Five Tips for Dressing Expensive, Even on a Budget

Everybody wants to dress expensive even when dressing on a tight budget. There are several tactics that will help you accomplish just that!  The graphic below demonstrates just how different two identical sets of pieces can look!  Both feature Old Navy’s fit and flare cami dress, button front crew neck cardigan, classic ballet flats, laser-cut saddle bag and floral statement necklace.  But the first outfit with a bold print and bright color scheme looks much less expensive than the second ensemble.  It’s fun and colorful but not expensive looking!  The tips below will help you keep on track if you are aiming for an expensive look, no matter what your actual budget!

how to look expensive on a budget, dressing expensive, how not to look cheap, dressing on a budget

Tip 1: Stick to a primarily neutral color palette!

Neutrals convey a more expensive look than brights, neons or large patterns.  Not that you can’t wear these options!  Just use brights sparingly and stick to classic patterns (stripe, check, etc.) for a look that reads expensive.

Statement colors can make great accents when used sparingly – one great coat or handbag can pack a lot of punch, as demonstrated by Mira Duma’s bold fuchsia coat in the photo below.

Impactful – YES!  Cheap looking – NO!

Mira Duma, fuchsia, bold color, style

When you can start investing, put a little more money into your shoes and handbags for the maximum return on your fashion dollar.  See Wardrobe Building: Where to Begin Investing? for more information.

Tip 2: Keep trends to a minimum!

If you want to try something new on the market, limit yourself to one trend per outfit.  Statement jewelry tends to allow for more repeat wear than clothing items and can keep your neutrals from reading too boring.   Another way to balance some of the wilder trends is by purchasing them in a neutral color.  Sometimes the combination of a flamboyant trend and a bright, bold color can be a bit much.

Tip 3: Focus on fit!

Two great options for securing a better fit include proper foundation pieces and custom tailoring.  Get a good bra fitting and use Spanx or comparable shape-wear to keep a smooth line underneath your clothes. Small alterations like adjusting a sleeve length or nipping a bit in at the waist can give a much more tailored and expensive look to off the rack pieces for a relatively small cost.

Tip 4: Pay attention to details!

Make sure your clothes are pressed or steamed.  Polish your shoes and leather goods.  Replace cheap mass-market buttons with nicer ones like those available in most national craft stores.  Cut off tacky embellishments that distract from an otherwise classic piece.

Years ago I purchased a black cocktail dress with a crew neckline in front that was backless with cowl-like draping right at the tailbone.  I loved it aside from a tacky crystal necklace-type embellishment the manufacturer had added to the neckline. Five minutes with a narrow tipped pair of scissors and the look of the dress was elevated 10-fold!

Tip 5: Care for the mannequin as you do for the clothes!

Present a consistent image from head to toe.  Don’t ruin your look with over-processed frizzy hair, chipped nail polish, etc.

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This post is part of Classy Yet Trendy’s blogger link-up!

Reader Question: How to Style Leggings & Tunics

Natty Gal,
Could you offer suggestions on how to pull off the tunic/legging look. I’m having a hard time finding things that don’t look too matronly or too floaty.  Also, I can’t tell when you should wear leggings as opposed to skinny jeans.  Any advice would be appreciated.  – J
Dear J,
Thanks for following Natty Gal and writing in!  Leggings are one of my favorite things to wear because they are so comfortable and they pack well when we travel!


Natty Gal Tips for Wearing Leggings:

  • Make sure leggings are opaque.  Denim, ponte and heavier cotton blends work best.
  • Pair leggings with tops that fully cover your bottom but remain well above the knee.  Possibilities include longer tops/tees, sweaters and tunics.  Shorter dresses (shifts, swing, a-line, cinch-waist or shirt dresses) also pair well.
  • Shoe pairings include clean, classic sneakers or espadrilles, loafers, ballet flats, flat or heeled sandals, wedges, flat or heeled booties and riding boots. I tend to prefer slightly above the ankle length leggings for pairing with sneakers, loafers and flat sandals whereas full length leggings work well with heeled sandals and booties.

Skinny jeans work well with both longer and shorter top options.  A shirt dress can be paired with either skinny jeans or leggings as layering piece when worn open as a vest.  A few ideas to inspire your creativity are shown below!

How to Style Leggings: Everyday Casual
 Style Leggings & Tunic: Everyday Casual
Look 1
For daily errands or sightseeing on vacation.

Look 2

An evening casual look for drinks with the neighbors by the firepit or for a weekend away at a cottage by the lake.

How to Style Leggings: Elevated Casual

Style Leggings & Tunics: Elevated Casual

Two simple, polished looks for meeting friends, visiting the local farmer’s market, etc.

Look 1

Look 2

How to Style Leggings: Evening

Style Leggings & Tunics: Evening

Look 1

An easy resort look for summer vacation.

Look 2

The navy/black combo and moto jacket help give this look an urban (yet comfy) vibe.

Skinny Jean Option

A longer top would enable these looks to work with leggings as well.

Skinny Jeans: Casual

Look 1

A bit more summer-y!  Leave the shirt dress unbuttoned and wear as a vest over the tee.

Look 2

For taking the look into fall, pair with a long cardigan and booties.

Wardrobe Building: Capsule Foundation Dresses & Outerwear

Welcome to the fourth post in our series on building a capsule wardrobe.  Today’s focus is on dresses and outerwear.  We’ll wrap up the foundation pieces next week with shoes and with a strong foundation in place, we’ll move on to the fun stuff!

Spring/Summer Casual Capsule Foundation Dresses
Casual Caspsule Foundation Tee Dress
Eileen Fisher Ballet Neck Tee Dress
Casual Capsule Foundation Shirt Dress
Madewell Striped Shirtdress
Spring/Summer Office Capsule Foundation Dresses
Office Capsule Foundation Sheath Dress
J. Crew Resume dress
Office Capsule Foundation Sheath Dress
J. Crew Cap Sleeve V-neck
Spring/Summer Capsule Foundation Outerwear
  • A sporty, lightweight jacket.  This could be a denim jacket, lightweight moto or bomber in either a cropped or just-at-the-waist length for layering over tees and dresses.
Capsule Foundation Trench
The Iconic Burberry Trench
Friendly Reminders for Capsule Foundation Pieces
  • You don’t need every recommended piece but should work toward  collecting at least a few of them.
  • For most foundation items, buy the best you can afford.  These will be the workhorse pieces that get a lot of repeat wear.
  • Keep foundation piece silhouettes clean and minimal.  Decorative details are fun but limit versatility.
  • Commit to a primary color palette for the season – a dark base of either black/charcoal, navy or brown with a light base of either light grey, white or ivory for black/charcoal and navy or either tan or ivory for those choosing a brown dark base.