With the beginning of fall comes New York Fashion Week (NYFW), a showcase of every new trend, must-have designer, and, of course, exorbitant prices. But let’s face it: The average American woman isn’t spending a cool $3,000 on a pair of Christian Louboutin boots, no matter how much the fashion magazines crow about their fall faves.
However, even if you have Michael Kors tastes but live on an Old Navy budget, it doesn’t mean you have to feel bad about your non-NYFW clothes. In fact, I maintain that spending a ton of money on trends that will only last a season isn’t only unwise, it’s also a poor use of closet space. Instead, it’s possible to score high fashion based on purchasing clothes that look expensive, but don’t cost more than your budget will allow.
Of course, your individual budget dictates how much you can spend on clothes each season. But with a better eye for quality and a few post-purchase fixes, you can find clothes on the cheap that still make you feel totally indulgent, regardless of how much you paid.
Tips to Make Your Clothes Look Costlier
1. See a Tailor
I often find that women are hesitant to have their clothes tailored. Many women believe that tailoring is expensive; however, in my experience, a simple tailoring fix (such as nipping in a waist or letting down a hem) usually costs between $15 and $20 – but it makes your clothes look like a million bucks.
Designers have the luxury of fitting clothes on models who are one specific size and shape. The average woman has much more average measurements, and therefore clothes are rarely a perfect fit right off the rack. A dress that doesn’t fit your waist or a pair of pants that are a little too long can make even expensive clothes look dowdy and cheap. By investing $20 on tailoring a bargain shopping score, your clothes fit your body better, which automatically creates the sense of better quality.
2. Launder Properly
You know that tag on the inside of your shirt? It’s not just there to tell you what size you’re wearing. All mass-market garments come with laundering instructions that should be followed to make the clothing last longer and look better.
Fading, wrinkling, and shrinking are all telltale signs of cheap clothes. However, you can fool everyone by taking great care with all of your garments. Always check your clothing tags to find out how best to care for your clothes so they stay crisp, bright, and expensive-looking.
Here are some general clothes washing tips:
- Always wash clothes with like colors, especially dark colors that can fade easily
- Run a disposable razor over wool clothes to remove pilling
- Never wash clothes at home that specify “dry-clean only”
- Wear clothes a few times before you wash them to maintain color and shape
- Invest in a drying rack (less than $30) for garments that fade and change shape in the dryer, such as jeans and dresses
- Store out-of-season clothes in a cool, dark place
- Blot (don’t rub) stains out of fabric, since rubbing can ruin clothing fibers
Just by paying attention to laundering your clothes properly, you help them maintain color, shape, and quality, even if you nabbed those pants from the clearance rack.
properly washing clothes
3. Look for Workmanship
When I’m bargain-hunting and see something I love, the first thing I look at are the buttons and zippers. Even cheap clothes should have sturdy workmanship, or you’ll risk ruined clothes, fallen hems, and loose threads.
Always check out the fasteners first: Does the zipper close smoothly? Are there loose buttons and threads? Then, check the seams of the garment for holes and loose threads as well, which are signs that the garment is poorly made and will likely fall apart or lose its shape.
Finally, do a once-over for stains or holes that could have been introduced from other people trying on the item in the store. While some stains (makeup, for example) can usually be washed out, you should be able to find another sans stains.
4. Avoid Embellishments and Logos
We all love a little sparkle in our lives, but if you’re going for beading and sequins, you risk your clothes looking cheap. This happens for a couple of reasons: First, embellishments can wear over time, which means that beaded sweatshirt is going to look dowdy and old when some of that beautiful beading falls off. Second, embellishments simply aren’t as lasting trend-wise as a crisp, clean look. Sure, that pair of embroidered jeans might look great this season, but a pair of tailored, dark-wash jeans are much more timeless.
The same can be said for logos. Logos are often used as a statement in fashion, meant to declare that the item was expensive. And while you can find deals on logo-emblazoned clothing and accessories, I think a well-made, faux brown leather bag always looks more expensive than one covered in a loud logo.
