Ten Ways to Save Money on Clothes

Take an expert’s advice along when you buy that fall outfit. You can make your dollars go farther and still be well dressed.

SIDNEY MARGOLIUS September 1 1949

Ten Ways to Save Money on Clothes

Take an expert’s advice along when you buy that fall outfit. You can make your dollars go farther and still be well dressed.

SIDNEY MARGOLIUS September 1 1949

Ten Ways to Save Money on Clothes

Take an expert’s advice along when you buy that fall outfit. You can make your dollars go farther and still be well dressed.


SO YOU’RE going to buy a new fall outfit. Got some money laid aside? Fine. Now, for every $10 you’ve saved for buying clothing take away $2 and put it back in the bank. If you use the 10 shopping techniques outlined in this article, that’s how much you’ll be able to save on new clothes.

I’m a professional shopping adviser. I make surveys for magazines and newspapers and I teach university classes in what professors call consumer economics. I call it simply buying more for your money.

I’ve had 14 years of experience, including consultations with thousands of families. This has enabled me to select what I consider the 10 most valuable techniques for buying clothing economically and efficiently.

I’ve tested these rules—at the peak of inflation. I used a typical family—a government employee, his wife, five-year-old boy and baby girl. Pop was skipping new clothes that spring, but he’d budgeted exactly $107.50 to buy Mom and the youngsters much-needed Easter outfits. But using the 10 rules,

under the guidance of an experienced shopper, the family got all they wanted for $87.50—a saving of exactly 20%. That meant there was something over for father.

I made another test. A young woman had budgeted $80 for an outfit of suit, straw hat, calf handbag and shoes. She got the outfit—in the exact quality and style she’d hoped for—for exactly $64.50. The 10 rules again.

I believe your family can save as much as 20% of your present clothing bills using these rules. Here they are:

1. Buy versatile clothes. 2. Assemble your own ensembles. 3. Classics are your best buys. 4. Don’t overspend for children’s clothes. 5. Wear fewer colors, more useful ones. 6. Avoid high-priced patterns in the fashion spotlight. 7. Buy according to intended use. 8. Be a buying opportunist. 9. Master the clues to quality. 10. Buy the quality of greatest return. These 10 shopping tips call for more planning

than the impulse shopping many people do, but they’ll pay you in exact proportion to the use you give them.

Hit-or-miss buying is the biggest financial leak I have found in most families’ spending. They accumulate stocks of clothes which represent a sizable investment but yield them no great pride or usefulness. When you hear a woman say she has nothing to wear, often she means she has a wardrobe full of mistakes.

Let’s go into the 10 rules and find out how to make them work for you.

1. Buy Versatile Clothes: The real trick in being well-dressed at moderate cost, is to have a small but versatile wardrobe.

Buy clothes you can mix, match and juggle with other clothes. For a woman, a two-piece dress is more useful than a one-piece; and one suit is a better buy than two or three dresses—it provides the foundation for several costumes.

For a man, a sports jacket and a pair of slacks will cost less than a suit of comparable quality, but will have even greater usefulness if selected thoughtfully.

Here are some of the most versatile women’s outfits (any family man in these days of high prices should know about them too).

Cut Those Glamour Accessories

THE four-way suit dress is a print that comes with a light, wool skirt and bolero. Wear the dress by itself, the skirt over the dress for another costume, the bolero and skirt over the dress for an ensemble, and the bolero and skirt with another blouse for a neat suit. All for less than $35.

The redingote is similarly versatile -a coat-dress that comes with a harmonizing frock. Wear the two together, or either by itself for three costumes. Another multipurpose outfit is the toppered-dress, an ensemble of dress with tuxedo coat lined with the same material.

Canadians get a break on woolens because of the preferential tariff on British woolens but the new rayon worsteds are high in versatility. First developed for men’s summer suits, they are more wrinkle-resistant than usual rayons. They look and feel like lightweight wool worsteds except they seem crisper. A woman can wear a rayon suit four seasons a year and forget about summer mothproofing.

A plain cloth coat is more versatile than a fur-trimmed one. Certainly if you can’t spend much, it’s better to put your money in a good cloth body and glamourize it yourself with accessories, or even a separate fur piece that can be worn with other outfits, The versatile topcoat with detachable lining is increasingly popular for both men and women.

2: Match Your Own Ensembles: Ensembles that can be mixed or matched give you most use. One young woman I know saw the versatility of the bolero costume—-short wool jacket with a print dress—found the least expensive she could get in a large Ontario store was $45. She finally bought a fairly good dress for $15 and found a wool shortie coat that harmonized with it nicely for $20.

The secret of contriving your own ensemble is to pick a color in the pattern of the dress and find a jacket or coat to match that color. Alertness and ingenuity in building outfits very often are what enables one girl to look trim on less money than another might spend to still be dowdy.

It often works that way in children’s clothes. Separate jacket and trousers frequently cost less than a complete suit for a little boy.

