Thursday, April 11, 2013

How To Make Cheap Clothes Look Nice (or at least not cheap)



I am a competition level thrifter and bargain hunter.  And because when I'm from the Midwest, when you compliment my coat, I have to tell you that I got it for $12, ten years ago, at the thrift store in Sauk Centre.  

I'm fancy like that.

I've also been known to buy the occasional $25 sundress from Target/H&M/Forever 21.  I know that fast fashion is The Worst.  And I try to buy well-made investment pieces from good companies or second hand.  But sometimes I can't resist the siren song of affordable, trendy pieces.  SOMETIMES I JUST WANT TO WEAR NEON, YOU GUYS.

So if you, too, occasionally give in to cute, cheap stuff and then see a photo of yourself and think "Who's that hussy in the unflattering poly blend?"  here are a few tips to looking fancy in cheap-o clothes.

1. Invest in a slip or an inner layer
I think one of the things that separates Cheap Looking Foolishness from Fancy Looking Poshness is lining. Highend stuff is lined. Stuff from Target isn't. Just go buy a slip (yes, they still make them) and all of a sudden you don't have to wear Spanks and your dress fits and flows so much more elegantly. Try to find a white or neutral slip without any lace - you don't want the texture of the lace showing through the top layer of your $12 dress.

2. Fake leather + shiny metal = no. Canvas + wood = yes 
Pleather is obvious from 8 feet away and shiny metallics look tacky. Matte metal isn't any more expensive (or real) but it looks much nicer. This bracelet is only $10 but it looks fancy and a little weird like you bought it in a tiny dusty store in Greece. Also: canvas. It always looks posh and it's not expensive. See? Wood bangles are cute and make people think you a) bought them in a pricey museum shop b) spent some time in Africa. Can you believe this bracelet is $3.00?!

3. Take good care of your cheap clothes
These pieces were not built to last. But you can extend their life by:
* Only washing them when they're really, actually dirty
* Washing them inside out, in cold water, and air drying them
* Using one of these fabric shavers. No exaggeration, this purchase will change your wardrobe life

4. Only wear one trend at a time
Oh, this is terribly boring advice you've read a thousand times before. But that's because it's sort of true. You look waaaay classier when you pair your sheer neon top with a black boyfriend blazer and jeans and cute black t-strap sandals, rather than with sequinned dropcrotch pants and those wedge sneaker things. (Of course, 'classy' can be very overrated so feel free to ignore this advice)

5. Shiny hair + lip gloss + clean nails always look good
Your mom was right.

Do you guys partake in cheap fashion?  How do you make your cheaper items look good?

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42 comments

  1. Fabric shavers saved my life (& my knitwear)!

    I avoid polyester and nylon fabrics and stick to cotton/cotton mixes when shopping for cheap clothes - that way they aren't so obviously cheap as they won't have that horrible shiny or seethrough look caused by rubbish fabric. If something has tacky embellishment on I make sure it can be cut off easily before buying, eg. those diamante 'charms' on bras (do I want to look like a cheap stripper? No.) & weird stud/jewel detail on tops that can be done without.

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  2. One of my super classy, $300 sunglasses-wearing friends clued me into the fabric shaver in college. Such an easy way to keep your clothes in good shape whether they're from the bargain bin or Saks.

    I always partake in cheaper fashion, much of it from Goodwill. Buying the right pieces is key to rocking cheap looks- I avoid dry clean only, any fussy embellishments (fringe, beading necessitating hand washing because I just won't do it), and clothing that looks like it's already had enough love. Adding a scarf or a nice clutch to any outfit seems to dress it up a little more, and I usually mix and match my thrifted finds with the few higher end pieces I own.

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  3. #5 - Yes!
    Living on the farm, my hands get beat up on a daily basis. But, gosh they can look so much prettier with a couple coats of clear polish. And it only cost a couple bucks at the drugstore.

