With the economy in a state of flux, many of us are left feeling the need to hold on to our cold, hard cash. But life as we know it hasn’t come to a stand-still and we still want to dress well for our job, nights out and just for ourselves. There’s got to be a way to look great without spending a lot of money! Here are some of my best tips for looking fabulous on a budget, without going into debt.
1. Keep Your Wardrobe Current – Whatever your budget, pay attention to the trends. Each season there are a few small tweaks you can make to keep your look up-to-date, as opposed to dated, without spending a ton of cold hard cash. The small details make a big difference, so learn what’s in and get rid of what’s out. A little tough love in your closet will help you keep your wardrobe pared down and looking top notch, rather than drown in a sea of clothes you don’t like or never wear.
Most women wear only 10 – 20% of their wardrobes. Think about all the money you’ve spent on clothing that you really don’t like on you, that doesn’t fit or that no longer suits your lifestyle. How much would that equal? When you shop, buy only what you LOVE – those items that look GREAT on you and that fit you like a glove (or that can be altered). Sell those items you no longer wear and use the extra $$ towards buying items that you adore.
If you could only buy two items each season I recommend it be a fabulous pair of shoes and a great handbag. These can make or break an outfit and make a person look dated faster than anything else (except a dated hairstyle or makeup that’s not flattering). If you have a wardrobe full of core basics in solid colors, treat yourself to a great pair of snakeskin loafers, adorned sandals or patent flats in a chic color (try either a nude or a bright). Invest in a great handbag – it doesn’t have to be a designer bag but select something stylish and chic. Try one in a bold hue or with a texture (your shoes and bag do not have to match, ever!).
2. Know when to buy cheap, and when to hold out for the best you can afford
With the economy in a tailspin, it’s enough to make you want to do all your shopping at Target or Forever 21. But before you do, step back and take a good, hard look at your wardrobe. Are there items in there you’ve had for years that you spent a good chunk of change on and wear day in and day out? Probably. Those are your core items and your wardrobe staples. Now let’s talk about core items vs. fillers and how to know when to splurge.
A. The Core: Core items are such basic workhorse staples as a great suit, your winter coat or a fabulous pair of jeans. These are items you’ll wear over and over again, and will be the foundation of your wardrobe. Core items should be in your best basic colors or neutral shades that won’t be remembered even when you wear them multiple times in a row. For example a camel overcoat, a beige suit, a pair of black pants or a charcoal turtleneck.
Core items are where you want to spend the bulk of your wardrobe budget. You don’t have to buy the most expensive, but buy the best you can afford. These are items that will be with you for the long haul and if you buy quality from the get-go then you’ll be assured of more mileage down the line.
Think of it this way: if you spend $300 on a pair of high-quality black pants that fit you to a tee, and wear them twice a week for 3 years, that averages out to about $1 per wear – a bargain over the long run. Conversely, if you spend $60 on a pair of cheap-quality pants that don’t flatter your figure, and wear them about 4 times before ditching them, that’s $15 per wear – a splurge over the long run.
One caveat – buying core items doesn’t always have to mean spending a lot of money. Discount retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Ross have made it easy for us to find in-season, high-quality and designer merchandise at a fraction of the cost. Most of the merchandise is from the current season (I know, I was shocked to find this out, too) and can typically be found for up to one quarter of the retail price. I once scored an Ann Taylor jacket at Rugged Wearhouse that was originally more than $200 for just $9.99. It’s a core piece (meaning classic vs. trendy) and something I’ll wear for years to come, making it a real steal.
B. The Fillers: Once you have your core items, then you can add in the fun filler items – floral print blouses, a metallic belt, a turquoise top or a chic dress. This is where color, pattern and texture come into play. Consider spending less on these items that help to fill in the gaps and keep you looking contemporary and chic. Fillers are items you’re likely to wear for only a season or two, so it makes sense to spend less on them. These pieces can be trendy, or they can be classic, but often this is where going cheap is going to work best.
Stores like Target, JC Penney, New York and Co. and Kohl’s are great for filler items. With a focus with what’s on trend, you can find up-to-date items for a fraction of the cost of what they’d be in a boutique or upscale department store. And these stores tend to have fabulous sales, so there’s even more likelihood you’ll score a bargain. Look for coupons and circulars in the newspaper to keep up with the sales.
