Look stylish on a budget – part three

Looking stylish doesn’t require a huge budget, but you do need discipline, flair and a strategy for buying.

In part three of this series of articles on how to look good on a budget, I’ll look at what to buy.

What to buy falls into two categories: specifics and strategies. Strategies are crucial, because only by buying sensibly can you create a functioning wardrobe. So here are some tips. 

* Buy for your wardrobe, not for yourself. This is the absolute, golden, Number One rule. A wardrobe will reward you handsomely if you treat it right but many of us buy a garment for our own passions, not thinking for a moment of what our wardrobe will do with it. "What, ANOTHER pair of black pants?" it asks. "Do I really need more?" A wardrobe is not a library where every book stands on its own – it’s a collection, where everything needs to go together. Buy no item unless it goes with at least three other things in your wardrobe. 

* Assess your wardrobe gaps and fill those first – a new winter coat, a long wrap cardigan, decent wellies. Whatever it is you need, write it down and then go and look for it. Don’t get sidetracked by everything else that’s out there. The best way to find what you’re after is to detail a very specific description of what you’re looking for, eg: "navy satin cocktail dress with chiffon sleeves, v neck and knee-length skirt", rather than "something for a party", which will really get you nowhere.   

* If something catches your eye, honestly assess your lifestyle before buying it. Above all other things – the beauty of the garment, the colour, the cut, the cloth – if you have no occasion to wear an item, it is a waste of money. Don’t buy clothes for someone else’s life. If you crave beauty but you don’t lead a romantic life, buy art instead – it lasts longer. 

* Focus on quality, not quantity. It’s generally believed that British women have three times as many clothes as the French, but that the French spend three times as much money. A Frenchwoman might buy nothing all year except one scarf, but it will be a PERFECT scarf and it will go with everything she owns.  

* Always buy the best of a type rather than a cheap imitation of something more expensive. Wooden beads instead of gold-plate jewellery. A bold Swatch instead of a knock-off Rolex. Well-cut blue jeans rather than a poor interpretation of designer trousers. A good wool coat rather than a fake fur jacket. There is no need to pretend to be what you’re not, and you’ll only advertise it to anyone in the know anyway. If you choose the best of a type, it looks like just that – like you’re wearing it out of choice, not necessity.

* Unless you lead a truly glitzy life, it is almost always better to hire or borrow formalwear than to buy it. Instead, invest in a gorgeous evening bag or a sparkly wrap that you can use with multiple outfits. Most women can get by very well for evening with either a well-cut ‘le smoking’ trousersuit or a little black dress that you can dress up or down – buy the right thing and it will literally go on for years.

* Calculate the cost per wear of every item. A £300 coat that you wear every day for three seasons of five years works out at about 2p a day. A £30 frock that you only wear twice works out at £15 per day. Which is really the more expensive? Bags, shoes and coats are usually worth paying good money for provided they’re a quality material and a dark, neutral colour. 

Tomorrow: what to buy – specifics

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