How to Look Expensive if You Are on a Budget
The way you dress makes a large impact on how other people perceive you.
I know a lot of people won't admit physical appearance matters in this world but like it or not, you are being judged by how you look, how you dress, and how you carry yourself. Multiple studies show the amount someone is paid — and in some cases whether or not they get the job — is based, at least in part, on how they look.
Dressing classy can help you get jobs, make great first impressions, and feel confident. It took me years to master the art of looking classy and expensive on a budget, and here is what I learned.
1. Designer outfits
Well, the easiest way to look expensive is actually to buy expensive cloths. But what if you can't afford it? You can buy pre-owned designer outfits, shoes and bags on sites like Lollipuff.com, RealReal.com, Tradesy and eBay. The first three sell only authentic designer clothes. Unfortunately, there are too many fakes being sold on eBay so you need to either know brands yourself to spot them or hire a third party authenticator. Lollipuff provides authentication services based on pictures of the item you intend to buy.
2. To look expensive if you are on a Budget: Shop online or thrift stores
Another way of buying pre-owned designer clothes is to go to online boutiques and thrift stores. A lot of people think that thrift stores don't carry anything of value, and they are right in general. You need to know which thrift stores to go to. I live in Los Angeles, and in the past, I shopped in a couple of thrift stores off the beaten track that carried a lot of designer brands. You need to do research or ask around to find stores that actually carry designer clothes at a good price.
3. To look expensive if you are on a Budget: Shop in discount chains that carry name brands
Ross, Marshall's, TJ MaxX, Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, Last Call and online sites like Gilt.com, HauteLook.com, Ruelala.com, Outnet.com, 6pm, Century 21, 6pm, etc. are places that sell discounted designer clothes. The trick with Ross, Marshall's and TJ Maxx is to find them in the areas where they carry name brands. Here in Los Angeles, I feel like they get swept up by shoppers looking for deals but I know better: I go to shop in the suburbs where there is a way better selection of designer brands. Don't forget your expensive looking accessories: bags, shoes, oversized black sunglasses, jewelry to make your outfit look upscale.
4. Looking Expensive Often Means Looking Classy
To look expensive usually also means to look classy. In other words, you can buy expensive designer clothes and look cheap or you can get good classy pieces, match them well, add good quality beautiful accessories and look polished and expensive.
Read my blogs "How to Look Classy" parts 1, 2, and 3.
Here is what I mean: the first set of pictures below are expensive trendy pieces that look cheap to most people (except a small percentage of fashionistas that know their true value) and the last pictures are cheap but classy pieces that look expensive to a majority.
a) Expensive but looks cheap
b) Cheap but looks expensive
5. Don’t worry too much about trends
Fashion moves quickly, and the hottest new style today might be totally outdated in six months. Some "trendy" items are very appealing to me but I know that in no way can I buy them at a discount if they just came out a month ago. So if you are on a budget instead of hunting for trends, focus on buying classic, versatile pieces that won't go out of style. Read my blogs on "How to Look Classy".
But there is another solution. You can invest in trends, but in the ones that are cyclical and in fashion every couple of years. I chuckle when I see animal prints being advertised as "the hottest trend". They are the hottest trend every couple of years! Polka dots pattern is the hottest trend approximately every 5 years. Below are examples from 2018 fashion and 5-10 years ago fashion. Without knowing which is which, I doubt you can distinguish.
6. To look expensive if you are on a budget: shop in stores that copy runway fashion
If buying the latest trends matters for you, but you can't afford high-end pieces, head to Zara, Mango, H&M, Steve Madden (shoes), Topshop and Forever 21 - stores that specialize in cheap but trendy clothes. I don't recommend Topshop but it's worth mentioning. You have to be careful though. It will be easy to buy something cheap looking there (that is why I don't recommend Topshop in general), so you will need to pay attention at quality of fabric and cut. More about it later.
