8 Ways to Find Style on a Budget

It’s easy to look glamorous and put together when you have a mega budget and a personal stylist. But since most of us aren’t A-listers, are there any tricks to doing it on a budget?

YES! Unfortunately, like most things in life, time is money. If you have time, you can save money. If you don’t have time, it may actually be a better investment to have someone do the searching/shopping/styling for you.

Before we begin our tour of how to find style on a budget, first I would ask that you really, truly evaluate what’s important to you. Are you looking for a closet full of the latest styles that you got at bargain prices? Or are you perhaps interested in investing in fewer pieces of higher quality that you wear over a longer period? They are both cases of style for less.

Probably just as important is how much time you have to seek out the clothes that will fit, flatter and suit your lifestyle as well as your budget. Sure, you can find great prices on clothing, but this will often take a fair bit of time. If you just head out to the shops without a plan and/or an app, you’re not likely to be getting the best deal. And since time is money . . .

For most of us, we’re just looking to maintain our wardrobe basics and perhaps add a few key pieces each season. We’re not trolling the fashion magazines for up to the minute styles, nor are we shopping for high end designer clothing seen on the runways. We’ve probably found the stores and labels that suit us the best and where we are likely to find things that work without too much fuss.

Here’s how to crack the code on getting more for less from our favorite retailers:

Sign Up for Their Emails

The trick to this one is to set up an email address just for shopping so you don’t clutter up your inbox. Periodically check through it to see who has what on sale, and whether there are any patterns to sales that work for you. This is also a great way to take advantage of sales when you have unplanned purchases, like when you discover that last year’s pants don’t actually fit.

Check retailmenot.com

This one has saved me a fair bit over the years. Every time I make a purchase online I check whether the retailer has any online coupons I can use. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s always a nice bonus to find free shipping or 20% off when I wasn’t expecting to.

Plan Ahead to Shop on Holidays

And not just on Thanksgiving! I can’t tell how many times I’ve stumbled across a deeply discounted sale for items I needed to buy and hadn’t really considered whether there was a sale happening. Bonus! Nearly every major holiday has a sale at most major retailers (think Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day). If you’ve set up your shopping account and are checking for sale emails they will no longer come as surprises.

Enroll in a Program Like Ebates

I haven’t personally tried this one, but it seems like a good idea if you primarily shop online. Essentially any purchase you make through the site with one of their partner retailers rewards you with cash back. What’s not to like? At the moment I’m more focused on collecting airmiles, so I’m feeling that conflict between saving money and finding the purchases where I can earn 3x or 5x airmiles instead.

Discount Retailers

If you’re interested in style on a budget I’m sure you’re already aware of the discount retailers like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and Burlington Coat Factory. They go by different names in different parts of the world, but they are everywhere.

 Of course I’m also sure you’re aware that these stores require the most time to find the deals. Sure, they’re out there. But you need to have the time to check the racks regularly and you need to be pretty sharp at spotting the bargains for your wardrobe. Remember, just because it’s a good price doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it!

Same goes for outlet stores. Hopefully you’re aware that the goods in outlet stores at every vacation destination are produced specifically for sale at those outlets and are often not the same quality as the main brand label. It’s fun to shop on holiday, but keep this in mind when you get overly excited about the price tags.

Off Season Shopping

If you’re really into saving money you can always plan to purchase at the end of the season, especially for bigger ticket items you know you need. While I will confess to finding it difficult to think about a new winter coat when it’s May and the temperatures are already decidedly summer-like, if you know you need one for the following year this can be a great way to score pretty big savings.

Higher End Consignment

This one is not for everyone. Like discount retailers, you need to be pretty good at spotting a good deal and to actually enjoy ‘the hunt’, AND you need to be comfortable with second-hand items. But, you can score amazing deals on top quality pieces if you put in the time.

I have a good friend who enjoys ‘thrifting’ at the higher end consignment stores in NW DC. Never on the weekend of course, but she has found beautiful designer labels for outrageous prices. Another friend swears by The Real Real, the online version of a consignment shop. I’ve found some beautiful things on this site too, but you need to be supremely confident in what fits and flatters and to have a good idea of what you are looking for before you begin.

