The de rigueur belt-tightening that abounds isn’t just about the return of the waist. With gas prices ticking upward and the less-than-rosy economic prospects, die-hard shoppers are reassessing their spending strategies.
The days of stockpiling $3,000 dresses, $2,000 bags, and $800 shoes are, if not gone, certainly on hold. Designers are offering an array of starkly classic pieces, poppy, rich florals, and dark glamour, so consumers need a razor-sharp eye to narrow down their fashion choices for the season.
What’s a girl to do? The notion of staring down the barrel of a wicked winter without Balmain booties, Prada lace, or Balenciaga’s sleek silhouettes is depressing. But with some creative thinking, pinpointing key buys, and a healthy dose of panache, you needn’t languish in a fashion apocalypse. Here’s how to keep your wardrobe fresh for less.
Spend with savvy. The skeleton of your outfit — handbag, shoes, and coat — should be your big-ticket items, says Sarah Easley, co-owner of New York’s hip SoHo boutique Kirna Zabête. “Splurge wisely and you can elevate the whole look.” A beautifully cut coat in a brilliant hue, a divinely high stiletto, and a sumptuous tote denote style at a glance. Plus, these are the pieces you’ll likely be shrugging on and off regularly, so the return on your cost per wear will be high.
Still, you should be swooning with pleasure while handing over your charge card. “It’s important to invest in clothing and accessories that are long-lasting, that you feel an emotional attachment to,” says Carla Knapp, designer of Mischen, a new Nordstrom favorite. “Now more than ever, people need to feel excited about their clothes.”
There are, of course, covetable classics that you can rely on season after season. “You can never go wrong with a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, a great Marc Jacobs bag, or a Marni necklace,” adds Beth Blake, codesigner of Thread Social.
However, if your purchasing power boils down to just one extravagant buy, make sure it’s versatile. “It’s nice to treat yourself to that one piece, like an amazing jacket, that you can wear in the evening with a gown or with jeans during the day,” says Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman
Skip disposable trends. Be careful not to overdo a spending spree, scooping up cute, “affordable” wares; you could end up with a pile of throwaway garments that in the end cost just as much as that Proenza dress you’ve had on the brain. Also, beware of looking like a victim, stocking up on too many fads or even one wrong one.
“A sure sign you’re buying into a trend is when you wear something that’s completely foreign to you,” says Opening Ceremony cofounder Humberto Leon. “Avoid items that don’t fit your body type or style.”
For evening, Chapman, who knows her way around a flouncy gown, recommends taking the classic route, steering clear of looks that aren’t everlasting: “You want an evening dress for many years, something timeless that you can bring out again and again.”
Stick to your look. Don’t be a chameleon. Strike a balance among multifaceted fashion moods. If you love a little Talitha Getty louche boho but also have a penchant for ladylike looks, mix them artfully. Don’t swing from hipster chic — all skinny jeans and rock ‘n’ roll hair — to supersleek and polished.
“There is something to be said about finding a look and sticking with it,” says author and New York social figure Danielle Ganek. “There’s really no need to keep buying another version of what you already own. Just change the accessories. That same black dress from three years ago will look much different with current shoes.”
Buy basics for less. Once you’ve ID’d your bigger purchases, fill in with lower-priced items that are signature staples. “Items you replace each season — jeans, tees, leggings — can be low,” says Easley. Add in tights, hats, and scarves and you can easily buy up a batch of stylish basics that will round out your winter wardrobe with enough variation to make it feel new.
“The meaty part of the outfit — the dress, top, bottom — is where there’s room to play, be creative, and save,” says designer Rachel Roy. Also, get in on the costume-jewelry trend, as bold pieces give even the simplest ensemble texture and modernity.
More and more, fast-fashion emporiums like H&M and Uniqlo are introducing basics along with of-the-moment trends. According to luxury consultant Robert Burke, there will be even more fashion-forward items at lower prices. In fact, there’s no time like the present for Topshop to open on American soil. The proliferation of designer collaborations with mass retailers continues with arbiter of inventive fashion Rei Kawakubo’s diffusion Comme des Garçons line for H&M. Not to mention that Balenciaga is producing tees for $150, while Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz is doing denim with hip label Acne.
High and low is the way to go. “It’s become the chic approach to mix it,” says Burke. “It’s a badge of pride for women. They have so much taste, they can pull it off.” A one-shoulder Topshop dress paired with Balenciaga sandals trumps a head-to-toe designer look any day. Recessionistas love to boastfully reveal their thrifty, inventive pairings. Knapp’s go-to outfit is a pair of her husband’s cargo pants, a Mischen silk blouse, Marni stacked heels, and a chunky flea-market necklace. But whichever way style setters put together their mélange of high-low looks, the key is to remain original. “Not wearing the ad-campaign look or the already-worn-by-three-pop-stars outfit is important. Overphotographed, overdistributed, so-extreme-as-to-be-one-season-only looks aren’t current,” says Easley. “In today’s day and age, it’s not modern unless you mix it,” adds Roy. “The style icons we all love — Kate Moss, Sienna Miller — all do it and do it well, proving that it isn’t the dollar amount one puts into an outfit but the amount of style and chicness that comes from within.”