As a native New Yorker, when I watch tv shows about NY, they just feel wildly unrelatable. Like, this isn't how we all live, (cough, cough, Friends - seriously what waitress has an apartment like that?). But, there was a really funny (IMO) show called Don't Trust The B In Apartment 23, and one of the episodes is all about training for a designer warehouse sale. Where women fight to obtain deeply discounted luxury clothes. Because we all want to know how to look expensive. on budget.
And, if you have ever been to a Barney's Warehouse Sale (RIP) then you know just how true that scenario can be. But, the best part of the episode was at the end. When the main character was at work in this totally over-the-top super frilly blouse. And, it makes me laugh because it's so spot on. Because what the fashion world brands as "luxury" - is often just tacky overpriced made-in-China garbage that was produced to eventually be sold at discount. When you buy this stuff you end up looking cheesy, not rich. So, now I am going to teach you what real luxury is, and I promise you it's not something you will ever find at the bottom of a discount bin. Here's how to look expensive on a budget.
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Get That Made For You Fit
When you go to a clothing store, you are buying, "off the rack" or "ready-to-wear" fashion. Ready-to-wear clothes are exactly what they sound like. They are ready to wear immediately.
Back in the day, before you could drive your cars to the mall, most people made their own clothes. And, the nice thing about being able to make your own clothes is that you could make them fit you perfectly.
But, during the Roosevelt Administration, there was a big push to get people shopping in stores and to stop making their own clothes at home.
"The Roosevelt Administration created a project to standardize women's measurements. From July 1939 - June, 1940 American women were measured in order to formulate average sizing. This would save on alterations and cut down on store returns increasing the sales of ready-to-wear apparel."
So, clothing sizes were actually created by the government.
Kind of crazy, huh?
Unfortunately, standardized sizing has morphed and changed so much through the years that, (and, I am sure you can agree) they are anything but standard. (For this blog post I am not even going to begin to unpack the whacky world of "conventional sizing". Let's save that for another day.)
Today we consider custom clothing lust-worthy and luxury. But, back then during Roosevelt's time, it became in vogue for people to buy plain generic clothing right off the rack!
Here is the good news.
If you don't know how to sew, or don't have a couture budget, you can still get the custom clothing look.
Find A Good Tailor
Have you ever wondered why celebrities always look perfect in their clothing? Even if they are just pumping gas in jeans and a t-shirt, with a Starbucks in hand?
No, it's not because they are superhumans with perfect bodies. And, no, designers aren't usually making them custom white t's to their specific measurements. The reason they look perfect and put together, (even when they are in literal pajamas) is because they have everything custom-tailored to fit them perfectly.
So, what's the trick to pulling this off yourself?
Find a good tailor.
Having your clothes custom-tailored isn't just for prom dresses and expensive clothing. It's for your cheap Zara stuff too.
Think about it, when you buy an expensive dress you want it to fit perfectly, so you get it tailored. Why wouldn't shouldn't you treat yourself to a custom fit for all of your clothes?
Don't Have The Extra Cash For A Tailor? The, Try DIY!
Tailoring is actually a pretty easy skill to pick up, and there are lots of youtube tutorials. If you don't have the budget to hire someone, try learning a new skill and going the DIY route.
Lose The Buttons
This tip separates the industry insiders from the average fashion magazine readers. We all remove the buttons that our off-the-rack clothes come with and put on our own custom ones.
That is because buttons are the first place that companies start cutting costs to increase their margins.
I have literally been in meetings, that last for hours, debating if customers would notice if we made a shirt with only two buttons instead of three. And, in general, when it comes to buttons most companies are using the cheapest plastic ones they can find.
But, when you buy from really lux brands they have (or should have) super nice buttons.
In NYC there are stores that only sell buttons - like Lou Lou's with over 10 million buttons in stock. But, you can also find lots of great new and vintage options on websites like Etsy.
This one small replacement will cost you only a couple of dollars but will turn your shirt from generic fast fashion to luxury immediately.
And, Here Is My Pro Tip
Order a few extra buttons just in case any fall off in the future. It's always good to have a replacement.
Hang Your Clothes Correctly
This one kills me. I hate it when clothing stores do this. They have a beautiful cashmere sweater or a delicate silk top and they hang it on this big bulky plastic hanger and stretch out the shoulders.
Sadly that type of damage often can not be repairable. And, it ends up making your clothes look sloppy (even when you pay big bucks for them).
So, spend time storing your clothes correctly. The easiest way to get started doing this is to know what to hang in your closet, vs what should be folded in a drawer.
- flowing fabrics like modal and silk
- anything that tends to wrinkle or crease easily - like linen
- blouses and button-down shirts
- active swear and athleisure
- bras (lay flat in a drawer)
- linens and towels
If all else fails, generally you want wovens hung in the closet, and knits folded in your drawer.
The 3 Types Of Hangers Your Closet Needs
And, for the clothes in your closet… don't be afraid to invest in good hangers.
The first type of hanger you need is a regular hanger - the kind we all probably think of when we think of a hanger. These hangers are great for folding jeans onto, or for lightweight garments like button-down shirts.