Consider Partner Shopping Portals

Many organizations offer retail discounts as part of their membership benefits. They aren’t always style related, but it’s still worth understanding what’s available as the deals can often be significant. I’ve found great deals through professional associations I’ve belonged to, AAA, my credit card (there is an entire online shopping portal that is often discounted and in my case, provides airline miles that I have used to save money on ticket purchases.) Again, depending on what your ultimate goal is, spending a little time to understand what’s available can save you some pretty decent money in the end.

Is a Stylist an Easier Way to Save?

Now if you’re heart has been sinking at the thought of all this work just to find deals, there is an alternative that on the face of it sounds more expensive. However, if how you put yourself out there is important to you and you really don’t have the time/inclination/skill to hunt down bargains, it may actually make sense to work with a stylist. Someone who assesses your wardrobe (have you shopped your own closet lately?), identifies the quality pieces that would make it work even more stylishly, and actually does the shopping for you might be well worth the investment.

Most of the higher end department stores also have personal shopping services, but that does rather restrict you to what’s available in their stores. The online stylists like Stitch Fix, Front Door Fashion etc. reviewed in this post might also be options as they have access to vast selections that you just don’t.

But to truly get the best return on your style investment, I’d work with a personal stylist who gets to know you and may even know where to find bargains on the types of things that will work best in your wardrobe. Plus, a stylish should also be able to help you make what you already have work in ways you hadn’t considered. Huh. That might even save time and money!

 

Cozy Coats. Cause, baby it's cold outside!

I find myself increasingly drawn to soft, cozy things as the temperatures drop. Especially this year - we seem to have gone from wearing sundresses and sandals to needing three layers plus a scarf in no time at all. I think I might have blinked and missed those few days when it was ok to wear things like puffy vests over long sleeved tees and pretty long sleeved blouses without jackets.

Now the nights are drawing in and it just feels like I want to wrap myself in fuzzy, fleecy things. But when you’re as short as I am, it can’t just be about being warm. I believe J.K. Rowling’s description of Dudley, Harry Potter’s cousin, is that he is wider than he is tall. Unfortunately for me, wearing fuzzy, fleecy and/or cozy things tends to head more in that direction then slender and stylish. Sigh. That just makes the search more of a challenge!

Gap faux fur coat.PNG

Enter the faux fur coat. Cozy, non? Budget conscious too. And maybe even fun, regardless of the bulk. I do in fact own a wonderful faux fur vest that I found in a store I almost never frequent, but I find it only does the trick when it’s not too cold out. (Apparently I really need my arms to be double layered all the way to the wrists.) Cue this marvelous coat from Gap that I almost ordered (in black of course) because it looked so warm , but my pocketbook didn’t quite let me. And as it turns out, it’s now sold out.

But that started me looking for other cozy coat options. And, oh what fun I had! These ‘teddy bear’ coats are all the rage this fall/winter, along with the usual lineup of fabulous faux fur options.

Seems to me that even those of us that are proportionally challenged should be able to find something that doesn’t make us resemble marshmallows. Unless of course that’s the look we’re going for.

So, just for fun, here are some of the things I found:

Casual Cozy Coats

Left: Asos Boo Hoo Teddy coat. How cute is this? Center: Coat sold on Amazon by various companies, clearly not in North America. But I think this is one of those pieces that you can throw on and still look like you at least made an effort AND you’d be warm. Right: At Charlotte Russe for a ridiculously inexpensive price, but again, kind of fun.

Faux Fur Jackets - More sophisticated, but still really fun

Left: A leopard print definitely NOT found in nature. Center: Burgundy fur aviator jacket. Sophisticated, standout and smart. Right: Dalmatian hoodie - not Cruella DeVil, but cute, cozy and definitely eye-catching. All at Asos.

Cozy, but More Stylish

Left: Nunavut alpaca blanket coat. You had me at blanket! Plus, I discovered alpaca this summer, and frankly, would like 65% of my wardrobe to be made from this marvelous fiber. Center: what a pretty coat for the colder months! Not faux fur exactly, but more of a faux shearling/fleece. At Nordstrom. Right: I don’t think you can go wrong with a little bit of leopard. This one is fun, although a bit pricier than others I’ve featured at $399.


