Updated: Feb 8
1. Get everything tailored.
A $10 skirt from Forever21 can end up looking better than a $300 skirt from a designer with just a couple quick stitches. If the fit isn't spot-on right off the rack, take those cheap clothes to a tailor before you take them home. It is worth every penny. While you're shopping, keep in mind that the simpler the garment, the easier (and cheaper) it is to tailor.
2. Replace the buttons.
Ditch those basic plastic buttons in favor of something a little richer looking, like metal, bone, or mother of pearl. Buy them online through sites like eBay or Etsy, or from "trimmings" shops. You can even harvest them from old clothes you don't wear anymore.
Don't worry about switching them out yourself — most dry cleaners will do it for a few bucks.
3. Only wear pieces in "like new" condition.
If you see a stain and you can't get it out yourself, immediately take it to a dry cleaner to see what they can do. If nothing can be done, donate it. If you see a loose thread or button, or a ripped seam, just deal with it. If you notice it, other people will too.
4. Stay away from distressed pieces. Distressed hardware and fabrics can easily end up looking old and worn out, especially when they are super cheap to begin with. There are some exceptions: ripped jeans, for instance, can look cool at any price point, but whiskering and other denim distressing techniques are often less convincing at lower price points. Distressing is an art. Doing it well takes time. And, as the saying goes, time is money.
5. Stop washing your stuff so much! You want to keep everything clean, but washing it is not the answer. Washing clothes wears down the fabrics and fades the colors, making them look old and cheap. If you get a mark on a piece of clothing, spot clean it with a sponge or toothbrush. If something starts to smell, stick it in the freezer for the night. Yes, the freezer thing really does work. Try it, already!
6. Buy a steamer.
Wrinkles can make anything look cheap, but ironing is a hassle and many synthetics can't be ironed. A good steamer can blast wrinkles out of just about anything in a couple of minutes. If you are between washings, steam the piece the night before and leave it hanging in a room with open windows overnight. The cold night air will help neutralize any lingering odors and by morning the piece should be ready to wear.
Resist the urge to hang your clothes in the bathroom while you take an extra-long shower. The ambient steam in a bathroom is not enough to get out tough wrinkles and it is a huge waste of water.
7. Keep it simple.
Start by buying simpler stuff on the cheap end — no jeweled embellishments or pleated tops or distressed and whiskered denim, since details like these are really hard to do well on a budget. Beyond that, you may want to consider streamlining your look as a whole. For example, don't stack three cheap little bracelets to try to make them more impactful. Just wear one bracelet that is the thickness you actually want. Before you leave the house, ask yourself: "How can I make this outfit sleeker?"
8. Invest in expensive statement pieces and trend items, and save on basic, versatile pieces and "timeless classics."
High-low is all the rage, but most people are doing it wrong. Don't spend $300 on a pair of black leather pumps that you could get for $50. The fact is, both shoes are going to wear out before you are done with them and it is doubtful that anyone, including you, would be able to tell the difference between the cheap shoes and the expensive ones anyway. Save your money for the attention-grabbing trend items that will become the focus of your outfit anyway.
9. Choose black over brown.
Browns and other warm, earthy colors like mauve and olive often end up looking dingy and sad when they are used in prints and low-quality materials, like the kinds cheap clothes are often made of. Instead, focus on black and white and really saturated colors that feel bright and crisp, like bold pastels and deep, rich jewel tones.
10. Create a smooth silhouette under your clothes.
Bra lines and visible panty lines are distracting and make your clothes look flimsy and ill-fitting. The problem is, most cheap clothes are flimsy and ill-fitting, but a well-fitted bra, a slip, or a little lightweight shapewear can minimize those bumps and distractions, and make your clothes look instantly more luxe.