Updated on 03.25.12

Focus on Clothes That Match Well (85/365)

Trent Hamm

The vast majority of my wardrobe is made up of items that simply go well together. I can grab almost any shirt and any pair of pants and they’ll simply work for a typical day. (That’s not to say I don’t have clothes for particularly nice occasions, of course, but we’re looking at typical days.)

This isn’t just luck or happenstance. It’s actually something I’ve planned out over time with every item I’ve purchased. It’s a big money saver and something of a time saver as well.

Focus on Clothes That Match Well (85/365)

First of all, I’ll admit that I’m not strongly fashion-conscious. I’ve got a long history of being oblivious to clothes “matching” and “not matching,” something that I often seem to be unable to tell. Sarah has been a great help with this.

What I have learned over the years is that items that don’t match well eventually gravitate out of my regular clothes. I just don’t wear them. If I just don’t wear them, why buy them? That in itself is savings – I just don’t buy clothes that don’t match well with what I already own.

Instead, I focus strictly on well-matching clothes. My pants are generally jeans or dress pants in a few minor variations. My shirts are all cuts and patterns and colors that go well with both ordinary jeans and dress pants – which, incidentally, is an awful lot of things. I can get away with the vast majority of shirts I come across.

My nicer clothes are almost exclusively solid colors with an assortment of ties that go with any of them and a jacket that doesn’t clash with the vast majority of them (with some aid from Sarah in the selection, of course).

All of these decisions were made when buying the clothes, not later on when I was filtering them.

Why do this? Simply put, it saves me both money and time over and over again.

For starters, I don’t have to worry about having particular items washed very often. As long as I have a significant number of items clean, I’m fine. I don’t have to run a special load just to make sure this particular item is clean and ready to go. This lets me run my laundry a bit less frequently and allows me to use the most efficient settings when I wash clothes, saving me time and money.

At the same time, I can easily distribute the clothes so that they’re all worn roughly an equal amount. Since most everything goes with most everything else, I can simply keep my clothes rotated so I wear everything once (more or less) before I wear anything again. This more evenly distributes the wear and tear on my clothes, which saves me money by allowing me to gradually buy clothes as I find bargains rather than having to replenish a wardrobe because everything wears out at once. I never have to replace a large chunk of my wardrobe at once, just individual items, which makes it far easier to capitalize on one-off bargains here and there.

It also saves me time in the morning, because I know that pretty much any items of clothing I select will work well together. I don’t have to examine things carefully to determine if there’s a match or not, which means I get into other parts of my morning routine that much more quickly.

The thing is, you can more or less do this with any level of dress. If your work requires business casual (as my life did once upon a time), this works well. If your life draws you to very casual dress (as mine does now), this works well. You just need to select options that are appropriate based on your situation.

Fill your wardrobe with clothes that don’t clash and you’ll find yourself saving time and money.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Jessi says:

    Very smart Trent!

    I sort of stumbled into doing this same sort of thing. I recently found a tank top style and t-shirt style that layer nicely, fit me well, and are appropriate for my business casual environment. So I bought a bunch of each in different complimenting colors and now 90% of the time I just grab a tank and a T in mostly matching colors and go! (I can wear a nice pair of jeans to work, and dark jeans always match these shirts so I’m lucky there!)

  2. kc says:

    That photo: yikes!

  3. J says:

    Excellent advice! Perhaps I’m biased, though, because it’s the same advice I’ve been giving people for a while now. Match your clothing when you buy it, not when you go to put it on. Buying clothing that is highly interchangeable will allow you to have far fewer articles of clothing without reducing your total number of available outfits. This in turn allows you to purchase higher-quality clothing, which saves money in the long run (due to lasting much longer than crappy clothing) but often has a very prohibitive start-up cost, especially if you’re buying new clothing all the time. Of just as much importance is to buy classics – things that will still be in style a few decades from now. A good quality white dress shirt can last decades. That paisley dress shirt from the 70s… well, let’s just say you’d be better off wearing the white one.
    As a small add-on piece of advice: embrace the undershirt. Lots of people I know refuse to wear them, and I don’t know why. They make your clothing last longer (less skin contact) and in many cases will allow you to wear that outer-shirt again before washing it. Plus, if you buy GOOD undershirts (hint: Hanes suck compared to good undershirts. Fruit of the Loom is even worse), they’re the most comfortable thing you’ll ever wear and will last 5x longer than a cheap one.

  4. BirdDog says:

    Really? A clip-on tie?

  5. Linda Melloncamp says:

    I found this quite good information. However, as a woman I find this much harder as there seems to be so many more fashion “situations” for women. Would you please respond or have Sara respond on how to accomplish this for a woman that must have a casual wardrobe, business casual wardrobe and a special occasion and church wardrobe. Many thanks! Really enjoy your blog!