And for the true sophisticate who prefers her fur faux:

persian lamb faux fur coat.PNG

I’m loving this persian lamb faux fur coat. Equally at home over jeans, a suit or evening wear. Although, reading the reviews, perhaps not quite as cozy as I would like for a DC winter . . .

At Fabulousfurs.com

And finally, one for those truly gray and miserable days (my fashion friend has taken to calling them ‘grizmal’ days). Doesn’t this just make your spirits lift whatever the weather? Ok, this one might be difficult to pair with items in your closet, but I feel I may well be approaching that point where I want to be warm and sunshiny no matter how ridiculous I look. If only I could pull off the sunshine colors . . .

Now to choose how many cozy coats to add to your wardrobe this season!

6 Wardrobe Essentials

Seemingly every year magazines and style blogs share a list of THE essential items every wardrobe needs. Except that most of them include things that don’t work for everyone IRL. Button down white shirts, for example. For years I didn’t wear any sort of shirt because I couldn’t find one that actually fit and flattered my figure.

Super cute, but definitely NOT for me!

Super cute, but definitely NOT for me!

Same for the essential ballet flat on all these lists. They don’t work for me. Or trench coats. Sure, I get that a khaki trench coat is a timeless (and practical) piece, but 1. I look ghastly in khaki and 2. belted coats somehow make me look like a sausage.  

Here’s my list of essential pieces, with the flexibility to suit everybody.

Yes, your wardrobe needs all of these essential items, but choose the variation that fits and flatters you, AND works for your lifestyle. Except one. That one is non-negotiable.

1. Dress up/Dress down Jacket or Blazer

Argent red crossbody jacket.JPG

Every wardrobe needs at least one jacket or blazer that can make jeans look like a million dollars on a night out and is equally at home in a business meeting over a dress or trousers. Yes, it will take some time to find the right one (it needs to fit, flatter and say something about your style), and yes, you should invest a decent amount in this piece since your cost per wear will be negligible if you get it right.

Perhaps consider a color or print that will liven up the rest of your wardrobe. Or maybe an unusual cut or shape. Or maybe even a stylish leather jacket. My Argent ‘handbag-free’ blazer has people talking every time I wear it.

2. Boots Made for Walking

These are still pretty cute AND I walked 12 miles in them in New York City!

These are still pretty cute AND I walked 12 miles in them in New York City!

Or shoes. Or sandals. It doesn’t matter (and can certainly switch out seasonally), but the key here is to find the ones that you can walk a mile in comfortably and still look good.

Again, these may take some time to find, but will so be worth it. Frankly, I’m struggling a little in this department. I’ve found increasingly that the footwear that I can actually walk to the Metro in, out and about downtown and home again, is not exactly what you could call ‘cute’. I’ve realized that I’ve slid a little down this slippery slope and things which I would not have worn in an office setting in the past are now de rigeur. Mostly the result of wearing cute shoes when I was younger!


3. Solid Black Bottom

Most of those essential lists will say a pair of black pants. But I’m here to say that black pants are only one option. If you really prefer skirts, find the one that flatters you the most. If your wardrobe is really only a casual one, a good pair of black ‘jeans’ (note: probably not black denim, but more of a black twill) will work too. The key here is something that you can use as a base for your favorite tops, ideally through at least three seasons, and that work for you and your lifestyle. Oh yes, and that can be dressed up or down.

4. Jeans

I think these are essential in any modern wardrobe for any age. Although apparently my children wouldn’t agree, even with all the amazing stretch denim fabrics available! There really is a pair to flatter everybody - I really, really dislike pants, but I love my jeans!

The key here is to get them to fit right. And apparently premium denim is really worth the money you pay for it. It’s probably also worth working with a salesperson who can truly help you find the best jeans for your body and your budget. I’ve found that Madewell has the best variety for the best prices if you really can’t face the price tag of premium.

Jennifer Mary of Apple and Pear Wardrobe has a great video on how to buy jeans. Watch it.


5. The LBD or Equivalent

Boden Hexham evening jumpsuit (the back is pretty racy!)

Boden Hexham evening jumpsuit (the back is pretty racy!)

