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How to Shop on a Limited Budget

By: Erin West and Shuchi Sharma

A woman's closet should be her happy place.  She can walk in feeling frumpy and tired and walk out feeling revived and refreshed.  Your wardrobe should be an extension of your personality and lifestyle that is fully functional with your social activities and career.  Your clothing selections should make you feel like a million bucks. However, it is the way a garment fits your body combined with great styling techniques that make a garment feel and look like a million bucks, not the price tag.  Some women can shop with an endless budget but chances are they will only wear 5% of the clothes they purchase while the other garments remain unworn and become closet clutter.  Other women have a limited budget set aside for clothing purchases and get frustrated when deciding what to buy.  They will spend countless hours contemplating the price tag and wear ability of an item before they commit to the purchase. Either way, every woman should know how to shop on a limited budget and make smart purchases.  You should be able to incorporate your garments into a fully functional wardrobe.  When you shop with a budget in mind it helps to alleviate wasteful purchases and allows you to focus on items that will play a key role in your wardrobe. Whether you are dressing for the office or a casual weekend, the key is to combine fashion and fit with function to find your silver lining! 

Many women would like to get multiple uses out of the same garment without it being noticed by the people around them.  When you wear the same garment in a multitude of different ways it keeps the item fresh and exciting.  Wearing clothes the same way every time gets boring and eventually you begin to resent it, casting it off as “old” or “worn”.  When you shop on a budget and have a functioning wardrobe, pieces can be interchangeable with one another which will keep your attire new and exciting. Mixing and matching outfits can be fun and rewarding.  You will thank yourself for buying certain garments and learn how to maximize your investments. Before you make a clothing purchase, you must pay very close attention to the fit of the garment.  You can’t mix and match anything that doesn’t fit you properly.  If you’re going to look like a million bucks on a limited budget, you must make sure your purchase is appropriate for your body structure and shape. Once this established, and the garment passes the “fit test” you can begin to use various accessories to mix and match different outfits. This will help you to extend your wardrobe with respect to your budget.  Try these smart basic ideas to get started: 

The Office

Choosing ideal outfits for the workplace can be challenging on a daily basis. Outfits often become monotonous and boring when trying to maintain a specific dress code.  Career clothes can get expensive so it is important to buy garments that can be interchangeable with one another.  This doesn't mean stock your closet full of black clothing.  Black is the easy way out and gets boring and redundant quickly.  Your peers and co-workers will quickly notice that you lack creativity and personality.  I’m not saying that black is a bad thing, but it can be when your entire wardrobe consists of predominantly black garments.  Our fashion consultants recommend investing in a great black pantsuit.  This is an item that you can wear multiple times simply by changing the components around for a different stylized look.  There are ways to change the appearance of a garment without having to repeat the same boring outfits over and over again.

Here are 5 different ways to wear a black tailored pantsuit:

  1. Black pant suit with a lightweight solid colored blouse. Add a black patent leather skinny belt and pair it off with some dangling necklaces or pearls.
  2. Black pants with a black tailored button down collared shirt.  Tuck in the shirt and add a bright colored skinny belt.  This will break up the black and add an accent color to your outfit.
  3. Black suit jacket over a printed dress with black heels or pumps.  Wear a handbag that matches one of the colors in your dress.
  4. Printed blouse and black suit pants. Add a grey suit vest over top of the blouse and complete the look with black pumps.
  5. Black blazer with v-neck sweater and printed skirt.  Add a comfortable boot or pump to complete the look.

With a pantsuit, you can also play around with layers.  A pantsuit is professional enough that it allows you to add casual shirts underneath.  Try mixing and matching t-shirts or graphic prints and designs.  If you find it challenging to coordinate and create different outfit combinations, a helpful tip is to buy simple pieces that add subtle color or design components.  Design components consist of styling details like embellishments, lace, ruffles or any other subtlety that adds feminine detail.  You can also invest in other suit like garments consisting of a pencil skirt, 3-buttoned vest or patterned blazers.  Avoid buying anything that it too loud or bright. Keep your essential items basic and neutral.  You can add personality and color to your outfits with the use of accessories, belts and shoes. This will help take a lot of the guess work from your dressing routine and allow you to maximize your clothing.  Although accessories should be fun, remember to never overdo it.  They are a great way to add character and variety to your look.  For example, a plain black blazer can be worn with a thin belt over it at the waist-line on one day and with an antique brooch on another.  This will give your plain black blazer two brand new ways to be worn to the office. 

