How much should I spend on clothes?

  • Financial advisers suggest we should spend about 5% of take-home salary on clothing
  • So if you earn $40,000 after tax you should spend about $500 every season on new clothes
  • Or if you earn £20,000 after tax you should spend about £250 every season on new clothes
  • Up this figure if style really matters to you – and reduce your spend on something else such as holidays
  • Reduce this figure if you lead a simple life where casual clothes look right for almost all occasions – so you can spend more on something that matters more to you such as books or music.

How much do most women spend on clothing?

You’d think we might be spending less today on clothes.  After all, China and other places are producing clothes so very cheaply compared to even twenty years ago.  If you buy fast fashion then you could, in principal, be spending a lot less than your mother did in the fifties and sixties.

But, and it’s a big but (is that a pun?), that isn’t the way things have worked out.  In fact I would hazard a guess that we are spending much the same percentage of our income today as women did decades ago.

A navy and tan outfit coordinated by color
Buy clothes to a color palette

We spend more by buying cheap

That’s because we buy more fast fashion and we wear it less and we throw it away often.

So that $25 top calls to us to buy it because it’s so cheap.  But we wear it three times then buy another $25 top we prefer.  Our mother bought an expensive top, washed and ironed it for years, treasured it because it had cost her hours of work to afford it and she possibly even cut it down and refashioned it into a baby’s summer frock when it started to fray.

Compare your spend with the average

The average woman in the USA spends $571 per year with women aged 35-44 spending the most at $960 (

A survey by ING and Capital One banks found that us boomers don’t spend so much. Most of us will spend about half ($100K) what a woman under 25 will spend on clothes during a lifetime.

In the UK the highest spenders on clothes are also that mid-life working woman age of 30-49. They spend around £526 per year on clothes for themselves, about a quarter of which goes on shoes. This figure includes men who tend to spend considerably less on clothes than women do.

A poll by MarieClaire sampled a few women around the office and found these very different spends:

  • A part-time PR spent 30% of her gross salary on clothes – she was earning around £1,500 per month
  • A stay-at-home mum was spending £500-£800 per month – and she didn’t even have to buy work clothes!
  • A part-time freelancer spent 4%, mainly buying in charity and second hand shops – she was earning £1,200 per month.
  • A full-timer spent only £100- £200 per month despite earning almost £9k a month – that’s just 1-2%
Three variously colored bottoms and two simple coordinating pairs of shoes as basis for a capsule wardrobe
A tiny capsule wardrobe may be all you need

Do I spend too much on clothes?

If you spend more that 5% ( after you’ve paid taxes and social contributions) take a look to see if the extra is justified.  It could be you work in a design or fashion-based industry and need to look the part.  Or you might give a lot of presentations to top executives and need to look on a par. 

If you are retired you may need fewer new clothes and can happily wear older items for several years.

But if you spend more that that 5% figure but still worry that you have nothing to wear, it might be time to cut back.

Having ‘nothing to wear’ is rarely the result of not spending enough on clothes. It has much more to do with planning a wardrobe and keeping items in tip top condition.

In the USA the average woman’s closet contains $1000 to $2500 worth of garments.  With the top 9% of wardrobes stashing over $10,000 worth of items to wear.

And that’s not because most of us never throw things away.  Most women (over 70%) replace a quarter of their clothes every 3 months.  And 15% of us don’t own clothes that are over 5 years old.

The ING survey of 1000 women found that on average women purchase 145 bags and 270 pairs of shoes during a lifetime. Sounds a lot doesn’t it but it only works out at about 2 bags a year and a 3+ pairs of shoes a year.

Personally I find that about right as far as my own spending on clothes goes.

Why do I have so many clothes in my wardrobe that I almost never wear?

I helped a woman in her twenties move a couple of years ago and was amazed that so many of her clothes still had the price tags on. She didn’t seem phazed at all.

Most of us have items we never wear.

Weight gain

I always spend more on clothes when I am a good weight – with the result that I can end up the following year with items that no longer fit me. I have a rule now that I’ll give these items two years. If I’m still too large to look good in them then out they go from my precious closet space.

If you have a lot of space to store clothes you may simply hang on to things far too long and feel guilty and fat every time you see them hanging there.

Poor fit

But sometimes we buy clothes that never ever fitted us.

Market research by One Poll found that over half of us have shoes in our closet that we have never ever worn.  And that’s mainly because they are too uncomfortable to walk in.  Women even admit to knowing shoes are a bit uncomfortable but buying them anyway.  Are we mad ladies?

And sometimes we see something we love and out comes that credit card. The problem is that our lifestyle doesn’t need that item.

Wrong Personal Style

I have to really struggle against buying beautiful dresses because apart from Christmas and the odd wedding or golden wedding anniversary I simply no longer have a lifestyle where an expensive frock looks right.  People my age go everywhere in casual clothes these days – whether that’s the theatre, the opera or a fancy restaurant.  Boohoo.  Bring back smart style PLEASE.

Doesn’t go with other clothes

Finally, we sometimes buy clothes that look great when they are cleverly styled in the shop or online. But put alongside our other clothes we can’t match that styling and the clothing looks boring or just ‘not me’. Understanding our style and sticking to it would mean less mistakes.

