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How to look fashionable on a tight budget

You already have the clothes you can't afford to buy!

Author: Charlotte Kuchinsky January 31 2010

woman choosing from rack of clothes

When you don't have a lot of disposable income, luxury items like fashion and cosmetics often fall by the wayside. After all, it is hard to justify buying a new outfit when you can barely afford the gas to get to and from work. Yet it is when the going gets tough that women feel a need to look their very best - it is an issue of morale!

Even we don't have the money to splurge on ourselves, we still put our best foot forward - we simply need to look at our existing assets in a different way. Most women I know already possess everything they could possibly need inside their closets and drawers, but half of it has been forgotten or pushed out of the way. Now is the time to get clever and creative and find new ways of using everything we already own.

When it comes to fashion, start with the basics. Pull everything out of your closet that fits into any classic wardrobe. These would include pieces like the following:

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  • A properly fitted bra
  • A body slimming shaper
  • A little black dress (LBD)
  • A well cut blazer
  • A crisp white button down shirt
  • A pair of good fitting jeans
  • A pair of neutral colored trousers (preferably black)
  • A neutral colored t-shirt (preferably white)
  • A knee skimming skirt
  • A trench coat
  • A winter coat (if needed)
  • A neutral colored well-made handbag

With nothing else in your closet but these few pieces and a few well-chosen accessories, you can look chic any time of the day or night. However, most women will also find the following:

  • One or more suits
  • Additional dress and casual shirts and tees
  • Different styles of pants and jeans
  • One or more A-line or pencil skirts
  • A few other jackets and blazers
  • A party dress
  • One or more colorful scarves and/or wraps
  • Leather or chain belts
  • Hats
  • Gloves

Go through those extra items, pulling out anything that is outdated, out of season or no longer fits. Set the pieces aside, donate them to charity, or store them apart from this year's fare. Then start playing a game of mix and match, putting items together in ways you have never worn them before. For example, it you have always worn that LBD without a jacket, try pairing it with a blazer for a completely new look. Break up that suit, pairing the skirt alone with a shirt or tee and the jacket with your perfect fitting jeans. You will quickly discover clever combinations that will expand your wardrobe significantly.

Next, pull out your jewelry. Look for classic pieces that never go out of style like the following:

  • A strand of pearls (18" or preferably longer)
  • Stud, hoop, or door knocker earrings in gold or silver
  • Gold and silver neck chains
  • A tennis bracelet
  • A coordinating watch

If you have them, add in a few bangles or cuffs, pendants that fit your neck chains or slip over your pearls, one or more brooches or pins (like a cameo or initial piece), and a few basic rings. Put away, sell, donate, trade or discard those pieces that are too trendy in nature. Wearing them will only call attention to your inability to make new purchases.

Then think about different ways of wearing the jewelry items you have kept. Put your pearls on with other gemstones and metal pieces. Pile different bangles or cuffs together. Mix gold and silver pieces together. Think way outside of the box, trying each new combination with an outfit you've already designed in the first step.

If after all of that you still aren't happy with what you have to wear, there are other options to explore. Put together a swap meet with your friends that wear the same size. Each of you brings in those pieces you no longer want and trade them for others that you desire. This presents a way to multiply your wardrobe significantly without spending a cent.

Another option is to trade existing clothing items with local consignment (UK: second-hand) shops. Today, many such shops allow trading in order to broaden their product base. If that isn't allowed, think about consigning those unwanted pieces. Once someone else buys them, you can use the money to purchase new items without making a single dent in your everyday budget.

Being fashionable doesn't have to cost a fortune. All it takes is a bit of patience, some creativity and a willingness to look at things from a fresh point of view. Any woman can do that, even me!

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