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  4. This is awesome! I like to look as expensive as possible but don't have much money. Good shoes and accessories and a quality coat will take you far, and keeping it classic. Rich people don't wear crazy outfits, patterns and fabrics all at once like the cheap shops will have you wear. They tend to wear simple and classic pieces. Your advice is spot on, especially about your own appearance. No chipped nail polish and well kept hair always sets you apart. These days I try to invest in quality pieces that I wear all the time, like a coat as it's forever cold in England. And good boots., If I'm wearing £10 jeans under all that, no one will know ;)

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  5. I am usually wearing at least one piece that came from Goodwill or a thrift store. People would be surprised at how many good pieces I find! I never compromise on my style and still have a very low clothing budget. Nothing can beat that feeling you get when you find a dress that would normally cost $50+ and you get it for $4.20!

    I do, however, try to buy nice key items, such as leather boots or a trench coat. One way I make cheap clothes look nicer is by pairing them with one nice key piece and pretty accessories (like that wooden bangle!). Thanks for the tips!

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  6. I have two pairs of legitimately well-made shoes, a pair of tan work-booties and a pair of black brogues. Even though they've been through the ringer, I freshen them up, and it just makes me look like somebody who has her life together, even if she's wearing a skirt over a cheap dress that shrunk in the the wash.

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  7. I don't buy anything with shiny metal on it, from anywhere! I can't stand the way it looks!

    Sometimes I walk into H&M and I find a pattern that I'm OBSESSED with. These stores often offer the same print on either a top or a dress, and in most cases, I buy the former. That way I can layer it under a cardigan and pair it with some nice jeans and non-cheap looking shoes, and I can still wear the attention-grabbing pattern without looking cheap.

    I never buy jewelry from these places unless (like the bangle you had above) it's mostly all one piece. The earrings from Forever 21 fall apart easily and the metal oxidizes before your eyes! I also never buy shoes from them unless its a last minute thing and I absolutely have to, but any time I do, they're always uncomfortable and fall apart.

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  8. As a college student, I think I might be the only one of my friends to actually own a slip. I swear, they're the best way to keep clothes from clinging or from being see-through! Good tips!

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  9. -Get some shoe polish! Having nice looking and clean shoes that are actually the colour they are meant to be improves every outfit.

    -Avoid the tumble drier like the plague. I actually have access to one and an I only use it for towels and bed sheets. Everything else is hung up to dry.

    -Wear a maximum of one statement piece, if that. I find that bright patterns are the easiest to spot as being cheap or expensive so I just stay away from them. It's much harder to tell where that dark blue t-shirt came from.

    -Get yourself a small sewing kit. It doesn't need to include much, apart from needles, scissors and a basic collection of threads that fit your wardrobe colours. I recently gave my coat from a charity shop at least another 3 years of life with about half an hour of effort.

    -Let go of things when they break and you can't fix them.

    -I personally stay clear or things with more than 50 % plastic, partially because I don't like the feel of them but also because I find that they look worse.

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  10. I have never, ever heard of a fabric shaver. This might change my life entirely.

    I find that if you feel the urge to shop but are TRYYYYING to be good, invest in decent accessories instead. A good belt goes a LONG way in making your favorite (but worn) pair of jeans look good. Not only does it keep them fitted where they should be, but it instantly dresses up any outfit. Jeans and a t-shirt? Boring. Jeans and a t-shirt and a funky belt? AWESOME. The skinny belts I've bought from LOFT have disappointed me in the past (and they cost too much to show so much wear as quickly as they do). The higher-quality belts from J Crew? Adorable and durable.

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    1. TOTALLY. Also, the J. Crew ones in the weirder colors ALWAYS go on sale ;)

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    2. The good belt trick is one of my favorites. Buy the dress off the clearance rack, ditch the cheap belt it comes with and replace with a nice on. Instant change from dumpy to fancy pants.

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  11. - I always splurge on real leather shoes (especially heels) and boots. That means I only have a few pairs and stay away from really trendy styles, but leather will last forever if it's well taken care of and is much more comfortable than cheap man-made stuff. And yes- shoe polish and taking your shoes to get re-soled and treated regularly are life changers.

    - I also stay away from putting my clothes in the drier; like another poster said, it's for sheets and towels (and socks) only.

