Learning To Shop (And Budget) For Your Style

Just like most of you, my personal style is forever evolving.  In high school and my early college years, I spent a lot of time wearing flannel plaids, striped tees, babydoll dresses, and my knock-off Doc Martens.  It was the 90s, and I was into the grunge look.
At some point in college, my style started to evolve towards a more form fitting silhouette filled with “fast fashion” pieces that was very indicative of the late 90s, early naughts. Think flared “leggings”, thigh-high mini skirts, and fitted tops. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy was my style icon.


My style has continued to change since my early 20s, and now, as I reach 37 at the end of this month, I am getting more introspective about what fashion means to me and what my personal style is. 

I am starting to notice as I grow older that my style is less about following trends and more about investing in modern classics that feel both current and timeless and mixing those with more inexpensive unique or fashion-forward pieces that can be replaced (if desired) after a season or two.  It’s a more grown-up approach to fashion that allows me to have more of the high-quality (and usually more expensive) clothing that appeals to me, while still allowing my style to evolve and my sartorial creativity to flourish.

I spent this past Sunday evening clearing out my closet of both past and recent purchases that just don’t feel like my style.  Some questionable pieces remain, but I am starting to see more the difference between clothes I like and clothes that are me.  There are a lot of great styles out there, but what is the image I want to reflect?  What is the look I want?  How do I balance my conservative work dress code with the casual lifestyle associated with being a mom of five with my desire to interchangeably look sophisticated, sleek, bohemian, edgy, romantic, and sexy?

To this end, I spent some time going through past looks I’ve featured on the blog.  Doing this helped me remember outfits I loved but wore only once or twice.  It helped me better assess what styles feel like me.  It also helped me see that I have gotten much better over the last couple of years (with active effort) at picking clothes that are me, but that I still need some work on this.

Looking through my blog posts, I’ve realized that I feel my best when I’m wearing what makes me feel sophisticated, sexy, or polished (and my very best, when I feel all three).

I’ve been able to narrow down my style to several key elements that should help me better plan my future shopping endeavors:

Blazers, especially in black, are never whack (sorry…that was horrible).  They go with just about everything and are great as completer pieces to give an outfit more polish, more pizazz, or simply more warmth.

Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Jumpin’ Jumpsuit

12 Days of Holiday:  Gilded Brocade

Structured cuts and architectural shapes are figure flattering and create a sleek, sophisticated look that I love for work or play.

Wonder Woman

Comfy Workwear
Fall 2013 Fashion Trends:  Lingerie-Inspired Clothing

Black and white is and always will be the best color combination.  Adding in beiges and tans creates a similar, but slightly more nuanced look, that is almost equally as good.

Fall Double Feature: Loving Leather

Perfectly Polished
Modern Monochrome

Faux leather plays a central role in my wardrobe.  For me, it’s a year-round staple.  I do, however, need to stop buying moto jackets.  I have enough.

Maxi and Moto – 3 Ways

Fall Color Week 2:  Blues
Black and Navy

My grunge days were definitely borne out of my more anti-establishment spirit, and there’s an element to which that vibe still speaks to me.  When I go warm weather casual, I like a bohemian feel, mixed with a slight flair for the dramatic.

A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock-N-Roll
Laid-Back Sexy (Free the TaTas)

Fall 2013 Fashion Trends:  Military
Black for Spring:  Ready for the Beach

Oversized sweaters are my cool weather go-to.  Yes, there are a ton of more figure flattering options out there, but there’s nothing like getting cozy with a big warm sweater on a chilly day…well, except maybe for getting cozy with a special someone. 😉

Tweed, Leather, and Volume
Denim Week 2:  Don’t Be a Crybaby
It’s A Jungle Out There
Fall Double Feature:  Sweater Glamour

Just as I loved mini skirts in my early twenties, I still think you can’t go wrong with a mini hem length for evening wear.  Now, I keep the hems a little lower and balance the shorter hemlines with covered arms and looser fits.

12 Days of Holiday:  Solid Gold
Date Night in Black and White

I love bold and artsy accessories to give simple looks added flair.  Accessories are the quickest and often least expensive way to change up an outfit, so they are a great way to keep classic wardrobe staples feeling fresh each season.

Make It You
The Essential LBD

When I choose color, I like to go with one bold statement piece – preferably a dress.

Tickled Pink: Fringe Shift

Dress Week:  Tribal-Inspired
Color and Confidence: GREEN

And when I wear color, I apparently like it best when it’s yellow.

Bzzzz…Black and Yellow Aren’t Just for Bumblebees

Whimsy for Work
The Slip Dress

Lastly, tuxedo-inspired details and suits in fancy fabrics like velvet are favorites for cooler weather evening looks.  No need to sacrifice warmth for style in the winter.  These pieces can also easily be styled for work for more versatility and use.

12 Days of Holiday:  Relaxed Tuxedo
Snow and Sable

After clearing my closet of the undesirables, the challenge now is to find the finisher pieces I need and want to complete my capsule “ME” wardrobe.

The bigger challenge is to resist the temptation to buy clothing that isn’t “me” or that doesn’t complete the collection – to resist the urge to buy clothes that get added to the refuse pile almost as quickly as I buy them. 

