7 Ways to Have Great Style on a Budget

7 Ways to have great style on a budget
7 Ways You’ve Never Heard of Before 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 financial parameters. Today, I’m sharing some of my best tips to have great style on any budget. 

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 and classic with the occasional trend thrown in, and most of all, easy to pull 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.

How to Have Great Style on a Budget

7 Ways to have great style on a budgetBONUS: Download our FREE Wardrobe Building Checklist to See Everything you Need for a Classic and Chic Closet Full of Clothes.

Stop Wearing Old Crap

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you so you can build a modern, chic style on a budget is to get rid of your old stuff. 

Inevitably, every time I say this, I am flooded with emails telling me about this one fantastic garment that someone is still wearing after 20 or 30 years. So let me say this, yes, fair enough, there can be a handful of things with real staying power.

These are exceptions not the norm. 

And, of course, you will wear your Burberry trench or your grandmother’s Chanel jacket for a lifetime because you’re supposed to. You’re paying for their quality, craftsmanship, and enduring style upfront.

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.

– An astonishing number of clients would try to keep stained and damaged pieces because they could “put something over it.”

– Even more would be physically uncomfortable in clothes too small because they refused to buy the next size up.

– But the most common offense, the real reason I was there, was that they didn’t see when items were becoming dated. 

For Great Style on a Budget Remove Your Dated Pieces

Styles and fashions evolve. It’s why it is so easy to throw an 80s costume party. The older a piece is, the further we get a way from a decade, the look becomes more specific. 

So hop in your closet and give it a good edit. 

We are starting our Spring Wardrobe Challenge in just a few weeks. If you are ready to finally pull your wardrobe together, stay tuned for our announcement with all the details in tomorrow’s post! 

Define Your Personal Style

If you want to have enviable style on a budget, knowing what you like and what you don’t will save you so much time and money, and will 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 the most efficient way to make the most of your budget because it gives you a structure through which to filter your choices.

When you get clear on what you like, you start to see those things in other places. 

For example, I’ve always love the look of Theory. I love monochromatic outfits, mixing neutrals and textures, and I love fitted blazers with jeans. But I can’t wear head-to-toe Theory because I have to put three kids through college. 

Once I broke down the elements of the style, I started to see it in other places and now I can easily recreate those looks with pieces from stores like H&M and Zara. 

Here’s an example of texture rich, monochromatic outfit I recently wore with an inexpensive sweater from H&M and a clearance skirt from J.Crew Factory.

High Style, Low Cost

 
 
 
 
 
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🎉How many unknown outfits are hanging in your closet?? . 🥂For date night I gave myself 2 challenges: . 1. Find an outfit I didn’t know I had, . 2. No jeans! . 🤚🏼So many of us go to jeans all the time. . I know I do because my life is super casual and jeans just fit me better. . I’m THRILLED with this outfit. . I had both pieces in my closet and never thought to put them together – and this is what I do for a living! . It shows how important it is to have an organized closet (you have to see your stuff!) and you have to give yourself a minute to look through what you have. . I love a monochromatic moment that combines various textures like the knobbiness of the sweater and the shine of the silk skirt💕 . And, this outfit was so affordable. The sweater was under $30 and the skirt was on clearance for $20. . So carve out some time and see if you can find the hidden looks in your wardrobe! . Swipe to see tagged retailers in picture. . 👼Photo-bomber just turned 14 months and is fresh out of the bath💕

A post shared by The Well Dressed Life (@thewelldressedlife) on

 

Figure out what you like and those items will start to jump off the rack at you!

Related: How to Define Your Personal Style

Keep Your Nails Polished with this Hack

How to give yourself a salon manicure at homeThere’s no doubt that polished nails elevate your look in a big way, but weekly manicures add up and are total time killers. While I try 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. You can see my step-by-step guide here.

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. Also, be careful of pairing heavy hardware with busy patterns.  

Work with Neutrals, Texture and Basics

style on a budget
H&M tweed jacket paired with better basics.

For a hight style look within a budget, focus your resources on basics, neutrals and pieces with texture, (like the tweed jacket above paired with black basics).

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 give the same effect.

Patterns can be neutral too. Animal prints, pinstripes, and even textures like tweed (like above) and croco count. Incorporating these and pairing them together will elevate your look in a big way.

If you want to include patterns in your wardrobe, look for more sophisticated prints that feel like a neutral and wear them with modern basics. 

Making a Pattern Neutral

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, you will look like a hot mess.

There are so many patterns out there that lack sophistication and will ruin your outfit instantly. 

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

Avoid Super High Heels

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, they don’t fit.  If you keep stepping out of your shoe, it’s time to donate.

Our guide to the most comfortable heels is a helpful place to start to organize your shoe collection. 

Creating the wardrobe you love takes a little bit of time upfront.  What I know for sure, after years of helping others 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.