  6. Ryan says:

    Here’s a practical guide with a similar sort of message, particularly useful for a man who strives for a sort of classic American style of dress: http://putthison.com/post/712103418/the-essential-mans-wardrobe-perhaps-the-most

    I think about this list a lot when I shop nowadays, and I’ve found that the more I understand about dressing well, the smaller my wardrobe is actually becoming. FWIW that site tends to generally offer great advice to men looking to dress nicely without spending a fortune.

  7. Jules says:

    Okay, usually I’m oblivious to Trent’s many writing sins, but “gravitate out of” is horrible. It’s “gravitate towards” or “away from”. You can’t gravitate out of anything, unless it’s a brane (and I’m not sure of that…any theoretical physicists want to correct me?).

    My own fashion money-saver is to only buy jeans with a similar wash. Since I’m a jeans-and-t-shirt person, the possibilities are nearly endless.

  8. Gillian says:

    Ha, I used to get my mum to tie my school tie in a way that meant I just had to loosen it each day to slip it off, then slip it on the next morning and tighten it. As a dyspraxic person I was never going to learn how to do a Windsor knot correctly – a clip-on tie would have been great. Thankfully I’m female so will only ever need to wear a tie as a fashion statement.

  9. donna says:

    I wear black, & MORE black. I accent w/1 color style of my choice, or just a nice piece of jewelry (kiss)…keep it simple…& never a ton of makeup (no drama)…change up the textures also

  10. Donald says:

    Great article as always, Trent. By the way, do you know of any great sites for Clip-on Tie coupons?

  11. Bobbi says:

    OK, once again I hear about the expense of laundering. Have you ever heard of/tried Soap Nuts? For around 20.00 you can purchase a pound of them and they last for around 360 loads. That figures out to just a pinch over .05 per load. And the beauty of them is that you do not need fabric softener. They do it all. Check them out at http://www.webesoapnuts.com. Yes, other places sell them, but not as cheaply. I’ve been using them for years and they are all natural and no lingering fragrance for those sensitive to perfumes.

  12. Tom says:

    I think one would find it difficult to find a tie for a 4 year old that is not a clip-on.
    (Look at the size of the clothes in relation to the door trim, they’re obviously for children).

  13. Ian Mackaye says:

    Comments #2 and #4 aren’t too observant. These are obviously children’s clothes, and frankly, there is nothing wrong with a child wearing a clip-on tie. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a standard tie in a child size.

  14. Jen says:

    Simply put, where is Johanna? Maybe Donald knows?

  15. Johanna says:

    “I hate my commenters.” – Trent Hamm.

  16. Johanna says:

    Well, that got through. Why have my other comments not?

  17. kc says:

    Those look like adult clothes from the 80’s. I’d bet money they’re not kid’s clothes.

  18. kc says:

    I just had a comment go to moderation as well.

  19. Johanna says:

    I bet we’re not the only ones, kc. And Trent’s lost interest in checking the mod queue.

  20. Johanna says:

    Keeping comments to tweet-length seems to help. But it’s still not a sure thing.

  21. Roberta says:

    Donald, I think you’re rude.

    Gillian – my husband did the same thing for our boys when they were too small to tie their own ties.

    There is something to be said for the ease of a uniform, whether an actual one or one you make up. My husband wears a light blue shirt and navy pants to work everyday, unless he’s seeing clients and needs to wear a suit. Some people might find that boring, but he thinks it makes life very easy. (He doesn’t wear the same one every day – he has two week’s worth). If you look at other peoples’ clothes, you may realize they have developed a uniform of their own – everything in matching shades of black and gray, for example.

  22. Riki says:

    Yeah, only like 1 in 10 comments gets through now. Mine are all in moderation and not coming out – this website is dying, that’s for sure.

  23. Valleycat1 says:

    #5 Linda check out capsule wardrobe ideas, or some of the minimalist sites. These days women’s outfits do not have to match so much as coordinate. It helps to stay mostly within one “look” or style. And having a smaller selection doesn’t mean all one color.

  24. MARIA says:

    #5 Linda. I have the same problem. I just try to keep it very basic.
    One solution I have found is with my business casual clothes is that I always wear a lite sweater/jacket to work ( it is always freezing in the office). This allows me to wear a more casual blouse that also doubles as daily casual wear.
    A few years ago I down sized by wardrobe by more than 70% and my new rule is if I purchase something new, something must get donated to good will.
    I do not dress in my “Sunday best” for church. Church clothes are usually the same as business and a few of my nicer casual clothes.

  25. MARIA says:

    #21 Roberta
    Agree with the developing a uniform comment. That would definitely describe my business clothes.
    All of my children went to Catholic school and wore uniforms. I LOVED it!!! The only decisions we had to make in the the mornings were blue socks or white socks.

  26. jim says:

    I assume we have the recent troll activity to blame for increased moderation.

    I don’t think thats childs clothing based on the scale. Notice they are hung on a closet and the closet slider door width implies the shirt is adult sized to me.

