Should You Buy Expensive Clothes?

Valentino

Valentino Striped Dress at Neiman Marcus $4,990

It’s a question many women ask themselves when faced with a large price tag. They see a garment, fall in love, look at the price tag, and do one of three things:

  • Leave it at the store. They can’t afford it, so that’s that.
  • Leave it for the time being, talk themselves into it later, then go back and buy it.
  • Buy it on the spot.

But should you indulge on pricey items?

It depends.

On your goals. Your job. Your plans for the future.

Because it’s not JUST about the garment or the expense.

It’s about the role you play in the world and the costumes you need to do it.

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” – William Shakespeare

Years ago I saw a Shakespeare in the park production of Coriolanus. It’s the story of a Roman general who, while good in battle, has little respect for the common man. When he retires from military service and runs for Consul, he easily wins the senate vote. But the people of Rome don’t want him, so they banish him from the city. Ticked, he secures allies and decides to wage war against Rome. His wife and mother persuade him not to, to negotiate peace instead. In the end, he’s killed by his allies for not attacking Rome.

I had never heard of the play before I saw it, but I’ve remembered it ever since.

Why?

Because the costume designer dressed everyone in contemporary clothing. Soldiers were in army fatigues. Senators were in suits. When Coriolanus is banished from Rome, he leaves incognito wearing a trench coat and sunglasses.

Now I know it sounds crazy putting Shakespearean actors spouting 17th Century English in contemporary clothing (Ralph Fiennes did the same thing in his 2011 movie adaptation of Coriolanus, below). But you know what? The audience knew in an instant which character was whom. They could focus on the story because the costuming made it easy to follow.

Coriolanus (2011)

So what in the world does this have to do with you?

And expensive clothing?

If I saw you in your workplace, would I know at a glance what you do?

Or would it take me a while to figure it out?

I ask, because the biggest reason to wear expensive clothing is as a business tool. As a costume, of sorts, to help identify your position in a company. Like the characters in that production of Coriolanus, you want your audience to know in an instant where, exactly, you fit in the scheme of things.

A successful business owner or executive should wear expensive clothes, for example. So should a highly paid consultant or industry celebrity.

If you charge a lot for your goods or services, you should have some expensive pieces as well.

Why?

Because it’s what your clients expect – along with your top-of-the-line skills, of course.

The More You Spend, the Higher Caliber Clients You Attract

Neil Patel

Neil Patel of QuickSprout.com

Tech guru Neil Patel started his company 10 years ago wearing t-shirts and jeans and living in a cheap apartment in the sketchy part of town. He spent long hours working at his office on his computer, so how he dressed and where he lived were of little interest to him.

Until he went to an industry event, that is.

That’s when he noticed that the biggest names in the industry dressed really well. So, for the next event, he upgraded his look…and attracted a fair number of clients. Then he added an expensive watch. Then a Gucci suit. Each time he upgraded to the next level, his client base upleveled as well.

So Neil did what any marketing/tech person would do: he tracked the results of his clothing. On a spreadsheet. He’d give a sales talk to one group wearing one set of clothes, then to a second group wearing a more expensive set of clothes. Same talk, same visuals, same everything – the only difference was the clothes. Then he tracked the results. Time and again the more expensive set of clothes closed more sales at a higher rate. There was no other explanation.

Today he spends six figures a year on clothes to close business deals approaching seven figures. What does he do with all that money? Frequently, he gives it to charity.

So should YOU buy more expensive clothes?

Again, it depends on your goals, your job, and your plans for the future.

When to Spend More…or Not

You should think about upgrading your wardrobe and buying expensive clothes if you:

  • Have a high profile position
  • Are frequently photographed
  • Work with high income clients
  • Charge a lot for your goods or services
  • Anticipate having any of the above in the next 3-6 months

You should not spend a lot of money on clothes if you:

  • Have a low income job
  • Work with low income people
  • Have an entry level position
  • Work with chemicals
  • Work with small children
  • Have a physically demanding job

In other words, if your job doesn’t warrant expensive clothes, don’t wear them.

Why not?

Because it sends a lot of wrong messages.

If you don’t make enough to afford expensive clothes, people will wonder why you’re buying them and assume you don’t know how to handle money. It will hurt your chances for promotion.

If you wear expensive clothes around low income people, it will cause resentment. It could also get you robbed.

If you wear expensive clothes around chemicals or small children, you’re just asking for trouble. Because accidents happen – usually to your most expensive pieces.