Style on A Budget Recap

This is a lot of information! Let’s break it down:

  1. Purge your closet of old, dated, and damage items to make room for updated classic. 
  2. Clearly define your personal style so it’s easier to shop and to create outfits that best reflect you. 
  3. Grooming is high impact and can be low cost. Have your nails manicured with our simple hack is an easy way to look polished on a budget. 
  4. Create a cohesive look by matching your hardwares. Keep gold with gold, silver with silver. It makes a huge difference. 
  5. Work with neutrals, textures, and better basics. Divide your resources so you are investing in workhorse pieces. These allow you to then layer in less expensive and/or trend focused pieces.
  6. Avoid patterns. Most patterns lack sophistication and look cheap – even if they aren’t. Also, skip mixing and matching patterns unless you are really good at it.
  7. Skip super high heels. No matter the cost, if you can’t walk in them, or if the proportion is too high you’ll look sloppy. Instead, spend what you can on quality shoes that help elevate your outfit. 

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Our readership inspires all of our posts. 

Recommendations are based on my experience as a personal stylist and wardrobe consultant for over a decade. I worked with busy, down-to-earth women who wanted to look chic and feel confident but were often confused by so much of retail. 

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Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe

Where to Spend, Splurge, and Save in Your Wardrobe

I’ve always hesitated to jump into the conversation around budget because it’s so subjective and personal. Back when I worked with private clients, it was important for us to understand not only what they could afford but what they were comfortable spending, because those are two very different things.

The most challenging part of our job was getting the client everything she needed, while keeping in her budget, and selecting quality merchandise.

Before you make any purchases decide on your budget. Setting a guideline helps you make better, more efficient choices. Think of your budget in it’s totality, even if, like most people you spread out your purchases across weeks, months or even seasons.

A few of things to remember before we dive into today’s post.

First, understand that everyone has different parameters. For some, $150 on a pair of jeans is no big deal; others would never consider it. Please don’t judge people on what they spend. 

Second, within the scope of this site, I put a tremendous amount of effort into curating a wide range of prices across all of our content, so there is something for everyone. This is by no means a “budget” blog. I’ve learned over the years that most women spend in some places, and save in others, so I try to make our content a reflection of that. 

Finally, I would NEVER tell someone an exact number to spend per season, nor would I promote a specific percentage of your income.  Some seasons you might not need to buy much, others you may feel like you are starting from scratch. I was very pregnant this time last year, and the year before I didn’t buy much, so this season I feel like I am replacing a lot of basics, and adding some updated pieces.  What you need will vary season to season, so your spend will as well. 

For today’s post, I want to get into how to portion out your budget once you decide how much you are willing to spend. By now, you’ve heard countless tips and advice on where to spend vs. where to save. I learned, however, over the years, that many people need a splurge category too.

Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe

Where to Spend, Splurge, and Save in Your Wardrobe

Splurge

What is a splurge? A splurge is perhaps a once a year purchase. It’s not something you buy all the time and not part of your regular shopping budget.  It could be something you’ve saved for, or you’re receiving as a gift.

For years, clients would ask for guidance on a splurge.  Typically, it was around a milestone, like a big birthday, graduation, promotion, or simply a single investment item they felt like the “earned”.  Even today I get dozens of emails looking for guidance around a splurge-worthy bag, piece of jewelry or article of clothing, and it’s so fun to hear what everyone is eyeing.

When you are deciding on a splurge, first and foremost, make sure it’s something you adore. Next, keep it timeless. Instead of putting your money into the latest “it” bag, or a trendy jacket, opt for something iconic.

My very first splurge was a Louis Vuitton Speedy. My husband gave it to me over a decade ago. I still love it and carry it.

A few years later I bought a Burberry Trench at the Nordstrom Anniversary sale.  They are still two of my favorite things, hold sentimental value and are something I’ll hand down to my girls when they get older.  (They’ve already started call dibs on certain things.)

Finally, be sure it’s something you will use every day or almost every day. You’ll get the most out of your money (think the price per wear formula), AND you’ll elevate your look. When you can add an element like a splurge in your outfit, you make all the other pieces look a little bit better.

Whatever you do, don’t let your splurge sit collecting dust in your closet.

A few ideas to splurge on from what clients considered over the years (Remember these are “splurges” for a reason): 

  1. Burberry Trench or Canada Goose Coat.
  2. A gorgeous winter coat, like this one by Max Mara.
  3. A designer bag in a neutral color, understated logo and little hardware. This one by Chloe lives on my wish list
  4. Jewelry that you will wear every day, like diamond studs, a watch or a ring.
  5. Hermes scarf or Gucci Belt
  6. Designer Sunglasses (if you won’t loose them!)

Spend

Your spend category differs slightly from your splurge category. While a splurge might be considered decadent, your spend pieces will focus on your specific wardrobe building basics.  These pieces will be different for everyone.

Related: Follow along with our 4 Weeks to a Better Wardrobe Series.

The best way to determine where to spend is to think of two things:  frequency of use, and fit needs.

