Thursday, 30 June 2016

Quality over quantity: can a bargain hunter change their ways?

The quality over quantity great clothes debate

A bit more of an introspective post from me today... I mentioned at the start of the year that I was going to try to invest more of my money into experiences over 'things', by which I basically meant 'clothes' - by far my biggest area of spend when it comes to anything outside basic subsistence. Actually, I've gone one step further than that and have also been trying to take a whole new attitude to buying fashion - for the first time ever I'm trying to make a real effort to prioritise quality over quantity. Now, I'm a real bargain hunter and I can't resist a cute thing regardless of how it's made or where it's from, anything under £20 seems a good deal to me.

However, I think I just got to that point where I realised I was buying things primarily because they were cheap -  meaning I had money leftover to buy other cheap things - and not because I really wanted to wear them.  It turned out some of the items just weren't that nice due to poor construction of materials, or actually I just didn't like them that much after all. And after so many years of buying like this I've got nowhere to store anything, in a house that was rather lacking in options to start with. I wasn't wearing some of it because it was quite literally out of sight and out of mind, crammed into the back of a drawer somewhere. I realised that the solution to all this could be to invest more of my limited shopping funds into quality. It would mean less stuff, but maybe that was a good thing!

Irregular Choice Nick of Time shoes in pink

So while I didn't really 'do' resolutions this year, I had already started down this path to change my shopping ways and I'm still at it several months later. But is choosing quality over quantity really worth it? And can I keep it up?

The good

1. I really love the things I buy

Take it from me, there's nothing like dropping £100 on a dress to make you question whether or not you really want it. To even consider that spend of money on one addition to my wardrobe, I have to essentially not be able to live without it... oh ok, maybe I can live without it, but perhaps my life would be of a much poorer quality if I didn't have a dress with an Eiffel Tower print on it for my birthday. The great thing about spending money on quality goods is that it's a much more considered and therefore less impulse purchase and because I feel guilt at buying pretty much anything over £20, it's a process that takes many, many days before I persuade myself it's a good idea. The result is that by the time said item turns up, I've basically spent weeks imagining all the things we'll do and all the fun we'll have together, so by the time it gets here I'm practically considering eloping with it to Vegas. Actually, now that I think about it, that dress would be perfect in Vegas... Anyway, the result is I've got something I love and already know how I'll wear in multiple ways and can't wait to do so - in terms of life enrichment, quality wins.

Bernie Dexter Paris dress in Eiffel Tower print

2. The obvious - it's usually better made

Now, it's no guarantee that if you're dropping £100 on a dress that it will be worth every penny you spend on it, but it usually greatly helps. Admittedly, sometimes you're paying partly for the ethics of how the item was produced too (thinking of brands like Bernie Dexter and Tara Starlet, for example) - i.e. without harsh factory labour in China etc. That also feels good for me the buyer, but actually I don't know enough about where everything I buy is made to make that a deciding factor in my choices (I know, I'm the worst kind of person). The quality though - the living, breathing beauty of some of these more expensive pieces, is definitely something I can appreciate in very real terms. Take my Coast dress from last year; the cut of this dress, the thickness of the material, the lining - it all spoke of a higher standard of production than I'm used to and it showed in how it looked on me. It was what, in fact, got the wheels turning in my head about whether I should really rethinking my spending habits in the first place... These are pieces you buy to treasure because mostly, they're built to last. They're not things that will be crammed down the back of a drawer (in a random room of the house by this point) and forgotten about.

3. The beautiful designs

Sometimes you get lucky and find a cute novelty-print skirt in a supermarket, but most of the time if you want something extra special you can expect to pay for it. I guess it makes sense; if you're a brand making clothes for a budget, you want to mass produce, cheaply, the kind of things that the majority of people will want to buy. When you apply this logic to clothing, it starts to become clear why particular patterns, styles or finishes might cost a bit more. And while I did find an amazing pattern in a supermarket, the skirt wasn't even close to the fullness of a high-end repro brand's. It feels like for the truly beautiful pieces of clothing, the ones that are as pretty as they are well-made, you need to pay more to a brand that produces higher-quality items. Take my pair of pink glittery Irregular Choice bridesmaid shoes - you'd be unlikely to find such an original and equal equivalent from a cheaper shop; and if you did, you could bet the glitter wouldn't be of the same finish - perhaps it would even fall off. It certainly wouldn't have the same high quality lining on the inside or the suede heel. It's the extra touches that can take an item from everyday to extra special and you're just more likely to find those from a brand that charges for them. Sometimes, owning something that is that bit more extraordinary now feels more worth the price to me.

