The Essential Wardrobe, having one's clothing streamlined to a small number of key pieces, of good quality, which you can mix and match and comprised only of those items you love to wear, can be had even on a budget. But what if you can only afford clothing at stores like Wal-Mart and K-Mart? Wouldn't you have to sacrifice quality?
Let's begin with the old adage, you get what you pay for. In a sense, this is true. Often cheap products are cheaply made. Buttons fall off, the toy breaks the first time your child plays with it, the sweater quickly pills. Once when I was working as an esthetician at a day spa, I went to put gas in my car on my lunch break. Somehow I spilled gas on my pants and shoes! I could not work in that luxurious environment smelling that way. We had to wear black pants, and I had a limited amount of time, so I ran to K-Mart and bought a pair of pants for $3 on clearance. Everything about these slacks was awful--the look, the fit, the fabric; they were hideous! I never wore them again after that day. Yes, sometimes you get what you pay for.
Then again... Yesterday I paid $3 at Goodwill for a pair of Italian patent leather dress pumps. Real leather, not faux. I also paid $4 for a super cute pair of Jones corduroys in a gorgeous garnet red. They are ankle length and wide at the bottom and will look wonderful with either flats or boots. A Ralph Lauren, short-sleeved polo sweater was a similar price in a pretty coral. Quality designer clothing at K-Mart clearance prices.
In Columbus I would find amazing vintage, ethnic, and high quality clothing at garage sales in wealthier, hip areas of the city such as Victorian Village and German Village. My friend Dawn had a yard sale to get rid of clothes from her former life in New York City, which no longer fit her. I got a whole chic wardrobe for $5. I have an A-line coat that is very Audrey Hepburn, in the perfect mushroom color, that I got at Old Navy and have worn for years. It is made of cotton, is lined, and works well for spring or fall. The buttons have never fallen off, and it has held up very well. The style is classic and versatile.
Conversely, you may pay top dollar for low quality, name brand clothing. You never know. You must look closely. How does it fit? Is the cut flattering? Is the material flimsy? Are the buttons already coming loose when the item in brand new? And my #1 pet peeve--is it cut crookedly? This is such a common problem, poorly cut clothing with seams that are not straight, even with designer labels. Lay the piece flat and make sure the pant legs don't twist and the shirt hangs straight.
I went to the boutique I mentioned that carries Free People clothing yesterday. Even the sale prices were way too high. The styles were nothing special, and yet a white t-shirt was something like $80. As I looked at price tags, I wondered if the shop's owner, or the creator of this clothing, thought that the public is either extremely gullible or bordering on insanity. Black leggings with fake leather (polyurethane) trim for $100? I am better than that, and so are you.
Maybe you have never thought about it this way, but all clothing is designer clothing. It's true. Someone designs everything, even for Wal-Mart. Also, all clothing is brand name. Sonoma is a Kohl's brand. Jaclyn Smith is a K-Mart brand. Moth is an Anthropologie brand. Mossimo is at Target. You get the idea. Famous designer brands may or may not be higher quality than the lower end stores offer. Yes, you get what you pay for if you are not careful. But no, you don't have to pay outrageous prices to obtain a quality essential wardrobe. The key is to find your signature style, and to stick with it, being scrupulously discriminating. What is your personal style, and what are the brands that carry it? That is a topic for another joie de vivre day...