Dress Like a Success for Less

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Michelle Obama has proven that even the future First Lady of the United States doesn’t have to spend a fortune to look fabulous. Just last month she appeared on The Tonight Show in a canary yellow J. Crew (yes, that’s right, not Chanel, not Dior) ensemble that she purchased herself, proving to Americans everywhere that we don’t have to sacrifice style during a shaky economy—we just have to be smart about it. Here are a few shopping tips for dressing great while spending less

Shop Out of Season
As the winter months get closer, you may want to wrap yourself up in cashmere. But perhaps you should consider shopping for spandex instead. Most stores are trying to clear their summer stock and swimsuits are usually marked down first. “You can find one for 80% off the original price,” says Kathryn Finney, founder of TheBudgetFashionista.com. “Buying off-season is a great strategy, particularly for coats, boots, sandals, and swimwear,” she says.

Scour the Internet
Not only does buying online save you time, it can save you money, too. But you have to be careful: “You shouldn’t buy something online unless you’ve tried it on before,” says Finney, who cautions buyers to consider shipping and return policies before clicking the “checkout” button. Also, make sure and search for online-only sales and discounts for your favorite shops. “Type the name of the store plus the word ‘coupon’ into your search browser, and you’ll find coupons for that particular store,” she adds. It’s that simple.

Swap with Friends
Want to overhaul your wardrobe for free? Throw a clothing-swap party. Invite friends with similar styles and ask each person to bring a bag full of unwanted, gently worn clothes. Chances are someone else’s castoffs will fit nicely in your closet while your “hand-me-downs” will find a gracious new home. The trick is to keep the exchange “fun and light,” advises Finney. Serve snacks, maybe a glass of wine, and turn up the music.

Visit the Outlets
Steer clear of sample sales and head to the outlets of your favorite stores instead, says the Budget Fashionista. Not only do sample sales offer limited sizes, but they’re also known for being “final sale,” which leaves you with little option if you’re hit with buyer’s remorse. Some outlets offer a revolving collection of high-quality designer items for less. Last Call Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th sell labels like Armani, Marc Jacobs, and Prada. And if you add your name to their mailing lists, they’ll even mail you discount coupons.

Don’t Forget Discount Retailers
If you think places like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Filene’s Basement carry an inferior selection, think again. According to Marshalls’ Web site, “Department stores overbuy and designers overproduce. Then we swoop in and negotiate incredible prices on the same merchandise that is now selling in department stores.” You can tell how much you’re saving by looking at the tag. Most of stores include a “Compare At” price, which will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Give in to Trends
Man (and woman) cannot live on basic clothes alone. Think about it: The world would be a boring place if everyone was walking around in white button-down shirts and black pants. Luckily, places like H&M, Target, Forever 21, Wet Seal, and Express are quick to copy runway trends so that regular folks can enjoy them, too. H&M and Target even sell capsule collections by big-name designers like Commes des Garçons (starting on November 13) and Jonathan Saunders (currently in stores).

Mend Your Ways
“Have a relationship with a good cobbler,” says Finney, who advises shoe lovers to weatherproof, polish, protect, and resole their favorite footwear. “Some shoes, like leather boots, are definitely worth fixing but if you got a pair of shoes from Payless, most likely it’ll cost you more to fix them then to throw them away.” She also stresses the importance of a sewing kit: “Learn how to sew a button or fix a rip.” Chances are your most precious items will make it through another season with enough care.

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