I spend a good chunk of my disposable income -- admittedly more than I probably should -- on clothing. I know I'm not the only one, because every once in a while, e-mails from self-professed fashion or shopping addicts will turn up in my inbox. ("Help me!," they typically read.)
But despite all the practice I've had, I still find shopping a bit confusing. With so many brands and styles, not to mention trends that change with each season, it's tough to be sure that you're putting your hard-earned dollars to good use. How do you know what items are worthy of a splurge? Which will be out of fashion by the time you pick up the next issue of, say, Vogue? And which are likely to be longer lived.
Fortunately, we have people like Tim Gunn, star of Bravo's "Project Runway" and author of the new book "A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style" to answer questions like that.
He and his co-author Kate Moloney, assistant chair of the fashion design department at Parsons The New School For Design, say that there are a few things that every woman should have in her closet. They call these items "investment pieces," meaning that it's OK to put a decent-sized chunk of change into them, because they're going to last you a long time.
I realize we usually talk about a different sort of investment in this space -- namely stocks and bonds -- but the fact is this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most recent survey of Consumer Expenditures, American households are spending close to $1,900 a year on clothes. That's a 15 percent jump from just two years ago. Knowing how to make smart purchases that will last means having one more strategy in your financial arsenal. Here are the areas where an "investment purchase" makes sense.
OuterwearYou wear one just about every day, so spending the money on a high-quality coat (or two) is advised. A trench is one place to start, says Moloney. And err on the side of classic, more Burberry in style than, say, silver lame (even if it is all the rage this year.) You'll be able to throw it over just about anything, from a suit to jeans. Depending on where you live, you may also want a heavier wool coat as well -- I wouldn't dare brave the New York winter without mine. Select a style with longevity -- this is not the place for trend -- and one that fits well. Gunn writes that people often go a size too large because they think it needs to fit over their bulkiest winter sweater. It doesn't. Coats like these can be pricey, but if it's out of your range, there's still no reason to sacrifice style. You can always find a good deal on outerwear in late January or early February, when stores are putting their stock on sale to make room for spring items, says Kathryn Finney, founder of thebudgetfashionista.com and author of "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." Since you're buying a timeless style anyway, it won't matter that it could be next season before you get to wear it.The "sweat suit alternative" I for one can't bring myself to wear a sweat suit outside of the gym, but that doesn't mean I want to wear my office attire when I'm just padding around town or running errands. "This is for times when you really cannot muster up anything -- maybe you're not feeling well or you're running to the hairdresser. You must have something that you can throw on that's really comfortable," explained Moloney. Her suggested outfit? Linen pants, a small T-shirt and a cashmere sweater. Whether you choose to follow these guidelines to a T (I swap the linen pants for cargos), the idea is to find a go-to outfit that you're not embarrassed to be seen in. Shoes
You only have one set of feet, so you better treat them well. Cheap shoes too often lead to blisters, arch problems, and embarrassing broken heels, especially if you're on your feet a lot. Even budget-conscious Finney agrees that it's important to spend on shoes that fit properly and will hold up to wear. As for what style to go for, Gunn says that every woman should have boots, pumps and ballet flats in her closet. Dress boots and pumps can easily go from the office to an Tailoring
Finally, while this isn't an item in and of itself, it pays to spend money to make certain your clothes actually fit. Even the most expensive clothes can look shabby if they hang awkwardly on your body. "Really spend money on whatever your greatest needs are," advised Finney. If you have a hard time finding jeans that fit, spend on those." The point being, you may have to spend a bit more if you have longer than average legs, or smaller feet, or a short torso. "One of our messages is all about silhouette, proportion and fit, which is why it's so essential to try things on," said Gunn. No one enjoys the overwhelming mirrors and florescent lights in the dressing room, but when you're making an investment, you can't rely on how the item looked on the mannequin or your friend. You wouldn't buy a car without a test drive. The second part of this equation is finding a good tailor, especially if you have a body type that doesn't seem to mesh with a store or designer's sizing. "Find someone you trust," said Gunn, "because that individual will tell you whether or not something is fitting properly." A good place to start is by soliciting recommendations from a friend or co-worker. Then, be prepared to spend a bit of money, anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on what you're having done. It's part of the investment.
With reporting by Arielle McGowen
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .