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Frugal fashion week

Frugal fashion week

By Frank and Muriel Newman

New Zealand Fashion Week 2014 is not until August but we thought we would pass on some oily rag tips on how to look fashionable without high cost. In fact we would not be at all surprised to see a “Frugal Fashions” category slinking down the cat-walk at this year’s event - such is the style that can be achieved when spending next to nothing.

Use the frugal fashion formula. To work out if an item of clothing is expensive, divide the cost by the number of times you expect to wear it. For example, a tee shirt costing $10 but worn 100 times is 10 cents! That formula means you can afford to spend more on items you are going to wear often – like coats and jackets.

Buy quality not quantity. For example buying one good value shirt that you like and will wear often is better than buying four shirts that you don’t like and won’t wear often.

Buy stuff in the colours and styles that you like best. That means you will wear them more often and the cost per wear will be lower.

Keep the base colours pretty simple. Add fashion through accessories like belts, scarves, shoes, necklaces and the like. The colour experts reckon to be fashionable you only need three basic colours - and one of those should match your hair colour (not sure if that applies to baldies!).

Buy to match your existing wardrobe. Will it look any good with what you have already?

Mary from Picton writes, “We buy most of our clothes from second hand shops. It takes a bit longer looking for 'needles in the haystack' but people are always saying how well dressed we are!”

A reader has this useful tip. “Check what your kids are going to throw out as being out of fashion or too small. They have some really good gear, and even it is only good for the gardening it will be cost effective (a term that, as you know, means cheap!). Another source is to wait until the charity shops have sale days, i.e. fill up a supermarket bag for a dollar etc. We have found that by using the above means of clothing oneself we have managed a trip to Queensland every year to escape the hardships of winter, using all the specials of course!”

A reader from Whangarei also checks out their kids’ ‘throw-out’ pile. He says “it’s amazing what they are tossing out because the label is no longer ‘cool’. My daughter recently remarked with some humour that I was wearing a tee shirt that she tossed out 20 years ago!”

Swap clothing with friends and family. Why not organise a Frugal Fashion party during fashion week where everyone brings along clothing to swap (certain rules may need to be required to keep things seemly – like no undies!).

Buy a season ahead. Buy summer clothing in winter and winter clothing at the start of summer when the stores are clearing their shelves to make way for the new season’s stock.

Shirl from Napier writes, “If you have old jeans that no longer fit, unpick them and use material to make jeans for small children - you can add buttons, ribbon, etc to make them more personalised and nobody would even know that they were made out of your old jeans.”

If an outfit is needed for a special occasion (a school ball for example), hire it don’t buy it. Buying something to use only once is not the sort of thing those living off the smell of an oily rag would do.

A reader recalls the experiences of her grandmother. “Gran’ would go to a second hand clothes shop and buy two or three knitted garments. She would undo them, wash the wool and rewind into balls, then knit into multi-coloured jerseys. And with the left over wool she would make soft toys. This is far cheaper than buying new wool.”

We love hearing about your favourite frugal tips - please send them to us by visiting or by writing to Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei and we will share them with everyone else!

*Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at


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