Ask Jeanne

ASK JEANNE Quality Fare

March 14 print
Question: I love the thrill of a fashion deal. How do I stop buying cheap-and-cheerful items from stores like H&M and start buying investment pieces (especially from Canadian designers) without spending too much money? Where to start? -Jane
Dear Jane:

I know how hard it can be to resist a quick fashion fix, and I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey on your harmless habit. Sometimes, an innocent little inexpensive garment or accessory is all we can afford, and lord knows we all crave that feeling of sporting something brand new every now and then. What does get dangerous, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, is spending your money on too many of these so-called “cheap and cheerful” pieces. At the end of the day, you wind up with a closet full of “schmattes” and an absence of having the luxury of good quality in your weak wardrobe.

And trust me, nothing feels better than knowing you’re wearing a well-designed item that not only fits well, but feels great, and has some real longevity to it. I find that the most beloved pieces in my closet are the ones I can go to time and time again—the ones that haven’t fallen apart, or been so super-trendy that I tire of them after a season. There’s nothing that can replace a good basic, and some of my black pieces, especially those silky or matte jersey pieces by Canada’s Lida Baday, have been with me for years. You’ve probably heard it before, but when you start thinking about the countless times you’re wearing a particular much-loved garment or accessory—particularly one that’s really versatile—you realize that each “wear” is only costing you a very small fraction of its initial price. And that, my dear, is what true investment dressing is all about. The practice of paying a bit more for a lasting item, rather than scooping all these junky finds, is also much more politically correct. After all, think of all those “quick fix” clothes that frequently become next season’s landfill!


Of course, you often do get what you pay for in fashion, and sometimes, the quality pieces you’re longing for can get costly. You’ve got to look for the sales, and while that means that sometimes you may not be able to splurge on the latest-and-greatest pieces right away, the ones that really count are usually basic enough that they’ll still be in fashion long after the current season. Try sticking to colours that you won’t tire of easily, and styles that you’ll be able to wear in a multitude of ways. Of course, if you can sniff around, you might be lucky enough to find some of these great Canadian designer pieces at sample sales. Try calling the showrooms of your favourite Canadian designers, and inquire when their sample sales are taking place, and if perhaps they might be open to the public. And sample sale fare isn’t always necessarily comprised of sample sizes. Sometimes, designers are left with excess stock they have to get rid of. You never know what you might find. You might also want to scour consignment shops or even some vintage or thrift shops and keep your eyes open for the right labels and the right looks. I know lots of people who wear great quality clothing that’s been abandoned by the original owner who simply got tired of the look—and they found it at a second-hand shop!


In terms of accessories, though we love to change things up sometimes, there’s really something to be said for a kind of consistency in cool, well-designed pieces, especially when it comes to jewelry. I’d suggest splurging on one or two pieces by a Canadian talent like Dean Davidson and make that statement a personal style signature for yourself. You could get a really cool pendant or cuff from Davidson for under $100 that would not only provide a beautiful accent for your outfit, but could also serve as a great conversation piece. Ditto for something like a scarf, and few make scarves more fabulous than Tilo’s Sandy Lum, a Toronto-based designer with a huge international appeal. Remember, less is often more when it comes to good taste and great style. You may have to work a little harder to get the edited wardrobe you want, but in the end, it’ll work a lot better for you.