Fill closet, don't empty the wallet

Whether it's online or rummaging in second-hand shops, Sylvia Pennington has some suggestions on how to buy clothes cheaply.

Whether it's online or rummaging in second-hand shops, Sylvia Pennington has some suggestions on how to buy clothes cheaply.

Does anyone pay full price any more? Not for fashion, it seems. Australians dropped $12.2 billion on clothing in 2013, according to Ibisworld, but market watchers say we've become more savvy about the way we buy our threads, post-GFC. More people are bypassing the Saturday stroll around the mall and holding off restocking their closet until the red light is flashing, or there's a big discount on offer.

Here are five ways that Australians are saving a motza on their fashion spend.

1. Online bazaar

The internet has made the whole world a fashion bazaar and put the latest designs from Europe and the US just a few clicks and a PostPak away. Winning the online bargain-hunting game requires patience, organisation and a wardrobe edit before you begin, according to mother of two Tarnya Cook, 38. The Melbourne Bayside branch director of the women's networking group, Business in Heels, Cook has done most of her family's clothes shopping online for the past four years and spends around $500 a season on herself. "For that I get a lot," she says.

Starting with a list reduces her chance of blowing her dough on tempting but unnecessary bargains that are likely to end up unworn.

ASOS and Modcloth are Cook's go-to sites, due to the range of designers and large discounts they offer. Garments she's interested in are saved, monitored periodically and swooped upon when their prices plummet.

The watch-and-wait approach eliminates impulse buying and has yielded some steals - summer dresses knocked down from $200 to $29 and race-day outfits for $70 that would see no change from $300 at a local boutique. "There are big bargains to be had if you're smart about what you're doing," Cook says.

Clothes for her two children are bought off-season in batches from UK retailer NextDirect and Target.

Cook browses occasionally at local shops but says it's a needle in a haystack game, compared with the convenience of online buying, and paying recommended retail price is difficult once in the discount mindset.

2. Second-hand rose

Want to spend less on designer labels? Try as-new Trent Nathan jackets for $7 a kilo, suggests veteran second-hand shopper Faye Hollands, 39. The Illawarra career coach has been rummaging through other people's discards since her student days in the UK in the early '90s, when retro clothes and vintage leather had serious street cred.

Two decades on, she's a regular at her local Mission Australia warehouse where, in addition to her Trent Nathan find, the $7 deal has yielded bundles of unworn items for daughters Charli, 2, and baby Chloe. Nearby Salvos and Vinnies outlets also get a weekly trawl.

Striking gold is more likely if you take a spontaneous approach, Hollands says: "You need to be happy to spend time and be open to what's there." Her stand-out bargains include buying $150 shoes for just $5.

"A lot of people worry that the things will be dirty or people only give really crappy stuff away, but that's not everybody," she says.

"If you have a good look around, there are really nice things that people have hardly worn or never worn." Hollands admits to getting a "weird buzz", from presenting to her sharply attired corporate clients in outfits that may have cost as little as $20.

"I'm proud of the fact that I can find things that look like they're new and they're nice and they cost me hardly anything," she says.

3. Subscription fashion

With discounted garments posted out monthly, the "subscription fashion" model is finding favour with a small but growing segment of the market looking for the latest trends at below ticket prices.

Vendors include the Daily Jocks Monthly Underwear Club, launched a year ago. The club has 5000 subscribers who pay $21.95 a month for premium jocks or trunks from designers including Oskar Franks and Teamm8. Founder Nicholas Egonidis says bulk buying allows him to offer the smalls for up to 30 per cent less than regular online prices.

Fellow entrepreneur Madeline Veenstra targets the female under-35s market with Popbasic; her monthly micro-collection that typically comprises a garment, handbag and jewellery combo for $75-$85. Equivalent quality items purchased separately retail for more than double her prices, Veenstra says. Popbasic has 14,000 sign-ups and will expand its repertoire to include men's fashion in the future.

4. Overseas in one fell swoop

Living Down Under puts Australians a season behind European and US fashionistas. Canny travellers turn this to their advantage, by adding a tour of the end-of-season clearances onto their northern hemisphere holidays and business trips.

Sydney sales manager Trudy Frolich, 49, has her routine down pat. Regular holidays to the US include a full-day power shopping expedition to the nearest Premium Outlets mall, where she spends between $1000 and $3000 stocking up on workwear, sports clothes and shoes. Upmarket brands including Armani, Ralph Lauren, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger, are available at up to 65 per cent off.

