7 Ways You’ve Never Heard of Before to Look Stylish on a Budget

Today, I’m sharing my best tips to look stylish on a budget. A budget is subjective. One person’s save is another person’s splurge, but everyone is working within some parameters. Creating a classic wardrobe that feels sophisticated yet comfortable is a lesson in nuances and simplicity. It’s also ever-changing. You will forever be editing and updating your wardrobe. Keeping your wardrobe modern is my goal. Most of our readers aren’t looking for crazy trends or head-to-toe designer looks. Instead, they want to keep it simple, classic, stylish, and easy to put together. Looking great while being smart with your money is more about exercising a deft hand in how you dress and what you buy rather than bringing more into your closet. If we were chatting over a glass of wine, this is precisely what I would tell you to do to look stylish on a budget, regardless of what your personal style might be.

Ready to take control of your wardrobe regardless of your budget? Follow along with our FREE Wardrobe Challenge: 4 Weeks to a Better Wardrobe. 

7 Ways That You’ve Never Heard Before to Look Stylish on a Budget

BONUS: Download our FREE Wardrobe Building Checklist to See Everything you Need for a Classic and Chic Closet Full of Clothes.

Stop Wearing Old Crap

I said it. Stop. Wearing. Old. Crap. I spent ten years as a personal stylist for very normal people with very normal budgets. I have stood in thousands of closets, and the one common thread (pun intended) is that too many women are holding onto and wearing their old crap. You don’t need a closet full of clothes to look fabulously put together. You just need the right pieces, and you need to replace the things you’re holding on to that you shouldn’t wear anymore.

  • I once had a client who owned the same bra for six years. Not the same kind of bra, but the same actual bra…for six years.
  • Dozens of clients would try to keep stained and damaged pieces because they could “put something over it.”
  • The most common offense was not recognizing when an item was dated. Remember Express Tricot? I can’t tell you how many of those pieces I purged from closets for years.

I have seen everything.

EVERYTHING.

It might be counterintuitive to start a post about working within a budget with a tip to go and spend. I get that. However, if you are wearing your old crap and want to look stylish; it’s just not going to work.

It all starts with a good closet edit. Follow along with our Style Challenge, 4 Weeks to a Better Wardrobe, to walk through all the steps.

Have some pieces in good shape but don’t fit your style? We have some tips on the best way to sell, donate and recycle your clothes here. (These are all posts, so they are free, just click the links!)

Define Your Style 

Regardless of your budget, knowing what you like and what you don’t will save you time and money, as well as help you make better choices when you are shopping. Our preferences and needs change drastically over the years, yet we tend to stay stuck in a particular time when it comes to our clothing. The best way to maximize your budget is to create a framework for your style.

I used to have new clients create style inspiration boards with pictures from magazines and categories and, as time went by, on Pinterest. (You can see my Pinterest boards here.) Having a visual of what you like is, hands down, the most efficient way to make the most of your budget because it gives you a structure through which to filter your choices. Now, when you shop, ask yourself: “Is this piece help me create the style I love?” You’ll be amazed how many times you’ll put something back.

Keep Your Nails Polished with this Hack

There’s no doubt that polished nails elevate your look in a big way, but weekly manicures add up and are total time drainers. While I do get a manicure every couple weeks, I can’t always sneak out for one. On those days when I am out of time, I do it myself using this quick hack, and my nails look like I just walked out of the salon:

  1. Wash your hands and apply L’Occitane Shea Butter One Minute Hand Scrub.   Gently push back your cuticles with a washcloth.
  2. Sweep on Essie Apricot Oil to keep your cuticles healthy.
  3. Quickly file your nails following their natural shape. Go in the same direction to avoid splitting.
  4. Use either OPI Bubble Bath (a sheer pink) or OPI Passion (a sheer peach)
  5. Finish with Sally Hansen Gel Top Coat.
  6. UPDATE: I’m really loving Essie’s Gel Polish, it lasts a bit longer than typical polish and gives a fresh from the salon finish. You can see some updated tips in our post How to Give Yourself a Spa Manicure at Home.

Match Your Hardware

“Hardware” is anything extra on an item like a belt or shoe buckle, buttons, zippers, chains on a bag; you get the idea. By coordinating your metal color, you create a cohesive look. It’s subtle but has a significant impact. This means that if you are wearing a navy blazer with gold buttons, don’t wear a shoe with a silver buckle. Instead, wear one with gold, or skip altogether.

Along with keeping your hardware the same, be careful not to wear too much. Hardware will weigh down your look, and it doesn’t look sophisticated when there is too much. For example, if you are wearing a zipper-heavy moto jacket, avoid pairing it with pieces that have additional hardware.

