Essentials on a Budget

On a recent blustery evening, Mr. Mickey and I had an early dinner date. Under my heavy gray coat (shown here), I wore a silk blouse, a black cashmere v-neck sweater, and black slacks. The suede pumps have a two-inch heel, and the little reptile print bag is a few years old, as are all the other elements. The crystals and pearl jewelry elevate without too much drama. An understated and subtle style always feels most comfortable to me.


A mid-thigh or above the knee, single-breasted coat looks great worn casually with pants or dresses. If you have short legs like me or are petite, this length will be the one you reach for most often. The detail at the waist is a feminine touch. There are no oversized cuffs, collars, belting, toggles, fake fur, or bright buttons. I found the coat here. Now that you know the style of coat that goes with everything let’s talk about quality. A cashmere or wool coat will hang better, last longer, and keep you warmer than manufactured materials.

A dark neutral bag looks more elegant no matter when or where you carry it. If I could only afford one, it would be black. I found this one here.

If limited to only a couple of pairs of jeans, I would buy a white pair and a black pair. Either color can be dressed up or down with a good blazer and a nice blouse. Here are the jeans pictured. A slightly bootcut or straight leg style is the most timeless.

A stylish, comfortable pair of waterproof booties can take you almost anywhere and make you look sharp while keeping your feet dry. I found these here.

A good-looking cardigan sweater in a dark color can elevate any look, and you can wear them almost year-round if you have cool summer evenings. I found the one above here.

A long sleeve white tee can be the first layer or stand-alone. I found this one here.

59 Comments
  1. Thank you Susan, for the very practical and affordable suggestions. You always look like a million $ regardless of the amount spent.

  2. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this great post! Very nice, yet simple, detailing on the coat suggestion which has an elegant look and you certainly can’t beat the price. I couldn’t agree more about buying good quality but, needless to say, taking good care of those items is key so they last. You certainly take care of your clothes well and I would be interested in hearing more about care and seasonal storage. I truly enjoy your posts and look forward to reading about your adventures with Mr. Mickey.

    1. Thank you, Kerry. I don’t store items for the seasons other than handwashing and putting my cashmere sweaters in a drawer with freshly sanded cedar planks. Instead, I hang things on a rolling rack after I wear them to allow them to air out for a couple of days before putting them away. Also, there is space between each garment hanging in my closet, so I press when needed before putting the laundered item away. Finally, I avoid using the dryer since that is the most damaging thing we do to clothing.

  3. You knocked this one out of the park! Thank you, I’ve never shopped Nordstrom Rack before, but I will purchase some of these items from your links.
    I like high quality clothing, but I think my husband would also like to retire at some point, haha, so I appreciate being able to look good on a budget.
    I appreciate all the comments from the Florida ladies, as we hope to be snowbirds there soon!
    I’m slightly nervous about wearing golf attire and going sleeveless….not sure how to look dignified down there!
    Blessings,

    Toni

  4. I really appreciate all of your advice. Even though my body type is probably just about the opposite of yours, your discussion about proportion helps me think through my choices. Something you said today puzzles me, though. “A mid-thigh, single-breasted coat looks great with pants or dresses. If you have short legs like me or are petite, this length will be the one you reach for most often.” I can see how that works well for a petite woman, but for someone with short legs, it seems like the mid-thigh length would make your legs look shorter and make your thighs look wider. (I have transitioned from mid-thigh cardigans and jackets to hip length (top of thigh) or knee length (or just above knee). Do you have any further insights on the recommended length for coats (and sweater, tunics, etc.) for short (and not-thin) legs? Thank you.

    1. While I enjoy wearing tops and sweaters that end at the top of the thigh or even shorter, I sometimes feel overwhelmed in an overcoat that ends at the knee or longer. But, a car coat or stroller length keeps me reasonably warm and is more comfortable while walking or driving.

  5. Susan — what a helpful and much appreciated post. How kind of you to respond to those of us looking to trim our wardrobe budget. For the last month or so, I have been putting your ideas into action — wearing classic essentials in plain colors that flatter my complexion and my *curvy* body shape. Well, as I was checking out of the doctor’s office today, two of the young receptionists commented enthusiastically on my cream-colored faux leather bomber jacket . One then went in to say how great it looked over my simple dark teal tee and indigo jeans. I also had on a teal and cream scarf as well as bootie/shoes similar to the ones you showed today. Those compliments absolutely made my day and I felt so confident. Thank you for helping me feel fantastic at 64! (My apologies for such a verbose comment.)

