When Ginnifer Goodwin walked the red carpet at last weekend’s Met Ball, heads turned and jaws dropped. She looked fantastic in a bright emerald green sculptural gown. However, the fashion world was all in a twitter when they realized that while other celebs arrived in Chanel, McQueen, and Valentino, Goodwin’s beautiful dress came from the budget-friendly retailer Topshop.
Ginnifer’s red carpet moment is proof that incredible style is possible on any size budget. I believe any woman can be stylish, no matter how much money is in her wallet.
Here are some tips on how to get glam style on a dime: Stick to Solids. Karen Bonser, Topshop UNIQUE’s head of design stated in an interview that Goodwin’s dress was originally in black and white stripe. While that may have been quite lovely, the choice of a strong solid color made the piece more elegant and helped display the architectural lines of the piece.
Prints can easily look cheap and quickly become dated. By sticking to solids you are more likely to be able to mix and match, extend the life of a piece past a season, and make a piece pass for being far more expensive than its price tag.
Keep it Neutral. One of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe is a black shift dress. It has three-quarter sleeves, hits right at the knee, and has a simple round neck. Fully lined, a lovely fabric that resists wrinkles yet has amazing drape. I can make this dress perfect for a wedding with pearls and heels, or have a great weekend look with flat boots and a cotton scarf. This amazing versatile dress was purchased at Target for only $19.99 and I regularly have strangers compliment me on it and ask where it was purchased.
This dress, and many of my other low cost/high style pieces, is so great because I purchased it in a neutral color. When a piece is in basic black, classic gray or navy, or subtle tan or brown it becomes a canvas, and not the focal point. By being a canvas, you have been able to get the most of your outfit for less money, and can use your savings for amazing jewelry, scarves and shoes to add personality and color to the ensemble. Neutrals may seem boring, but it’s easier to carry off a crisp white shirt from Walmart than a purple one–the purple one will draw attention to it, and the viewer will be more likely to notice any little detail that would let one know the price.
Focus on Construction. Fit can be mastered by a tailor (simple alterations can be done by your local dry cleaner); you can’t fix poor construction. Check the seams, the zippers, the darts. Try sitting in a piece before purchasing and see how it handles stretching and moving. Are the sleeves of equal length and width? Does the lining lay flat? Does the jacket pucker or gape at the shoulders or back? Who cares if a piece is $5 or $500, if it’s not well made and won’t survive a day on your body, it’s not a worthwhile purchase.
Choose Simple Fabrics. Cotton, denim, linen, Ponte de Roma, matte jersey. These basic fabrics look great at most any price point, and are used by discount retailers and high-end designers alike. When shopping a discount retailers, try to steer clear of polyester and acrylic blends, which can quickly look cheap or tacky if in the wrong light or cut in the wrong silhouette. Also watch out for blends when it comes to sweaters and sweater knits–silk and cashmere blends may feel luxe but quickly shed, pill, and become threadbare when not made of high quality materials.
Mix Low with High. It’s far easier to carry off a sundress from Kmart when you have quality shoes; it’s easier to rock a pair of pumps from Payless when it’s paired with a well-made silk sheath dress. Mixing low with high is what most stylish women do (remember when Sharon Stone came to the Oscars in a Valentino skirt and Gap tee shirt?).
I believe a woman should spend what she can on her hair, her skin, her bag, and her shoes. These are the pieces that get the most attention and the most wear. If you choose cheap pieces for these, be sure they follow the above rules and try pairing with a higher-end piece to balance out the ensemble.
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.