A Fashion Editor Reveals: How I Really Spend My Money on Clothes

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InStyle’s Special Projects Editor Cindy Weber Cleary has been a fashion editor for the past 20-plus years. Needless to say, she’s picked up some tricks along the way. Catch her column here each week for how-to tips and style secrets on her favorite, timeless styles.

Many people assume that, because I have been a fashion editor for so many years, I wear only top designer labels and that I always wear clothes from the current season. The truth is that my wardrobe skews about 30 percent designer, 70 percent mass brands, and many of the expensive items are not new.

This morning I decided to count the non-designer brands that I wear on a weekly basis (in other words, excluding clothes for special occasions, vacations, athletic apparel, jeans, etc.). The top two labels turned out to be Vince and J.Crew, followed by Uniqlo, Gap, Banana Republic, Zara, Theory, and Ann Taylor. These workhorses—a black cropped pant, here, a cotton T-shirt, there—are the “glue” that make the whole system work.

Being a smart shopper means knowing what’s worth spending top dollar on and what’s not. If you have unlimited funds, by all means, buy a pricey plain top from a famous designer if it makes you feel good, but you don’t have to.


Shop it (from left): Theory, $265, theory.com; Uniqlo, $80, uniqlo.com; Zara, $60, zara.com.

I have many pairs of black pants and skirts in different shapes and materials: a classic wool wide-leg trouser from Vince, a slim cotton skinny pant from Theory, a silk faille cropped trouser from J. Crew, a leather pencil skirt, also from Vince, and an A-line silk one from Zara, to name a few. I also own a variety of sweater styles from Vince, J. Crew and Uniqlo; t-shirts from Gap Body and J. Crew; tops and shirts from Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and Uniqlo.


Shop it (clockwise from top left): Vince pants, $265, vince.com; Ann Taylor pants, $98, anntaylor.com; Banana Republic pencil skirt, $90, bananarepublic.com; Zara A-line skirt, $60, zara.com.

Having a range of staples in neutral colors allows you to put together outfits that let your closet “all-stars"—such as my Stella McCartney grey wool tuxedo jacket, my black tweed Chanel cardigan with leather trim, my growing collection of special Dries Van Noten coats—shine!

Note that my big investments are all classic shapes. No crazy one-off trends such as culottes, designer sweatshirts, or 1970s-inspired fringed jackets. If I am going to spend a chunk of my paycheck on one piece of clothing, I need to wear it for years … and, at some point, I may want to resell it to a consignment shop. Top designer labels can deliver a good return on investment. “Fast fashion” and inexpensive basics do not. Wear them until they need replacing or updating, then donate them to the Salvation Army or the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The key to putting together a successful, long-lasting wardrobe is to spend the most on things you love that are examples of fine craftsmanship and to skimp on simpler items that are easily replaceable. It’s that easy.

Shop the J.Crew pants pictured at top for $298 at j.crew.com

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