When celebrities like Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham run out for a few things at the grocery store, they look like they've just stepped out of the pages of Vogue magazine. It's easy to look fabulous all the time when you have personal stylists at your beck and call -- not to mention a virtually unlimited budget at your disposal.
For those of us with limited bank accounts, however, looking fashionable can be more of a challenge. Yet fashion experts say that you can look fabulous, regardless of you much you spend. Part of the key to becoming a fashionista is figuring out your personal style -- then finding specific wardrobe pieces that highlight it.
So, here are 10 ways to cultivate your own special look. You'll find out how to buy clothes that accentuate your assets, learn tips for making the most of your existing wardrobe and discover how to look like a million bucks -- without spending anywhere near that much.
Know Who You Are
How do you like to dress? Are you wild or more conservative? Do you prefer business formal or casual comfort? Is your current wardrobe classically elegant or fashion forward? Consider the persona you want to present to the world.
- Your age. Clothing should always be age-appropriate. If you've got grandchildren and you're dressing like them, there's a problem. It's OK to want to look youthful -- just make sure your outfits suit your stage of life.
- Your occupation. You wouldn't wear jeans and a cut-off T-shirt to work at a law firm, and you wouldn't wear super-high heels and a short skirt to teach kindergarteners. Use your profession as your guide when you shop. Once you've got an appropriate ensemble for your job, jazz it up with a few accessories to add your own personal flair.
- Your lifestyle. Stiletto heels are just fine for the city, but they'll make you stick out like a sore thumb if you live way out in the country. Fashion should combine form and function, and it should fit well with your surroundings.
Remember that you don't need to buy designer duds to express your personal style. Even jeans and T-shirts can be stylish if you feel comfortable in them and choose the right ones.
Look for Inspiration
Find a celebrity or model (or a few) who best captures the style you want to emulate. Flip through the pages of leading fashion and entertainment magazines to find pictures of your style icons. Cut out those pictures and paste them into a binder or hang them up around your room to inspire you. Don't copycat --just use elements of that celebrity's look as a springboard to create your own style.
Take your own pictures. Carry along a camera or sketchpad as you window shop.
Inspiration can come from a variety of sources. Don't just look at what's hot today. Scour vintage clothing stores and flip through the pages of old magazines and history books so you can see the origins of the latest styles. Look to both modern and classic fashion icons, like Jackie Onassis or Grace Kelly. You might find that your personal style combines elements from both your grandmother's era and your own.
Know What You Want to Accomplish
Do you want to get a new, high-powered job? Are you trying to meet the guy of your dreams?
Take out a notebook or journal and write down your goals -- in life and in fashion. Then start to think about which design elements and accessories can help you accomplish those goals. If you want to get a better job, think about adding a few pieces to your suit collection. If you're headed back to school, you'll want to trade in a few of the suits you already have for some casual knits and jeans.
Once you have your list in hand, take it with you when you shop. It can also help to bring along some pictures or descriptions of what you already have in your closet. Ask the salesperson to help you pick out pieces that will enhance your current wardrobe and help you accomplish your goals.
Accentuate Your Assets
What are the best parts of your body? Focus on the areas that you like best; choose clothing and accessories to highlight them.
For example, if you have gorgeous blue eyes, show them off with eye shadow and liner colors that really make them pop. Endless legs deserve to be seen in short shorts and mini-skirts.
Know your measurements so you can find clothing that fits well. Write down your measurements and bring them with you when you shop.
Try to dress to your body shape. For example:
- Most women's bodies are pear-shaped, which means they have a narrow waist and wider hips. If you're pear-shaped, buy clothing that draws attention to your slim upper body. Brightly colored shirts, scarves and modern-looking shoulder pads should work well. Wear tailored pants and skirts, as well as hip-length long jackets. Avoid pleats and stripes, which will further accentuate broader areas.