So yes, the little black dress is on all the essential lists. It’s on mine too because we all need something easy in our wardrobes for more formal occasions. You never know when you’ll get last minute tickets to the ballet or be invited as someone’s guest to a more formal event. The key here is to have the outfit that works for you. If it’s an LBD, great! If it’s wide-legged trousers with a strappy evening top, that’s fine too. Whatever it is should be able to take you to just about any event you might possibly be asked to attend, throughout the year. Maybe even a super swish date night?

Note: you’ll need the shoes and accessories that make this work too. Think of it as your good china – you might not use it very often (although you probably should!), but when you need it, you just pull it out of the cupboard and you’re good to go.

6. A Well-Fitting Bra

I had this as number one on the list, but figured it might put people off if it was at the top. Make no mistake though – this IS number one!

You wouldn’t build an addition on top of a sagging foundation would you?

Your undergarments hold the key to whether you wear your clothes or they wear you. A well-fitting bra will make your inexpensive clothing look expensive, and your expensive clothing look amazing.

I can’t tell you how much it disturbs me to see women who have made an effort with their hair, makeup and possibly even their outfit, but ruin the whole effect with ill-fitting undergarments. Arg!

Please, please, please find yourself a good bra fitter (most department stores still provide this service, my personal favorite is Nordstrom) and have yourself fitted at least twice per year. Sometimes I even drive a little further to a long-established lingerie store that really knows their stuff and can find me the bra that actually fits. (This has proven to more challenging than it sounds. Suffice to say, I can’t just buy off the rack.) Your clothes will thank you.


Bonus: Denim Jacket

Lira sleek and fitted denim jacket.PNG

This is one that I feel should be in everyone’s wardrobe even though not everyone would necessarily agree. Denim jackets really are more than just casual wear now – they can take the place of a jacket in many situations, and they go with everything. And they don’t just need to be denim colored either!

All sorts of options in this post. Up to you. If they work for you, great. If they don’t, that’s ok too.

So there they are! The six essential pieces for any wardrobe. With the flexibility to suit everybody. See? It’s not that hard to build a solid wardrobe base once you know what you’re looking for, and what works for you.





You’ve probably spotted the thread running the whole way through this post – my wardrobe essentials need to fit, flatter and be functional for your lifestyle. Bonus points for anything that can be dressed up or down! And don’t forget your undergarments. You might want to schedule some time for a fitting this week.



The Top Trends for Fall/Winter 2018

I don’t know about you, but I grew up excited at the prospect of ‘back to school’ clothes. Now that I live somewhere where we really don’t need fall clothes until late October, that same August/September shopping time frame no longer exists. But I still find my thoughts turning to fall around this time of year and retailers don’t disappoint.

Here's what designers showed on the runways for Fall/Winter 2018. I can't promise that I've covered everything, nor that I've chosen the best representations of the trends. I can say that like most runway shows, there was a mix between 'completely unwearable, I'm not even sure how that would translate to my life' styles and 'oooh, I want one of those!'. How many of these looks have filtered down to the stores we frequent AND how many of them are we willing to incorporate into our wardrobes? I’m not sure I want to revisit the 80’s with as much zeal as this, and I don’t know that I agree that hot pink is a good color for fall! (I’m good with it for our gray winters though – I have a hot pink boiled wool jacket that I wore a lot last winter.)

So without further ado, I present to you:

What Fashion Insiders Think We Will be Wearing for Fall 2018

1980’s (in all sorts of ways)

Folk Inspired Ensembles

Deconstructed suits (they needed reinvention since most of us don’t wear suits anymore!)

Although I might argue these are less de-constructed and more re-constructed!

Fringe

Faux fur and shearling

Neon, especially as animal prints

Shiny coats

Metallic suit from Balmain. I kinda like it!

Metallic suit from Balmain. I kinda like it!