  6. Such a great post Susan. Love the coat, (especially for the price), and the little cross body bag is great too. Well done and helpful to those on a budget to get a great look, for less. I have downsized my wardrobe yet again recently and I kept just one smaller crossbody black purse I’ve had forever for dinner out while wearing a dress, (pre-Covid), and I love the freedom it has brought me from trying to match purses to clothes shoes etc. I like crossbody purses when out too because I feel more secure having my purse on my person than hanging it on a chair in a restaurant etc. For me, I like having the smallest possible wardrobe at my life stage now. (60s) I used to like to have lots of mix and match choices, but I just don’t anymore so I put ten outfits together — one for each day of the week plus three others and that’s it! Has taken me years to get to this m.o. where I didn’t feel like that was too few clothes, but I am loving it now. It has been very freeing from a space, laundry, shopping, and money-saving point of view, and also not having to make so many decisions of what to wear to look put together, yet be comfy. Might not work for everyone, but I think we all need to find our own style and let it evolve over time too as we grow and change. And our climate etc. makes a difference too — am still trying to adjust my clothes some from SoCal to AZ even after three+ years moving here. Thanks for all your posts; you do a wonderful job and your shorter haircut is really nice! Mr. Mickey always looks so dapper, too. 🙂

    1. I have come to the same realization, Kathryn. An overstuffed closet always overwhelmed me, but the much smaller selection I have now serves me well for any occasion. It’s wise to use and enjoy everything you own.

  7. Perfect understatements.
    But now I have a challenge for you.
    It’s very hard to find good T-shirts, both long and short sleeved, that have the perfect neck. For me the perfect crew neck is one that lies on or as close to the collarbone as possible (men’s T-shirts always look perfect.)
    Over the years, I’ve found limited success with an online company called American Apparel but I would love to have a choice.
    Can you help?
    Best wishes.

  8. Thank you for the ideas for a budget quality wardrobe. Like many others, I’ve been paring down my wardrobe,finding that as I am now retired I really don’t need much. Using your suggestions I’ve been able to look stylish with fewer pieces. And, not shopping as much now I have more time (and money) for other pursuits. I’m finally finding time to read, and I remember you asking us for reading suggestions. I just finished reading “West with Giraffes” and found that a wonderful read. It is a nonfiction book that also includes a mention of the first woman to ever lead a zoo (San Diego).

  9. I got a pair of VanEli scalloped edge, peep-toe, red, nubuck, ballet flats from eBay. They appear to be brand new and they cost $25. They have to be the cutest shoes I’ve ever owned. Also from eBay, I got a no iron, red and white striped Lands End blouse in perfect condition for $25. These prices include CA state tax and shipping.

    I hung out in my house this afternoon wearing the shoes and blouse with jeans rolled up a little to show my ankles. What a Life!

    I only buy eBay shoes in brands that I have worn before so I know the chances are that they will fit. eBay is fun, and budget, but maybe not for everyone.

  10. Please continue to include pictures and details of your dinner dates with Mr Mickey. You both always look so elegant and sophisticated even though you might only be going to a small neighborhood restaurant or having dinner at home. I try emulating your thought process, and find that having a wardrobe in basic well-made clothes truly allows me to choose an outfit quickly, while still being able to look and feel a bit chic. It’s also inspiring to learn how you can create a lovely meal at home with simple menu items arranged on pretty crystal or china. You’ve allowed me to see that one need not spend hours preparing a meal, but should spend quality time with guests instead.

  11. Such simple elegance. Do you have size suggestions when wearing a cardigan or V-neck sweater over a blouse or t-shirt style top? For instance, if you are normally a small what size do you wear over another top?

    1. The real secret is to wear a relaxed fit garment over a slim fit item. The first layer should fit snug but not tight, and ideally, the fabric should be silky so that the top garment glides across it.

  12. Thanks for all the great informative posts of late! I second the request for help with finding better tees, especially long sleeved crew neck ones. I wear these almost daily during the cold winter months here in Canada, but have not been able to find any good quality ones lately.

  13. I don’t usually shop thrift stores, but I have found some wonderful buys at discount stores. You do have to check often and don’t expect to be able to find what you want when you want it. Keep an open mind and whenever you can, visit the discount stores. You never know what name brand item you might find at a discounted price! Love your classic looks, Susan!

  14. Susan, this was a great article, full of useful information. I have been following your suggestions for a few years, wearing more solids, rather than print tops, and caught a look at myself in a store mirror, noticing how much slimmer and put together I looked. Thank you. I love the way prints look on the rack, but on myself, not so much.

  15. You have been an absolute godsend for helping transition to my over60 wardrobe gracefully and effortlessly. Thank you! I was lost before finding your site!

  16. Thank you! This is great information! Good jumping off point for me. I have different coloring than you and have to go with more of a navy and cream or khaki so I don’t look washed out. I really appreciate your advice.

  17. Appreciate the lower price options but please continue to tell us where you got the original items or similar. A poplin shirt really can’t replace a silk blouse nor a gray cardigan replace a sleek black cashmere sweater.

  18. I absolutely love Amazon Essentials brand tee shirts (long & short sleeve) & sweaters (cardigans & pullovers, womens & mens).