- If you're rounder and more apple-shaped all around, you'll want to draw attention away from your waist. Go for flat-fronted skirts, empire-waisted dresses and tailored, wide-legged pants.
- Don't accentuate a flat chest with a deep v-neck. Instead, choose rounded-neck tops, and add a layered necklace to add dimension.
- If you're busty, accentuate your curves by wearing a scooped neckline that hugs your chest appropriately.
- If you're extra curvy, you don't have to wear baggy, saggy clothes. You can still find fashionable, tailored clothes that comfortably compliment your body. Shop in stores that can accommodate your shape and buy clothes that fit well.
Take a Style Lesson
Don't know your Armani from your Kmart casuals? Do you have to twist around and check the label to know what you're wearing? Time to brush up -- fashion illiteracy can stop your personal style quest dead in its tracks.
You don't need a degree in fashion to understand clothing. You just need to be more aware when you shop. Look at different fabrics. See how polyester feels compared to silk. Learn the difference between plaids and houndstooth prints. Figure out how to see differences in an outfit's stitching and cut.
Look for a variety of fabrics when you shop. Choose some cotton pieces for everyday, silk ones for dressing up, wool for the winter and linen for spring and summer. Learn how to care for your fabrics too: Cotton/polyester blends are great for everyday because they barely wrinkle, but you'll need to keep your linens carefully pressed if you don't want to walk around looking rumpled. Silks are more delicate, so be extra careful about spills.
Know which fabrics and textures are most flattering. Shiny, bulky, or stiff textures can make you appear bigger than you really are. Smooth, matte surfaces, like cashmere and jersey, can really slim you down.
As a student of fashion, your "textbooks" should be the big magazines, like Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle. Study the ads and articles, including the picture captions, to see what fabrics and colors are "in" this season. Look to the masters -- Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and the like -- to see what elements they use in their designs. Use those designs as inspiration to create your own fashionable looks more affordably.
Assess Your Current Wardrobe
Get to know the contents of your closet. Looking through your wardrobe will help you identify your current style -- what you like about it and what you wish you could change.
A walk through your closet will help you get a sense of what you feel most comfortable wearing -- short skirts or long flowing dresses, business suits or track suits. Look at your clothing styles and colors, as well as your shoe and accessory collections.
Also use this opportunity to do some spring cleaning. Pull out each piece in your wardrobe and ask yourself:
- Is it worn out, ripped or stained?
- Is it more than three years old?
- Is it out of style?
- Does it fit?
- Does it match anything else in your wardrobe?
- Has it been hanging in your closet unworn for more than a season?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, put that item into a bag. When the bag is full, give it to charity and take the tax write-off, or sell it at a consignment store and make some extra cash that you can use to fill your wardrobe gaps.
Make a Few Changes
You don't need to reinvent your entire wardrobe. That would cost a fortune. Instead, update it. Start by introducing a few up-to-date pieces that reflect your style -- some earrings, a new pair of shoes or a scarf.
Don't be afraid to experiment a little, but take baby steps. If you've been very conservative your whole life, buy one "out there" piece. Shop in places you wouldn't normally go, like an antique clothing store or (if you can afford it) a high-end designer boutique. You might find that you like taking a few risks with your wardrobe.
To save money, try updating what you already have. Do you have an old pair of jeans that's starting to look ratty? Crop or roll them up into Capri pants or shorts. Have a pair of pants that no longer fits? Have them tailored to look like new. Re-invent an old boring dress with a new belt.
Although change is good, it's also important to maintain a core wardrobe composed of a few well-designed and constructed pieces. Keep some classic staples in your closet that you can mix and match to give you more bang for your fashion buck. Head to the next page for some pointers.
Stock Up on Wardrobe Essentials
Now matter what your personal style, every spectacular wardrobe has to start with a few basic pieces. You can incorporate these classics into a variety of looks.
Here are the must-haves for every wardrobe:
Black pants. The quickest way to dress up any shirt is to put on a pair of black pants. Pick a versatile fabric that will take you through the seasons.
