I found an absolutely gorgeous dress the other day. It was a hand-embroidered maxi with full sleeves and fun tassels. It was also $2400. That same week I saw a remarkably similar dress for $500 and an inspired-by-the-same concept dress for under $200. The whole experience reminded me of an article I worked on with Joy Sewing for the Houston Chronicle on how to shop smart and keep an updated wardrobe without breaking the bank. It’s been a minute since that was published so I want to reprise my tips here. And of course share several more!
The beautiful hand-embroidered version spotted at 29 North Boutique in the new Post Oak Hotel.
How to Shop Smart
Whether shopping for trends or classics though, clothes can be expensive.
Here are some tips, tricks and suggestions on how to shop smart, stay current for less, and when to invest in new wardrobe pieces. Because no matter your budget, we all love a good deal!
The best advice I can give you on building a stylish and long-lasting wardrobe is to build a wardrobe around current styles, flattering to your personal style, shape, and coloring of course, while avoiding a fully trendy look. That means snagging trends that fit your style, ignoring the ones that don’t, and keeping a trend grounded with some classic pairings.
How we are perceived by clients and colleagues is important and looking current has a psychological effect on you and your audience. For you, it shows you mean business, you are investing in yourself, you are engaging in self-care and not putting yourself last on the list. For clients and colleagues a current look, not trendy mind you, shows you are engaged in the world around you and that you and your ideas and solutions you bring to the table are relevant and not out-dated.
So how do you look current without breaking the bank?
First things first, educate your eye to the trends.
Walk through Saks, Neimans, and high-end boutiques paying attention to fabric choices, colors, and styling details (florals, embroidery, etc). If you really want to get into it, read a few articles from the well-known fashion magazines, Elle, In Style, Vogue, etc on the upcoming seasons trends. A note about runway watching – ignore the practicality of the outfit that the models are wearing and instead focus on the elements of the various looks. Oversized coats? Clear plastic fabrics? Menswear prints? Oh you must be talking about Fall ’18.
Once you know what the trends are, you can then snag the pieces for less as you come across them.
The $500 version of the embroidered dress and the inspired-by under $200 version I’m wearing here are great examples.
Focus on the top or an eye-catching accessory.
Where should you focus your dollars first? Your top or an eye-catching accessory should get first priority! Think about it, when you are greeting someone, sitting at a table for coffee, or standing in front of a crowd presenting – where are everyone’s eyes trained? On your face! So focus your efforts on what’s closest to your face, especially if you are working on a budget.
Unless you are walking away, no one will know the cost of your splurge black heels but a nice silk or silk-like shirt (which is cheaper than the heels 😉) will instantly make you look more polished, sophisticated and fresh.
For your accessories, statement earrings are huge right now. This <$50 pair of BaubleBar earrings can instantly update a look. These earrings I just bought, this dress I’ve had for ten years!
Pay attention to materials.
Materials can be a dead giveaway for where and how much you paid for a purchase. The hardest to fake? Black matte leather. Though it’s getting better, it’s tough to replicate the look of a supple leather piece. Your best alternative? Black suede or black patent leather. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference in suedes and black patent is fairly forgiving. Look for a version that is fairly structured/thick and without crinkle lines common in inexpensive versions.
Spend your money on unusual pieces.
A Theory white button-down shirt is stunning. It lays well, has great structure to it, and looks high-end. It’s also $250. If you are on a budget, don’t spend your money on the $250 white button-down, spend it on the perfectly-fitting trademark wool sheath dress that you will have for years and years and buy the white button-down literally anywhere else.
I advise clients of the same – it’s not worth the money if it’s easily repeatable somewhere else or if it’s something you’ll have to replace often. White button-down shirts, no matter how perfect you are in them or how much you love your dry cleaner need to be replaced more frequently as they start to yellow and look dingy.
Fit always matters, regardless of price.
Your shopping standards should be the same regardless of what price is on the tag. Does it look great on you? Does it fit your personal style?
When you spend less, you do have some room to invest in tailoring which can make a piece look perfect for you. But if you do that, plan on taking the item to the tailor as soon as possible so you don’t end up with an ill-fitting top you bought on sale languishing in your closet. You could have used those dollars on a pair of statement earrings! 😉
Remember how you use your clothes.
Don’t forget to factor in how you live, operate in your various wardrobe pieces. For instance, if you are hard on your shoes, don’t invest in expensive styles. If you are someone who can wear shoes many, many times and they still look brand new, don’t be afraid to spend a bit more on them as you know you will get a lot of wear out of them.
Consider your personal brand and values.
When you’re deciding where to spend your dollars, also consider your personal brand. For me, hand embroidery isn’t critical and the majority of my clients are not spending $2400 on a casual dress. But perhaps the circle you run in values couture or you’re a textile designer, embroidery specialist, etc. Your values are different and need to be factored into your buying decision. If you are a budget shopper and your clients are typically budget-focused as well, regardless of whether you were willing to buy the dress, it wouldn’t make sense for your brand.
Going back to the Theory shirt above, if you’re in a conservative industry like law or finance where a white button-down shirt might be part of your primary uniform, investing in sophisticated version is more important to presenting a polished, professional image.
For me and my personal style, handbags are not my thing. I like a good one of course and will always make sure I have the right bag for the occasion but couture, expensive handbags just don’t register on my need-to-have list. Unless you want to give me the Celine Mini Luggage bag. I will not turn it down! 😉 So when I saw this on-trend circle handbag on several people, I was googly-eyed but wasn’t willing to pay the price. Enter this gorgeous but not breaking-the-bank (<$100!!) version! Bonus: it’s more functional for me and fits my personal style well.
How do you shop smart? Where do you invest your dollars and where do you look for steals?