the web searching for this! Thank you and congrats on creating the only list I’ve found so far that is practical and simple. I LOVE this!

  16. I love this post!Thank you for posting informative and useful post about fashion.I enjoyed reading.I am following your blog.God bless!

  17. Rachael Clark says:

    1 church/ work appropriate blouse? Just how many days a week are we supposed to be working and what job is this supposed to be where you only need one shirt?

    • Shannyn says:

      Hi Rachael,

      I specify having 4 camis/undershirts to be worn alone or layered with cardigans as well. While I understand not all office dress codes are the same, I tried to make the list appropriate for the majority of women out there. This is just a list of basic essentials, too- it can always be built upon when you have the money in your budget!

  18. Alexandrea Cheff says:

    hi i just wanted to say since i got a new proportion at work and i need to dress more professional but also wanted to keep some casual clothes and i was having hard time deciding wear to begin and what to keep although some of what i kept is not your list but your list was majority helpful to me in making decisions on what to keep and what was essitnel to keep that i can wear when i graduate with my human services degree.

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  24. Victoria says:

    Thanks so much for this! Going to definitely take your advice! And you are so right, patience is so important. 20 minutes ago I was thinking, “Okay I have to buy a whole new work wardrobe this weekend” but I came to terms I will probably only find a few items this weekend that will fit just perfect (and in my budget)! I will slowly build my summer work wardrobe. Thanks again.

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