Wardrobe Oxygen: Fashion Tips to Look Like a Million on a Budget


It seems every day I receive an email from a reader asking me how to look rich, how to look as though one spent a million dollars but only spent a dime. As a women who has champagne tastes, but a beer budget, these are rules I follow to look stylish, elegant, sophisticated, and yes, rich: Shoes Make the Man (and the Woman!). To really look rich, your shoes should first match your ensemble, then you should worry about quality and brand name should be the last consideration on your list. A pair of designer Tory Burch flats aren’t necessarily more stylish than a discount pair of wedges from DSW if they don’t complement your ensemble or flatter your figure.

It’s better to have fewer pairs of shoes that are in classic styles and made of good quality than to have an extensive wardrobe of shoes that are passé in a season. Black leather pumps, a pair of tall boots, a stacked sandal, some delicate heels in a formal fabric, a boot or shoe that looks great with pants or jeans. You don’t need much more than this.

Keep them in great shape: Use shoe trees, polish regularly, store on a shelf or in a box to keep them looking new. you’ll never look chic if your shoes are scuffed and dirty.

Stick to Solids. If you can’t afford a Missoni dress, don’t purchase a fake knockoff of their famous zig-zag knits. Most prints that are in mass retail stores are versions of what was on the runway a season (or two, or four) ago. Prints will look dated faster than solids, are harder to mix and match than solids, and can look cheap more easily than a solid garment.

Adopt Neutrals. Honeysuckle pink, tangerine, and citrus brights are hot hues this spring, but if the item is of cheap quality it will look it far faster than the same piece in a neutral color like camel, gray, or black. I recently found a versatile sheath at Target – I purchased it in black because I knew it would be easier to wear for multiple seasons, and less likely to look its price tag. Colorful garments are more likely to show off cheap textiles, lower-quality workmanship, or its original season/era.

Concentrate on Style, not Trend. Women who truly are rich are stylish; women who WANT to be rich are usually dressed in a trendy manner. Steer clear from extreme styles shown in fashion magazines, blatant logos, and anything that is worn by a pop singer or reality show star. You don’t want the look of the moment–rich and stylish women know that adhering to trends dilutes their personal style and wastes money. You will often read interviews with society women and celebs and they will admit to wearing the same jeans, same trench, same sweater for years and years. If you wish to adopt a current trend, do it with accents.  For this spring consider a skinny patent belt in a bright color, or a boatneck tee with Breton stripes.

Accept Your Size, and Your Budget. Often women buy that which is not their size because it’s on the rack thinking if they just lose five more pounds (or put on a pair of Spanx) it might fit. We’ll wear shoes too small because we got them at a sample sale for a song and it’s a hot designer. This is not the road to looking rich or stylish. One looks rich when she wears clothing that fits and flatters, whether it’s a $400 cashmere sweater, or a $19.99 acrylic one from H&M. Instead of spending on the brand, spend on the tailor. Cheaper pants that are altered to really glide over your curves will always look more expensive than designer ones that are ill-fitting.

It’s In the Details. Stop worrying about what brand you have on your bag, your shoes, your sunglasses. Keep your shoes polished, your hair trimmed and free of roots, your skin hydrated and pampered, your purse clean and not overstuffed, your clothes tailored to fit. Good posture improves the fit of your clothing, how you are perceived by others, and how you end up feeling. Sit up tall, hold back your shoulders, and walk with confidence. Notice your expression when walking down the street, reading a book–are you frowning? Think of something pleasant and allow a gentle smile to your face. Make eye contact, compliment a stranger.

Those who are rich are not slaves to brand names, they don’t show off their wealth. They have an understated elegance and poise, a sense of calm. You can achieve this no matter how much money is in your wallet. Love yourself, respect yourself, hold you head up. Honor your body with well-fitting clothes, honor your life by living within your means. Confidence is always in style!

Alison Gary has over ten years experience as a personal shopper, stylist, and visual merchandiser. Her blog Wardrobe Oxygen provides fashion advice to all women, regardless of age, size, budget, or lifestyle. She is a full-time working mother, blogger, wife, and frugal fashionista located in the Washington D.C. area.

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