Looking fabulously chic comes easy for celebrities, thanks to hefty paycheques and expensive stylists, but for the down-and-out “fashion frugalista” life is a constant challenge of trying to recreate designer looks on a tight budget.
And after spending up during the holiday season, fashionistas have to stretch their buck even further than usual if they want to look good come spring. But just because your budget is more Giordano than Prada doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a wardrobe full of cheap knock-offs that belong in fashion purgatory. With a bit of research and smart shopping, looking chic without breaking the bank is more attainable than that Croc Hèrmes Birkin.
“Spend your money on the most important items first,” says image consultant Eve Roth Lindsay of Savvy Style, colour me beautiful HK. “Keep in mind how often you’ll wear the item.”
In How to Be a Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less, fashion blogger Kathryn Finney says there’s no set formula on how you should allocate your budget. She advises focusing on value rather than price and suggests calculating the cost per wear of an item when considering if it’s closet-worthy. “This is the cost of an item divided by the number of times you think you’ll wear it,” she says. “So, if you pay US$100 for an item and think you’re going to wear it 20 times in a given year, your cost per wear is US$5 (US100/20 = US$5).”
“Budget shoppers need to be more strategic with their purchases,” says Eizelle Taino, owner of hip boutique Indigo. “colour and style choices need to be more versatile, so they can be applied through a broad range of wardrobe possibilities.”
Invest in basics that are versatile and will last season after season. Classic and timeless pieces should be the foundation of your wardrobe. “You should invest in items you’ll wear the most, and there are certain items that should always look expensive,” says Lindsay.
Theses should include a black suit you can dress up or dress down, a pair of jeans, a great trench coat, a white shirt, trousers and a great jacket. “The key is to make sure you get these pieces in a style that works.
As a budget shopper, focus on the fit, fabric and quality and less on the brand and price. Buy the best your budget will allow. “Fabrication is the key thing to making something look expensive,” says Sarah Rutson, fashion director of Lane Crawford. “You can’t hide behind cheap fabrics.”
Once you have the basics covered, it’s good to spice up your wardrobe with trendier pieces every season. Budget-conscious shoppers can still enjoy the hottest designs, thanks to affordable, trendy high-street stores such as Zara and H&M. The trick is to be careful with what trends you choose. With fashion being so fickle, choose key trends from the season that are bound to come back (for the winter, trench coats are always useful).
Another way of making you HK$100 dress look designer is to spend a bit more on accessories such as shoes and handbags. Fashion is in the details and accessories can breathe new life into your wardrobe and save an outfit from looking cheap and boring.
“Good shoes and accessories make a real budget item better looking,” says Rutson. “Cheap shoes are something you can’t get away with.”
Taino suggests indulging in an expensive handbag. “Any outfit will look great next to an “it” bag- or chooses a bag that compliments the palette of your wardrobe.”
Knowing when to shop is vital. Budget shoppers should check out seasonal sales, which are a perfect opportunity to stock up on designer goodies you normally couldn’t afford. With designers churning out more collections each year, many pieces are available a few months ahead of when we’d typically wear them. For example, winter clothes hit the racks in September, even though it doesn’t get cold until January.
“January and February are the best times to stock on cold weather clothes,” says Lindsay. “Buy sexy lingerie after Valentine’s Day, and your swimwear in September.”
During sale time, take advantage of well-made wardrobe staples (although size isn’t always guaranteed), but don’t fall into the trap of buying an item just because it is cheap. Buy it only because you love it, otherwise you won’t want to wear it. Also stay clear of statement pieces from designer collections, which will be outdated by the time you wear them.
“Do the understated elegant thing,” says Rutson. “Instead of leopard shoes, do the black stiletto you can wear season after season. Buy a fabulous winter coat that’s good quality rather than something that’s red with a fur collar- you’ll get sick of it.”
“The key is practicing reality-dressing,” says Finney. “Which is dressing for who you are at this very moment. You overspend on items that were mistakes. By focusing on reality-dressing you focus on what works for you body and your style. And so make better purchasing decisions.”
In terms of where to shop aside from high-street stores such as Club Monaco, Giordano and Zara, try the vintage stores and secondhand stores such as Milan Station and Lady Place.
Online boutiques can offer huge savings, but be wary of sizes and hidden shipping costs. Sites worth checking out include eBay; www.yoox.com, www.bluefly.com,
www.designerexposrue.com for discounted designer wear.
“Try sample sales and VIP discounts,” says Taino. “Hongkongers are also lucky to have the choice of an army of talented tailors who can copy many styles straight off of a magazine cover.”
Remember that looking good isn’t always about spending huge amounts or blindly following trends. “It comes down to personal style,” says Rutson.
“If you’ve got style people won’t be able to tell if you’re wearing something cheap or designer. You can still look great without having to spend a fortune as long as you stay true to yourself.”
As Coco Chanel put it: “Fashion passes, style remains.”