The second type of hanger is a sloped hanger. The top of this hanger looks like a semi-circle instead of going straight across. These types of hangers are for suits and jackets. They help the garment hold its shape.
And, the last type of hanger is a padded hanger. A padded hanger should be used for delicate items that need special care like silks and lace.
Get That Crisp Dry Clean Look At Home For Free
What is the one thing every fashion intern in NYC has in common (besides a Devil Wears Prada moment)?
We all know how to work a steamer.
Seriously. If you have spent even just a month interning in fashion, you know how to wield one of these bad boys.
No one in fashion irons. It's so outdated, difficult, and time-consuming. The fast, easy way, that get's just as good results (maybe even better?) is a portable steamer.
Wrinkles in your clothing make them look frumpy, and like you just rolled out of bed. By taking the 2 minutes (seriously, that's how long it takes) to steam your clothes it looks like you just had them professionally cleaned.
There are lots of great steamers on websites like BBB (the coupons never expire) and Amazon.
If you are like me and are on the road a lot, think about opting for travel size. It works just as well as a floor unit, but it's easy to pack up and take anywhere with you. Even an impromptu photo shoot.
Wear The Right Size Underwear
Mayim Bialik, aka Blossom, posted about this a few months back. If you aren't following her on Instagram, you should be, she is hilarious.
Anyway. One day she was talking about how a stylist gave her underwear that was larger than what she normally wears. And that at first she was extremely offended. Then, when she put them on she realized that the bulges in her form-fitting dress were gone.
She didn't need spanks, what she needed was proper fitting undergarments.
When you have a good pair of the right size seamless underwear, and a solid bra, clothes will just fall differently on you. And, you will appear much more put together.
Choose Wovens Over Knits
This secret to how to look expensive on a budget goes back to my love of textiles. Generally, when designers are designing something fancy they will choose to use woven fabrics.
Think about it this way. Have you ever seen silk knit? Well, I have, but it's very rare, and tbh, it doesn't sell very well. Usually, silk is made in a woven construction, specifically a satin weave. Silk pairs well with satin weaves because that type of weave pattern helps to bring out the fiber's natural shine and drapey hand feel.
On the other hand, knits are generally used for more casual items like t-shirts, or what I like to call throw-and-go day dresses.
The next time you are at a store take a look at all the fabrics. I am sure you will find that in the fancy more formal areas the fabrics tend to be woven, and in the causal sections, more knits are used.
Of course, this rule is not set in stone, but, it is a good guideline if you are looking to up your fancy factor.
Try Layering Tones
This tip for how to look expensive on a budget is already sitting in your closet. All it takes is a little styling know-how. And, it's often a keystone to creating a capsule wardrobe.
The key is to match, without getting too matchy-matchy. You want to create a color palette that is easy on the eyes for your entire look. And the trick to doing this is playing with tones.
The most classic example of this would be a white shirt, khaki pants, and cream shoes. Or, an outfit made of whites and off whites.
Now, it's cool if that's your style, but it's kind of blah for me. So, try experimenting with other colors too not just neutral colors.
Fashion Insider Tip Alert
If you plan on taking photos in your outfit, opt for blue. Blue is one of the best-photographed colors around. I don't know why exactly, but stylists use this trick all the time. Choosing the color blue is an easy way to get an (almost) guarantee a good shot.
When you start to play with colors, think of shades - lights and darks of the same color mixed together. And, red and pink actually go really well together too. That is because pink is really just the color red with some white added to it.
And, of course, I wouldn't be a true New Yorker if I didn't mention black, on black, on black. My personal wardrobe staple, with the added benefit of being slimming too.
And, Lastly, Confidence
You can have the best wardrobe in the world, but if you don't have confidence it doesn't matter.
There are some people that you could literally put in a plastic garbage bag, (hello Derelique in Zoolander) and they literally look like a million bucks. Yeezy is a more recent example of this phenomenon. IMO, the clothes are ugly, basic, and look like they were made as a joke. I imagine the designers sitting there being like "what dumb shiz can we make and get idiots to spend thousands on".
But the confidence behind the entire label is what sells it, and makes people want to pay big bucks for it.
This is why I always tell people that comfort is the most important thing when shopping for clothes. Forget about the trends, forget about how great your butt looks.
If you don't feel comfortable you won't want to wear it. It doesn't matter how great those jeans look if you are constantly tugging at the waistband, or can only sit a certain way to be able to breathe. Or, if you have a shirt that is a little too low cut for you, and you are constantly conscious of just how much of your cleavage is showing.
That uncomfortable energy comes through, and people can tell that something just isn't quite right.
But, when you are comfortable in your outfit, you have that special spark that people can't seem to put their finger on. It's also probably when you get the most compliments on what you are wearing because that type of good energy is contagious (ok enough energy and woo-woo).
Want To Learn More About Shopping For Quality On A Budget?
Yes, then you will love this blog post!
So, What Do You Think?
Which of these tips are you going to try first? Or, what tricks are you already using to make your cheap clothes look expensive on a budget?