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Look Fashionable for Less

Ten savvy ways to appear high style while keeping your costs low.

By Laura Sinberg
High heels on a scaleEllen Silverman

Be Picky About Embellishments

Subtle is safest. Zippers, small sequins, and beading with a matte finish usually pass for good quality even when made inexpensively. “A button covered in fabric looks more couture,” says Phillip Bloch, a Los Angeles–based stylist and the author of The Shopping Diet ($15, He also gives a thumbs-up to buttons that match the color of the garment or have a mother-of-pearl–esque sheen. Another flourish that looks fancy, not tacky: “Fabric manipulation—pleating, ruching, draping—is a designer touch that can be done well with synthetics,” says Rachel Roy, a designer of both upscale and affordable fashion lines. Unless you’ve dropped big coin on the garment, fake-gem embellishments tend to look like something plucked out of a gum-ball machine—particularly if they’re plastic. The same holds for shiny buttons, large sequins, and lots of logos, which are meant to advertise luxury but tend to have the opposite effect.

Construction Is Key

Turn a potential buy inside out. That’s where you’ll most likely find loose or jumbled threads (commonly at the hemline) and seams that aren’t perfectly straight, says Christian Siriano, who designs a line of shoes and bags for Payless. Also, make sure that the lining doesn’t look bubbly or hang lower than the hem of the garment.

Check the high-stress points. Clothing that has been tried on over and over again may be damaged before it leaves the store. Inspect each item for holes in the underarms, a stretched neckline, torn tops of pleats, pulled seams at the waistband, or threads dangling from buttons and buttonholes.

You Can’t Go Wrong With Simple Shapes

Think clean lines. A-lines, shirtdresses, wrap styles, sheath dresses, and straight-leg pants always look polished. Generally, the more complicated the design, the greater the margin for error in the execution. If you have to choose between a sleek pencil cut or something with a more elaborate structure, such as a tulip skirt or a trendy jumpsuit, “go for the basic silhouette every time,” says Von Sperling. Even if, say, military is all over the runways, buyer beware: “Things like epaulets and too many pockets can get very gaudy very fast,” warns Feldon.

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