Don't get caught in the trap of overspending on something you'll only wear once. Here's what's worth the investment, and what you can get away with buying on the cheap.
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Model wearing black work dress
While it's not a bad idea to own a few favorite dresses in classic colors like black or jewel tones that you've spent a little more money on but will happily wear for years, there are so many affordable options out there that it's more than ok to add one or two to your wardrobe for a few seasons.
| Credit: Craig Cutler

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White t-shirt
Credit: Jens Mortensen

T-Shirts = Scrimp

With a host of specialty T-shirt lines out there that promise ultra-soft fabrics and effortlessly cool cuts, it’s tempting to spring for one of these souped-up staples. But since tees are a staple, they get a lot of use, and consequently a lot of washes. Translation? A short shelf-life and a good place to save money.

Skinny Jeans
Credit: Johnny Miller

Jeans = Splurge

High-quality denim can be nearly indestructible, especially considering jeans don’t require washing after every wear. Since they’re such an everyday item, invest a little in a few styles from a brand that works really well for your particular shape. Denim micro-trends may come and go, but classic cuts that fit you flawlessly will last for years.

Model wearing black tights and heels
Credit: Jody Rogac

Tights and Hosiery = Scrimp

Much like t-shirts, tights are a staple that you’ll wear and wash regularly (at least during the winter months). And while this is a category where high cost does mean high quality, unless you’re willing to hand-wash your $60 tights after each wear, you’re better off stocking up on several cheap pairs for the season and cutting your losses should they happen to snag.

White bra in pink box
Credit: Yunhee Kim

Bras = Splurge

Since bras are literally the foundation for your outfit, this is a good place to make an investment (and often a necessary one for larger-busted women). Make sure to get a bra fitting, and opt for colors you’ll get the most use out of, particularly a nude tone that matches your skin (and will disappear under white or sheer clothing).

Model jumping and wearing gym clothes
Credit: Craig Cutler

Gym Clothes = Scrimp

Once upon a time, it was necessary to spend some serious dough on designer gym clothing, unless you were comfortable in your old college tees and stretched-out shorts as work-out gear. But with the rise of the athleisure trend, well-priced—and well-known—companies like Target, Forever 21, and Old Navy are getting into the game with functional activewear that’s also cute enough to make you want to hit the gym.

Black Trousers
Credit: Jens Mortensen

Black Pants = Splurge

Another staple that will get regular use, black trousers work around the clock. Wear them to the office with a crisp white button-down, or use them as a base for a silky blouse for more formal events. Properly cared for, a well-made pair in a classic straight cut will still look stylish and good-as-new years later.

Silo of Blazer
Credit: Ralph Smith

Jackets and Blazers = Splurge

Not only are these types of pieces instant outfit makers, it’s an area where quality is really readily visible. Invest in a black blazer with an impeccable fit, and a great embellished jacket. You can throw on either over nearly any ensemble—from jeans and a white tee to your work-wardrobe go-tos—for an immediate upgrade.

Stack of folded clothes
Credit: Christopher Griffith

Trends = Scrimp

Here’s the thing about trends: they’re fleeting. They last for a season before being replaced by the Next Big Thing. Amp up your wardrobe—and save yourself some money—by test-driving trends with options from lower-priced retailers. Should one prove to have sticking power (over-the-knee boots, anyone?) for future seasons, you’ll already know whether or not it’s something you’re willing to invest more money in.

Model wearing black work dress
Credit: Craig Cutler

Day and Work Dresses = Scrimp

While it’s not a bad idea to own a few favorite dresses in classic colors like black or jewel tones that you’ve spent a little more money on but will happily wear for years, there are so many affordable options out there that it’s more than ok to add one or two to your wardrobe for a few seasons.

Model wearing blue blouse and navy pencil skirt.
Credit: Sascha Pflaeging

Suiting = Splurge

Like jackets, suiting is another wardrobe element where a good investment is readily visible. Avoid trends and stick to quality fabrics like gabardine, and classic flattering cuts, like bootleg or straight pants and pencil skirts, for seasonless wear-to-work options.

Ann Taylor Nude Heels
Credit: Peter Ash Lee

Work Shoes = Splurge

Since you’ll wear them nearly every day, it’s a good idea to spend a little more money on shoes that you know you’ll be comfortable in. For a shoe selection that will work with any office outfit, keep one pair of black pumps and one pair of nude pumps on hand.

Model wearing black dress and leopard print accessories
Credit: Jessica Antola

Evening Clothing = Scrimp

Whether it’s a formal dress, fancy shoes, or a bedazzled bag, these are all pieces you probably won’t wear frequently, so don’t pour too much money into this category. Pretty, lower-priced options are easy to find at on-trend stores like Zara, or try scouring vintage stores for special clutches and bags.

Still life of maroon coat in snow
Credit: Craig Cutler

Winter Coats = Splurge

Spending a little more on outerwear for the colder months ensures higher-quality materials—like down versus a polyester-based filling—that will keep you warm and comfortable when the temperatures drop below freezing.

Model wearing white top and costume jewelry
Credit: Peter Ash Lee

Jewelry = Scrimp

Fine jewelry has a time and a place, but for everyday outfits, costume is the way to go. From bold statement necklaces to stacks of bangles, jewelry is the final touch that ties an outfit together, and can look surprisingly good at surprisingly low prices.