Black tank top. Wear it solo during the day, or throw a blazer over it to dress it up for nighttime.
Black turtleneck. Unless you live in Miami, you need this winter wardrobe staple in your closet. Just like the tank top, it can stand on its own or be used for layering.
White blouse. A plain white blouse never gets old, and you'll never run out of ways to incorporate it into your wardrobe.
Jeans. Have a couple pairs of everyday blue jeans and a pair of black jeans for going out. Just make sure they fit you well, and don't forget your skinny jeans -- they're real lifesavers on those "I feel fat" days.
Little black dress. This isn't a cliché. Every woman looks great in her little black dress. It's slimming, sexy and versatile.
Pencil skirt. Perfect for interviews or elegant dinners, this classic piece looks best hovering about two inches above the knee.
Trench coat. It looks stylish, and it will keep you dry and warm when the seasons change.
Cardigan sweater. Throw this over a tank top to transition an outfit from fall to winter.
Black high heels. Nothing shows off a great pair of legs better than a set of high heels. Black is the most versatile color. When you're looking at heel height, go for both design and function. You can't look good if you're stumbling.
Once you have these essentials hanging in your closet, you can keep them updated with trendy jewelry, belts and shoes.
Stay in Your Comfort Zone
Don't suffer in stiletto heels when you'd rather wear flats. And don't suck in your stomach to squeeze into a skin-tight pair of designer jeans. Wear what makes you comfortable.
If you're not sure what makes you comfortable, look to your closet for inspiration. Sift through your clothes and pull out your favorites. Ask yourself why you love them. Do the fabrics feel good on your skin? Do you like the way the clothes make you look? Do you get a lot of compliments when you wear them? Use those favorite pieces as a springboard when you shop for new looks.
Speaking of shopping, don't just rush in and out of stores -- take time when you're trying on clothes. Consider the ease of putting on the article of clothing, how good you look in it, and how well it fits in with your current wardrobe and needs.
Trust Your Instincts
No matter what the hottest designers, celebrities and stylists are saying on the pages of the fashion magazines, ultimately the only person you have to please is yourself. Buying an article of clothing that you hate just because it's trendy is never a good idea. It's going to hang idly in your closet until you finally decide to throw it out or give it away.
Similarly, don't give in to pushy salespeople who are trying to convince you that they know what looks best on you. If don't like what you see in the dressing room mirror, you won't like that outfit any better once you get it home. Thank the salesperson for his or her time, and make your exit.
At the same time, if your instincts are telling you to put on the same ratty sweat suit you've been wearing for ten years, that's the time to ignore them. Turn to the people you trust to help you weed out items in your wardrobe that didn't showcase your best judgment.
For more fashion tips, take a look at the links on the next page.
Squeezing into a tight pair of Spanx can make you look better, if not feel better. Learn about shapewear by reading this article at HowStuffWorks.
- Blackwell, Elizabeth. "What to Wear If You're Pear-Shaped." Ladies' Home Journal.http://www.lhj.com/style/fashion/advice/what-to-wear-if-youre-pear-shaped-archive/
- Cosmopolitan.com. "How to Look Hot Without Going Broke."http://www.cosmopolitan.com/celebrity/tiptool/look-hot-without-going-broke#/category1.
- Ellis, Kori. "Pretty Dresses for Any Body Type." SheKnows. http://www.sheknows.com/articles/804140/how-to-choose-the-perfect-dress-for-your-body-type.
- Heebner, Jennifer. "How to Develop a Signature Style." JCK. October 2005, vol. 176, pg. 79.
- Martin, Jill. Fashion for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2010.
- The Ongoing Project. "Developing Your Personal Style, Part I." http://theongoingproject.blogspot.com/2008/09/developing-your-personal-style-part-1.html.
- "Wardrobe Basics Checklist." Real Simple.http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/clothing/wardrobe-basics/wardrobe-basics-checklist-00000000000952/index.html.