Irregular Choice Nick of Time shoes in pink

4. The excitement of saving for 'best'

A pattern I've noticed emerge since investing more in quality pieces is that I'm particularly doing so to wear them for special occasions. This just seems to be the way it's working for me so far, although I wouldn't rule out e.g. investing in a winter coat I'd wear every day. What I've realised is that having something really special to wear for a particular event or activity just makes me look forward to it all the more. Perhaps this is something to do with how interconnected my confidence is with my appearance, but hey, us introverts need to take what we can get where we can get it for enjoying leaving the house, right? Along with all the social anxiety and dread is a feeling of looking forward to wearing something really special. I should probably clarify that I'm not buying expensive things just to wear them on one occasion once, more that this is the first time I'm allowing myself to wear them. 

The bad

1. When the price isn't justified

Sometimes when you spend a lot of money on something, it's worth it because you get what you paid for. But there are times when even quality is overpriced and there are times when a price tag isn't justified at all. I don't want to name and shame this particular brand, but there is currently a dress in my closet that thankfully I didn't pay full price for, which would have been £80. It's covered in good quality sequins that don't come loose - great; it's got boning and fits like a mini-corset up top; excellent; it's got an elasticated inside strap so that with the boning as well you can ditch the bra; amazing... or at least it was amazing, until on only the second time I did it up the strap snapped clean in half. Oh, and one of the sides of the dress hasn't been stitched correctly, so there's a weird lump of fabric on the hip (I swear it isn't my body). And you know what else? The hem is wonky. As I say, I didn't pay full price for it so when I complained to the company and they didn't reply (!) I kind of gave up. But it really made me wary. This was a shop that rarely has discounts, so I expect many ladies bought that dress full price. If I had, I would have been even more upset. Unfortunately, it's not the first time I've heard of a brand not living up to its prices, particularly in the repro world. I genuinely think I'd send something back that wasn't worth the money, but what a lot of hassle for all involved! It can be very hard to tell if something is overpriced before it turns up.

Pretties from PUG, Bernie Dexter and Victory Parade

2. When it goes in a sale eventually anyway

It's all well and good spending £100 on a dress, but there's nothing like that feeling of dismay when it turns up on Zulily for £66 a few weeks later (looking at you, Eiffel Tower dress, gah!). I've so far tried to be savvy, and particularly invested in those brands where I know their discounts or sales are few and far between. Case in point for the pieces in the picture above - Pinup Couture, Bernie Dexter and Victory Parade don't usually come down that far in price. Until Bernie decided to partner with Zulily, anyway. PUG will have the odd 15-25% off for special occasions, Bernie Dexter often has 25% off deals but (apart from Zulily clearance - no I can't get over it), that's it and Victory Parade pretty much never. Something I always do with these high-priced brands is put them in my basket, go through checkout until payment and then exit the site. PUG and Bernie Dexter both sent me discount codes when I did this, so it can be a handy tactic. But if things get knocked down I'm gutted. Particularly because I've had to pay custom fees and international shipping rates on top of the item prices in these cases. I just don't think I can accept that I haven't got the best price for something - that part of the bargain hunter in me will never go away, I'm fairly sure.

3. Feeling pushed to invest when I can't afford it

If I've got to the point that I love something so much that I'm considering spending a fair amount of money on it, the next thing that will happen is the 'But what if it goes out of stock before I have the cash...?' fear. I have so far found I can only tolerate this for about a week, before I crack and put it on my credit card. Earlier this year, this happened with three separate, pricey things and suddenly my credit card had nearly £250 worth of debt on it. I felt dreadful about this all month and it took me a few pay days to recover from such a hit in one go. I just don't have the kind of disposable income to be able to spend this kind of money on clothes in one month, but in all cases I couldn't bear to let the item go, particularly as I am planning to wear them on my birthday weekend. Often these expensive brands have high prices because their pieces are limited, and knowing this does nothing to help my worry...