Now I know you work hard and like to reward yourself with little luxuries, just like everyone else. But think VERY carefully about rewarding yourself with expensive clothing and accessories that you wear to work, particularly if your income and position doesn’t warrant it.

Now I’m not saying don’t EVER buy luxury goods. I’m saying buy them strategically.

Be a Girl With a Plan

Oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta Tweed Dress Neiman Marcus $1,890

If luxury goods (or a luxury lifestyle) call to you like a siren from the sea, but you don’t have the income or position to warrant them, perhaps it’s time to change positions. Perhaps it’s time to become more visible in your company. Or your industry.

Maybe it’s time to…

  • Publish some articles or give a few speeches.
  • Seek office in your industry association.
  • Volunteer in some high-profile charities in your community, the ones that put you in touch with the “movers and shakers” in your town (like the opera, symphony, or ballet).

Because all of those activities will upgrade your profile, which will then warrant upgrading your appearance. Which will then attract higher profile people to you.

So why can’t you just start wearing luxury goods NOW and have all that stuff happen?

Because it doesn’t work that way.

Again, if you don’t have the income or position to warrant spending a month’s rent on a dress or pair of shoes, it sends the wrong message. You don’t want that.

No, you need to follow a specific order:

  • Upgrade your skills
  • Upgrade your wardrobe
  • Attract high-profile clients

Then, when you’re making lots of money, you can buy whatever you want.

So…should you buy luxury goods?

Absolutely!

So long as your income and position warrant them.

Until then? No. Stay in budget and get your “ducks in a row” so you can move on to bigger things.

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Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton Sikes is an image consultant and author of Wardrobe Magic. Want to find the best clothes for your body, budget, and lifestyle? Wardrobe Magic can help.

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13 Comments

  • Evie

    Reply Reply July 2, 2015

    Great article with some practical advice. Thanks!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 3, 2015

      Thanks, Evie! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Kelly

    Reply Reply July 2, 2015

    This is interesting, as I’ve always heard to dress for the position you want. That would be reversing your first two steps.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 3, 2015

      Hi Kelly,

      You SHOULD dress for the position you want, but you need to have the skill set to back it up. So if you want to upgrade your position, then upgrade your skills, then upgrade your wardrobe, and you’ll attract the people and positions you want.

      Does that mean you should spend years and years upgrading your skills before you do anything? Not necessarily. You don’t have to know EVERYTHING. But you do need to have some competence at that next level. Otherwise, people will know you don’t know what you’re doing. Ever worked with someone who clearly didn’t have a clue? DON’T be that person. If you want the big bucks and the big clients, you need to know what you’re doing.

      As I’ve often said, “How you look will get you in the door; what you know will keep you there.”

  • Katie

    Reply Reply July 3, 2015

    I taught children in the public school system for 34 years. Then I taught at a Level IV prison for ten years. I had a uniform of sorts; dark slacks or skirts and matching top, bright blazer. Heels. Good haircut. Nice nails. I make most of my own clothes so everything was hand tailored and fitted to ME.
    I figured out early in my career that most likely, I would be the most educated person my students would see day in and day out. If education was going to change their lives, they had to see what it looked like.
    Dressed the same when I taught at the prison, where how you dress and your personal grooming sends out an immediate signal of how you respect yourself. I taught Shakespeare in the SHU, where the inmates are locked up 23 hours a day. I gave them the respect of looking professional and in return, I got respect.
    I love beautiful clothes and swoon over gorgeous fabric. And I know what suits me. Diana, your articles and books are great at explaining the fine points and rationale of dressing. You have been able to help me fine-tune my wardrobe, cut down on what pieces I keep and keep current (not People magazine current). I’m looking forward to shopping my own closet for a six week trip to Brazil with one bag and a carry-on. If I can’t carry my own luggage, it’s not going.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 3, 2015

      Hi Katie – I LOVE that line, “…most likely, I would be the most educated person my students would see day in and day out. If education was going to change their lives, they had to see what it looked like.” So, SO true! The costuming is crucial. When you look and act the part, you get the attention and respect you deserve. You’ve touched A LOT of lives in your life and made scores of people BETTER people because of it. Thank you for doing what you do.

      Have a great time in Brazil! The food, the language, the culture – what a treat! You’ll love the freedom of carrying only one bag of well-chosen clothes. Keeping track of lots of luggage for weeks on end is exhausting. Just remember that since Latin countries tend to be more fashionable than other places, you’ll want to include a few fashionable elements, like a scarf, belt, or bracelet, particularly if you plan on socializing a lot. You’ll fit right in. Safe travels!