    - I look at the quality of the fabric and the stitching when I buy something "fast fashion". I have basic tank tops and Ts from H&M and Smart Set that look fantastic and have lasted for years, because they are made of cotton and the stitching is decent. I don't even have any real knowledge of sewing- but it doesn't take a genius to flip a garment inside out and look at the seams to see if they are even and the tightness of the stitching/thread quality. And back to the fabric point- I stick to natural fibers because 1) they look better and less cheap 2) they don't make you sweat like crazy (maybe this is just me, though?) and 3) artificial stuff makes my skin itch

    - Finally, I'm careful about trendy/statement jewelry. All the stuff I've bought from H&M or Forever21 oxidizes within a couple of wearings, and as I'm allergic to nickel I avoid earrings from places like this. And if I am going to wear a piece of statement jewelry, I'll pair it with a classic and simple outfit.

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  12. Thanks. I like realworld clothing advice because I just never learned how to dress myself. I was the kind of kid who had only one pair of pants and a few ugly shirts that someone else threw away. Not much choice there.

    So what about if one's hair isn't, has never been and will probably never ever ever be shiny? Mine's rough, dry, mousy and endlessly frizzy. The breakage is incredible!

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    1. Aw man! I can't not use the dryer! When I first moved out I tried hanging clothes to dry to save coins but they really just end up smelling like mold. And then the entire room smells bad. And then I smell bad.

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    3. What if you just use a dryer till they're damp and then air dry them the rest of the way? And dry them inside out? I think most of the damage happens when we dry stuff till it's BONE DRY.

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    4. For dry and frizzy hair (which I have in abundance): argan oil. 100%, pure, no silicone or fillers. You can usually get it at the drugstore, sometimes in the haircare section or sometimes near the BioOil. Or you can buy it online. It makes a bigger difference than anything else I have ever tried. I use 2-3 drops and run it through damp hair. Makes it shiny and smooth!

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    5. Also washing your hair with cheap conditioner rather than shampoo works surprisingly well - especially if the air is really dry where you live / work. It has enough surfactants to lift dirt but isn't as intense on your hair. Think mild shampoo. I alternate with shampoo but I have a friend with hair as you describe and she doesn't even own shampoo anymore.

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  13. Plato's closet for the win! Got a pair of cute yellow shorts for $5.

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  14. Secret: I purchased two men's watches at Target, $19/$13. One silver, one gold, and adjusted the bands to a loose bangle fit. I wear them alone most of the time, but throw on h more bracelets when I'm going "dressy." I have never received so many compliments or attention from any accessory ever. I've not worn them out that someone hasn't stopped me and admired the watch. Even handing a dollar into a drive thru window for a soda reaps compliments. It's magic.

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    1. Oooh! Awesome!

      Related: a few weeks ago I bought a winter coat for $52 (50% off the normal price) from an online retailer. It had some pleather detailing but I was hoping it would look okay in real life. Just got it today. Nope. A thousand times nope. Dumpy, poorly made, cheap-looking-as-eff. It looks like something from DEB circa 2002. Ugggggghhhhhh. I'm not sure it can be redeemed!

      Lesson learned: only buy cheap stuff in person. :(

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    2. I second the only buy cheap stuff in person (if not returnable). Fit is everything. I can rock a pair of cheap jeans that fit like a glove but even expensive clothes look cheap if the fit is off.

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  15. I always wear cheap clothing...I spend my money on accessories! Old Navy has the best dresses for next to nothing!!!

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  16. "DEB circa 2002" hilarious! Great article all around Sarah, wonderful!
    I'd say learn a few sewing skills so you can mend and alter cheaper clothes to look better on you. Try to mix cheaper clothes with better ones. I find that knits tend to look real cheap more than their higher quality counterparts.

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  17. "And because when I'm from the Midwest, when you compliment my coat, I have to tell you that I got it for $12, ten years ago, at the thrift store in Sauk Centre."
    This is totally me!
    I have been addicted to opshopping from a young age and have not purchased any "new" clothing from a retail store in over 4 years! All my clothing is either thrifted, refashioned or hand-made and I never feel like my outfits look "cheap" or old!
    I choose styles and colours that suit me and always look for good quality fabrics. My of my vintage pieces are so well made they really do stand the test of time.
    I always wash my clothing in cold water & always line dry too :) Taking care of your clothes will definately increase their life!
    There is always ways to tweek & update your own wardrobe without buying anything new..you just need to get creative & have fun with fashion!
    ps: I know I don't comment often but I love your blog!
    xo Huli https://www.facebook.com/lovehulibug

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  18. Ditto everyone with the wash-cold-hang-dry advice! I think all clothes deserve to have better care taken of them. Why wouldn't you want to watch out what you're doing to your clothes, so as to prolong an item's life?