PUG and Victory Parade pretties

4. Genuine fear of damage

Seriously, what will I do if I drop something down my Bernie dress?! It's not like something I've spent less on. I've emotionally and financially invested in higher quality pieces and can't stand the idea that I might accidentally ruin one. I mentioned I'm a chocoholic before - you have no idea how many pieces of clothing I've dropped chocolate crumbs on. I don't let myself have Cadbury Flakes anymore because I end up wearing more of it than I eat. Mostly, these wash out just fine. What doesn't help though, is when I panic and try to get the stain off before it goes in the wash and smoosh it into a light fabric. I'm definitely going to panic if I get something on an Eiffel Tower... And that's just chocolate. I don't tend to be a clumsy eater, but if I've got something new, the spillage risk is, for some reason, about 90% higher in the first week of its life vs a year. You can up that to 95% if the item is light coloured - like when I dropped something in my lap while wearing white and black patterned trousers the other week the first time I wore them (yes, on a white bit). I don't like stressing like this about expensive clothes, so I'm less likely to wear them casually over something I don't feel as attached to. Which just seems a shame!

So, all in all, I've definitely changed my shopping habits this year but I don't think I'll ever feel that happy investing in pieces. If I love them I'll get over it, until they go in a sale that is! Then I tend to look at them like they've personally conned me and it takes the happy buyer edge off a bit... So, maybe a few more higher price items will join my wardrobe this year, but with buying a house and a wedding to pay for it's now a bit less of a priority again.

What about you, what are your thoughts on the quality vs quantity debate?


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33 comments:

  1. Super post!! I am with you on this, we have spoken at length about it so many times. I really try hard to spend my money on ethical, quality stuff, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. These past few months I have returned nearly everything from higher priced brands, and ended up keeping lots of Lindybop. Go figure! I guess my expectations increase with the price tag. Anyway, your Paris dress is a beauty. Just stay off the chocolate... xx

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    1. Glad you liked it - I'll admit I had you in mind when I was writing it, given our frequent conversations about this very topic ;) I've ended up keeping some things from Lindybop recently too, very much to my surprise. I do feel if you're paying a lot for something it should match up to that price tag, for sure! xx

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  2. I would really love to always choose quality over quantity but like you I'm also a real bargain hunter. As I am also a student I just can't afford quality pieces most of the time. I hope that someday I will earn enough to choose quality.

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    1. I'm not a student and I still can't really afford to keep buying quality pieces - unless I only want a few new things a year... We all know I don't want that ;)

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  3. Loved this! Will be sharing on my FB.

    I'm the same about worrying that I will ruin more expensive pieces and then not wearing them.

    Since I began thrifting a few years back my closet has grown in leaps and bounds. Would I have as many pieces if I had purchased retail? Never. I'm still trying to find that sweet spot for thrifting and vintage shopping that ensures I'm only buying "what I can't live without". It's hard to achieve because truly I don't need anything.

    Vintage shopping is also difficult because when you find a piece it truly is one-of-a-kind and harder to walk away from. 95% of the time I find my vintage pieces are better made than anything I could purchase now.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. I think thrifting is probably a really good way into having some quality pieces in your wardrobe that you don't feel are so precious you can't wear, because of how many good brands turn up in them. I'm yet to find something truly amazing, but I don't really try very hard and I know others do! it's a sad truth that clothes these days just generally aren't very well produced :(

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  4. Hi Cici,

    I completely agree with this post.

    I used to have the same approach (the one you have to clothes) to shoes. And yes, sometimes you're lucky and find a couple of hand made Italian shoes in a thrift store in Paris for around 10 Francs (20 years ago). The quality is so good that I'm still using them, not that much as before of course. And then you have shoes from Pennys (Primark outside Ireland) for around 10 euros (some times even cheaper) that last just a couple of months (if you're lucky even longer, it just depends on how much you use them).

