Aug 092010

I’ve been invited to a social event that will include several business clients, two of whom I’ve never met in person. A friend, who is a clever shopper, helped me put together several outfits for the long weekend and taught me some great lessons about shopping in the process.

1. We started with my closet. What did I already have? My regular wardrobe is pretty casual. Still, we found clothes I could use. Once we checked my closet, we had a pretty good idea of what I needed.

2. Plan before driving. Before we started shopping, my friend suggested a plan of action. Since I didn’t want to spend much, we would start at a big local thrift store in an upscale town. Thrift store shopping is a lot like Halloween trick or treating. You’ll get a better haul if you focus your efforts in wealthier neighborhoods.

If we hadn’t gotten all we needed in the large thrift store, we planned to try a smaller one. Then if we still hadn’t found everything, we could check the discount stores.

3. Look for neutral colors. My friend suggested looking for the main pieces in a neutral color, then I could accessorize those in brighter colors. I chose black as my basic color. We found the proverbial little black dress and a good pair of black dress slacks.

4. Mix and match. The second thrift store turned up a boxy blouse in a black-and-multicolor print. It became a perfect jacket for either the black dress or the black pants. I also found a crocheted black jacket that I could use with both the dress and pants. All the pieces I bought that day would also work with clothes I had at home to create even more outfits.

Some years ago the Australian Stitches Magazine ran a series of articles on the ultimate mix-and-match wardrobe project. The editor Lynn Cook made 11 pieces of clothing (two pants, two skirts, six tops and a jacket) She used two basic colors, plus a third that complemented the two basic colors. She also used prints that included at least two of the colors. Because she was able to mix all the pieces, she ended up with nearly fifty different outfits!

You don’t have to sew your own clothes to use this approach. Simply buy pieces that will go with

5. Choose pieces that you will wear over and over again. We found several lovely pieces including an elegant long skirt by Liz Claiborne. But I rarely wear formal outfits. So I picked clothes that I would more be likely to use for many occasions..

Final result: I bought one dress, one pair of dressy slacks, one fancy blouse, two little jackets. The total cost: less than fifteen dollars. Lesson in clothes shopping – priceless.