    I see nothing wrong with clip on ties for children or adults. If you think that is ‘tacky’ or whatever, then who really cares.

  27. Kai says:

    Women might need a slightly larger wardrobe, but I think the same things can apply.
    For one, the idea that a woman shouldn’t wear the same dress to more than one occasion is absurd. A woman doesn’t need a whole ‘special occasion wardrobe’. She needs a couple of nice skirts/dresses or whatever. And Trent mentioned that that was an exception. Needing three dresses and a skirt for really dressy things on the side of the closet doesn’t negate the principal.
    As for church, I can’t possibly imagine what would make up a ‘church wardrobe’ that couldn’t be taken from the ‘business casual’ or ‘business’ dress.
    A woman also probably works primarily in one environment, and thus needs a set of clothes for that. It’s very possible to own a few different skirts, and a few different pants which pretty much all go with a selection of nice shirts and a blazer or two.
    Even if a second ‘casual’ set is needed, it’s easy to just have two reasonable sized sets of clothing which are internally interchangeable.

  28. kc says:

    This is one of those cases where it’d be really swell if Trent would comment. If those clothes are hanging in front of a standard closet with sliding doors, and if the trim is around the closet is appx. 4″ wide, the shirt’s sleeves are about 30″ long. Which is a bit much for a four year old.

    Only Trent and Brittany know for sure – it SURE WOULD BE NICE IF ONE OF THEM WOULD COMMENT!

  29. Cindy says:

    Over the past month or so, there have been posts commenting on the negative comments sometimes posted, and a few posters even wondering why they’re not being weeded out. Perhaps the statement, “Comments that don’t contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness of other readers will be deleted” is being enforced?

  30. BirdDog says:

    #13 – look at that photo a little closer. Those are adult clothes.

  31. Sharp says:

    Found you on LifeHacker. As someone that just started a budget-minded menswear blog, I am glad others see the practicality in a wardrobe with pieces that complement each other.

    Just wanted to add that many of your nicer shirts are solids, which actually creates the versatility to afford opportunities to add subtle personality pieces such as inexpensive accessories from http://www.thetiebar.com.

    Keep up the good work! Especially on the bit that “you can more or less do this with any level of dress”.

  32. Venkateshwar Seetharam Ramapalli says:

    Johanna, I love your comments. That’s one of the reasons why I come to this site anymore … looking for your comments.

    I’d bet if you compliled all your comments here and created a blog of your own, it’d be pretty popular. You’d probably get ALL of Trent’s traffic.

    Wonder if this one goes into Moderation.

  33. Donald says:

    To Reberta: Well, I never! Hrrumph! I just appreciate a website with lots of coupons – don’t we all? That’s hardly a constructive thing for you to say to me is it? I refer you to Trent’s rules: “Negativity is not welcome”!

  34. Donald says:

    To Riki: We all know Trent is a brilliant, innovative writer who throoughly deserves his success. Truly he is professional writer material! To say this state of the art, helpful and informative site is in trouble is simply not accurate. By the way does anyone know a great site for Writing Tutorial coupons? Thanks in advance.

  35. Carl Lassegue says:

    Although I understand what Trent is saying I don’t usually just buy things that match what I already have. I like to branch out and buy different colors and patterns that I don’t already own or have.

  36. Kai says:

    I thought Donald was just being facetious for fun, but the way he is continuing makes me move to troll and wonder where exactly he is going.

  37. Kai says:

    to Carl, #34
    It depends on your preferences and values. If you put a high value on frugality, and don’t much care for fashion, this tip is excellent. If you get a lot of enjoyment out of clothing choices and wearing different colours and patters, then your ideal is going to be different.

  38. MizLoo says:

    Linda @ #5
    There is an old book called either “Working WArdrobe” by janet WAllach, so old that you can probably find it on alibris or one of the other second hand book sites. It was written in the 80’s and the illustrations are good for a laugh, but the principles are timeless (a. chose a set of colors -eg black red and white and buy things that mix and match – b) watch the lines of your clothes so they are compatible (eg don’t mix a blazer with a ruffled print) .

    I’ve so thoroughly absorbed the ideas that even in retirement my winter clothes are black, gray, cream and red; while my summer clothes are khaki, white and red, with some jewel tones. Everything goes with everything else, transitional seasons are covered with sweaters and multi-weight jackets, and I get variety with textures, multicolored scarves.and eye-catching jewelry.

    Check out the book – it’s a keeper.

  39. MARIA says:

    Why on earth is it important for a reader to know if the attached picture is of child or adult clothes? And seriously, someone is analyzing the width of the trim and closet door to try and figure it out??? This is a pf blog!

  40. Gretchen says:

    You’d think a work at home writer would just wear jeans and tshirts.

  41. Tom says:

    Oops, I totally missed that these clothes were hanging on 2 doors. my bad.

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