How To: Look Great for Less

You can look pulled together even as the economy falls apart.
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Spring has sprung, but last year’s warm-weather wardrobe is on life
support. Trouble is, so is your bank account. No worries, according to
some Atlanta style experts, who swear that buying on a budget—or even
not buying at all—can refresh your look quickly.

Start by going
shopping in your closet. “Invite two of your most fashionable friends
over and do a complete wardrobe purge,” says Cecile Blanco, owner of
the personal shopping service Style Me Now. “It can be painful, but you
should only have things in your closet that you love and that look good
on you.” Throw out or donate anything that is out of style, pilled,
damaged, or worst of all, doesn’t fit. Be ruthless, regardless of
label. Says Blanco, “You can wear a $3,000 Dolce & Gabbana dress
and look bad because it fits poorly, but a well-fitted, fifty-buck
dress from H&M can make you look like a million dollars.” After the
clean-out, have your friends help you mix and match the remaining
pieces, and assess whether any “maybes” are worth a trip to the tailor
for revival (hint: the fabric better be high quality and the
mending/altering minimal).

If you discover you’re lacking in
wardrobe staples, jot down what you need and where you plan to invest.
Next, you’ll need to hit the stores for a few trend purchases. “You can
be set for a season if you buy one or two up-to-date pieces,” says Mara
Maddox, spokeswoman for Bloomingdale’s Lenox and Perimeter, who notes
that this spring you’ll get mileage out of a striped or “preppy” tee,
bangle bracelets, a loose “boyfriend” jacket, or a bold statement
necklace. And you don’t have to spend a lot—reigning supreme for style
at bargain prices are chains such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and
Target, as well as local boutiques such as Sage, where most items are
under $100 (sageclothing.com), and 1*FIVE*0, where everything is under
$150 (150atlanta.com). Also, learn what designer brands fit you well
and gain access to sample sales through members-only sites like
gilt.com. But remember: A discount price does not always a bargain
make. One year, Dafina Nya Memberr, co-owner of Sunny’s Hair and Wigs
boutique in Buckhead, decided to ban herself from buying anything on
sale because she realized she had a closet full of “cheapie” purchases
that were in reality all junk. “Now I am the anti-impulsive shopper. If
I’m standing in line, I ask myself, ‘Do I really need this? What will
this go with?’ and talk myself out of a [so-so] purchase.”

Finally,
even if your budget is tight, embrace the look-great-for-less power of
grooming. “A [well-groomed] woman in jeans and a T-shirt looks better
than someone who has fancy clothes but has roots showing, chipped
nails, and bushy eyebrows!” says Blanco. Prioritize, rather than
eliminate, your beauty rituals. Shannon Kitchens, the busy owner of
Sage and mom to a toddler, gets her hair colored every eight weeks and
“desperately needs” her biweekly massages, but she’s ditched the salon
mani-pedis. “I do my own now.”

When to Spend More
Despite
all these frugality tips, insiders say when it comes to wardrobe,
sometimes it is worth it to spend. It all comes down to a concept
called “cost per wear,” says stylist Blanco. Say you buy a little
spring dress for $300, but you’re likely to wear it only a few
occasions. The cost each time you wear it—up to $100—is quite high.
“But if you buy a nice jacket that you’ll wear to the office a couple
times a week for the next six months, that’s a very low cost per
wear—great for the budget,” says Blanco. Timeless pieces that work
throughout the year are even better long-term buys. Here are six
wardrobe staples that deserve a big chunk of your shopping budget.

1. Designer jeans
—You
can never go wrong with a great pair of jeans. Go for a straight leg if
you are petite (under 5 foot 4) and a boot-cut if you’re taller. Once
you find a brand that works well, there are deals to be had: Kitchens
gets her True Religions at an Off 5th outlet near her home for half the
price of a denim boutique. “They might technically be last season, but
they still fit the same!”

2. Black suit
—Look
for something with a little stretch in a versatile, high-quality fabric
such as lightweight wool. Don’t balk at spending $500 or more; it’s
worth it considering you can use it year-round for the next few years.
Wear a $500 suit once a week for a year and that cost-per-wear figure
gets down to $10.

3. Sheath dress
—As
fashionable today as when Audrey Hepburn wore them, and flattering to
most body types. Modernize a chic navy version with a thick belt,
flip-flops on the weekend, or a cardigan for work, says Maddox.

4. Trench coat
—Perfect for transitional weather and most of Atlanta’s mild winter. Look for something in a neutral color.

5. Cashmere
—Always
classic and luxe, a well-cut cashmere sweater or wrap yields instant
polish; works in both cool and warm temperatures; and nowadays can
often be found at modest prices. Stock up on rich colors like eggplant,
navy, and chocolate—which will pair nicely with spring brights and
carry you into fall and winter.

6. Crisp white shirt
—Look for something with a little give and special details like darting.

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