Noteworthy bargains have included four pairs of Levis jeans for $120, K-Swiss sandshoes that retail for around $150 in Australia marked down to $45, and golf shirts for $15, which would cost closer to $100 in the local pro shop. Before departure, Frolich checks out the range online and downloads coupons for additional discounts. Her two adult children put in orders and she emails photos of potential purchases to them as she makes her rounds. Her itinerary usually includes a last-day return to hoover up any bargains left behind in the first swoop.

"Once you've shopped in these outlets, you can't bring yourself to shop here at all," Frolich says, and she doesn't.

"I never have to buy anything," she says. "I never have to buy for an occasion - I never get in that situation. I've got it covered, formal, work, sports ..."

5. Clearance centre queen

Local outlet stores can offer sizeable discounts, without the need to dust off the passport.

Hampton Park hospital ward clerk Shara Thornton, 26, is an aficionado of the Melbourne clearance scene. Her beat includes bi-annual excursions to DFO Moorabbin and weekly trips to the recently opened Trade Secret at Fountain Gate. The chain promises a "treasure hunt" of designer labels at 60 per cent off, according to general manager Matthew MacKenzie.

Thornton drops around $5000 a year on clothing. The bulk of her spend goes on apparel and shoes for her daughters Kayla and Summer, from designers including Jack and Milly and Sprout. Best buys include a batch of Oshkosh shoes for $14 a pair, Oobi T-shirts for $5 apiece and party frocks for $20. "I love all the nice brands, but they're expensive," Thornton says.

She shops in bulk a season ahead, aims to save at least 50 per cent on RRP and says sticking to quality labels means things can be handed down before they wear out.

For those who like to make a day out of the outlets, Sydney's Factory Outlet Tours can take care of the driving and refreshments, from $36 a head. The Melbourne Outlet Shopping Tour takes in pop-up sales and warehouses for $84, including lunch.



Champagne style on a beer budget?

Frocks, fascinators and fancy waistcoats ... It's time to turn out the wardrobe for the spring racing season. But how much does it cost to cut a dash at the track? Money asked personal stylists Wendy Mak and Cindy Newstead how to dress to impress for $200 or less. Here are their tips.

For Her: Planning is vital if the budget is tight, Mak says - the perfect outfit is rarely waiting on the markdown rack on race day morning.

Basque and Forever New have dresses in the $100-$150 range, while online browsers should check out wallet friendly options at ASOS or NextDirect. Hiring can be an economical alternative to buying. Online store Glam Corner offers dresses from designers including Ellery, Nicola Finetti and George from $69, including delivery and return.

Alternatively, consider jazzing up an existing black dress with a colourful sash and a clutch of new accessories, Mak says. Fascinators, fresh flowers and fancy braids are frugal alternatives to the high-priced hat, while on-trend shoes in fashion colours from Novo or Aldo won't bust the budget.

For Him: Look spiffy trackside for a couple of hundred with change for a coldie? It's do-able, says Newstead, whose four sons have proffered similar challenges. "Second-hand stores can be a great way to pick up a bargain suit, vintage waistcoat and a quality shoe," she says. For those who prefer new, Connor offers discounted suits for $99 to $149.

"This is the way to go if you're looking for a classic race-day look," Newstead says.

Add black shoes, $25 from Payless or $30 to $40 from Target, and a plain shirt for $25, and your ensemble is almost complete. "Remember, reflect your personality - this can come in as simple as your tie, which you can also get for $9.95 at Tarocash," Newstead says.



Throughout October, we here at Money will be encouraging readers to join the Thriftober campaign. There will be stories in Money every Sunday and Wednesday and, online at theage.com.au/money where you can also share your experiences of living on a budget - and maybe offer tips to other readers.

Thriftober has a serious purpose - saving money and not spending for the sake of it - but it should also be fun, so don't be afraid to join in, think about your spending habits and enjoy yourself.

Yours thriftily

Richard Hughes,

Money Editor



Checking the docket

Australia's clothing bill shrank 1.7 per cent to $12.2 billion in 2012-13, according to Ibisworld.

Those aged 35 to 54 account for 40 per cent of the total, while over-55s spend just 24 per cent.

Since 2008, bargain hunting has become the norm, as customers focus on reducing debt and increasing savings.

Men are quicker to pull in the belt - or return it to the shelf - in tight times, while womenswear is more resilient to economic downturn.