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How to Look Great on Any Budget

Believe it or not, money is never the reason you don’t have a wardrobe you love. I know it’s so easy to think, “Oh, if I only had more disposable income I would look as good as so-and-so. She has the money to buy anything she wants!”

But, here’s the clincher…having lots of money doesn’t necessarily mean you will automatically know what to buy. If it fits badly, the color makes you look like you’re on your sick bed or isn’t made for your body type or your personality, all the money in the world won’t make it look good on you.

I once talked with an owner of a company who wanted me to work with one of his senior executive employees. He said they had tried giving her money to buy a new wardrobe, but she used it to buy more of the same type of thing she had been wearing. Without new awareness about what worked and what didn’t that was the best she could do. Money alone couldn’t fix the issues since she didn’t know what look good on her or what was appropriate for her career.

Yes, generally speaking at higher end stores, the fabrics are finer, the finish work is more ‘finished’ and elegantly done and the colors and details can be richer and more creative. But, if your budget doesn’t allow it, all is not lost. It does not mean that everything that costs less is worthless. Not by any stretch of the imagination. You can still find nicely made, beautifully designed items anywhere.

You just need to know what to look for and be open to the possibilities.

One of my favorite ways to shop when on a budget is thrift or consignment shopping.

With her permission I’m sharing a story from Hilary who lives in the UK and is a part of my ‘Who Taught You How to Dress’ community ( I have never met Hilary in person, although some day I hope I will have that pleasure. In the meantime, she has been actively using the online forum that is part of the ‘how to dress’ program with great success!

She has done much of her transformation by shopping at thrift stores.

Hilary loves an elegant look with touches of bohemian style. With the help of the forum she has refined her colors and discovered that she rocks skinny jeans! She had been reluctant to spend a lot of money on something she wasn’t sure would work, but when we suggested she try it, she found this pair of charcoal skinny jeans at the supermarket, no less! She said it was the best £7 ($11.41) she ever spent there.

Here she is wearing her new jeans with this great navy jacket and white blouse:

As well as a fun casual look

Two of the pieces she found unexpectedly for her upcoming New Year’s Eve outfit (a great example of buying something you love when you see it rather than waiting until right before actually need it!) came from a thrift store. The navy cotton velvet Jeans and an amazing beautiful beaded/sequin over blouse cost all of £2 ($3.22)!


She doesn’t stop at clothing, handbags, like this one that still had the tags on it, complete her outfit. She got it for £5 (approx $8):

She has become very discriminating in what she chooses to bring in and with her new focus she is building a very versatile wardrobe. Hilary recently shared that, “This is what I love about the forum – great ideas, some of which I would probably not have thought to try – to step outside my comfort zone.”

One of the nicest things about thrift and consignment shopping is that there is a price point for everyone. I like to take advantage of both ends of the spectrum.

This past summer I found a fun Ann Taylor sundress at a local consignment store (The Mint Boutique in Beverly) for $7.50! It fit me perfectly and, as an added bonus, didn’t need a stitch of tailoring.

Then, this fall I discovered this stunning Armani jacket at The Turnabout Shoppe in Wellesley for $225—a far cry from what it would cost at full price.

Tips for Shopping Consignment (or anywhere!)

As you can see, there is no reason to let your budget limit your personal style as long as you keep the key components of creating a wardrobe in mind:

  • The colors you choose still matter. No, black will not necessarily make something look more expensive if black is too harsh on you or the design doesn’t work with your body shape.
  • Reflecting who you are is critical whether you are shopping at Saks or Goodwill.
  • Fit is important: tailoring is often still necessary whether the garment is expensive or not. If you are not willing to tailor it (even if you only paid $5 for the garment), then leave it at the store!
  • You still have to complete the outfit. Every outfit is composed of several pieces including shoes and other accessories. Knowing how to combine them can make an inexpensive piece look fabulous. And there is no savings, no matter how little you paid, if you never find a way to wear the garment.

The takeaway: You can have a beautiful wardrobe at any price point. Start exploring the thrift stores and consignment shops in your area. There are more and more popping up every day with hidden treasures and perfect additions to your wardrobe.

Want a real life example of consignment shopping? Check out this video complete with an example of a do and don’t outfit:



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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.