    About clothes I'm very picky and you know what, I keep Lindy Bop as well. It was a big surprise to see the good quality its clothes are made off. Of course, I usually end up going to my tailor 'cause most of them are a bit big on the bust (I'm not that gifted).

    Most of my clothes are "old" but not vintage (bougth more than 20 years ago with classic cuts) or were received as second hand gift from some friends of mine (same size as me) that love to buy quite expensive clothes (high street brands with classic cuts or hand made in Italy as well).
    When I buy clothes I like to see how are they made, the materials (always go for natural ones and try to avoid polyamide and elastane as much as you can) and where they are made. I also admit I have plenty of Zara clothes (including a classic black pencil skirt from the 80's when Zara was not even that known in my own country, Spain) because the quality of some clothes is good (it's getting worse with the years, believe me).

    Well, yes! it is good to spend a little bit more in CLASSIC good made items, specially if your body is not going to suffer dramatic changes of size (take into account pregnancy or hormonal problems). I said classic because they never go out of fashion.

    Have a wonderful end of the week and good weekend,

    Eva (from Luxembourg/Germany)

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    1. Wow, that is an epic comment, Eva!

      Lindy Bop I find super hit and miss - I have one dress from them which is lovely quality and two that are dreadful. The materials and cut are completely different to the dress from them I love.

      I think another thing I like to do is buy good quality clothes that have stretch, so then if I do one day put on a bit of weight I won't have to kiss them goodbye... But at the same time things like the Paris dress don't fall into that stretchy category, so it's not always possible!

      Have a lovely weekend too, thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

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  5. Totally agree with all of this!! I am trying to do the same thing and this makes me feel a lot better about it.

    http://www.lifewiththeroofdown.com

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    1. I think a balance is all I'm ever going to have, so that's what I'm going to strive to achieve at least for this year!

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  6. This is such a great post, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately - I think you saw some of the comments I've been getting lately from someone who keeps trying to shame me for shopping at Zara etc! I've also been trying to invest in quality over quantity this year, but it's hard, because I'm on a limited budget, so I just can't always afford the "quality"(I just don't think it's realistic to expect people to save up for months on end, just to buy one coat, say. Sure, you'll have that coat for years if it's a good one, but what if you really need a coat to wear NOW?), and sometimes the temptation of a cheaper item is just too much. I own cheap clothes and designer clothes, and there isn't always a vast difference in the quality between them. With that said, as time goes on, I've actually been finding myself much less tempted by the cheap dresses etc - I still have my moments, but I'm slowly starting to realise that I get more wear out of a pair of jeans, say, so that's what I should be spending my money on - and it's been much harder to justify the impulse buys lately, too!

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    1. Ah yes, when I saw that I think it was Primark shaming in particular. I think it's so hard when you don't have a lot of cash spare for clothes - it's just a bit depressing to keep throwing your month's spare change on one item and that's all you have to show for it! Mind you, I appreciate how lucky I am to have any disposable cash for clothes at all. I would definitely agree that I'm starting to build a better tolerance to bargain items - there's more of a second thought as a result of trying to be more careful about buying the good stuff. I have done the same thing with jeans! Both pairs I've bought in the past year have been a lot pricier than I've ever spent before, but both have totally justified the cost already in terms of how much I wear them as they fit so well and are lasting!

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  7. I'm definitely someone who favours quality. I'm a real sale fiend, though - I wait for modern brands like Boden or Seasalt to have a sale as their prices are usually very high. It's not *quite* as easy to find good-quality basics in charity shops now, but I do tend to get all my winter woollen skirts (tartans and tweeds) in chazzas for less than a fiver a throw - that frees up money for decent repro stuff.

    Even if you no longer buy the higher-priced items, perhaps this experiment has broken your need to buy stuff just to have stuff.

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    1. I have to say that's probably the ideal way to be - love the quality, snap it up when it's on discount! I think you're right that this experiment has shown me the error of my frivolous ways somewhat. Although I seem to have transferred it to buying makeup I don't need now, so apparently this is just me...!