I’ve had certain items on my shopping list for years, like over-the-knee boots.  I love the look of this style and can imagine so many outfit possibilities with them, but I haven’t been able to find a pair that works for me.  When I can’t find boots in my size (or whatever it is I’m looking for), I buy a shirt or blazer or jewelry instead, spending money without getting what I really wanted in the first place.

Yes, my name is Cassie, and I’m a shopaholic.  And, I’m working on fixing this.  To try to hold myself more accountable for my purchases and to eliminate the closet waste that often results from buying “almost” and “not quite” pieces, I’m re-implementing a clothing budget that I have long since ignored.  The budget will require me to be more thoughtful about my purchases, thinking them over more thoroughly before I jump to buy.  It will help me better assess whether I really “need” yet another black blazer or a necklace I might wear twice and then forget about.  The family budget has taken several dips and nosedives over the last year and a half, so this decision to stay on budget is also about being more accountable to my family.

When I first started my blog, I included monthly wish lists and recaps of how I spent my monthly clothing budget, but I stopped doing it, in part, because I wasn’t sure if that was something that you all wanted to see.  I think sharing my budget and how I spent it allows for greater transparency and helps show how to best choose your clothing purchases when you are on a budget.  At the same time, I am not sure if it comes off as narcissistic or shallow to talk about what I bought.  Please let me know what you think.

Would these monthly posts be helpful?  Would they be of interest to you? 

How has your personal style evolved?  How do you decide your clothing purchases?

Author: Cassie

I'm the owner/publisher of Style Cassentials, a curvy and petite gal OBSESSED with fashion and strong believer in making clothes work for YOU! I love sharing advice on all things fashion, especially shopping and fit tips!

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10 Comments

  1. I also recently went on a tight clothing budget, which is both super challenging and, in some ways, helps me only buy what I reallllllly love. I would love to read monthly updates about how you prioritize and spend wisely.

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    • Glad to hear I'm not alone in the struggle! LOL I plan on starting the monthly budget posts in November!

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  2. You look gorgeous in everything, Cassie; however, my very favorite outfit is the Wonder Woman under the tailored section. The style, the bright orange jacket, the shoes. . . it all works together and you look fabulous! So many great outfits here!

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    • Thanks so much, Carla! I've always loved how I looked and felt in that outfit. I love the look of structured clothing on me, but sometimes those clothes seem like a lot of work (or are binding). I admittedly get a little lazy with my clothes sometimes and just seek pure comfort over figure flattery.

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  3. With some exceptions, I find myself rewearing items I purchased second-hand more than items I purchased directly from a store. For Fats Sake on Facebook is a dangerous group (for my wallet, that is).

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    • I'll have to check out the site. I'm trying to get more into second-hand shops as I think that may be a good way to help me stay on budget a bit more, as well as to find more unique pieces that aren't sitting around in every store.

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  4. I love your outfits and yes your monthly post are helpful and of interest. I learned early on not the follow trends because what's in today will not be tomorrow. I'm into classic pieces with a touch of edge depending on where I'm going; however I'm getting into graphic tees now. By reading your blog and many others I am now motivated to go in stores I wouldn't normally go in such as the Limited, Ann Taylor and many more. Cassie you're so right on paying more for classic pieces and I to have to put myself on a shopping budget. Buying items that are needed and not just because it was on sale. My name is Danielle and I'm a shopaholic, I am getting a hold of my wallet.

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    • Thank you, Danielle! I will definitely be starting the budget posts in November. I love trends, but I try to spend much less on those pieces, unless it's something that is ultimately more classic (like black and white as a trend).

      I tend to stress shop. When I feel anxious, bored, and yes, even worried about finances, I shop! It's a bad habit, but I'm trying to get it under control. When I was doing the budget posts before, it made me feel very accountable to stay on budget – which was both good for me while making my life harder!!

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  5. Cassie, I am a 20 year old college student and I am having a hard time finding my style. I want to dress more polished but don't have the need to and stand out amongst my peers if I do. At the same time, I feel like my friends dress more hip and edgy and I feel boring next to them. Any advice? Or from others?

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    • The first bit of advice I have is to really assess what the look you want is and why you want to have it. If it's simply to look better next to your friends, I would advise you to simply be yourself. If you want a more polished look because you just really like the look or want to evolve your personal style as you move into your twenties, then I would say, go for it! If you stand out amongst your peers for looking put-together, then it's probably a good thing! You will have a leg-up as you start seeking out employment opportunities, attending job fairs, etc. The college years are definitely a transition period, in which it's a great time to have fun with your wardrobe, but also to starting making it a bit more mature (but still age appropriate) and polished for your future ahead.

      If you're on a tight budget, as most college students are, then it's best to start with a few staples that will serve you well now and in the near future – a pair of great fitting jeans in a darker wash, a structured blazer, a few pretty blouses, a sheath or shift style dress that hovers somewhere around knee length. Mix those in with accessories and a few other clothing pieces that are interesting or feel personal to you to create a more unique style.

      I don't think it's ever a bad thing to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons!!! I remember sometimes going to classes in skirts, heels, etc., while some other students were wearing pajamas.

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