Frugal fashion week

Senior rich woman posing with white gloves on isolated on black background. Serious lady looking at her hands.

New Zealand Fashion Week is coming up on the first week in September and despite appearances, Fashion Week is not all about splashing the cash on outfits. Beautiful and outrageous outfits can be made to rival the outfits on the cat walk with little or no budget as long as you’ve got a bit of creativity.

We thought it appropriate to share some hints on how you can pull together the perfect outfit to celebrate NZ week of style. So here are some frugal fashion tips.


Senior rich woman posing with white gloves on isolated on black background. Serious lady looking at her hands.

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 works out at 10 cents a wear!

The formula means you can afford to spend more on items you are going to wear often over the long term – like coats and jackets.

One oily rag reader recalls spending just over $200 on a pair of leather shoes about 15 years ago, which was a lot at the time. They are still looking as good as new, despite being worn regularly. On a per wear basis, the cost would be next to nothing.

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. 

Keep the base colours pretty simple. Add fashion and colour through accessories like belts, scarves, shoes, necklaces and the like.

Buy to match 

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

The colour experts reckon to be fashionable you only need three basic colours, and that one of those should match your hair colour (not sure if that applies to baldies!).


Buy preloved

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

A reader has this useful tip. “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 to clothe ourselves we have managed a trip to Queensland every year to escape the hardships of winter – using all the specials of course.”

240_f_39243620_yabfm3hkdtvws0utystouqduaorwndpbSwap clothes with family and friends

A reader from Whangarei also checks out their teenagers’ 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 had tossed out 20 years ago!”

Why not organise a Frugal Fashion party during fashion week where everyone brings along household clothing to swap!

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 new season stock.

Hire for special occasions

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


Shirl from Napier writes, “If you have old jeans that no longer fit, unpick and use the 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.”

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 multicoloured jerseys. And with the left over wool, she would make soft toys. This was far cheaper than buying new wool.”

Don’t let your imagination hold you back either when using your recycled wool. Check out Chiliphilys crochet work below.

F.R. from Oropi in Tauranga uses old jeans to make fashionable bags: “Use any leftover jeans, decorate with lace, buttons, patches. From the crutch area, cut straight across and re-sew to seal the legs and crutch.  With the cut off legs, make straps using the leg material and sew onto the top band part of the jeans where the belt loops are. I used an old tie as a decorative piece threaded into the belt loops. The five pockets I use for placing keys, cell phone, lipstick, sun block, anything small… you can even put a full zip across the top part to seal the new bag.”


Senior Hipster ManFinally, remember it’s all about your attitude, not the clothing you wear. 


Do you have any frugal fashion hints? Let us know in the comment section below!


By Frank and Dr Muriel Newman.

Read more Oily Rag articles here.

You can contact the Oily Rag community via the website at or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.