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  8. Insightful, relatable and very, very well written post, dear CiCi. I feel your pain on on the "cons" big time, perhaps most of all when it comes to seeing something you love go on sale all of about 5.27 seconds after you've paid full (or nearly so) price for it. I try to pacify my mind, when such happens, by reminding myself of the fact that my size(s) tend to sell out super quickly, so if I didn't nab something I truly wanted/needed when I did, there's a more than decent chance it would be gone (at least from a source that was more affordable, especially if buying outside of the country) when it did go on sale. Still, sometimes even that very real fact only helps to dull the pain (to my wallet! ;D) so much.

    Thank you for penning this excellent post. I just love it when bloggers speak candidly about their wardrobe budgets and whether they prefer quantity over (possible) quality, or a mix of both ends of the spectrum (the camp I'd place myself in these days).

    Oodles of hugs & happy start of July wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Aw, thanks Jessica! Ah the sale regret. I couldn't believe it when I saw my Bernie dress for what was essentially £50 less if you include shipping, customs etc than I paid for it. So heartbreaking. I wouldn't change buying it though, as there's no guarantee that sale items will be in your size, like you say! So if you really want something, sometimes you just have to take that risk. xx

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  9. I'm a real bargain hunter too, though I try to buy quality over quantity these days.. Even if I have to wait for a sale.. Though I still buy cheaper clothes/accessories if they seem to be pretty good and I think I will get plenty of wear out of them..

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    1. That's true, if you can wear it enough before it falls apart it doesn't feel as bad! It depends on how much value you assign to these things, I guess. If you don't expect it to last and it does, then that's pretty good too.

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  10. I definitely feel that there is something to be said about quality over quality but at the same time the life of an online shopaholic can be a tricky one for many of the reasons you've listed above... It's a fine balance waiting to buy something really nice that you have your heart set on while on sale vs the risk you take not buying it right away before it sells out. Also, like you said, if you've spent a good amount of money on a piece it's hard not to feel a little over protective of it when you wear it. Overall though I really do try to just spend my money on the high quality pieces my heart really desires. Less money goes to the odd impulse buys I would have made (I usually eventually forgot about these pieces after I don't purchase them anyway) which puts more money towards the pieces I know I will really love and cherish (and which I know I would have ended up agonizing over missing if I didn't buy it).

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    1. That's a good point - and they do say you shouldn't buy something you're undecided about right away, but should allow yourself some distance. If you forget about it, money saved. And if you can't stop thinking about it, that's all the excuse you should need to buy ;)

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  11. I started off this year by saying I would only uy things if I loved them, but it's such a hard habbit to brea, especailly when I know what the cap is on what I'd usualy spend!

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  12. I think I'm both a saver and a spender. If I really want something, like Vivien of Holloway dresses, I'll buy them even though they cost like 100 euros. Same with Pinup Couture - if I find a dress I MUST have, I WILL have it.

    But then there's the part of me that's like OH MY GOD, Collectif has a -50% sale. I MUST buy something, because it's cheap. And I do this even when there's nothing I want particularly much. I just buy, because it's cheap and I know I can find use for them. :D

    I'm also a spiller, I always drop food, chocolate, ice cream and stuff like that on myself. It's ok if the dress/piece of clothing is machine washable, but with dresses like Jenny from Pinup Couture or Vivien of Holloway halterneck dresses that are Dry Clean only (mainly because of the boning), I get a bit nervous. I mean, I DID drop chocolate on my red Vivien :( Still haven't cleaned it, since it was luckily at the waist seam (which doesn't show, because I wear a belt over it), but I'm really afraid of the day I need to take it to the dry cleaners, because dry cleaning is really, really expensive hear. It's insane to pay 30 euros for a clean up, when you can in some cases buy a new dress with that amount of money. So then there comes the option to handwash the dress, which in most cases works alright (since it's cotton sateen that generally washes well), BUT what if something goes wrong and the fabric fades and/or I get drip marks? I mean, if something can go wrong, it WILL go wrong. Enough of my babbling, but it's a pain in the ass to pay a lot for a dress that keeps getting more expensive by each wear if you need to have it dry cleaned. <.<

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    1. Wow, epic comment! I would say I'm both spender and saver now, but I was never a saver before. That's been my big shift this year.