 

 

Metallic (as in space age metallics, not supremely neutral shoes)

Hot pink

Florals

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic plaid (think menswear, not highland fling)

Long, lean and white

As I reviewed the Fall/Winter 2018 looks that turned up at show after show, I was struck by how many of these we saw last year. Well any fall/winter season really. Wouldn’t you agree that ‘folksy’ looks and plaid make a regular appearance in the fall season? As does fur (faux or otherwise) and shearling, in some form or another.  What’s perhaps different this year is how many on the list really speak to warmer weather in my mind. I’ll be keeping an eye on how these ‘trends’ play out in the wardrobes of real women like you and me, but I don’t see myself rushing out to find a neon animal print any time soon.

Unfortunately fashion has become a little like car design; there really isn’t anything truly new being conceived or produced, but things that are tweaked just enough for us to perceive them as new. Yes, the haute couture and high-end designer markets push the envelope more, but that style extremism rarely trickles down to the average shopper.

Perhaps the biggest changes will continue to be in the materials - more and more technology is being used to produce fabrics that do more and that can't be a bad thing. I’ve heard that warmer layers created with technical fabrics are being made by Yves St Laurent to be worn not just on the ski hill, but around town too. Now that’s a trend I can get behind!

Just for fun, and for bonus trend points, these runway styles that combine more than one of what seemed to be on trend for Fall/Winter 2018. Enjoy!

So I guess it’s up to us to create our own trends with what’s comfortable, flattering, and perhaps a little bit different than what we wore for the past few fall and winter seasons.

When you’ve had a chance to have a look at your closet and are sourcing pieces for your fall/winter wardrobe, share it with us in the comments. It might be fun to see how many things that we are buying actually meet the ‘official’ trend forecast from the designers!

All images in this post from Harpers Bazaar.

Does a Stitch Fix in Time Save Nine?

My love language is definitely quality time. Sure, I respond to words of affirmation too, but acts of service, physical touch and gifts are lower down on the list for me. Or so I thought before my Stitch Fix box arrived in the mail.

I wanted to try this style-as-a-subscription service primarily to evaluate it for you, dear reader. I mean, how much help can a remote stylist provide to someone who already has a pretty good eye for what suits her?

But that was before this unassuming box arrived in the mail.

Now I don’t know about you, but for as long as I’ve been receiving things via the postal service I’ve been excited about what the mailbox might contain every day. It’s disappointing for me when there is only a Chinese takeout menu to recycle. I even like seeing bills in there!

And now that we can order so many things online, I’m about as giddy as my kids when there is a box waiting on the front step. I don’t always remember what I’ve ordered, so that adds to the frisson.

But this box was a little different. Beginning with the stylish print on the inside of the box. And the beautifully presented items, almost like a gift. And the personalized note from a real stylist, plus suggestions on how to style the pieces she had chosen. Yes, Stitch Fix uses technology to underpin the entire service, but they also employ real people as stylists. I really felt like I was opening a surprise gift.

Because I had no idea what they had sent me.

I had filled out their quiz online that gives them some parameters in terms of style, occasion, price range and item types, and I had included a note about what I was most interested in receiving. In my case I had asked for unusual pieces that could upgrade my basics, or something like that. (A friend asked for date night items.) I was also very specific about asking for pieces that had a defined waist.

So How Did Stitch Fix Do?

My style, but not my colors.

My style, but not my colors.

I’ve had two ‘fixes’ as they call them, mostly because I wanted to see how they did with additional feedback. And surprisingly, to me anyway, I’ve kept pieces from both fixes. Neither one was 100% a hit, but they got it right enough, and made it so easy to send back the things that were a miss that I think I may have become a convert. To have new clothes surprise you at home every couple of months (you can choose every 2-3 weeks, monthly, every other month, or every 3 months) is a great pick-me-up whether you are stylishly challenged or not.

Pants that fit! Woo hoo!

Pants that fit! Woo hoo!

The first box contained a very nice basic black dress that I just didn’t need, a black and white striped jersey jacket that was just meh, a beautiful necklace that was totally my style, just not my colors (my fashion friend down the street took that one!), a very pretty top that did nothing for me either color-wise or style-wise and these very basic pants that were totally yawn inducing. I hate pants. Especially in the summer!

Except. Except this was the first pair of pants I have put on in YEARS that actually fit properly. And not just properly, they were actually flattering. So I’ve hung them up until the weather turns chilly again because frankly, part of the reason I hate pants is that I can never, and I mean never, find any that fit me.

