Look stylish on a budget – part one

Style is attainable at any age and even on a modest income.

When I wrote an article that mentioned downshifting recently, a reader said she wanted to try it, but was afraid of looking cheap and nasty.

Her comment made me smile, but I know how she feels. Looking good on a budget is something that many women under 40 have never had to attempt and many of those over 40 have forgotton how to do. What with the real cost of clothing falling year on year for over a decade, women have gotten into the habit of buying whatever they want whenever they want. Saving and buying, planning a wardrobe, mending your clothes – these are concepts that were once commonplace, but have fallen out of favour. But they are about to come in useful once again as belts tighten all over the west. 

So here, based on my long experience of being broke but loving clothes, are a few tips on how to look good on a fixed or reduced income. 

First, deal with your desire

* Never forget that there is a VAST army of designers, manufacturers, salespeople and marketeers out there whose only purpose in life is to make you discontented with your lot, including your clothes. Don’t let them sucker you into thinking you need something new when you really don’t. Style is not about wearing something different every day, it’s about expressing who you are with your clothes. That takes flair, not a huge wardrobe.

* Don’t buy clothes because you’re fed up, lonely, feeling fat, having a bad hair day or anything else. If you want to cheer yourself up, go to an art gallery, or go for a walk or do something free like phone a friend. 

* Don’t go into clothing shops unless you’re actually planning to buy something and you have a detailed description of it in your bag. You don’t go to the supermarket just for a look-see, do you? "Ooh, what lovely pasta…" Wandering around looking at lovely clothes creates a longing in you that you may end up fulfilling needlessly, just like buying sweeties at the checkout. 

* Get into the habit of just looking at things without the desire to own them. Try going to art galleries, museums, exhibitions where there are beautiful things that aren’t actually for sale. You can enjoy looking at something and be happy that it’s in the world, without needing to OWN it – but it takes practice. 

* Get out of the habit of meeting your friends to go shopping. Go bowling, or play a game of tennis instead. 

* Mute the adverts on the television and train yourself not to look at ads in women’s magazines.

* Be realistic about what clothes really are and what they really bring you – they are not the roof over your head, nor warmth in the radiator. Very few of us NEED new clothes at all from year to year – we only WANT them. There is nothing wrong with buying yourself clothes, but you can still be very well dressed and stylish with about six new things a year. Spend your money instead on books, evenings out, or having your friends round for a meal rather than on clothes, or if you want to spend on your appearance, think of your hair, your nails and your teeth first. 

* Consider buying nothing AT ALL for one year. Whenever you feel tempted, put the money aside instead – at the end of the year, you can splurge, or you might find you prefer a holiday rather than new clothes. Diana Vreeland once suggested that a woman might usefully spend one year’s clothing budget on learning flawless makeup application from a professional makeup artist – that’s not a bad tip either.

Tomorrow: make the most of what you already have

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