      I'm dreadful with those Collectif sales though. Get me every time. For the next one, I've got to be really stern with myself...

      Dry clean only. Don't even get me started on that. I've never dry-cleaned a dress in my life so if it won't go in the washing machine I ain't buying it!!

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  13. Oh this is such a love hate relationship for me. There have been moments where I have chosen "invest" and think to myself "this dress better be bloody AMAZING" as I click the check out button. That said, in my experience invest has always worked out the best. What usually ends up happening though is that I become addicted to a more expensive brand...It's actually an interesting thing to think about though, because one of the things that sent me in the direction of repro/vintage was my frustration with the quality high street had on offer. Wearing repro definitely taught me a lesson about quality over quantity. That's not to say that I don't still wince about paying a steep price, however in the end it's more rewarding to get what you actually want rather than waste money on something that doesn't fit well and will fall apart. I have had really good experiences buying from companies that make their products in the UK and US and I am happy to pay a bit extra to buy from companies who pay their employees adequately and source high quality materials.

    Oh and of course, got to love Zulily!!!!

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    1. Generally I'd agree - it usually does work out. But sometimes the more expensive thing isn't an all-rounder - the cut's good, the style's unique but the material is bad. That irks the heck out of me! Part of it is sussing out the brands that really are offering top quality, I think...

      Zulily is so bad for my bank account!

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  14. In general I totally agree with the quality over quantity sentiment. Especially as it means staff are paid a fair wage. For me though there are just some things I am not willing to pay more for. For example tights- I ladder them all the time! Umbrellas- get lost! And i am undecided on shoes. I trash my shoes really quickly, but I just can't wear cheap, ill fitting, low quality shoes. Great to get people thinking in the topic and not just buying for the sake of it!

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    1. Very true, I haven't really gone into the ethics side of things here as it's something I know very little about (which is in itself not a good thing I realise), but generally if something is too good to be true price-wise it's not a good sign, I'm sure... Tights though - that's what Sainsbury's is for - none of mine last longer than a few wears and I've tried the pricier ones - they're no better! I can't do cheap shoes though... There's a lot to be said for paying for fit and comfort with shoes.

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  15. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this topic (and the people who have commented too). It's such a tricky issue, and definitely not a black and white issue either. I have resorted to either making or thrifting most of my clothes in the past few years, because I value quality too, but I just don't have the cash for most ready made clothing. Also, I care very deeply about clothing made in third world sweatshops, and so I find it very hard to purchase items that I know come from them, and yet it can be so hard to find clothing that I know is ethical that I can also afford- when what I really want is to have a closet full of dresses. Sigh.
    Thanks for talking about this here though- it's great to know I am not the only one who struggles with this!
    The Artyologist

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    1. Thrifting's a good option to get some really nice things though, you just have to have patience for it that I don't have! Glad to get people thinking and sharing their own thoughts... A problem shared and all that :)

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  16. This is a great post, it is really interesting to read your discussion on your shopping habits and how they are changing. I don't have much disposable income either and what I do have tends to go on wool (!!) so I tend to save up and go for quality things that will last. Saying that, I have struck lucky in the last Lindybop sale!

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    1. Thank you :) Lindybop, now and then, have some good stuff. But you do risk a lot of the bad with each order I find!! I'm not too sure about their ethics either, I've not heard good things...

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    2. I know. I think I got seduced by price because I really needed summer skirts and funds are low. But I don't normally do that so am feeling a bit ashamed and guilty to be honest. I had better look into their ethics further, that will stop me!

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  17. Fantastic post! Your words and experiences mirror my own and it's so hard because so far almost every high and lower end brand have been a hit and miss...even Lindy, it was all hits until my last two orders...I fear drinking the PUG water, so understand the fear of spending and being disappointed as well as the fear of missing out! I have had hit and misses with custom too...I guess mail order, spending money in general can be risky.

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