If you're like me, you want to look stylish at work and play, but lack the cash for the seasonal clothing sprees of your dreams. The good news is, with some savvy shopping, ruthless planning and creative use of accessories, you can look fashionable and current without breaking the bank each season.
1. Assess Your Current Wardrobe
If you don't have a ton of cash for clothes shopping, the key to a fashionable wardrobe that extends over many seasons is all about having the right basics. Go through your wardrobe and check whether you need to buy - or update - the go-to items that fit you perfectly, are versatile enough to be suitable for various occasions, and you can mix in easily with the other items in your wardrobe. This won't be repetitive, because you'll be creating different outfits, so nobody will notice that the basics are staying the same.
If you work outside the home, your essential dressing pieces could include a black pencil skirt, multi-purpose blazer, white shirts, dress pants in a neutral pattern, wrap dress, classic coat, functional bag and closed-toe pumps.
If you're a stay-at-home mom, your go-to basics might include a perfect-fitting pair of dark-wash jeans, a cardigan sweater in a neutral shade, printed cotton skirt, tops in flattering colors for layering, cute flats and colorful sneakers.
2. Spend on the Classics
What's key to building a nice wardrobe on a small budget is to remember that staple items (jeans, blazers, coats, dress pants, dress shirts) are investments. It's worth it to invest a little more on these pieces.
If you opt for classic styles, you can afford to splurge a bit on your wardrobe basics, as you should be able to extend them over several seasons and even multiple years. Consider the "price per wear" of items when going shopping. My fashion math goes this way: If you wear a certain piece for years, it's really only costing you pennies per wear. Whereas, if you buy a trendy top for 20 bucks, but only wear it twice, that's 10 bucks a wear - not such a great bargain. So if you're going to wear those black pumps to work several days a week, it's worthwhile investing in a high-quality pair that are made well, have a classic style and will stand up to frequent wear.
Similarly, if you're going to splash out on designer jeans, don’t waste your money on a trendy pair, such as the skinny flares that are so-this-season. You’ll just be crying in your closet this time next year, when your fancy pants have become passé. A better plan is to invest in a pair of classic denims, such as a well-fitting pair of trouser jeans in a dark wash. These will keep you looking fashionable – as well as travelling well from the office to daycare pickup to weekend brunch – and they won’t make you look outdated after a season of two.
When putting together your outfits, always start with one great basic - great jeans, a sharp blazer, a V-neck sweater - and then build the rest of your outfit around it with more affordable, trendy pieces. Read fashion blogs and flip through magazines to see what people are wearing, and to get a ideas for putting together your clothing items in different combinations.
3. Know Where You Can Scrimp
When it comes to tops, you can cruise the clearance aisle and sale items at cheaper stores. Mixing and matching less-expensive tops with nice jeans and a jacket will instantly dress them up, and create an outfit that looks well put-together and posh, without a hefty price tag.
4. Be a Smart Shopper
With a little shopping savvy, you can get more bang for your fashion buck and have more money left over for extras (more on accessories, below).
For instance, try to time your big shopping expeditions with the end-of season clearance sales, which is a great time to find bargains. The chic belted trenchcoat that regularly lists for big bucks at the start of spring, might be on sale for a fraction of its regular price when spring is turning to summer, and the store's trying to clear old merchandise so it can bring in the new. Same goes for winter jackets at the start of spring, summer clothes at back-to-school time, and so on.
Many of the major clothing brand retailers have outlet stores, where they sell weeks-old merchandise at clearance prices. Plan a shopping trip to an outlet mall with several stores that you like, and you can pick up wardrobe staples at great deals, all in one go.
Never pay more just for a brand name, especially for purses, shoes or boots, because it's such a waste of money. Most people (even in the fashion business) can't spot a designer original bag, from a street-corner knockoff.
5. Touch on Trends with Accessories
Once you've built up a good collection of basics, you can make them look fashionable through inexpensive accessories. Hit stores such as H&M or Target to buy a few "so-this-season" accessories - such as an enamel ring, studded belt, hardware-laden handbag, or beaded necklace - that you layer over basic items to create great looks.
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