    As well as laundering, give more attention to high stress points on your clothes, like: seats of jeans; necks on sweaters; closures on pants; underarms on everything; coat zippers and buttons; and the sides of narrow skirts. I am a tailor, so I have to say this stuff. Plus, get that sweater shaver, you will look like a million bucks.

    Also: natural fibers! Caitie, it really is true: acrylic sweaters make you sweat to death but also don't actually trap heat, so you are sticky and chilly at the same time. No joke.

    I'm busting out my slip next time it hits 75.

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  19. Excellent advice, Sarah! And I think you convinced me to get a fabric shaver! My tips for looking fancy pants in cheap pants?

    1. Good underwear. (I don't mean fancy, I just mean that which fits well and holds everything together. Often, the way you look underneath your clothes defines how they look on you. If that makes sense.)
    2. Natural fabrics. They fit better, they feel better, they don't give you rashes, and they look classier! (Hello, summer linen.)
    3. Good shoes + good handbag. I think these are the only items I splurge on. Granted, I don't have many (usually one solid handbag, plus some canvas totes, and only a handful of pairs of shoes per season).

    And, of course, clean hair and fingernails! Also, clear skin helps a lot. :o)

    Wow, this was fun! Thank you! (I loved all of the above comments, too!)

    Julie

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  20. Useful, awesome, and excellent advice. Also? A blazer. Throwing a jacket over ANYTHING instantly makes it look nice. It doesn't work in the summer (at least, not here in Nashville), unfortunately, but oh my goodness, blazer + tshirt and jeans + cute shoes = Polish! But without that blazer, not so much.

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to get a clothing shaver.

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  21. Almost all of my jewelry is vintage or handmade from etsy/flea markets, etc. I've gotten better about investing in higher quality clothing but I need to work on making a variety of outfits using the clothes and accessories I already have. Work in progress!

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  22. I tend to mix and match cheaper and more expensive items. Expensive meaning something I got real cheap at sales, but used to cost much more. ;) Some of my fave things are second hand. But at the same time they might be of excellent quality. So it's all about having fun and playing around. Plus I try to avoid fake materials that try to look real, but never do. E.g. fake wannabe leather. :P

    xx Kaisa

    http://reindeertrails.blogspot.com.es

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  23. I'm a big thrifter and often pick up cheapo clothes second hand. I love these tips especially on washing clothes. it'll come in handy for all those Old Navy tank tops my mom likes to buy me.

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  24. OK, I have to know - are you originally from MN? Seriously, Sauk Center?! Fellow Minnesotan here, so just curious. :D

    Good tips, btw!

    -Rebecca

    http://mn2nz.wordpress.com

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    1. Third generation Minnesotan! I'm from Aitkin ( I live in St. Paul now) but I did my undergrad at U of M, Morris so I'd stop at the second hand store in Sauk Centre on my trip between home and school all the time. So much good stuff!

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    2. Awesome! The Sauk Centre was definitely a tip off.

      I know Aitkin as well! Ah, central Minnesota (I'm from Alexandria, originally, and went to the U of M Twin cities)... : D



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  25. I live in cheap fashion! I think that the best advice that I can give is to choose things that work for you. Pick colours that flatter your skin tone and clothes that fit you well. If a dress fits your body and makes your skin glow, it's going to look gorgeous whether it cost $100 or $12.

    Also, mix and match cheapy pieces with more expensive items. It really helps to kick an outfit up a notch.

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  26. I went straight out and bought this fabric shaver after reading this post. http://www.argos.co.uk/static/Product/partNumber/8500674.htm
    So good! Thank you Sarah for the awesome advice (as usual!).

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    1. Thanks so much! And truly, you're going to love that fabric shaver! :D

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  29. I'm often in a discount store find, but the following have often saved me:
    Iron and spray starch
    Flattering colors
    One piece that stands out.
    Accessorize and pull it together.
    Upcycle (Dye, rebuild, mend)
    White whitener. (Rit makes a good one.)
    Clearance is your friend

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