Special Occasions

Dressing for a special occasion is not an everyday task; some may think that splurging on a garment is acceptable depending on the event.  However, if events and gatherings are scheduled regularly on your calendar you should learn how to maximize your investment and avoid buying overpriced dresses that you may only be able to wear once. The most cost-efficient way to get around this problem is to wear the same piece without making it noticeable.  Different events usually involve different people but when you have to wear the same thing each time, it loses its luster.  You may not feel as sexy or vibrant in a dress when you have to wear it over and over to different events.  The best solution is called the LBD, otherwise known as the Little Black Dress.  This garment is simple and basic making it a wardrobe essential.  You can wear it out for an event, cocktail hour, dinners, dates and even work.  Buying a bright blue dress, for example, may not be as easy to wear multiple times without it being obvious.  Your LBD or Little Black Dress can be worn several different ways by reconstructing your outfit or adding accessories.

Our fashion consultants have provided 5 different ways to wear your little backs dress:  

  1. LBD with sexy high heels, long necklace and a trench coat.
  2. LBD with pumps and tailored fitted tweed blazer.
  3.  LBD with knee or calf high black boots, black opaque stockings and a muted v-neck buttoned cardigan.
  4. LBD with black shrug, black sheer tights and high heels.
  5. LBD with pull over crew or v-neck sweater, black leggings and a flat black walking boot.

A dress can also be transformed from long to short.  Simply take it to your local tailor or seamstress and try it on while you pick a suggested length.   Our fashion consultants and image consultants agree that this is a great way to re-invent a garment.  You may even want to make it sleeveless which will transform it even more.  You can add a simple elegant shrug to the shortened or sleeveless dress for a more formal occasion like a wedding; whereas a cropped jacket for a dinner party can help give the dress a more trendy appeal.  It is easy to get 4-5 different uses out of the same dress, you just have to use a little bit of imagination and creativity. 

In order to make your garment transition from one special occasion to the next is by adding the right accessories.  Accessories can be used to dress up or dress down the outfit you have purchased.  Adding opaque or colored hosiery can instantly change how a garment looks.  Wearing a colored pump or high heel can also give your garment a fun and flirty look.  Adding a stylized hat or long gloves can give your look an elegant feel.  Bracelets, earrings and necklaces made from different materials, sizes and styles are all great ways to change the overall look of your outfits.  There are many costume jewelry options available at affordable prices that can be incorporated into your look.  Our personal shoppers recommend buying vintage pearls or colored beads to add accent shades to neutral or black outfits and dresses.  

The Fall Season

An easy way to transform your spring wardrobe into fall is to add knitted sweaters and cropped fitted blazers.  Fall knits are made from various materials and range widely in price.  Try to find knitted sweaters and cardigans that look expensive but lack the high price tag.  Many knits are made with synthetic, blended or combination materials that are more affordable.  Cashmere can get costly rather quickly so try to find knits that are also made from natural fibers like wool and cotton. Knits with details like embellishments, over-sized pockets, asymmetrical zippers and interesting prints can make low-priced materials look like a million bucks! Cashmere is typically found at a higher price point,  it is a delicate type of material that must be handled and cleaned with care.  If you prefer a cashmere sweater, it is a good idea to look for deals on the internet or purchase them from stores at the end of the Fall/Winter season.  End-of-season sales are a great time to stock up on classic styles.

To Keep In Mind When Shopping on a Budget

When shopping on a limited budget, it is essential to purchase items that are both fashionable and functional.  Invest in clothing that fits your body and avoid anything frumpy. This adds to the overall look and quality of your outfit.  When items are over-sized, they look cheap and sloppy. Tailored garments are more likely to look current and expensive.  Buy materials that are low maintenance and avoid anything that says,” dry clean only,” Dry cleaning bills will add up overtime. However, it is important to pay attention to care instructions found on the inside of your garment as it increases the longevity of your item.

Where To Buy

A fashion consultant, image consultant or personal shopper can introduce you to stores that carry reasonably priced garments. They are very knowledgeable about what brands cater to different body types.  Off-Retail stores provide exceptional value with unique and ever-changing brand names and designer fashions at a fairly decent price.  If you want to shop on your own, off-retailers include:  TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Burlington Coat Factory, Century 21 and Daffy’s.  Although these notable retailers are lined with rows and rows of clothing, it is worth the time and effort to search for deals.  The thrill of the hunt can help you find quality pieces at prices that cannot be beat!


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