Having worked as a magazine journalist and also run fashion social media accounts, I know a thing or two about how to get stylish clothes without having to create a hole in your bank account Link opens in a new window. But what’s really worth spending money on? And where can you make the savviest savings? I’ve put together this guide on how to look expensive on a budget, to help you get started…
Prices aren’t always equal
Think you’re paying the same price to buy something in a store as online? Think again. An August 2020 story by The Sunday Times found that some high street retailers, such as WH Smith, Boots, Waterstones, Sports Direct and H&M are charging almost double the price for products in their physical shops as on their websites. So, if you’re in a shop, always double check the online price before you buy and remember that some retailers like H&M will price match at the till if you can show them the equivalent item at a lower price on their own website or app.
Be a discount diva
Often if you’re shopping a site for the first time, you can get a discount by signing up to marketing emails - savvy shoppers often have a separate email address set up for these, so they don’t have to wade through them all. There are lots of fashion discount codes floating around the internet and Google is your friend for these; there’s a reliable collection of money-off deals at Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert Link opens in a new window site. Sometimes you can get a coupon by taking surveys; and many small fashion businesses are so hungry for content, they will offer you a voucher if you post on Instagram and tag them in (I recently used my social media skills to do this and won a voucher from small bag brand Mila & Eve Link opens in a new window, see below. Creating a great social media shot is a formula anyone can master: keep it clean, bright and well lit, and focus on making the product – rather than you - look fabulous!).
Also, try out Virgin Money Cashback Link opens in a new window on your mobile banking app Link opens in a new window and pick up cashback when you shop online or in-store with participating retailers Link opens in a new window. Offers are updated regularly, so keep an eye on the app or sign up for push notifications so you never miss out on a savvy saving.
Beg, borrow (but maybe don’t steal)
Can’t afford designer accessories? Worried that your It Bag may soon become an Out Bag? Or don’t fancy splurging on a big-event frock you’ll only ever wear once? Take a tip from Carrie Symonds, who famously rented her wedding dress from MyWardobe HQ Link opens in a new window and take advantage of the huge explosion in the clothes rental market. Here are a few suggestions if you’re new to the rental game. MyWardrobe HQ is the most well established, but check out the app By Rotation Link opens in a new window, a peer-to-peer rental operation that allows you to borrow clothes from bona fide influencers (didn’t you always wonder what they did with all those clothes?!); Endless Wardrobe Link opens in a new window takes stock direct from brands so allows you to try before you buy; Selfridges launched Selfridges Rental Link opens in a new window last year - which has the latest and hottest runway clothes and accessories from the biggest brands ready to borrow for as little as £30; vintage and sustainability fans will love A Virtual Vintage Market Link opens in a new window; while the dangerously addictive Girl Meets Dress Link opens in a new window celebrates the frock in all its glory, with a £99-a-month ‘Infinite Membership’ subscription offering you three dresses at any time on limitless rotation. And lastly, HURR Link opens in a new window is the latest dress rental service I've used, they have a pop-up in Selfridges so you can try everything on before you rent!
Grab designer style for less
High-street collaborations with designers are a great way to buy into the style of a designer you love. Hot collabs have included Regina Pyo for & Other Stories, Ghost x M&S and Paul + Joe for Uniqlo. H&M Link opens in a new window are the masters of this; while the Next/Label Mix Link opens in a new window web page is always worth checking out – they have a constant stream of new upcoming designers featured at high-street prices, such as big-event-worthy dresses by Samantha Cameron’s Cefinn label.
Ace the sales
It’s well worth signing up to loyalty schemes (such as H&M’s Members Club and M&S’s Sparks) for retailers you love – they often offer priority access to sales, which means you can make the most of the markdowns before others do. I like to keep a ‘Note’ on my phone with saved web links of clothes I like throughout a season, but which are above my price limit; then I can easily click straight onto those links during sale season to see if that item is now within budget, rather than having to wade through pages of markdowns.
Another stylists’ trick that can hugely luxe up your look is to get cheap clothes tailored so they fit you not just quite well, but incredibly well – that’s why there’s a seamstress on all good fashion shoots. “Dresses, in particular, are really hard to get to fit perfectly,” says Keeble. “Make it your business to befriend a local tailor.” How to find a good one? Try local Facebook Link opens in a new window groups, put a question out on Nextdoor Link opens in a new window, ask at your local dry cleaner – or just try good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Make good decisions around denim
High-street denim is now punching way above its price tag when it comes to innovations, design and sustainability, with low prices due to the scale of the buy: I really believe you no longer need to buy expensive jeans. I’m probably biased, but Marks & Spencer Link opens in a new window is the market leader for a good reason – its jeans start at just £19.50 and are all made from organic cotton; New Look Link opens in a new window, H&M Link opens in a new window and Zara also have an authoritative range.
Grab a ‘Grammer
Instagram is an amazing place to find fashion inspiration. Find a few influencers whose fashion style you like (and whose price tag seems to be aligned to yours!), follow them and closely watch how they style items you’re thinking of buying – think of it as a free styling service. Pay attention to how they layer jewellery, and which pieces they style clothes with again and again – those will be worth the investment.
Look luxe by layering
The way you put clothes together can make a big difference to how polished they look. “Layering different textures can help create a luxurious look,” says Keeble. “So, for example, teaming a satin-look fabric with a knit, or leather-look with silk. The outfit will end up looking much more than the sum of its parts.”
Listen to the editors
There’s an overwhelming amount of fashion content out there. If you bookmark one editorial site, I’m a fan of WhoWhatWear Link opens in a new window, which regularly runs stories on how to get the latest trends for less such as ‘I've Analysed Everything, And These 30 High-Street Buys Look the Most Expensive’. It’s an affiliate site, which means they take a small cut for any clothes you click through and buy – it also means the clothes they highlight are almost always available (or they wouldn’t make any money). Win win. I also highly recommend their Facebook group So, Should I Buy This? Link opens in a new window – a kind of awesome Shazam-style hive mind for tracking down clothes you’ve spotted and fallen in love with. Bingo.
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