Feedback Leads to Flattering

Their second effort was definitely more in line with my style, so clearly they do pay attention to your feedback. In fact, I was just on the Stitch Fix site to confirm some details for this post and they had a selection of dresses for me to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to in a very Tinder-like fashion, which I assume will be fed into an algorithm somewhere to assist my real stylist in choosing the next items they send me.

mixed_media_shirt.JPG

In the second fix they sent me a basic white shirt that is made more interesting by the ‘mixed media’ of its design; the front is a classic white shirt, but the back is a soft jersey material. It has cool cuffs too, but the best part is that it is fitted and it defines the waist that I have. This was a point I made a big deal out of after they sent me the first blousy top. Again, not something for a DC summer, but it’s hanging there waiting for the weather to turn.

There were some pretty silver earrings that were almost the same as a pair I already own and a subtly printed pair of blue pants that would have been great for casual wear had the price been casual as well. They seem to be getting it right at least some of the time, although the very pretty printed top in perfect colors was still one of those flowy things that just doesn’t work for someone with short legs, a bosom and a waist.

Wish this photo did this dress justice! It's really, really flattering.

Wish this photo did this dress justice! It's really, really flattering.

But the dress! This dress in the second fix was a total stunner. Absolutely nothing I needed, but so perfect in every way that I couldn’t not keep it. Which is kind of what their business model is based on. If you hate to shop, have trouble putting together outfits or just don’t have time to shop, Stitch Fix could be a godsend. If you’re like me and get excited by a little something new now and then, this is a pretty easy way to get it.

My friend Lisa posted this on Facebook after she received her first fix: "Tried Stitch Fix for the first time. Got my order today and I have to say I'm thrilled with the selection, quality, and price. This hit all my buttons - didn't have to take time to go to multiple stores; didn't have to try a bunch of stuff on that I wouldn't end up buying; didn't cheese out and just go to Dress Barn because it's close (and I always regret). I thought this would be a good way to get a quick infusion of clothes without becoming overwhelmed and stressed by going to the store." 

Lisa loves that she doesn’t need to go shopping for things that just never work for her, but she also told me that she likes how Stitch Fix gets a lot of detail about your body type and has you continually refine that with the feedback after each fix.

Another friend, Rita Goodroe, has found Stitch Fix super valuable for that reason too. Here’s what she had to say: “I really love Stitch Fix. As a petite (4'11) plus size, it's hard for me to find clothes in the stores and online shopping is more miss than hit. What I enjoy is that Stitch Fix has access to clothes that fit my measurements from places I wouldn't even know about, or have access to, which allows me to diversify my wardrobe. Working with a stylist also helps to refine each delivery so that I'm keeping more and returning less which, truthfully, is what I want!”

And apparently a lot of people feel the same way. The company now has sales in excess of $1 billion and has also introduced a men’s and children’s service. I’m not sure this premise works for children’s clothes, but I think I could get behind this idea for men. I wonder if they have the sizes that will work for my 6’3” hubbie? He hates to shop, doesn’t really like to put outfits together, and doesn’t really have time to shop either. Hmmm . . .

Clearly the style-as-a-subscription service is here to stay. Stitch Fix has some competition in Front Door Fashion and Le Tote. Lisa also uses Front Door Fashion and has found their clothing a little more fashion forward, and slightly higher quality (with a slightly higher price tag) than Stitch Fix. They send her things that she wouldn’t have chosen herself, but that she loves.

Le Tote is a different business model – this is more of a clothing rental service, with your monthly subscription offering you access to outfits you choose to try out for a time.  You can choose work, weekend or special occasion and the idea is that you wear them for as long as you like, then send them back. If you really love something, you can purchase it for 50% of the retail price.

So what’s my verdict? Definitely a hit. I care about how I present myself and I probably spend more time shopping for the right things than most women (primarily online now), but I love the surprise gift element of Stitch Fix. And if I really hated shopping and struggled to find clothes that fit and flattered me, I would certainly pay a premium for this service. And yet I’ve found the prices to be in line with what I would expect to pay in a store. Seems like a great way to stay stylish and it definitely saves time. So yes, a Stitch Fix in time does save nine!