    Amazon Essentials Women’s Classic-Fit Long-Sleeve Crewneck T-Shirt: soft, smooth fabric. Very breathable, excellent length, wash & wear. 56% Cotton, 38% Modal, 6% Spandex. It is a true tee shirt fabric, not slippery, just smooth. I bought them in 7 colors.

    Amazon Essentials Women’s 100% Cotton Long-Sleeve V-Neck Sweater: very soft, smooth knit, medium-weight. Cotton makes them breathable & no itch or static! The neckline is not too low (no cleavage!), I wear them both with & without an under-blouse. I bought them in 6 colors.

    Very affordable, lovely color choices and I have been greatly pleased with the quality.

  19. I love all the items you linked, classic and practical! I plan to order the coat but with a cat and dog that shed I need a really effective tool to remove pet hair. Do you have any suggestions?

  20. Thank you for assembling a classic, stylish wardrobe that most women can actually afford! It’s frustrating to see looks on sites that feature designer pieces that are priced far too high for my clothing budget. Your essential wardrobe will work for any occasion thanks to the versatile pieces, colors, and styles. I realize I have many of these pieces in my closet now so I am off to a good start. Thanks for this!

  21. It’s obvious that you put a lot of thought and time into what you’ve shared and I appreciate that so much! I have followed so many of your suggestions about the solid tops and only have white and black pants now, along with several shades of denim. Almost everything goes with everything so I can take a little extra time to have fun with accessories! However, I can’t give up capris and longer shorts here in our hot Texas weather, (i do have longer legs), but the same guidelines apply!

  22. Hi Susan,

    I so enjoy your posts! I have learned so much, and you have really helped me refine my own style. Plus your adventures with Mr. Mickey are such fun.

    My favorite budget resource for quality basicst is Quince (www.onequince.com). Their cashmere sweaters are excellent quality and so affordable ($50 for a basic v-neck or crewneck) and they currently come in 10 classic colors. Quince also has lounge wear, washable silk, linen and other products that I have not tried, but I am a huge fan of their sweaters.

    I look forward to every post. Thanks again,

    Carol James

  23. Susan,

    You have made it easy to choose wisely with key pieces that add interest such as jewelry scarves and shoe choices. A simple outfit suddenly becomes a wow outfit without being over the top. Classic with style is what I want to present myself as. Self-assurance is priceless when dressed this way because it’s true that when “you look good you feel good.”

    A black wool coat is a must for me. The length above the knee is perfect and not as confining as a longer coat for driving and keeping the wind out. Longer coats are nice but one wrong move near the car in winter results in a white residue from road salt. A clothes brush in the car usually takes care of that.
    We are under a “winter storm watch” so off to market with me!
    Thank you for your good-hearted sharing of your tips and good sense dressing.

  24. You look beautiful and every time I see you I question my long hair choice. It’s new to me and I’m turning 60 next week. I also want you to know how much I admire your traditional home. I truly enjoy your posts. I’m much more warm in coloring with strawberry blonde hair so I’ve been trying to adapt your choices to me. Choices for us with warmer complextions would be appreciated.

  25. Thank you for this latest post. As a retiree a fixed income poses a challenge on wardrobe choices and this is most helpful.

  26. I have learned SO much from your posts
    I no longer buy ANYTHING that doesn’t go with 3 items. No impulses
    Every single tidbit is priceless
    I have saved money and time
    I feel much more. Confident and put together
    Thank u Susan

  27. I loved your spring/summer dresses from last year. I would like to get a jump on buying similar. Where are you looking for dresses this year?

  28. I have bought items from Target, Costco and TJMaxx in the past, and ultimately got rid of them, because they became limp or scratchy over time. I now prefer to shop end of season at places like Talbots and Chicos. For very little extra, these pieces feel better and last longer in the long run.

  29. Dear Susan,
    I’ve recently purchased several items online from a new company, Quince, which I first learned of through an advertisement in the New York Times. The fabrics are silk, cashmere and alpaca. Their colors are mostly neutral. The prices are so reasonable that I initially hesitated in purchasing them, thinking they may be of poor quality. However, I’m quite pleased with both the quality of the fabrics and the fit of the garments. I haven’t had them long enough to wash (the silk is washable silk) so can’t comment on that. I thought you might want to check this out for your readers. Barbara

  30. I love your posts. Thank you so much for your suggestions. I have followed many of them with great success.
    You are a treasure.
    I have tried Quince but have not had the same success as others. My cashmere hoodie has pilled though I have not washed it. The zipper is cheap and a struggle. My daughter had the same problem. I love the feel of the SuperSoft hoodie and pants but the pants are now too short after multiple washings. The company is very nice to deal with and perhaps I was just unlucky.
    I bought a silk scarf from your site in 2019. It was a stretch for me but it looks as lovely as the day I bought it. I consider that a real bargain.

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I blogged for five years as Fifty, not Frumpy. Now that I am in my sixties, I am sharing ideas and inspiration for using and loving what you already have.

Thank you!
Susan

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