By Meira Schneider-Atik
For those women who think they can’t afford new clothes, let alone “the really good stuff,” believe me when I tell you that I know what that’s like. Between the rent or mortgage payments, groceries, and yeshiva tuition, there’s no money left. I cannot afford any expensive designer clothes. Plus, I have three little ones, and I can’t afford tons of dry cleaning. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to look good, even within the realm of tzniyut.
My main rule for saving money on clothes: Don’t waste money on clothes that don’t work for you. There is an enormous difference between a bargain and a waste. A true clothing bargain meets the following criteria:
It is of good quality. The fabric is good weight, the piece is well made (check seams, hems, lining, etc.), and it will hold up well for a long time. If the piece has a stain or a tear, that doesn’t automatically make it poor quality, but it does mean that you must consider very carefully whether or not the piece can be easily and cheaply fixed. If not, then even if it’s free, it’s not worth it.
It flatters your body perfectly. The color, shape, design, and details all come together to make you appear taller, slimmer, and healthier.
It fits you 95% perfectly. Most clothes will not fit 100% perfectly off the rack, but the fit should be as close as possible to start. Otherwise, the alterations will be difficult and expensive, if even possible.
It can be worn at least three ways. For example, a jacket should coordinate well not only with the matching skirt, but with at least two other skirts, or maybe also a dress. A skirt should coordinate well with at least three different tops.
All of these things together mean that the clothing item is truly worth whatever money you spent on it. A waste is something that doesn’t meet all of the above qualifications, and while it may have cost $5, it only means that you’ve wasted $5 that could’ve been saved towards a real bargain.
On what clothing should you spend your money? Until you have enough money saved up to buy everything in the world, here is a list of the clothing you need right now. Unless otherwise noted, all of these things should be in dark neutral colors, because those are the most versatile.
The three basic shoes. A pair of black pumps or slingbacks, a pair of dark neutral loafers, and, depending on your particular guidelines for tzniyut, a pair of neutral open-toe sandals, slides, or flip-flops (this pair should be cloth so that you can wear them on Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av).
One Shabbat/work suit. Jacket and skirt, multi-seasonal, appropriate for work and Shabbat, easy to pull apart and wear with other things.
Outerwear. One winter coat, one trench coat, one pair of black dressy boots, and one pair of waterproof boots.
One skirt for work and Shabbat
One skirt for casual. Keep it refined, so that you can wear it for casual workdays.
One simple yet elegant dress, or skirt and top, for special occasions
Three fitted button-down shirts. Two dark neutral, the third in a flattering color.
One basic neutral pocketbook
One hat or beret (for married women).
Finally, if there is one area in which you should spend a little extra money, it’s the “unmentionables.” They must give you the exact right fit, shaping, support, and coverage that you need, and getting them wrong actually violates the dress code of tzniyut because it allows people to see inappropriate things (trust me when I say that I have seen this). Yes, there are ways to save money, but if the right ones cost a little more, then save up your money for them. Having a professional fitter measure you is a free service, so take advantage.
Once you have the above basics, you can use inexpensive accessories to make them look different every time. Wear your suit with a dramatic necklace to shul on Shabbat, or with a decorative oblong scarf to work. Wear the suit skirt with a button-down shirt and great earrings for a friend’s bridal shower. Just remember that your G‑d-given body and person are worth it. Always. v
Meira Schneider-Atik is a fashion stylist, wardrobe organizer, and personal shopper. She enjoys helping women look good while maintaining tzniyut, and she can help you weed out your wardrobe, shop as needed, and put together outfits for any occasion. She can also help you save time, effort, and money in the process. For one-on-one help, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.