3: Buy Classics: The most frequently worn dress in my wife’s wardrobe is an untrimmed shirtwaist frock. It cost her less than most of her other dresses, but it’s in style year after year; and she can

dress it down with a gay belt for a walk in the country or dress it up with scarves and a piece of costume jewelry for a party.

The truth is that women who buy dresses with excessive trimming succeed only in impressing other women. As an experiment, I once sent a reporter out with two young soldiers to let them pick at random women they considered well-dressed. In every instance they chose women wearing simple clothes that didn’t distract from their own silhouettes.

Some women’s styles considered classic are the fitted reefer, the Chesterfield coat, the man-tailored suit, the tailored felt hat, the shirtwaist, the tailored handbag.

The advantages of simplicity don’t apply only to women. A man who buys highly perforated shoes pays more for the same quality than for less decorated styles, and finds their use more limited.

Help Kids to Dress Themselves

Upkeep costs less with simple clothes. A pleated skirt costs almost twice as much to have cleaned as a flared skirt. Dresses with nondetachable collars, cuffs and bows, or side-drapes, tiers, or metallic trim, are similarly hard to clean.

4: Don’t Overspend on the Children: Overtrimmed clothing reaches an expensive height in children’s things. Cuteness is a poor guide to selecting suitable clothes. Pinched waists, longer skirts, other frills may appeal to parents, but often actually detract from a child’s appearance and are inconvenient.

Children need clothes that are comfortable, durable, simple, that encourage them to dress themselves, that are easy for the mother to wash and iron, and simple to alter as the child grows.

In buying snowsuits especially, favor the one-piece sets over the two-piecers. The former are warmer because they avoid heat leaks at the waist, and they’re less bulky and easier for the child to put on.

Little girls’ dresses should hang straight from the shoulders, be loose for movement, and have roomy armholes and sleeves. Best is a dress with a front opening long enough so the child can get into it herself. Buttons, that are flat, round and large also help youngsters dress themselves. Instead of annoyingly bulky collars, specialists recommend a flat facing.

Bright colors are recommended; they help motorists see children crossing the street.

Don’t feel you do your boy an injustice if you buy him the trousers the salesman admits have a little cotton mixed in with the wool. You’ll notice they won’t be as soft as the more expensive all wool, and will wrinkle a little more readily, but actually a little cotton makes the garment more durable.

Some men find they can buy things for less in a boy’s department. When shirts were especially expensive a couple of years ago, the manager of a boys’ department told me he had never seen so many small men.

5: Buy Useful Colors: Another policy that helps families dress better is to build wardrobes around one or two basic colors. You’ll need fewer accessories and you’ll be better able to mix and match.

Of any suit a man or woman might buy, one in a shade of grey will team up with more colors and can be worn more seasons and places.

Brown, black or navy are other good basic colors. It’s smart to avoid very light shades. Men’s and women’s summer clothes are available now in dark colors; they are practical because they don’t soil as readily and can be worn into other seasons.

6: Avoid High-Fcishion Fabrics: You can also save by by-passing those fabrics and patterns particularly in the fashion spotlight each year. There’s a world shortage of the fine wools required to make hard-finish worsted. But fashion emphasis currently is centred on just such scarce worsteds as gabardine, and fancy patterns like Glen Plaid and sharkskin.

Result is, many Canadians overlook the fine wearability and lower cost of tweeds. You could buy a tweed topcoat for less than $30 in Ontario stores last spring, but had to pay $40 and more for wool gabardine.

Corduroy at Inflation Level

The recent vogue among women for rayon tissue faille confirms the wisdom of this technique of buying clothes. Faille has many virtues, but none so compelling to make a skirt of it worth twice as much money as rayon shantung or rayon linen; this was actually the price difference last spring in some stores.

Another example is the fashion every so often for linen shoes and handbags. At such times they’ll be just as expensive as fine calf.

Because corduroy has become fashionable for young women, it’s now ultra-expensive for children’s clothes, but replaceable by other sturdy garments like jeans.

7: Buy For Use: A more satisfactory guide than fashion for choosing a type of suit or coat is the use you intend for it, and your special needs. Broadly speaking, there are two types of wool fabric: hard-finish worsteds and softfinish woolens (tweeds, shetlands, flannel, etc.). Worsteds wear well; in fact they’ll give you as much as 70% more wear than some soft-finish woolens depending how hard you are on clothes. (A heavy man ought to consider worsteds.) They also hold their crease well and save pressing.

Least expensive worsteds are the solid-color serges, twills and worsted cheviot. Worsted cheviots wear as well as the other worsteds, and the jacket can double as a sports jacket. Serge,

too, is durable, but poorer grades soon shine. It’s wise to avoid any serge that has a lustre to start with—the bar sinister of poor-grade wool.

The soft-finish woolens are warmer, more comfortable, and generally more versatile and wearable more seasons than some worsteds. And at times such as now, the abnormal price difference may compensate for their lower durability. However, closely woven tweeds, coverts and homespuns are pretty nearly as rugged as worsteds.

Flannel and shetland make luxurious suits but good flannel is costly, moderate qualities wear poorly and lose their nap quickly. Shetland loses shape and wears through quickly.

Woolens make warmer coats than worsteds. But those with very soft finishes, like wool suede, look shabby before their time.

And Here’s a Trade Secret

It’s especially important to buy rayons according to intended use. There are two types, acetate and viscose, and they differ in usefulness. Acetate washes easier, dries quicker, is less affected by perspiration. So experts prefer it for lingerie, bathing suits, raincoats and summer clothing. But viscose is stronger. It’s the rayon used in tires. Where durability is called for, as in a pair of slacks, the vote is for viscose. Also, viscose isn’t as subject to the mysterious gas fading that sometimes causes a dress to turn weird hues merely while hanging up.

There are two simple policies you might follow: plain flat weaves, such as rayon chiffon, wear well, wash easily, and don’t soil as readily as crepey fabrics; where toughness is required, as in the lining of a man’s jacket, look for a twill weave (distinguishable by a diagonal rib).

8. Be An Opportunist: You not only buy more efficiently by knowing which styles and fabrics give you most for your money, but you’ll gain by comparison-shopping, and by opportunity buying. All stores do not necessarily charge the same price at the same time.

Count up your family’s needs in advance, and then grasp the opportunities offered by special sales. Buy a winter coat at the midwinter clearances at a sharp saving instead of waiting until the first snow next fall when coats are at their peak prices.

I can hear a voice wailing: “But do I have to wait until late in the season to buy my clothes?” The answer is, “That’s just the time to buy them.” The seasons will turn around again before you know it. And if it’s the classic hat you select, it will be wearable for seasons to come.

Another opportunity showing up more frequently is cut prices on seconds or irregulars. Those with no break in the fabric itself, but only barely perceptible misweaves or misprints, are good buys.

If you want to know a trade secret, in a time of declining prices manufacturers sometimes label some perfects as irregulars to move goods without irrevocably reducing their official prices.

9: Master Quality Clues: It’s not

difficult to compare quality if you’re wise to a few clues which can be applied to almost all clothing.

Hold a garment up to the light to see if the fabric is closely woven. Pull it both ways to make sure it’s firm. With wool, squeeze a handful to judge its resiliency. Note whether it sheds its wrinkles when released.

You’ve seen broadcloth shirts called “2x1” or “2x2.” The 2x1 has double strands in one direction, single in the other. The 2x2 is, of course, the finer— it has two-ply yarns both ways.

Similarly two-ply worsteds are stronger than single-ply. Pull a yarn out of the cuff of your trousers and unravel ito see if there are two strands twisted together or just one.

A fabric that has about the same number of threads crosswise as lengthwise is stronger than one closely woven in just one direction. That’s why 80square percale, with 80 threads to the inch in both directions, is standard for good house dresses. Other “balanced” fabrics, very good for shirts and dresses, are poplin and chambray.

Another point is that “combed” cotton fabrics which have the short fibres combed out are stronger than merely carded cottons.

In men’s underwear, experts rate knitted types warmer, more comfortable and easier to wash than such woven goods as broadcloth. And ribbed knits keep their shape better.

In shirts as with suits you’ll find solid colors cost less than stripes and fancy patterns. One must be careful of fancies at low prices. Always look at the reverse side of a shirt. In printed shirts the pattern will be barely visible, and you risk fading. In a shirt printed with the superior vat dyes the pattern will show more clearly on the reverse, but it will be most visible in the topquality “yarn-dyed” materials. The yarns themselves are dyed and then woven.

But good fabric is small help unless the garment is cut correctly. An expert can glance at a dress, shirt or suit, and predict accurately whether it’s going to look well on you six months from now. You can too, if you know where to look. Let your arm hang down straight. The lengthwise grain of your sleeve should hang exactly vertical.

Very often on the street I notice a

man wearing a suit that seems to be good fabric but somehow he doesn’t quite seem to belong to that suit. If I can get within a foot of him, I can see it is largely machine-made. Now machinemade clothing is durable and fine for a work suit that has to take hard wear. But the long, loose stitches of hand tailoring at strategic points give a ready-made suit resiliency that helps shape it to your individual form, and recover its shape between wearings.

Here are some of the ways you can tell a suit has at least some handwork: Lapels roll and don’t lie flat. Buttonholes have the crude stitches of hand tailoring instead of even machine stitches. The front of the jacket hangs smoothly. The sleeve lining is joined to the cuffs and to the body lining with long, loose stitches.

Fulness is an important clue to quality. Hold together a good and a poor shirt marked the same size and you’ll see the difference.

10: Buy for Greatest Return: One man swears that in the long run you save by buying the best socks. Another man says no, it doesn’t pay to spend much, he’d rather buy cheap ones even if he has to buy them more often.

The truth is in the middle. It doesn’t pay to buy substandard quality. But on the other hand, the most expensive articles do not necessarily give you the most usefulness although they may supply extra style features. It’s the middle-price merchandise that offers basic quality at least cost.

You learn to be a sophisticated buyer gradually. More and more you’ll be able to pick the well-made suit or the versatile dress. And you can bet that the more you go by these 10 rules, the more you’ll save.