Ten savvy ways to appear high style while keeping your costs low.
Become a Fabric Expert
Your best bet is a natural fiber.
Still, not all finer fabrics are necessarily fine; make sure the material is soft and smooth and has a nice luster.
To test the resilience of silks and knits, pull the fabric across its width and lengthwise. Lesser-quality materials will sag, an effect that will get more pronounced after multiple wearings, says Amason.
But don’t rule out all synthetics.
Choose Your Color (and Pattern) Carefully
Wear one neutral head to toe.
Expand your palette with deep tones.
Stick to classic prints.
Be Picky About Embellishments
Subtle is safest.
“A button covered in fabric looks more couture,” says Phillip Bloch, a Los Angeles–based stylist and the author of The Shopping Diet ($15, amazon.com). He also gives a thumbs-up to buttons that match the color of the garment or have a mother-of-pearl–esque sheen.
Another flourish that looks fancy, not tacky: “Fabric manipulation—pleating, ruching, draping—is a designer touch that can be done well with synthetics,” says Rachel Roy, a designer of both upscale and affordable fashion lines. Unless you’ve dropped big coin on the garment, fake-gem embellishments tend to look like something plucked out of a gum-ball machine—particularly if they’re plastic. The same holds for shiny buttons, large sequins, and lots of logos, which are meant to advertise luxury but tend to have the opposite effect.
Construction Is Key
Turn a potential buy inside out.
You Can’t Go Wrong With Simple Shapes
Think clean lines.
Fit Is Everything
Alterations can make an average piece outstanding.
• Lowering the hem. The most flattering skirt hemline is at the knee. If you have two inches folded at the hem, a tailor will be able to extend the length by an inch.
• Narrowing a bodice. There shouldn’t be excess fabric under the arms or the bust.
• Stitching up bulging pockets. Have the linings removed and the slits sealed for a streamlined look.
• Shortening pant hems. They should stop just short of kissing the floor.
• Taking in a saggy waist. You should be able to slide only two fingers inside the band.
• Tacking up long shirt cuffs. Full-length sleeves should hit your wristbones.
But don’t bother with these pricey fixes: A droopy crotch area, too-big shoulders, and any problem that’s in an area with a zipper or pleats. These will require a complete overhaul, which in the end will cancel out the money you’re saving.
Find Costume Jewelry That Wows
When in doubt, go with the best imposters.
• Artificial pearls: Choose resin, ceramic, or glass (anything but Disney-princess plastic). “A nice strand of medium-size globes, about half an inch in diameter, looks more expensive than small or oversize ones,” says New York City–based jewelry designer Katharine Sise, who has her own line and has collaborated with Target. Avoid pure white pearls in favor of ivory, beige, or even black, says Bloch.
• Beads: Hold them at arm’s length. If you can tell they’re plastic from that distance, ditch them. Or buy a piece that mixes beads with other materials—fabric, rope, metal, resin—all in a restrained monotone color scheme, suggests Sise.
• Gold-tone metal: Make sure it’s not too glitzy or yellow. Slightly distressed and burnished “gold” will seem more authentic.
• Imitation gemstones: Smaller (less than one carat) is more believable. Opt for crystal, which “looks more realistic than cubic zirconia or plastic, because it’s natural,” says Von Sperling. And pay attention to the setting. Obviously, you shouldn’t see any glue.
Bags and Shoes Speak Volumes
Quality is paramount.
Shop Smart on the Web
Sign up for flash-sale sites.
Know How to Put It All Together
Follow the 70/30 rule.