Who cares if you wore that same outfit to last year's holiday party: "No one goes crazy and says: You had that on last year," my dad tells me. In fact, for a recent holiday party, my mom wore a 10-year-old red suit that was purchased for a retirement party. No one else knew or cared. The outfit was expensive at the time, but a decade later the suit still sings: "I got so many compliments," said my mother after returning from the party.
Cinderella had a fairy godmother and I have my parents, who provide lots of advice about recycling party outfits. I've needed their magic wand. In the last few weeks, I've been on the party circuit: 3 weddings, 2 bar mitzvahs and a few other dressy events.
And for the last seven events, I've trotted out the same three outfits: two embroidered silk suits and one long black skirt, with a bolero jacket. By the way, all three outfits (designer labels) are hand-me downs, from either relatives or wealthy friends. I've learned about the art of recycling formal wear from my mom and dad. "We make use of things we already own. We don't go out and buy something new every week," my father says.
Here are M&D's rules for dressing for formal events without spending a lot.
1. Check out your closet. "The first thing you need is a clean closet so that you know what you have." That's my mom quoting Suze Orman. This advice makes sense, my mom says, adding that through better organization, she has learned to stop buying the "same thing over and over." That saves money.
2. Organize clothes & shoes by color: A whole new wardrobe emerged when my mom started to arrange her outfits by color. She had a clearer picture of what she owned and which pieces worked well with others. She's even done that with her shoes and that bit of color coordination has saved money because she realized that she had way too many black shoes and didn't need to shop for more.
3. Play dress up: Try it on. Mix it up. Create your own dress rehearsals.
4. Play with accessories: Dollar Stores, thrift stores, discount chains are all great sources for playful jewelry, dress-up pieces and trendy items. "I just change up accessories," says my dad. "I just switch around." With the same basic suit, he'll wear different ties, shirts, etc. By mixing it up, he creates a new look.
5. Purchase quality basics: Although my mom will pickup accessories on the cheap, she enjoys shopping for quality for the basics: the dress, the suit, the slacks. "Buy things that you really like and feel comfortable in," she says. Above all, make sure the garment fits.
6. Don't dress for praises: "People don't look at the details of what you're wearing," she says. "They look at your overall appearance and the fit of your clothes." And if by some weird chance someone notices that your outfit has been recycled: "I would say so what!?!," my dad says.
7. Avoid trendy items. Wear elegant, but non-basic clothing.
8. Buy vintage fashion at a (real) thrift store. My parents love the Goodwill outlet near their home. Some of the items --especially the formal clothes -- are new or barely worn. (My father, however, scorns used shirts or pants, which may be too worn for another wearing.
9. Buy a fun outfit on eBay. I've seen amazing formal wear at eBay for less than $10, including shipping.
10. Party with strangers: My parents have gotten extra mileage by wearing the same outfit to different events with different crowds of friends and strangers.
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