1. Focus your money on the pieces that make a difference
The main pieces where you can actually see quality is in your footwear, your purses, and your coats. Period.
For the rest of the items, designer stuff can look cheap, and cheap stuff can look very luxe and expensive.
The real pieces that get eyeballed to set a benchmark of what your outfit costs, is usually shown in those three items; if you are wearing designer head to toe, but carrying a cheap bag, your clothing can look very luxe but with a cheap fraying faux leather bag, it makes everything look less expensive by comparison.
I am not saying you need to splash thousands on a designer bag to get this look (let’s face it, a designer bag with cheap ratty clothing and flip flops, just makes the entire outfit look cheap), but at least focus your money on buying luxe leather or luxe vegan leather items that LOOK expensive even if they aren’t.
There are plenty of great independent designers on Etsy who make nice looking bags for under $300. Or you can buy secondhand (I love consignment shops for luxe bags for cheaper-than-retail).
Bottom line is you’re not going to get a great bag for let’s say $25 unless you go to a magical garage sale and end up stumbling across an eccentric person’s closet full of deluxe items she has no idea about (if this happens, call me.), but I am saying to at least look and be discerning about the bag you do carry to make sure it looks as expensive as you can afford it.
You could even carry a distinctively NOT designer leather bag, and still look great.
A few great tips on how to carry a cheap-ish bag and yet still acquire the air of a more expensive one is to look for:
- Vegan leather bags that look and wear like leather (Samsara, a brand by Matt & Nat that is now defunct, made a red vegan hobo that to this day, looks amazing and wears LIKE leather..); vegan leather is ultimately cheaper than actual leather because it’s synthetic
- Go for a simple design (simple totes, simple clasps, not a lot of hardware)
- Go for simple colours (deep browns, blacks, nothing shiny or patent)
A designer I was made aware of, called Teddy Blake, makes purses that are of high quality and NOT designer, but high street-ish. Meaning, they have the shape of a Hermes Birkin or Kelly handbag for instance, but without the logos of Hermes. They are simple, classic shapes in nice colours and good leather, so if you like those styles but don’t want to buy Hermes, and shun designer knockoffs (good on you), you can try Teddy Blake.
Otherwise, Zara makes nice bags sometimes, I have been tempted a few times but am too much of a quality snob now. I just keep seeing how it folds in or wrinkles, doesn’t hold its shape…
Again, keep it simple, make sure they are kept polished, in good shape, and look great.
LOTS of shoe brands out there look more luxe than they are, and the key is all in the details — simple cuts, simple colours, no fraying bits.
I hate to say it, but when I clock someone’s footwear, I can see and guess instantly how much the shoes cost. If the shoe or heel or looks plastic, it probably is. Good leather wears well, and if you take care of your footwear, and regularly clean them, bring them to the cobbler to fix the soles, you can have them for a long long time.
Speaking of shoes, a note on footwear shape:
I know we’re all divided on whether or not pointed-toe heels or flats are necessary, but the hard truth is that a pointed toe in a flat or a heel just LOOKS more luxe and better, than a rounded or even almond toe.
Below is a rounded toe on the left versus a pointed one on the right. I much prefer the pointed toe on the right, whether it happened to be a heel or not.
If you have to put your money somewhere and are deciding on what toe shape to take, take the pointed one.
For years, I was SO AGAINST pointed toe anything — it looked witchy to me — but once I got into it, I can’t go back to rounded toes any more (exceptions: ballerina flats), because they look a little more casual and juvenile to my eyes now. It’s amazing the shift in my perception from being hardcore against pointed toes and now wearing them almost exclusively.
You really don’t need to spend a lot to get a great coat. Just like with bags and footwear, keep an eye out for detail.
Simple silhouettes, simple cuts, and this is the best category to score designer items for cheap. I got a Dolce & Gabbana coat off eBay (like new) for only $150 CAD, originally AND STILL retailing in stores for over $4500 CAD. Good deals can be found, you just need to scour.
Classic cuts like single-breasted, slim lapel coats look chic and great, and Zara has always been a great store for me to browse and look for coats in – I’ve only gotten pickier over the years due to secondhand shopping and I won’t pay $250 for a coat brand new at Zara made out of a polyester-blend when I can put that towards a secondhand designer coat instead made out of cashmere or a wool-blend instead as it will wear better over the years.
If you buy a wool-blend or something in an expensive fabric like cashmere or silk, go for it.
ParIt looks better than polyester in most cases.
(Yes, I can also tell / guess when something is polyester, I can tell by the way the fabric drapes, the way it clings, the knit / makeup of it, the shiny-ness of it is also a dead giveaway which is why I don’t like anything shiny like patent leather.)
A great watch, necklace, ring.. those are bonus items to elevate an outfit to make it look luxe. You’d be surprised how many times I’m in cheap jeans and a shirt, with plain shoes, but with a gorgeous handmade bangle I scored secondhand (or very cheap), that makes the entire outfit suddenly look way more expensive.
2. GO FOR THE NEUTRALS WHEN IN DOUBT
Bright colours are not out for looking expensive, but it can be harder to find bright colours and wear them to look super luxe.
The reason for that is that for bright colours, there is no forgiveness for the fabric.
It MUST be in an expensive luxe fabric like cashmere, silk, or wool to look good, otherwise in polyester, it tends to (not always) look cheap because the colour is too flat, too bright, too sharp, and it immediately shows as being cheap.
That is why neutrals (not necessarily always black) are better bets in picking colours that will look more expensive without much effort.
List of neutrals that are not black:
- Navy – my FAVOURITE
- Whites/Ivories – My second favourite
- All the shades of grey – Insert pun here for 50 Shades of Grey, but seriously, grey is awesome
- Burgundy – deep cabernet, burgundy wine shades
- Olive or khaki greens – shades that are more yellow or blue based on your skintone, I tend to go for the blue-based khaki and olive greens because the yellow ones make me look sick and sallow
Neutrals, go with each other, and they make clothes look more luxe.
As for something like jeans for instance, go for the darkest, deepest blue rinse you can find in the best pair of jeans you can afford. You only really need one pair.
No whiskering, no weird pocket shapes, designs, little dangling charm icons, forget all that.
Go for the cut you want — skinny, bootcut or straight are classics — and choose the rise you need (for me high rise works the best), and then the best, softest denim you can find in your price range (I liked H&M premium denim at one point, I don’t know if they do it any more).
3. CHECK THE DETAILS
Having things properly tailored goes without saying. Having hems hit right where they should — an inch above the floor or at the ankle, and having things FIT YOU can make a huge difference.
If things look big on you, you look sloppy, messy and big.
If things look too tight on you, you look fat (when you are not), and sloppy.
Just right = skimming your body.
There are just SOME things that look very cheap in my mind, and that includes things like lace-up anything (lace up fronts, tops, sides), reminiscent of cheap trashy lingerie.
Other things include mixes of animal prints in one shirt – think cheetahs frolicking with zebras and giraffes all at once, anything with pompoms, lots of frou frou… keep it simple, really.
I also tend to avoid gold hardware or any hardware of any kind that is shiny on clothing. I will accept matte metal details, but very rarely.