Flip through the pages of any fashion magazine and it probably won’t be long until you come across a supermodel or celebrity in a totally swoon-worthy outfit. The top, the pants, the shoes — they all go together effortlessly, leaving us mere mortals with major wardrobe envy. If only we had all that money to spend on clothes and accessories, right?
Well, the good news is that you don’t have to be famous or rich to look like a million bucks. In fact, anyone can enjoy looking stylish and chic on the regular — all it takes is knowing a few tricks of the trade. That’s why I went to the experts to find out exactly what it takes to look classy on a budget.
Always wear lipstick
I love me some makeup. From falsies to smokey eyes, getting dolled up can make me feel unstoppable. The only problem is that I don’t always have the time for getting glammed up. And, if I’m being really honest, when the occasion calls for me to channel my inner Adele with a fierce cat eye, I usually pay someone to do it for me because, well, my makeup skills aren’t exactly the best. Luckily for me — and anyone else who lacks those makeup artist skills — you don’t need to wear a face full of makeup to look classy. All you need is a bit of lipstick.
“Lipstick is a simple way to look polished and put together on any budget,” Tiffany Reese, marketing lead for Stitch Fix, told me in an interview. “Pull your hair up into a chic Kardashian-inspired bun, with some classic red lipstick, and I dare you not to look classy.”
Sport an updo
Emmy award-winning celebrity hairstylist Kiyah Wright is also a big fan of updos. “No matter your hair type or hair color, wearing a ponytail (or updo) is the perfect inexpensive hairstyle to look put together,” Wright, who’s worked with stars like Heidi Klum, Ciara, Khloe Kardashian, and Laverne Cox, told me in an interview. “They allow your hair to be away from your face, which actually accentuates your facial features.”
Plus, these styles help focus attention to your neckline, ears, and face, which Wright says allow accessories and makeup to be on full display.
Invest in your wardrobe
I love fashion. But I’ll also be the first to admit that keeping up with trends can be overwhelming — not to mention expensive. While it might feel like you have to buy every cute top or pair of shoes you come across, shopping strategically for investment pieces will likely yield a better pay-off.
“Investing in well-fitted staple pieces for your closet and mixing in budget friendly, trend-driven items is a smart way to get more bang for your buck,” said Reese. Her must-haves: “Jeans that make you feel amazing, a little black dress (that can be styled a hundred different ways), and a well-fitted bra are the essential foundations of a woman’s wardrobe.”
Shop off season
Besides being strategic in what you buy, it’s also important to be strategic about when you buy. “Shop off–season,” Homa Zaryouni, founder and CEO of 10wooster.com, told me in an interview. “Putting together a fall wardrobe at the beginning of fall is expensive. And summer purchases in May often lead to regrets. Avoid temptation and save your dollars for when nobody else is buying; buy your swimsuit in late fall and your winter coats in April. You can scoop up great deals that way.”
Make jackets your bff
If you thought jackets were just for keeping warm, think again. Jackets are actually an easy and inexpensive way to make any outfit more stylish.
Zaryouni told me she is a fan of the leather jacket. “At one of my previous jobs, I was underpaid and worked with a lot of stylish people. So I invested in this amazing leather and tweed jacket from Rebecca Minkoff and wore $5 or $10 tees from the Gap underneath,” she told me. “I also wore it over dresses I was no longer crazy about. This got me a lot of compliments.”
Reese, meanwhile, likes to layer with blazers. “Adding a blazer elevates any look instantly,” she told me. “Knit blazers are super comfortable, affordable, and hug your curves for an extra polished punch.”
Get your nails done
When it comes to looking put together, it isn’t always about the clothes. According to Brittany Seabaugh, director of merchandising and styling at Armoire, certain little things can go a long way.
“Outside of clothing, one thing that I think always pulls me together is having my nails kept up,” she told me via email. “This doesn’t mean that you need to get a manicure every week, but by either painting them at home or removing chipped nail polish, you automatically look put together.”
Look great at one-time events
While saving money on clothing is never a bad thing, there are some occasions that are worth splurging for. “One of the biggest style mistakes women make is going cheap or not splurging for a friend’s wedding or gala,” said Zaryouni. “It’s true that you won’t get as many wears from the dress as a pair of jeans, but you have to think about how many people will see you and pay attention. There’s also photos, which means you should definitely put in the extra effort!”
Don’t be a walking billboard
From Chanel to Hermes, luxury brands make my heart flutter as much as the next fashion-loving girl. And as much as you’d like to shout it from the rooftops if you did treat yourself to a high-end bag or swanky piece of jewelry, too many labels can actually cheapen your look, according to Personal Stylist Katherine Pereda.
“Never wear obvious logos,” she told me. “You can rock a Bergdorf Goodman outfit on a Target clearance budget by centering an entire outfit around one expensive piece. Be it an Hermes belt in a classic black/gold combo, a Versace scarf around your neck over a plain denim or white dress, or even a pair of Louboutins with a LBD.”
Explore thrift stores
If you’re looking to score some major deals on high-end items, you may want to explore local thrift shops. “I’m a huge fan of thrift shopping when my clients are on a budget,” Fashion Designer and Personal Stylist Erika Paige told me in an interview. “You would be surprised how many items I find new with tags. Almost half!”
Her advice: utilize local stores like Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange, and local consignment boutiques. “They buy gently used items that are in currently in style, easy, and affordable for any budget. You can get high quality clothing for a lot less money.”
When it comes to looking classy, accessories can make all the difference. “Using jewelry to accessorize any outfit instantly dresses it up,” said Paige. She’s also a big fan of unique items like vintage handbags. “Every woman should own something with a story, something that was passed down or an item that just caught her eye when she was out.”
Fill your closet with neutrals
While a pop of color is always fun, Seabaugh is a fan of neutrals to add a hint of sophistication. “An all neutral palette immediately screams put together,” she told me. “Try a pair of boyfriend jeans with a clean white top and camel jacket. Many of these pieces you can find at an array of stores and prices, so you can find pieces that fit your budget. And better yet, neutrals all go together, so lots of outfit combinations!”
When in doubt, wear all black
Reese also loves a one color outfit. In fact, her rule of thumb is when in doubt, go for all black. “It coordinates with everything and always delivers an effortlessly cool vibe,” she said.
Paige agreed, suggesting, “Opt for a simple black dress that can go with anything. Pair with a formal jacket to dress it up, or with simple sandals to dress it down. You can buy an inexpensive simple black (or white) dress anywhere.”
Always be clean and confident
More than being stylish, being classy is all about looking polished. “An inexpensive way to look put together is to always look clean,” said Pereda. “Your clothes say a lot about you. You can make a tee and jeans look sloppy by being wrinkled, or not the right fit, or even stained — what a tragedy!” Her advice: always make sure your outfits are planned out the night before so you have enough time to steam or iron out any wrinkles.
She also noted that a big part of being classy is being confident. “A common misconception about looking well put together is that you have to be wearing an expensive outfit. But that’s complete BS,” she told me. “It’s literally all about the confidence and the way you carry yourself. Hold your head up high and be proud of your wardrobe choices.”