7. Purchase versatile items
If you are on a budget, choose items that are appropriate for multiple occasions: for work, going out, and for special events. Items you will be wearing more than once. In other words, buy more items that cross the "casual" or "formal" labels. Don't go so much for "hipster" pieces if you want to squeeze more life out of your clothes. To give you an example: black jeans. Casual piece of clothing with white t-shirt but worn with a blazer - completely appropriate outfit to attend a sporting event, like a basketball game. Same applies for white jeans. With a t-shirt - one style, with a blazer - totally appropriate for my lunch date in Beverly Hills looking all classy and glam.
8. Know When to Wear What
There is a certain dress code among wealthier people and upper class for the certain occasions. To give you an example: when I went to an expensive resort the first time in my life, I saw that I was not dressed as other women there. When I was flying to other countries, at some point, I noticed that women in first class mostly wore certain type of clothes, etc. You need to pay attention to what richer women wear and buy those items that look expensive for yourself.
My blog "How to Look Classy" might help, but to give a couple of pointers:
- Coats in black, white, oatmeal or pastel colors for cold winters
- Classy shoes and expensive-looking leather bags in matching colors to tie outfits
- Resortwear: One-piece classy swimwear, long coverups, big hats, expensive looking sunglasses, perhaps add jewelry
- Resortwear: long silk dresses for evenings
- Travel looks: in winter wear leggings, long cashmere sweaters or cashmere cardigans with tall boots. Or a matching knit set of pants and a sweater. In the summer: perhaps pants, top and lightweight cardigan.
- Midi dresses for day look
- Fitted pencil dresses for business meetings
- Fitted skirts with Equipment blouses for business meetings
- Evening: expensive looking cocktail dresses
- Formal events: expensive looking gowns
9. Wear Colors that make you look expensive
Colors are EXTREMELY important if you want to look expensive. Read more about it in my other blogs "How to Look expensive" part 2 and 3.
To summarize: Buy solid colors. Wear neutral earthy colors: all shades of beige, tan, brown and gray. Also black and white. Wear a lot of pastels. Be smart about color combinations and match colors well.
Solid-colored skirts, shirts, pencil dresses and pants are extremely versatile, and often appear near-identical to more upscale, designer brands. Solid colors are easy to mix and match, so you’ll be able to make more outfits with fewer items.
10. Fit is a key
Classy and sophisticated clothing is typically tailored. Not too tight but form fitting. Buy clothes in classy designs that fit your body type. So we are mostly talking about pencil skirt and fitted sheath (pencil) dresses. Tailored pants as well. You need to find a good seamstress to alter your clothes properly. It will cost you $10-$20 dollars but the difference will be significant.
To have "tailored" clothes means you need to own pencil skirts and pencil dresses. If you are on a budget, Zara skirts from women collection will do (I had to tailor mine though for them to sit better). For a pencil dress on a budget, I can recommend Black Halo dresses, Jackie O in particular and very cheap Likely Park dress.
11. Look for expensive-looking fabrics
This is super important.
I usually can tell if somebody is wearing cheap or expensive clothing based on the quality of fabric. For example, cheap brands never manufacture stuff from silk because silk is expensive. They manufacture from polyester. Furthermore, there is a difference in polyester. BCBG or Halston Heritage will use polyester chiffon of a good quality, but cheaper brands will use polyester that screams "cheap" to me. It is just so obvious to those who know expensive clothes! So don't buy stuff from cheap-looking fabric even if the design is great. This is the case for Asos.com that carries great designs, but every time I buy from them, I have to return because their great looking designs on pictures are not so good in reality because generally they manufacture from cheap fabric.
To summarize: look for genuine leather and suede, cotton, silk, cashmere, tweed, and linen fabric which look classy and expensive.
I particularly want to emphasize wearing silk in the summer.
12. What not to wear
Don't wear distressed jeans and neon color clothes. Don't wear trendy clothes that looks cheap like cutoff tops and spandex pants.
