I’m in Florida for ten days to attend a couple of weekend early retirement retreats. At Camp FI, about 50 or 60 people gather for three days of what Mr. Money Mustache calls “crazy rich people talk” — real estate investing, travel hacking, gift card arbitrage, 70% saving rates, and the rewards of frugality and thrift.
One afternoon, the conversation turned to clothing. Given that so many people in the room had a net worth of more than a million dollars, a surprising number of us still bought our clothes at thrift stores.
“I can’t bring myself to pay more than ten dollars for a t-shirt,” one guy said. We all nodded in agreement.
“I don’t pay anything for t-shirts,” said another fellow. “I travel a lot for work. When I go to conferences, I often come home with three or five or ten t-shirts. There’s no point in ever paying for them.” Throughout the weekend, I noticed that a lot of us wore t-shirts we’d picked up for free. (Because we’re money nerds, Choose FI t-shirts were prominent.)
“But what about quality clothes?” asked one woman. “I get why we’re all so cheap on the everyday stuff. But sometimes, I want clothing that looks good, that I can go out in.”
“I’m a long-time thrift store shopper,” I said, “and it’s taken some effort to allow myself to shop in regular stores. For quality stuff, I think it’s important to find a store with styles you like where the clothes also fit well.”
“I’ll give you an example. In the fall of 2016, I made a trip to New York City. The forecast was for warm weather, so I took warm weather clothes. Turns out, temperatures were much lower than expected. And it rained. I was unprepared. My hotel was next to a J. Crew store, so I stopped in. I had never shopped there before in my life, but I discovered I liked the stuff they had and their clothes fit me well. I didn’t like the prices, but I managed to find a few things on sale, so I bought them.”
I paused and looked down at the clothes that I had on. “Ha,” I said. “Right now, I’m wearing the dress shirt and sweater I bought that day in New York.”
“I don’t shop at thrift stores,” said the man standing next to me. “I don’t like to have a lot of cheap clothes. I like simplicity and minimalism. So, I’m willing to pay more for my clothes because I buy only a handful of items and expect them to last a long time.”
“Can you give some examples?” somebody asked.
“Take this shirt I’m wearing now,” he said. “It’s a wool t-shirt from Icebreaker. And this jacket is from the same company. It’s more expensive — probably a lot more expensive — but it lasts a long time, looks good, and is very versatile. Merino wool is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. Plus, I can wear it for days on end without it stinking. I think that J.D. likes Icebreaker stuff too, right?”
“I do,” I said. “I brought two of their wool t-shirts with me on this trip. And because it’s freezing here in Florida right now, I brought an Icebreaker jacket.”
“I try to keep a small wardrobe too,” said another friend. “For me, that means always wearing the same thing. I have like four or five of the same t-shirt. I have two pears of pants, and they’re both the same. And all of my socks are the same. I don’t even fold them. I just throw them all in the drawer loose since it doesn’t matter which ones I pull out.”
Sidenote: I didn’t mention it during the conversation, but you can find quality clothes at thrift stores. They’re more expensive, sure, but not nearly as expensive as buying them new. The key is patience. Sort through the racks. You might only find one or two items per trip, but that’s okay. To increase your odds, find a thrift store in a nice neighborhood. Kim and I, for instance, recently discovered a consignment store near us called Simply Posh. It has lots of nice clothes at great prices.
The Quest for Quality
“You know, I read a great article recently,” I said. “I just shared it with the Get Rich Slowly mailing list. It’s all about how to shop for high-quality clothes. One of the points it made is that quality doesn’t have to be expensive — and that expensive doesn’t always mean quality.”