Dress Like a Million Bucks without Breaking the Bank

Budget ChicYou see her every day, the woman at the office or on the street who’s dressed to the nines and looks fabulous. Appearances will lead you to believe she must spend a small fortune to look like that, but the reality is many chic dressers these days know how to dress like a million bucks without spending it. It’s more about being shopping savvy and knowing what you want, where to get it, and when to get it. The Internet is filled with independent “fashion” bloggers that tout the trend of dressing well without giving into whims and shop-a-holic overspending tendencies like blogger Serena of Fabulously Broke in the City and Style on a String.

She says, “…style has nothing to do with money. To me, it’s super easy to go to purchase the look if you have a ton of cash…but as a girl who doesn’t have a ton of cash to spend on fashion, it takes more creativity and skill to replicate a similar look on a budget. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to buy a new designer anything, let alone every season!”

So how do you look “tres chic” while on a budget? Here’s a few easy-to-implement ideas to get you started on your journey to being stylishly fabulous yourself.

Get Lucky
There’s a great little magazine all about fashion, shopping and style called Lucky. Be sure to get yourself a copy, a subscription or visit their website. Each month they publish tons of great, budget-minded outfit ideas with lots of pics, feature local and online shops and boutiques, and provide numerous beauty-on-a-budget tips. If their idea of fashion isn’t yours, try another fashion magazine like W, InStyle or Vogue. The more pictures the better. I’ve gone as far as making a scrapbook of outfit ideas out of photos I’ve cut from fashion magazines. This way I have a plan when shopping to look for similar pieces to get complete a “look” instead of just grabbing random items.

Get the Basics Down
Style on a budget requires planning. Making sure you take care of the basics first, then branch out to more fashionable items. This can give you the most wardrobe for your money. Tim Gunn, fashion stylist and host of Bravo’s Guide to Style suggests you have these ten essentials in your closet:

  1. Basic black dress
  2. trench coat
  3. dress pants in solid colors
  4. classic white shirt
  5. jeans
  6. any occasion top
  7. skirt
  8. day dress
  9. jacket and sweat suit alternative

Spending more on the basics is a good investment, because they will last you for years.

Keep It Your Little Secret

Great priced looks can be found at places you may never have considered. Target offers a very fashionable line from fashion icon and designer, Isaac Mizrahi. Every season I love seeing what he has come up with at such an affordable price point. He always has the classy basics like cardigans and trousers, but he can really mix it up and add spice with a little leopard print ballet flat or a bright print shift.

Another favorite of mine is Forever 21. They have the most feminine separates with beautiful wispy fabrics in subtle colors of eggplant, nude and icy blue, to name a few. They do have a lot of clothing geared toward the younger generation, which comes up first on their website, but when you visit a store you can quickly find items for your style and age. I had an editor I once worked with who dressed very classy and would tell anyone that would listen where she shopped and how expensive it was. Can you say Saks and Macys? I always felt I dressed well and looked nothing short of classy myself, but one day she tried to cut me down to size. She told a colleague of ours that I must shop at Forever 21. Thank you very much, as a matter of fact I do! She knew how much money I made and that I couldn’t afford to shop in the high-end stores and boutiques she did. The joke was on her though. She spent a ton and I spent a little, but we always had similar looks and both got constant compliments on our outfits. The moral of my story is: they may think they know how and why you look so terrific, but they’ll never know for sure unless you let them in on your little secret. The truth is, it’s none of their business!

Don’t forget about the resale shops. These little gems offer a way to get lightly worn or new quality basics at phenomenal prices. Need a winter coat or a pair of lined black trousers or a pencil skirt? Check out your local resale shops or travel to the closest big city. I live in Texas and Dallas has always been a favorite place to find great deals at trendy resale boutiques.

If the Shoe Fits, You Don’t Have to Wear It
Shoes can make or break your outfit. It is hard to wear a cheap pair of shoes without them appearing, well cheap. I tend to spend more on my shoes because they get worn the fastest. So how do overcome this little hurdle on a budget? There are many places online and locally to find quality shoes at affordable prices. ChineseLaundry.com has a wide selection of fashionable footwear for women of all ages, from ridiculously high, but sassy, heels to cute little flats. Another source for quality shoes in the latest style is Zappos.com. Don’t be shocked by some of the higher priced shoes, you can sort by price, style and size.

Bling It

Accessorizing is a must for the chic. Investing in a few good pieces such as a string of pearls or a good watch will give you a base. To add to that, get some costume jewelry such as a chunky bracelet or necklace and a cocktail ring. A belt can add a whole new dimension to a look. Again, check out the fashion magazines to get an idea of how to coordinate the styles you like with the right accessories.

Let’s start a conversation about budget-minded fashion. Do you have a favorite store or website you recommend? Have ann idea for dressing chic within your means? Do tell!

  • Olivia

    I’m a rather basic bohemian dresser myself. Alot of black paired with fun acessories. But my one sister is always beautifully turned out. Her secret- she knows what colors and styles look great on her and she buys things with quality fabrics and workmanship. She has a couple pairs of really dynamite earrings, a couple handsome belts, Bandalino shoes ($3 bag yard sale), and a few great scarves. She gets everything either heavily discounted, at thrift stores, or at yard sales. She also loves to shop….

  • Gareth C

    Great article and nicely written but what about the guys :)? I’m going through this dilemma now and I’m not sure how to dress/where to go. Any tips for a casual office setting where JEANS are a def ok?

  • http://www.castocreationsjewelry.blogspot.com megscole64

    I used to love to shop, but the more weight I’ve gained over the years the less I enjoy it. I’m starting a new job soon that requires me to dress in business clothing (as opposed to the sloppy way I’ve been dressing the last few years). So I hit Macy’s and Nordstrom Rack. I saved over $550 at Macy’s using a combination of gift cards (I always ask for gift cards for holidays), coupons (Macy’s has some good coupons), and the clearance racks. Nordstrom Rack was a bit overwhelming but they also had some great finds. I got a $300 suit for $100 and spent a little over $300 total for two pairs of shoes, three or four shirts, a suit, and three outfits for my son. And these are NICE things…things that should last in my closet for years to come.

    For other basics I will stick with Target. I’ve found great deals on their clearance racks. And as for jewelry, I make my own so I’m able to really create some awesome bling for pennies on the dollar compared to the stores. :)

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/yourfinances101

    I would add to this–know where tos hop.

    Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, has brand name stuff at lower prices.

    Good Will usually has brand name stuff at giveaway prices.

    My co-workers talked about Good Will for the longest time. I finally went there and was shocked at what I found.

    Brand new dress shirts—$1.

    Same with ties, pants, socks, everything.