When shopping for trendy filler items, consider trends that are age-appropriate. You don’t want to look like your teenage daughter, but you also don’t want to look matronly. Choose a style that works for you. If you’re unsure how to wear a trend, start with accessories and stick with the classics for your clothing.
3. Build wardrobe capsules
The best way to begin to build a wardrobe each season is create a capsule. Do this by taking out 5-12 items that work well together and are complementary in color. Play with these and put them together in as many different combinations as possible. Add accessories to finish each look. Take notes of each possible combination so you won’t forget some of your favorites. Imagine outfits you could create if you had other items. Take note of the most versatile items and add them to your shopping list. Such an item could be a core or a filler item, but it should work in to build multiple outfits. It could be a great dress, a scarf, a cardigan or a belt.
Now take another handful of items that coordinate and note how many outfits you can create, as well as what you could add to get more mileage from these items. Your goal is to have several capsules for various aspects of your life – work, weekend, dressy, sporty, etc. When you create capsules instead of thinking of your wardrobe as just outfits, you expand the possibilities using fewer items, and won’t be stuck wearing the same sweater with the same skirt all the time (which people definitely tend to remember more!). Plus, you’ll be able to get dressed in a flash and still look great!
4. The Power of Accessories
As a general rule, you should plan to spend 1/3 of your clothing budget on accessories. Yes, this includes shoes, too. Fashionistas really love accessories, but all women can appreciate the power accessories have to transform the look of everything from a little black dress to jeans and a t-shirt.
Scarves are a great example of how an accessory can take your look to the next level. Start with a basic outfit, add shoes, a handbag and a scarf. In winter, use your favorite warm, snuggly scarf. In warmer weather opt for a lighter weight scarf in a cotton, a knit or a pretty chiffon. Knowing what to do with your scarf may prove a bit tricky, but here are a few easy, yet chic, ways to wear one:
* One Loop around This is a great look with a coat, jacket or just a tee shirt. It’s a great way to add some color around your face.
* Loop Around and knot If you have a fringed scarf, this is a fun look and another way to put color right up against your face. This works best with a large triangular scarf (or shawl). Fold in half with the points in front, wrap around back once and tie in front.
* Bib style. Easy peasy. Simply take your square and fold in half. Tie like you’re putting on a bib.
* Shawl wrap Shawls and pashminas are wonderfully versatile scarves and work well over your outfit when it gets a little chilly, or can add warmth when worn over your coat. Simply drape around your shoulders and tie in front. You can also leave one end longer and sweep it over your shoulder for more drama and warmth.
* Fold and loop. Just fold your scarf in half lengthwise, wrap around your neck and pull the ends through. Voila!
* Let it hang One of my favorites for adding color to a jacket and to put the finishing touch on an outfit. Just let the scarf hang around the back of your neck so that the two ends are in front, on either side.
5. Mind the trends – then make your own!
Each season fashion dictates a handful of trends that are ‘hot’. One thing to keep in mind is that these trends are arbitrary, and don’t take into account your personal size, shape, age, style or budget. Blindly following fashion trends can easily break your budget without doing anything for your style if they’re not right for you. Take note of the trends and carefully select a few that work for you. If the color blue is in season, as it is right now, wear your best blue in a way that flatters you the most. There are many different shades of blue ranging from midnight to Carolina, so you have many to choose from. If wearing blue clothing isn’t for you, try a blue accessory to add a shot of style to a neutral toned outfit. A blue scarf thrown over a knit top adds a dash of color and kicks it up a notch. A pair of blue shoes can be an instant pick-me-up and will leave you feeling energized every time you look down at your feet.
A trend can also translate into a signature look. If you find a trend that you love and it really works for you, you just may want to adopt it (or aspects of it) as your signature and wear it for years to come.
Michele Little is Your Signature Style coach who is passionate about working with women of all ages to help them find their best look, and to dress with confidence. With more than 20 years experience working in fashion, Michele is thrilled to bring her expertise to women across the country to help them look their best. Michele is available for one-on-one consultations as well as group workshops corporate image training and speaking events. For more information, you may contact Michele at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 919-828-7529.