How to Look Luxe on a Budget

March 19, 2020 Updated: March 19, 2020
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Elegance on a budget—is it feasible?

Trendsetters will tell you to just wait for the sales, track that designer bag on Ebay, or sell a luxury item so you can buy another one. That’s all well and good … except that those tactics are still too expensive. But you can get dressed beautifully and elegantly without breaking the bank, by shopping smart and playing with what you already have.

Here are some tips.

Don’t Be Afraid of Colors

Have you ever noticed the color of the clothing in discount stores? Black, brown, navy, and gray. Why is that? It’s because when the buyer places an order for pants for the next season, for instance, she has to order huge quantities from the factory, for her to make a good profit and for you to get a good deal. These basic colors are usually safe, and the fabrics are pre-colored in these shades for the masses.

Now, let’s do some window shopping. Have you noticed that upscale stores always display outfits in unexpected colors? It’s a psychological trick. We are attracted to these color combinations, so we’re drawn into the store … only to end up buying their latest black pants or a black blouse! And we might tell ourselves, “Next time, I will try that orange top.” 

Wearing colors can be tricky, especially if you are used to wearing those blacks, browns, and grays. Those are elegant and classic colors, don’t get me wrong, but other colors possess an elegance that you can slowly learn to adapt to your style. It’s just that deep inside, we are too intimidated by that purple pair of pants or orange top. Try to think differently when purchasing your next piece of clothing. 

Start With the Monochrome Look

Basic colors are safe and easy to match—black goes with everything. You are an expert in choosing black shoes, black dresses, black pants, and black bags. Now, let’s apply that thinking to a different color. 

The easiest color to switch to is beige. For spring, try a monochrome look. Don’t worry about this fancy word—you were already doing it in black, now do it in beige. 

Let’s make camel the darkest color of your outfit. That could be your trench coat, or a heavier winter coat if it’s still chilly out. Every item of clothing underneath should be one, two, or three shades lighter. Pants, dresses, blouses, and shoes should be in secondary tones, such as intermediate shades of beige, and the lightest tone can be off-white or cream. 

How chic and refreshing! Add some gold jewelry and you’ll look sharp, elegant, and timeless. Victoria Beckham did a good job with the monochrome look when presenting her spring-summer collection. Try it—it’s easier than you might think.

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Victoria Beckham. (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Victoria Beckham. (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Victoria Beckham. (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

Try Other Elegant Color Combinations

Now that you’ve mastered the monochrome look, how about trying other elegant color combinations? Take baby steps, as matching contrasting colors can be tricky. 

For your first attempt, let’s play it safe. We know that primary colors have complementary colors: red has green as a complementary companion; the complement to blue is orange; and for yellow, it’s purple. 

Let’s take blue and orange, a complementary combination. Your eyes are already used to seeing it all the time in nature—autumn leaves and a blue sky, a blue and orange flower, the blue ocean and an orange sunset. How beautiful! 

Now that you have those visuals in mind, think of an outfit with these contrasts. You can mimic the exact tones of nature like the designer Delpozo did, or you can play with stronger shades of blues and lighter shades of orange or vice versa, for instance. If orange is still too strong for you, pair your blue top with a camel or beige bottom to soften your look. Voilà! You just created your first elegant, luxurious color combo. 

Another strategy is to wear warm tones together (orange pants with a coral top) and cool tones together (royal blue skirt with a turquoise top).

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Delpozo. (Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images)
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Tibi. (JP Yim/Getty Images for New York Fashion Week: The Shows)
Epoch Times Photo
Ralph Lauren. (JP Yim/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

Choose Natural Fabrics

Natural fabrics can elevate your style instantly. Silk, cotton, cashmere, and linen are staples when it comes to good fabrics. Choose them wisely to get the chic look you want. 

Silk is woven in many different fabrics, such as taffeta, twill, charmeuse, etc. Today, the yarn is relatively affordable, so you can afford a silk blouse or scarf, or even a silk dress. 

Cotton needs to be chosen carefully. La crème de la crème of cotton is supima cotton. Grown in the United States, its fiber is extra-long, giving the fabric excellent properties of strength, color retention, and softness. The good news is that supima cotton is affordable, so please splurge on some basic tees and long sleeves; these can be worn under a suit or with a pair of chinos for a clean casual look. 

Cashmere, too, has become more and more affordable. It’s best to buy it mixed with cotton or wool, as it will be stronger and last longer. 

Finally, linen, which is derived from flax, is also a luxurious fabric, and chic when well-ironed (and good luck with the ironing!). 

Embroidery, Patterns, Appliqués, Prints

These add-ons can look tacky or luxurious, depending on how they’re used. 

Embroidery always evokes a sense of luxury, adorning emperors’ and queens’ clothes in the past, and to this day, adding value to a garment or an accessory. So how do you wear embroidery and look sharp? Opt for embroideries that are in unusual places, such as on the top back of your jacket, on the back of your sleeves, or on a collar. It’s more difficult to execute embroidery well in these spots. It means it’ll be more expensive, yes, but one unique piece is all you need to change your whole look.

More affordable than embroideries are prints. For a luxurious look, opt for large prints, again featured in unusual places, such as on your shoulder or on the back of your garment. Another way to look elegant when wearing prints is to wear the same print pattern in different colors or different sizes. Basically, your goal is to look different from everyone else wearing the same clothing.

Epoch Times Photo
Oscar de la Renta. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Carolina Herrera. (Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)
Epoch Times Photo
Tibi. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Follow the Codes

They are certain clothing codes to follow if you want to look luxe and elegant. 

First, buy clothes that fit you. The wealthy get tailor-made clothes, and they usually have a tailor or a seamstress to adjust whatever doesn’t fit. For those of us who can’t afford that luxury, make sure the piece of clothing you’re buying fits you like a glove. 

The clothes sold in department stores are made in series and by machines, so the garment measurements are standards and won’t necessarily fit you. It makes sense, because the price is affordable. Take your time to shop, try the clothes you really want, and try different brands to see which one will fit you better. Size 4 Gap pants might not fit like Ann Taylor pants in the same size. There are so many variables. 

For jackets, make sure the sleeves are tight and narrow around your arms, not loose. Same for pants: don’t buy pants with an inseam (pant length) of 32 inches when your height is 5’2’’; it won’t fit even if you take them to a seamstress. That is why many affordable brands created petite, tall, or plus departments. 

Even if you are in the right department, make sure the pants fit. Check these key points: hips, inseam, and waist. The right pants should not have excess fabric in the hip area. The worst is excess fabric in the crotch area—avoid that at all costs.

Another code that’s easy to follow is to wear your skirt below the knees. A pencil skirt looks more luxe when it’s longer. Why? More fabric means more money, and more money means you can afford luxury. The same goes for a circular skirt, which requires a lot of fabric. It’s so elegant and chic. 

Overall, the key is to not be flamboyant. Luxury is simple. It’s about the right fit and the right detail.

Keep Your Accessories Classic

As for accessories, it’s OK to splurge on a good pair of shoes, in nude or unusual colors. It’s important to keep them clean and store them in their shoeboxes so they can always look new. 

A good pair of sunglasses will add to your style as well. You don’t have to splurge on them, but make sure they have good UV protection. 

Jewelry is a bit difficult to tackle, but just remember this: If you can’t afford real jewelry, keep it minimalistic and simple. Usually, it is hard to detect real pearls, so opt for fake pearls rather than fake diamonds. 

Same for the bags: keep it classic without big logos. Your bag can be from a lesser-known brand, but if it has the right hardware, you will look like a million bucks!

Finally, to look luxe, use minimal or natural look makeup. A natural look will give you a better appearance.