Style on a Shoestring

The good news is that looking good doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. The bad news is that you can spend a lot of money and still look dreadful – you only have to look in the papers!

Marie Claire celebrity photos: worst dressed 2008, Lucy Liu

Oh, I see: that’s completely irrelevant news for you because you don’t have a lot of money to spend on looking bad. OK, I get it.

So – here’s a few tips on making what money you have really work for you.

  • Firstly – measure your shoestring. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do have to spend a bit and it’s really important to know how much that bit is. We can’t work with pennies, but something can be done with a fiver and a lot more with £50. Don’t waste your emotions feeling guilty because you’ve spent more than you can afford. Work out what you can spend and then spend it as wisely and well as possible. £50 note front (Matthew Boulton and James Watt)
  • Research, research, research! Of course I am expecting that you have already invested in having your colouring analysed and know your body shape, how to dress your proportions and the style which most reflects your personality. Every pound spent on discovering this will repay you tens and even hundreds of pounds in the future. In addition to this information, spend some time in the shops, unashamedly trying things on that you have no intention of buying. Find out which brands cut for your body shape so you can take advantage of possible bargains later. If you do fall in love you can hope that the item is in the sale later on, but I would advise you to guard your emotions and forget any embarrassment. This is reconnoitering the territory (remember the shopping war?).
  • Review your existing clothes carefully. Very often I will carry out a wardrobe review and show my client several news ways to wear what she already has. “I would never have thought of putting those things together to make an outfit” is something I hear a lot. Just see how many outfits you already have that you didn’t know about. Think about wearing clothes in a slightly different way. I had one client bring me a cardigan to pass onto someone else as she couldn’t get it to work on her. simply fastening the middle two buttons only gave the garment a totally different shape and she gladly took it home again.
  • Get out the needle and thread and haberdashery box. Plain budget garments can be made more stylish by the clever addition of embellishments. I rather like to put fun buttons on my jackets as it totally changes the personality of the garment. You can find buttons at St Ives Market on a Monday or if the internet is your thing then there are pages and pages of all sorts of buttons from light-hearted gingham to glamorous rhinestone ones.30 mixed plastic grid button lots Ø11mm 2 holesset of 6 vintage black buttons diamante buttons unusual style shape & texture Don’t restrict yourself to buttons, but think about braid, ribbon, beading and lace. When you know what styles work for you, then you chose whether to add more sparkle, quirkiness, prettiness or drama to your garments. I ought to mention dying at this point. Never dismiss a gift from a friend or a great style from a charity shop just because it’s the wrong colour. Just have a look to see if it’s a natural material. Cotton, silk and wool all dye very well. It helps if you start with a light colour and go darker, but in lots of cases, Dylon really is a girl’s best friend.
  • Charity shops and Dress Exchange shops are good places to haunt. Be warned though, all charity shops are not equal. You will soon find which shops regularly have the quality clothes. In Huntingdon, I always make a point of stopping in at the Scope shop opposite the George Hotel. The new Sue Ryder is pretty good too. Sadly for we bargain hunters, charity shops now tend to know the value of the things they sell and picking up an absolute snip is no longer as easy as it once was.
  • Ebay. I have had some wonderful bargains from Ebay. I have also had some disasters. I once bought the most beautiful Karen Millen suit from Ebay. The style and colour were superb for me. Sadly, I had not realised at that time that Karen Millen does not cut for my figure at all and that I can never wear anything with that label: see? Karen Millen Neon stretch shift dress Those of you who know me will realise that the curves are in entirely the wrong place: I have boobs, but no bottom. So, if you know what you’re buying and that a Boden size 12 will fit you perfectly, then you can buy with a fair amount of confidence. I am lucky to have standard size 5 feet and regularly buy fun and quirky shoes from Ebay for which I could not possibly justify paying full price.
  • Primark and supermarkets. Some of us will have ethical issues with budget clothes made in the third world, and quite rightly so. Some of us may feel that we can’t afford ethics in this area as we would otherwise  walk around naked. My jeans always come from Tesco as they are the only ones I’ve found that actually fit. It’s a complete bonus that they only cost £12 a pair. These shops are a great supply of bang on trend pieces that we won’t wear more than one (or at the most two) seasons. The trick is to mix them with more quality pieces so that your whole look doesn’t become a supermarket two for the price of one special. I will happily pair a cheap cotton cardi with a Kettlewell or Gerry Weber top, because I know the quality of the top will bring the cardi up. It doesn’t work the other way round. Surprisingly, it makes better sense to buy good quality teeshirts than jackets. I tell men to buy good quality shirts and ties and only then think about their jackets.
  • Boundary Mill and Outlet shops. Anyone who has gone shopping with me knows that Boundary Mill is my preferred port of call. There are some amazing bargains to be had there – but again, you do have to know what you’re looking for. If you are not too sure about the right colours and styles for you then you will end up being over-whelmed or coming home with a complete mish-mash of clashing colours and styles that don’t go together and rarely get worn. Many big names normally found in department stores can be found here, all at half price or less. They won’t be this season’s styles, maybe – but for you Classics who simply cannot afford to shop in budget shops because you will just look too dreadful for words – fashion doesn’t really matter too much and quality does.

So there you go: shopping on a shoestring with more dash than cash. I wish I really were a fairly godmother and could give you a winning lottery ticket, but I honestly think the style advice I give is worth more than that. Good luck on looking great and please share your bargain stories with me.

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