How to Dress Well on a Budget
Wanting to refresh your style does not need to break the bank. Learn how to be money-savvy and stylish while shopping for apparel.
Know your stores. Become acquainted with stores such as T.J. Maxx (also known as T.K. Maxx in the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, and Poland), Ross, Marshalls, and Plato's Closet. Consignment shops are also breeding grounds for fantastic finds. Discount stores like T.J. Maxx collect big-name items (think Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Coach, Kate Spade, Nicole Miller, Cole Haan, North Face, Columbia, Nike, Juicy Couture, Steve Madden, Vivienne Tam, Ray-Ban, and the like) down from big retailers and usually mark down the price by at least 50% or more.
Buy wardrobe essentials.
- For women:
- This means at least one pair of dark wash skinny jeans (jeggings excluded) that fit your body like a glove. The denim should be of high-quality, the pant detailing as simple as possible, and the sewing neat. The goal is to purchase a pair of pants that are versatile and can either be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.
- A well-fitting black dress (that either comes to the knee or two inches above the knee - no mini dresses!) is also a staple, as are a pair of black pumps and nude pumps. (Avoid studs or elaborate detailing.)
- Another staple is a black pencil skirt, one that falls at the knee or at the shortest, two inches above the knee.
- Another great investment is a blazer, one that draws emphasis to your waist, elongates the length of your neck, and makes your arms and wrists look slender and elegant. Avoid styles with cords or zippers, as well as ones made out of leather or fur/faux fur. Blazers are a sublime addition to make any outfit look more put-together and should not be an expendable piece of clothing in any woman's wardrobe.
- More essentials are plain-colored tank tops, basic neutral-colored tees in crew-neck and V-neck styles, a quality white dress shirt, a pair of dress pants in a neutral color, and two or three dressy tops. Feel free to buy tops that are in your favorite colors or prints - the only rule is to turn away those that are too low-cut or too fitted. For those that live in chilly regions, a tasteful peacoat should be a necessary part of your inventory.
- For men:
- Invest in a pair of black pants, khaki pants and dark wash jeans at a comfortable price point that fit perfectly.
- A crew neck sweater in a neutral color is also an essential. Whether you wear it with a plain tee, a collared shirt, or a suit, you'll have unlimited uses for it. Buy at least one for all purposes.
- A blue blazer that fits well will also come in use frequently. Avoid black unless you're planning to wear it with matching black pants - dark blue is much more versatile and can be worn separately without looking too formal.
- A white dress shirt is also a worthy investment. Look for one made of wrinkle-free cotton and free of excessive detailing.
- Other purchases should include narrow black dress shoes (avoid square/boxy toed dress shoes), a comfortable pair of sneakers or daily trekking shoes, a handsome watch (avoid gold and gaudy detailing), simple crew-neck or V-neck tees, undershirts, polos, double-pleated or flat-front knee shorts, a stylish winter coat if needed, patterned dress shirts in your favorite color or pattern, and ties and/or bow ties in a couple various solid colors and prints.
Pick classic colors. Neutral colors such as white, black, gray, and beige will always be able to match to other colors. That's not to say that buying colorful clothing is barred, but when buying a brightly hued dress, for example, know for what occasion the dress will be appropriate, who you will be with, what time of day you will be wearing it, and what season it can be worn during. Ask yourself if you can see yourself wearing that dress in that color five or ten years from now, and act accordingly.
Dress for the future. Avoid picking clothing that you can't see yourself wearing in five years. Pick apparel that is at an appropriate length and in an appropriate color and pattern. The more you think about clothing relative to your future, the less money you'll have to shell out each year buying clothes that adapt to your age and ever-changing tastes.
Shop in the section meant for your age. If you are a teenager, feel free to browse in the Juniors' section and parts of the adult section for certain items. However, if you are not a teenager, bar yourself from looking through the clothes that are not designed with you in mind. Clothes are separated into sections because they accommodate the needs and desires of that particular demographic.
Sometimes less is more. Use discretion when surveying accessories. When picking jewelry, avoid pieces with plastic or resin ornaments or plastic gems. Opt for natural stones, sterling silver, or gold instead. Also, when in doubt, choose thin, subtle pieces of jewelry as opposed to thick, clunky items. Simplicity can be amplified to be dramatic, but it's difficult to make the reverse true. The same rule applies for purses, clutches, hair pieces, or belts.
Be a smart shopper. Sometimes, not all discount stores are cheaper than department stores or stores at the mall, especially depending on the season. In the shift between major seasons, such as summer and fall, department stores will slash prices dramatically, more than any T.J. Maxx or Ross would. At certain times, such as the second week of August when most department stores are having massive clearance sales, thrill yourself by buying a pair of Sam Edelman pumps that originally went from being $150 to $27, for example. Also, be aware of department store coupons. If you receive catalogs in the mail, take special note of the cutout coupons on the back - you can take 20% off your purchase.
If you are a college student, you can save money at these following stores by showing your student ID:
- Rugby Ralph Lauren (Save 15% off one purchase online with your ID.)
- Charlotte Russe (Save 10% off one purchase online with your ID.)
- Topshop (Save 10% off your entire purchase online with your ID.)
- Hanes.com (Save 10% with your ID online.)
- Kohls.com (Save 15% off orders $100+ with your ID online.)
- Macys.com (Save 20% off orders $100+ with your ID online.)
- Shoebuy.com (Save 15% with your ID online, plus get free shipping!)
- Target.com (Save $7 off an order $70+ with your ID online, plus get free shipping!)
- Timberland.com (Save up to 50% with your ID online.)
- Armaniexchange.com (Save 10% off your entire purchase online with your ID.)
- Bluefly.com (Save $15 off orders $75+ with your ID online.)
- J. Crew (Save 15% off one purchase in-store with your ID.)
- Madewell (Save 15% off one purchase in-store with your ID.)
- Banana Republic (Save 15% off one purchase in-store with your ID.)
- Lady Foot Locker (Save $10 with purchases of $50+ in-store with your ID.)
- Footaction (Save $10 with purchases of $50+ in-store with your ID.)
- Ann Taylor (Save 20% off one purchase in-store with your ID.)
- Ann Taylor LOFT (Save 15% off one purchase in-store with your ID.)
- Barbour (Save 15% off jackets only with your ID.)
- Club Monaco (Save 20% off with your ID.)
- Eastern Mountain Sports (Save 15% off with your ID.)
- Goodwill (Save 10% with your ID.)
- Juicy Couture (Save 15% with your ID.)
- Steve Madden (Save 10% with your ID.)
- The Limited (Save 15% with your ID.)
- Vineyard Vines (Save 15% with your ID.)
- Urban Outfitters (Save 10% with your ID at certain dates! Sign up for U.O. emails so you know when the 10% discount applies.)