You’re not alone worrying that you have too many outfits gathering dust on your hanging rail.  Half of all women admit that a quarter of their wardrobe is never or very rarely worn.

Casual athleisure outfit for stay-home and work-from-home women
If you work from home buy fewer dressy outfits

How can I stop buying so many clothes?

Never shop without a plan or list.  Here’s where your capsule wardrobe plan is essential.  You need to know what you need, what colors to look for and give yourself a budget.

Never shop when very happy or depressed.  This sounds odd but strong emotions lead women to spend on clothes.  Here’s an interesting article in around a survey asking women when they spent money on new clothes .  It shows how we feel, especially about relationships, influences our spending.  I think we can all relate to that!

The average woman in the US buys one item of clothing every week. The Brits buy 60% less but spend more per item so the weekly spend on clothes works out about the same. Thing is, we like shopping!

So never shop in your lunch break if you work.  I used to spend more on unplanned items when I worked in the centre of Oxford on its busiest shopping street.  I shopped during my lunch break as ‘something to do’.

Be super-efficient at returning items bought online that are not exactly what you want.  If you delay by even a few days you are less likely to bother.  Some stores offer very long return times because of covid lockdowns – I bet they notice that less items get returned.  If you’ve got 3 months to decide will you ever actually get round to packaging that sweater up and getting it into the post?

How can I save money on clothes?

It’s all down to planning.  Just like shopping for food.  Are you the person in the supermarket with a list and possibly even zapping prices to compare?  Then I bet you don’t have food that needs throwing away at the end of each week.

When I was younger and running a busy work life alongside my homemaking I used to storm through my local supermarket once a week and utter a huge sigh of relief when I’d unloaded the car and got everything to fit into the fridge.  I tended to over buy so that I wouldn’t be short of food because I really didn’t have much time for another shopping trip during the week.

Then one week I had to throw out a whole chicken because it was no longer fresh enough to cook.  That really upset me (You can tell that because I can remember it to this very day!)  I thought it was a shocking waste.  I felt guilty and depressed. 

Shopping lists matter

So I started making a meals list for the whole week and taking it to the supermarket so I could tick off each item I’d need for each meal.  I also started to be more careful about planning meals that could use left overs.

I still do that today.  I definitely started to save money.  I’m a foodie so I still spend quite a lot on food, though!  But planning meals usually means better and more interesting meals I’ve found.

It’s just like that with shopping for clothes.

If you don’t plan your outfits and your seasonal wardrobe and use that plan to list out anything new that you need, you will never get your spending on clothes under control.  And your outfits simply won’t look as stylish as if you’d thought about them beforehand.

Try on on-line purchases and make any returns immediately

Make every purchase count

So don’t let a bad day with your partner or a row with your daughter make you splash the cash.  Spend smart to look smart.

If you’d like to get your wardrobe sorted so that every item works hard for you then you’ll want to hear more about the step by step style program I’m putting together. If you subscribe to the newsletter – the green button on the right – you’ll be the first to know when it’s available.

Meanwhile I’ve designed a bonus pre-program step to help guide you towards the style that will best suit you, whatever your age.

It starts with a short quiz then I give you advice and ideas based on your answers. It will help you know what to buy and why.

Access your Free Personal Style Quiz here

If you enjoyed this article you’ll probably like these as well:

A guide to buying jeans that fit and look good on women over 50

Finding boots that fit if you have wider feet or calves

Save money, look better and never feel anxious over what to wear

2 thoughts on “How much should I spend on clothes?

  1. I have a chronic back problem and spend a lot of time living down I have put on a lot of weight too love to look and feel nice and have loads of clothes that don’t fit me any more due to back surgery that went very wrong. I don’t have a lot of money to spend and love clothes but don’t know wear to start first. I am 70 5ft1in and now weigh 12 st I always used to be 8st very depressed can you help me please

    1. Hi Susan. I understand how you must feel. Although I don’t have chronic back pain (though I sometimes get bouts of sciatica) I also used to be 8st and am now 10st.
      I notice you’ve just started the Mature Style Course. I wrote it precisely for people like yourself who are feeling overwhelmed by lots of clothes but nothing really right for now.
      Try to stick to the programme taking small steps in the right order. By the end you will have said goodbye to many of your clothes and organized the rest so you have outfits that you look your best in. Only purchase for ‘gaps’. Don’t splurge on anything you take a fancy to.
      As you often have to lie down I’d take a look at some of the large wide-cut dresses with flounces that are popular this year. They are often very inexpensive (I’m wearing one I bought recently in red in my Summer 2021 Capsule Wardrobe post.) This style drapes over you and gives you freedom to move. It covers your legs so lying on a sofa looks good! No fitted waist means you feel comfortable too.
      Avoid anything that creases easily such as linen. Avoid fitted jeans or trousers and go for wide-leg pants. Look for elasticated waists (back in fashion!) and wear a square cut top over the waist or just half-tucked. Make the most of collars, necklaces, earrings and arm jewelry which make people look at your face and arms rather than your middle.
      Let me know how you get on with the course. Joni x

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