Frequency of Use

What are those pieces you incorporate in many or all of your outfits? What do you live in? Maybe it’s a pair of tailored pants for work or yoga pants for regular trips to the gym.  The more you wear it, the more you need to care for it, and better quality should hold up for a longer amount of time. If an item is in your regular rotation, spend a little more.

Fit Needs

Next, where do you have the greatest fit challenges? Generally speaking, the better the quality, the better the fit, and the more you have to spend. You’ll also want to allocate a bit of your budget to alterations.  I’ve found that setting aside 10% gives you enough to take care of the essentials.

Try to buy the best quality you can afford. “Spending” means you allocate more of your budget to your core pieces.

Below are some categories to consider spending more on:

  1. Bras in “your nude,” sports bras and underwear. Our guide to undergarments is a helpful place to start
  2. Denim (if you wear frequently.) Check out our picks for the best jeans at every price, style and size
  3. Blazers and suit coats.
  4. Classic shoes like boots and pumps in neutral colors.
  5. Core pieces including sheath dresses, pants, or skirts.
  6. Outerwear in a timeless cut and with long lasting functionality.

Save

Spend the least amount of money on the pieces you either won’t wear frequently, will be used as a layer, or would be considered “disposable.”

Below are some categories to save:

  1. Special occasion and evening dresses and separates. Buy on sale or use Rent the Runway.
  2. Tanks, tees and basic tops.
  3. Sweats, hoodies and loungewear. 
  4. Certain sweaters, specifically if you live in warmer climates.
  5. Printed or bold pieces, including blouses, shells, skirts.
  6. Trendy items such as jewelry, accessories, novelty shoes and colored denim.

By following these tips, and mixing these pieces together you will achieve a well-composed outfit, have a functional wardrobe and, get the most out of your budget. 

 

Let us know below!

Do you have an eye on a splurge?

Where do you spend and where do you save?

 

Wear to Work: Hot Pink Blazer

Hot Pink Blazer Outfit to Wear to Work

If you’re starting to feel “blah” about your current work wardrobe situation, now is a good time to shake it up a bit. Sometimes an update is as simple adding one new, cool piece — something that adds a twist to the pieces you already own. 

I call these “novelty pieces.” A novelty piece is the opposite of a basic, but just as important. They add interest, help you look modern, and add a stylish element. They offer loads of impact, especially if most of your wardrobe is composed of simple basics.

Today we’re using a bold pink double-breasted blazer. I’m crazy about this outfit, like, I would wear it today if I had to go any place more interesting than my home office. 

All the pieces we’re featuring today have loads of mix and match potential. Think of this as a mini capsule. This is one way to wear these pieces, but you can get some dangerous life out of every piece. 

 

Hot Pink Blazer Outfit to Wear to Work

Blazer, $57  |  Joggers, $49  |  Blouse, $59  |  Slingbacks, $119  |  Satchel, $128  |  Earrings, $210

I started with a double-breasted blazer in a gorgeous hot pink. This one by Topshop is all sorts of cool. If you like this one be aware of their sizing. It runs a full size small, so if you wear a 10, pick up a 12.

It’s on sale for $57. Generally, you don’t want to invest much in novelty pieces. This one happens to look more sophisticated than it’s price tag. 

Other options to consider: Banana Republic did a classic one button blazer in an equally pretty hue (all sizes available).  

You can pair it with any slimmer lined black pants you already own.  Make sure you use a slim pant to balance the volume of the blazer, otherwise your outfit will look oversized.

If you opt for the BR option, you could wear an updated bootcut like the Talbots “barely bootcut” we featured last month

Related: Wear to Work: Classic Bootcut Pants

Or you can up the style factor even more and use a “dressy” pair of joggers. These are different than the sweatpant version we worked with last week. They are made of a ponte stretch knit, so they are equally comfortable, but have a better, more office appropriate hand. 

I wear a version of these frequently, with various blouses and blazers. Every time I put them on, I feel like I know what I’m doing. For under $60 you can build out your outfit options. They work with everything you would wear with a classic black trouser. 

When I discover a layering piece worth sharing, I shout it from the rooftop. Why is it so hard to find a simple, basic well made shell or tank to wear under blazers and cardigans that aren’t $400? 

Buy this Gibson tank at Nordstrom immediately if you need a base layer for under suits and separate jackets. It’s $59 and comes in 11 different colors and patterns. Easy-peasy. 

For shoes, this look is screaming for an airy pump, so a slingback and ankle strap would work well. I went with these Pour La Victoire slingbacks in black velvet on sale for $112. They are a classic style with a wearable heel. Definitely a piece you’ll use a lot.

This, a tailored satchel from Ann Taylor will neatly fit all of your daily must haves and probably work with most pieces you already own. 

Finally, I used a more expensive earring. I’m trying to offer a variety of price points throughout this series. Personally, I’d rather have one cool pair of earrings I wear often than a drawer full of cheap options.  I love the modern feel of these gold and opal backward huggers.  They are subtle and add a little edge.