13. Clothes maintenance. Stop destroying your fabric
I used to have a bad habit of tossing my clothes from the hamper to the dryer without giving it much thought. If you buy quality pieces of clothing, this is an expensive mistake. Now, I don't tumble dry my my expensive t-shirts (that I bought on discount of course) to avoid shrinkage and wear. I dry t-shirts on a rack. I dry-clean my sweaters because sweaters with pulling do not look expensive even if you paid $300 for each. (If you can't afford extensive dry-cleaning bill, you have to wash your sweaters by hand and dry flat on towels) I actually do wash a lot of my clothes by hand to avoid wear. It is not fun but I do it. My friend told me that her super-expensive washer does not damage cashmere sweaters and perhaps it's true, but I use commercial washers and they destroy clothes pretty fast.
14. The importance of bags
If you can, invest in a couple high-end designer bags. You can even buy them pre-owned on the sites I already mentioned. This is practically a must if you want to look expensive.
But if you don't want to spend more than $200 on a bag, there are cheaper alternatives that look classy and expensive. My favorite bags in that price range are Marc Jacobs quilted bags, Furla Metropolis bag, Rebecca Minkoff Love bag, Michael Kors Sloan bag and Zac Posen Eartha bags. The full price of the above is usually over $200, but you can find them on sale.
What girl wouldn't want a Chanel bag?!! But really, at those high costs, we'd all be broke. Instead of putting all your hard earned money into the real thing, why not "steal" the look for much much less?!! Solution: Rebecca Minkoff's "Love" bag. Not only are these bags stylish, but they're also very similar to Chanel's uber popular "Boy" bags.
15. Black oversized sunglasses
Even though Dior, Chanel, YSL and other name brands are expensive, this is one investment you need to make if you want to look expensive. Buy oversized black glasses from previous seasons to get them on a discount.
They can help tie together classy outfits while spicing up your wardrobe. Be strategic about your shopping and look for bargains. Invest in versatile, everyday accessories, such as a string of pearls, a nice watch, and a belt.
If you are on a very tight budget, invest in one belt - Gucci belt. I see it to be the most popular with luxury fashion bloggers and in black being the most popular. Here are different ways of wearing a Gucci belt for your style inspiration. If Gucci is too expensive, buy classy looking Michael Kors or similar. I bought classy looking $60 MK belt in Ross on a discount for myself. Try to buy something similar. You can buy on eBay but be careful: MK does get counterfeited.
It will help you to look expensive. Obviously avoid jewelry that looks trashy, either it is an expensive designer brand or something you bought in Express.
19. Choose the right shoes
They are like bags and black oversized sunglasses: very important if you want to look expensive.
When it comes to nicer styles, like pumps or oxfords, knock-off shoes will be far less expensive while appearing almost identical to their high-end designer counterparts. Steve Madden does a lot of rip-offs of haute couture brands. My favorite pairs are BCBGeneration's Darron shoes which I have in four colors. The shoes cost me $60 (discounted) and they look almost identical to Valentino's Rockstuds that retail for $995 (compare the first and second pictures).
You can find great deals on Zappos.com, 6pm or in the shoe warehouse chains like DSW or Off Broadway. You can also buy pre-owned designer shoes on designer clothes consignment and auction sites like Lollipuff, RealReal, Tradesy and eBay. Again, be careful not to buy fakes on eBay because there are many.
Stay away from bulky shoes that some people label "ugly shoes". Very trendy Balenciaga sneakers fall into that category. Some bloggers wear them with dresses. It is not a good idea. They retail $1,000 but they look ugly to most people.
If you need comfortable shoes to wear around the city in the summer, wear espadrilles to look expensive and classy. Don't wear sneakers.
I am talking about manicure, pedicure, hair and make-up. You can own the most expensive designer clothing but if you look like a slob, the image of an elegant lady simply won't be there.
Please, note, that expensive looking women have luxurious looking hair. In other words, if you are not naturally blessed with good hair, you have to do something about it. Usually it also means longer hair. You can't look expensive if you have thin, poor looking hair. I know one famous expensive looking blogger who did hair extensions because her hair looked so bad. You also can't have black roots and terrible haircut.