There are certain things in life we need to spend on – and certain things we don’t. Clothing hovers precariously somewhere between the two.
Designer wear is expensive and, often, despite what they tell us, completely unnecessary. You see, fashion should have nothing to do with branding and everything to do with solid craftsmanship, something we often forget as consumers. Logic will tell us that anything done on a small scale will ultimately remain expensive, which is where the problem lies. Mainstream fashion, despite much effort across the board, remains disposable. We all want to look good. We want style, selection and quality. We want it now.
The problem is, fashion has become cheap only because production standards have been altered. In reality, what most of us consider to be expensive is probably a garment’s true cost – something to bear in mind.
So what can we do? I am all for the big buys, but only if we truly love them, not simply for the buzz of a bargain. Learn to spot the difference.
Start with the staples. People notice shoes in a way that they don’t notice a simple white cotton T-shirt. Think of them as a key investment piece. The same goes for a good quality handbag or jacket. Let’s put it this way: a Dh500 handbag will last half as long as a Dh1,000 one, yet a Dh5,000 bag should last a lifetime.
Once you have the main pieces taken care of, you can easily cut back on everything else. Remember, the price of an item does not, as most of us think, always reflect its value. Think instead of the amount of use we will get from it. Stick to the 70/30 rule (70 per cent of your wardrobe should be made up of easily interchangeable investment buys and 30 per cent can be emotional purchases).
But how do we recognise quality when it comes to spotting a bargain on the high street? A good starting point is to turn the garment inside out and have a good look. Lining is often a giveaway, and stay clear of synthetic fabrics with cheap finishings or untidy stitching. Design is not going to be a talking point on the high street, but fit and quality should be.
Although often overwhelming, Topshop and H&M are super for a few left-of-centre additions to a wardrobe, but go armed with a game plan. Do your research and find out when a new designer collaboration, such as Isabel Marant for H&M, will be arriving. Gap is still the leader when it comes to cotton or well-priced cashmere, while Zara is a good option for work dresses and well-designed silk chiffon shirts.
Jackets are a little trickier; make sure to check for the quality of the buttons and fastenings, and that the sleeve and waist ratios are correct for your body shape. July and late January/February are the best times for bargains, so plan your shopping around those times. A clever trick is to try a size bigger than you normally are, as more often than not it will sit much better. Finally, be wary of designer knock-offs as they will be instantly spotted by the fashionable lot. It’s better to stick to items that look like they have been inspired by the catwalk rather than those that look like a copy.
Of course, it’s pointless for me to tell you to bypass the high street, because we all like to indulge in a little fast-track consumerism every now and then. As long as we are armed with the right tools, we can be a little more savvy about where we are spending and less likely to be left with a wardrobe full of uninspired pieces.