Don’t Mix Patterns

Contrary to what most fashion blogs will tell you, mixing pattern takes a great deal of technique and an understanding of color theory, balance, and composition. If you do it haphazardly or in a way that looks haphazard, you will look like a hot messy mess. If you do wear a pattern, pick one you absolutely love, but wear it as a stand-alone. Many of you know I am a devoted fan of Diane Von Furstenberg. Her patterns are bold and busy but modern and sophisticated. One of the reasons her patterns work so well is because they’re done in a traditional silhouette. Keep that in mind as you work with pattern in your own wardrobe.

Work with Neutrals and Basics

In the spirit of skipping pattern, to look stylish on a budget, focus your budget on basics and neutrals. You’ll get more use out of your pieces, but you’ll also look more pulled together. When neutrals are paired together, they create a richness to your look, regardless of how much you spent.

Neutrals are more than just white, tan, brown, and black. Navy, gray, and burgundy are also neutrals. Patterns can be neutral too. Animal prints, pinstripes, and even textures like tweed and croco count. Incorporating these and pairing them together will elevate your look in a big way.

Wonder what you should have in your closet? Download our FREE Wardrobe Checklist here. 

Skip the Super High Heel and Wear Heels that Fit

Walking around like a newborn fawn isn’t a great look. Heels and platforms that are disproportionately high cheapen your look and throw off your balance, both literally and figuratively. There are ways to give yourself some extra height other than wearing an extreme heel.  Making sure your pants are hitting at your best length and wearing elongating necklaces and necklines can add the appearance of height.

You’ll also dumb down your look if your shoes are ill-fitting. If you can slide your finger between your heel and the back of your shoe, it doesn’t fit.  If you keep stepping out of your shoe, it’s time to donate.

Creating the wardrobe you love takes a little bit of time upfront.  What I know for sure, after years of helping other get dressed and feel great in their clothes is that you don’t need to spend a fortune.  You just need discipline and an awareness of changing styles and trends to stay modern, current and classic.

Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

21 Comments
  1. Great info to help plan my next purchases. Just spent a year of rehab and now I’m ready to get back to living again. Thanks for the direction.

  2. At last! About time someone said stop wearing old crap. The only thing I would disagree with is the manicure. Personally I prefer the natural buffed nail as I can never chip those! Beyond that great advice that I seem to have always stuck to myself.

    1. LOL. Thanks Laurie! And I think a natural, buffed nail is JUST as good as a traditional manicure – and much easier to maintain. 😉

  3. Guess its time for me to get rid of 20 year old clothes!
    Not an easy task!
    Also difficult to find quality and clothes that I love.
    However, I live your advise.
    Perhaps I heed help .

  4. Hello!!

    I am expecting my first child (due in February) and I don’t want to go all out and buy several maternity clothes. I want to create a fun and realistic wardrove capsule for this stage in life. Do you have any recommendations of some staples that I really need to get?

    1. Congratulations! I’ll create a comprehensive post with more detail but a few things to think of: only buy when you need something. It goes against everything I preach, but your body changes quickly and you can’t predict in what way. I’m currently 5 months pregnant and ordered a few casual maternity tees early on, thinking I’d get bigger quickly since this is my third. but they are still huge on me. Also, decide what your basics are, a great jean, black pant, maybe a dress and invest in them. Save on inexpensive tops and tee shirts. I like Old Navy for casual maternity. And don’t discount just sizing up, you might not need true maternity in every item.

      Ordering online is helpful, since there are few brick and mortar options, you’ll get more variety.

      For special occasion items, I like Rent the Runway. I signed up for their monthly subscription service and really like it. I also get Stitch Fix every few weeks and told my stylist to include both maternity and other “bump friendly” pieces.
      Hope that helps!

    1. Yes! Though it really depends on the neckline of your top. If you are wearing a higher neck, straight or boatneck style it can cut the line of your body in a very flattering way. Just watch that it is long enough, you don’t want it to hang at an awkward spot.

  5. Love this article. Very good advice. I will continue to mix some prints and I’m feeling inspired to clean out my closet room in time for fall!!!
    I find this very relevant even as a 60 year old fashionista.

  6. What’s wrong with owning the same bra for 6 years? I have bras I’ve owned for 15 years or more. They’re not bras I wear every day but I even have some of those that I’ve had for probably 5 years or more. They’re perfectly fine.

  7. “if you’re wearing one bra almost every day, you shouldn’t expect it to last much longer than a month.” That is absurd! Who could possibly afford to replace their bras monthly besides maybe the Kardashians? Bras are expensive! If you buy a decent quality bra and take proper care of it, unless you experience major weight changes (like pregnancy) there is no reason a bra should not last several years. This notion that bras worn regularly need to be replaced every few months is a marketing ploy designed to sell more product.

  8. Thank you Megan, this list will be so helpful as I work in my closets this weekend!! And, I love your tips for being the best me that I can be when it comes to fashion!

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