  • JO

    Reply Reply July 3, 2015

    Hi Diana

    This is a timely article that addresses the very question I had been asking after reading through all your advice, inc. When Status Accessories “Jump the Shark”. It’s almost a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario, esp. if the senior positions are the enabling factor to afford the better wardrobe. I completely agree with your advice that you should attire yourself correctly for your role – it is incredibly important in my opinion and something that we must ensure we teach our children. I guess it is ‘when to deploy’ an upgraded image that is important?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 3, 2015

      Hi Jo – it is absolutely CRUCIAL that we teach our children how to dress correctly. Hiring officials tell me that the biggest reason new college graduates don’t get hired is because they don’t know how to dress. It’s literally killing their careers before they start.

      As to “when to deploy” your upgraded image, my suggestion is the sooner the better. The sooner you act, the sooner you’ll start reaping the rewards. Again, start small by polishing your grooming and pressing your clothes. Then, add higher end pieces over time by shopping consignment stores and eBay. The key is to BE CONSISTENT. You don’t lose weight by dieting and exercising every now and again, and you won’t be seen as a “serious contender” if you’re hit and miss with your appearance. A small clothing capsule with a couple of good pieces is enough to get you started. The key word here? START! You’ll be delighted by the results.

  • Diana

    Reply Reply July 3, 2015

    Glad you liked the article, Jo! Yes, it IS almost a chicken and egg scenario, because you have to have good skills before “advertising your wares,” so to speak, with expensive clothing. But how do you buy expensive clothing if you don’t have money to do so? My suggestion is to start small and visit a few good consignment stores in your area, or hit eBay online. Find a few good, basic pieces – a classic business suit, an Hermes scarf, a beautiful handbag – and go from there. You don’t have to buy everything at once, and you can mix-and-match with less expensive pieces at any time. Your main goal is to look polished and pulled together – which even an inexpensive, well pressed garment will allow you to do. Nice manners and impeccable grooming will open doors in every country in the world.

  • Teresa

    Reply Reply July 4, 2015

    Diana, that was a very timely article in so many ways! First and foremost, it gave me a “strive” factor. I am very knowledgeable in what I do, have several high paying clients (and goals of attracting more). I feel I could and should “level up” my dress to the extent I am able to now. I believe with my knowledge and expertise, it would truly invoke a more successful law of attraction. It is definitely time to put it to the test. Thank you for the power of suggestion to “check” yourself on multiple levels. It’s all image!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 4, 2015

      Hi Teresa – glad I could help! Yes, upgrading your image will attract more high paying clients because they’ll see you as “One of them.” In addition to the reading the articles mentioned above, I also encourage you to check out a few more of Neil Patel’s many articles about dealing with this group, including:

      How a Ferrari Made Me a Million Bucks

      How Spending $138,491.42 on Meals Made Me $992,000

      All very eye-opening.

      Good luck with your transition – and landing even more high end clients!

  • Valeria Martin

    Reply Reply July 6, 2015

    Great article Diana! I am an artist with my own business. I’m an extremely tight budget, so expensive clothes is a challenge. I recently started conducting workshops and classes in my studio.My attire is casual, but I do try to purchase the best quality clothing I can afford and I make selections for the long term. I don’t have a lot of clothes, so I’m learning to dress like the French.
    Also allow me to share an interesting short story! While visiting my 91 year old aunt, I was looking through her college alumni directory. The front of the directory is devoted to photos submitted by alumni. A young man who graduated in 2000’s submitted a photo of himself posing holding his shirt open, revealing his bare chest and abdomen(he doesn’t have a six-pack)! He’s also wearing a gold chain. It was a professional photo but still distasteful for an alumni publication-a type of photo one would submit to an online dating site. Under the photo he quotes, “ambitious and ambiguous” I had to look up the second word to be sure I knew what it meant. I don’t think the young man knew what it meant. A college graduate and this is how he shows up in the world. Why didn’t somebody say something instead of publishing that photo and misusing a word?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 7, 2015

      Hi Valeria,

      Glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, when you have a small budget (and/or a small closet), you have choose carefully and make a little go a long way. Sounds like you’re doing that. Love your story about the young man! Unfortunately, that’s all too common today; people don’t understand the message they’re sending… 🙁

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