Look stylish on a budget – part 2

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You can look very stylish on a budget, but it takes application and practice.

One way to look good on a budget is to make the most of what you already have.

Most women have the problem of owning too many clothes rather than too few, because we tend to impulse buy garments when we’re fed up, or because something’s gorgeous, rather than buying in an incremental, thoughtful fashion.This can leave you with clothes in the wardrobe that you don’t really know you’ve got, so here are some tips on making the most of what you already own. 

* Relook your current wardrobe by going shopping in your closet. Get everything out and toss it around. Try the same jacket with every shirt you own. Mix up colour combinations. You probably have enough actual clothes to take you through the next few years without buying anything at all, if you can only learn to look at them with a fresh eye.

* If any of your clothes are out of commission, see to them first – washing, stain removal, dry cleaning, a broken zipper or a fallen hem. Make sure everything you own is in wearable condition. Many of us have clothes that hang unused in the wardrobe or sit at the bottom of the laundry basket, and getting them back in good condition is cheaper than buying something new.

* Try rotating your clothes by putting half of them away till next year. Then when you get them out again, it feels like you’ve got something new. 

* Forget any old rules you ever learned about what’s appropriate for the season, or fit for town but not the country, or is OK for evening but not the daytime. Most of these rules are totally out of date. Experiment with mixing up clothes of different weights. Clash a few colours. Try unexpeced combinations – a soft skirt with an Arran sweater, cowboy boots with a dress. Shake it up a little, as if you were on holiday and these were the only clean things left in your suitcase. You might be surprised what you come up with.

* If you want to buy new clothes but can’t justify the expense, think about selling some of your existing clothes and funding your new clothes that way.

* If you want the sensation of buying without the pain, swap clothes with your friends and family. My next clothes swap is booked for October and there’ll probably be eight of us. As long as it’s new to you, it feels like new, even if it’s old to someone else. Most women get fed up with their clothes long before they’re worn out.

* ACTUALLY swap your clothes, by lending something to a friend for a year and getting something else in return. One year I lent a friend a 1950s tweed coat for winter, which gave her something ‘new’ to wear for just the cost of dry cleaning it before she returned it to me. 

* If you need something for a special occasion such as a posh do or a job interview, see if one of your friends or family has something you can borrow, rather than shelling out for something you won’t wear again. Again, obviously, you should pay for it to be dry cleaned before returning it.

* Learn to sew, for God’s sake. Even something basic, like a drawstring-waist skirt for summer. I learned to sew at college when I had champagne tastes and a beer income, and it’s been a useful adjunct to my wardrobe ever since. For non-sewers, there are many books at the library that can teach you basic techniques if you can’t face an evening class.

* If you think sewing is beyond you, at least learn to alter your existing ready to wear in simple ways. Very simple techniques like changing over the buttons can completely revamp your clothing. For many years I had one black wool Chesterfield jacket (ie: with a velvet collar) and each year I changed the buttons: from black, to gold, to silver, to pink, to red and black, to green. Buttons can also be used to completely cover a collar or a lapel – a mix of similar types such as plastic or mother of pearl looks good here (but don’t overdo it, or you’ll look like a pearly queen). 

* Use your accessories to alter your clothes. Stitch a wool scarf over the collar of a winter coat (a technique I once used to cover moth holes on a friend’s much-loved coat). Try clip-on earrings as cufflinks or shoe clips (the big 1950s ones are the best). Take the belt off your trenchcoat and replace it with a leather one. Try wearing every brooch you own on one lapel of a jacket. See if you can buy a fun-fur collar and cuffs to revamp a winter cardigan or coat.

* Dye your clothes. Dyeing in the washing machine works best on cellulose fibres such as linen and cotton, but it will give you at least an extra year’s worth of wear on garments such as t-shirts. Once a year, I batch-dye a bunch of things navy, chocolate or charcoal grey (don’t go for black, in my opinion, as goes an unattractive brown if the dye mix isn’t strong enough). Just buy Dylon and follow the instructions – it’s not rocket science. If you enjoy the dyeing process, try shibori – this is a more complex, hand-done technique that’s beyond the scope of this blog, but there are books about it in the library and you can get some fantastic, unique results.

* See if your dry cleaner has a dye service. For many years in the UK, I used Sketchley, but sadly they ended their service in the late 1980s. A professional dyeing service is a good way to dye things black, as you’ll get a much richer, denser colour than doing it yourself. Be aware, though, that most modern stitching is in polyester, which won’t take dye, so be prepared for the garment to have contrast stitching once it’s finished. 

Monday: what to buy – strategies

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