5. Avoid Trends
One thing about trends is that, over time, they’ll fade away into the same place “Hammer Pants” and butterfly hair clips went to die. If you really want to make your clothes look more expensive, focus on purchasing classic pieces that never go out of style.
My must-have classic wardrobe staples look something like this:
A pair of dark-wash, straight-leg jeans
A well-tailored button-up shirt
A little black dress
A classic mid-length trench
A pair of black pumps
A v-neck sweater
These items have all been staples for decades and are unlikely to go out of style anytime soon. By skipping the trends, you can avoid spending money on cheap duplicates and instead focus your clothing budget on items that always look current and well-made.
6. Mix With Pricey-Looking Accessories
You don’t have to completely go bargain basement when trying to save money on clothes. If you tend to shop for bargains during clearance sales for your main clothes, it’s okay to splurge on accessories to elevate your entire look. Or, if your budget is tight, accessories that look expensive can achieve the same goal.
Take a basic outfit of a white v-neck t-shirt and jeans. Not too exciting right? But add a colorful scarf, a statement-making pair of earrings, and a cross-body bag, and suddenly the outfit goes from boring to lunch date. Or, swap the scarf for a hefty collar-shaped necklace and don a pair of heels for a Friday night look.
Accessories are a great place to allot some of your clothing budget because they can change an entire look. They’re also ideal for testing a trend without spending a large amount of money on something that might go out of style soon. A good rule of thumb for purchasing accessories that look expensive is to go for something that isn’t too obviously fake. A huge necklace made of cheap gemstones would be out of your price range if it were made from real diamonds, but a nice pair of cubic zirconia stud earrings are more realistic, so they actually look more expensive when worn because they’re not obviously fake.
7. Go Monochromatic
One surefire way to look cheap is to pile on a ton of different colors and patterns. While I definitely love a splash of color, wearing a monochromatic tone from head to toe creates an idea of quality. You don’t have to wear head-to-toe black, but an outfit made from different shades of gray looks sophisticated and expensive.
Neutral colors look best for this trick: White worn with shades of khaki, or dark-wash jeans worn with a lighter chambray top easily trick others into thinking you spent a fortune on pieces that can be found at a huge discount.
A couple of rules for wearing monochromatic outfits:
If you’re wearing one shade head-to-toe (instead of different shades of the same color), break it up by mixing textures, such as silk, denim, cotton, or leather.
When in doubt, go for black – it’s the easiest color to dress up to look expensive, and will always be in style.
8. Add a Little Texture
One of the most exciting things happening in fashion is the sheer accessibility of texture. Leather, animal, and even the softest wool are no longer limited to the uber-rich, even if the cheaper versions aren’t genuine. A little (faux) texture can go a long way in elevating an outfit to “expensive” status.
Look for ways to introduce some texture to your overall outfit. I love python as a print: It always looks expensive when worn as a shoe or handbag. Faux leather accents are another way cheaper clothes look more expensive, so I love leather panels or a super-soft faux leather bag. Just remember that a little texture is enough to create a pricier look, so you don’t need to pile on multiple animal prints or a ton of different textures – that could cause the opposite effect.
9. Pay Attention to Grooming
If you really want to make your clothes look expensive, make sure the rest of your look is up to par. It’s much easier to make clothes look a million bucks if you match them with a flawless blowout, a chip-free manicure, and clean, neutral makeup.
You don’t have to hit the salon on the daily to make sure you have a million-dollar look. Instead, it’s about a clean, classic aesthetic: It’s pretty hard to look expensive with a ton of turquoise eyeshadow and the latest trendy polka-dot manicure. Instead, go for neutral colors and remember that a well-done beige manicure trumps a sloppy design any day, no matter how expensive the outfit. A classic look never goes out of style.
Whether your monthly clothing budget is $100, $1,000, or $10,000, the old saying is true: Fashion fades, but style is forever. Don’t let a small clothing budget fool you into thinking you’re not stylish. By paying attention to the quality of even your clearance rack finds, you can make sure that your clothes last, look great, and, most importantly, make you feel like a million bucks when you wear them.
How do you make your bargain finds look more expensive?