How to Dress Well on a Budget

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Dressing well on a budget doesnt have to be complicated. It all starts with taking stock of what you already have and shopping your closet for great pieces. Get rid of anything you dont plan to wear, and focus on crafting a functional capsule wardrobe of neutral colors and classic styles. Spend what money you do have available on high-quality basics and essential pieces, and wait to get trendy accessories on sale. If you wear your clothes with confidence and take good care of them, youll look and feel great every day!


[Edit]Streamlining Your Wardrobe

  1. List all the activities you regularly dress for to narrow your wardrobes focus. Consider a typical week or season in your life and write out a list of all the environments and activities you get dressed for on a regular basis. Jot down the type of clothing you need for each environment. When assessing your wardrobe, keep these activities and clothing categories in mind.[1]
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    • Your list could look something like this: internship (business formal), school (casual), gym (athletic wear), concerts (going out clothes), oil painting class (old, messy clothes).
    • This strategy will help you avoid keeping or adding pieces to you closet just in case. The list above doesnt mention the beach, so it wouldnt be useful to hold on to a dozen cover-ups.
    • If you have an active lifestyle and dress pretty casually at school, focus on filling your wardrobe with athletic apparel and comfortable basics like jeans and knit tops. Dont bother splurging on dress shoes that youll rarely wear.
  2. Keep the clothes that fit well and work with your lifestyle. Start by pulling everything out of your closet, drawers, and shelves. Look at each piece 1 by 1 and decide whether or not it can stay. Create a keep pile for garments that fit well, that are appropriate for the activities and environments you listed out, and that you enjoy wearing. Then reorganize your closet by neatly hanging or folding the clothes from your keep pile and placing them in an easy-to-reach spot.[2]
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    • This strategy is called shopping your wardrobe. Its great for rediscovering clothes you love but dont wear often enough. Try this to bring a fresh burst of novelty into your wardrobe without spending a penny.
    • Make a toss pile for the pieces that you dont want to keep. Sell to a or donate these clothes to get them out of your wardrobe.[3]
  3. Have a tailor alter your clothes so they fit perfectly. If you have a blazer and a structured dress that are a little roomy around the middle, have a tailor nip in the waistline to give your clothes a leaner silhouette. If you have shirt sleeves, dresses, skirts, or trousers that are too long, get them hemmed to the right length. Have your bottoms taken in at the waist so they fit comfortably and flatter your figure.[4]
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    • Keep in mind that the shoulder area is hard to alter. Dont buy or keep pieces that dont fit well in the shoulders since you probably wont be able to have them altered.
    • Breathe new life into an older piece from your closet with simple alterations. Hem a dress into a blouse, give trousers more personality with a cropped cut, or swap out boring plastic buttons for higher quality ones.[5]
  4. Get rid of undergarments that dont fit you well. Dressing well starts with the right undergarments. Toss out bras that are too small or too big, since they will create lumps and bumps under your clothes. Do the same for panties or briefs. For men, toss out worn-out or mismatched socks, which can make a sleek pair of shoes look drab.
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    • When wearing suiting, aim to match your sock color to your trouser color.[6]
    • If you have a skirt that looks see-through, your outfit will instantly look cheap. Pop on a simple slip underneath to smooth out the fabric and give you a little more modesty.[7]
    • Measure your bra size. Only keep or purchase bras in the right size and in styles that you like.
    • Consider wearing well-fitting shapewear under special occasion dresses.

[Edit]Investing in the Right Pieces

  1. Shop for clothes that flatter your body shape. Take your body measurements and use them to help determine your body shape. Once you know it, search online for dressing guides based on your body shape. Take note of the cuts, silhouettes, and proportions that stylists recommend. Try on a variety of outfits based on the dos and donts for your body shape to see how things look on you. Then limit your wardrobe selections and styling choices to the most flattering outfits.
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    • A few body shapes include triangular, pear-shaped, apple, hourglass, and more. Try to find the term that best describes your figure.
    • Keep a list of your measurements on your smartphone so you have them available while shopping. This way, you can get perfectly-fitting clothes whenever its time to make a purchase.[8]
    • Dont try to dress for your ideal body by buying clothes in a size too small. Dress for the body youre walking around in right now. Youll look so much more stylish and youll feel a lot more comfortable!
  2. Choose classic styles and silhouettes rather than fleeting trends.[9] While the latest trends can be fun to experiment with, trendy pieces will go out of fashion quickly. Dont waste your money on short-lived styles. Instead, pick out pieces that have been in style for years and that will likely stick around despite the changing trends.[10]
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    • Classic styles include a timeless camel trench coat, a pair of dark-wash jeans in a flattering cut, and a simple black dress.
    • Chic outerwear, like a jacket or blazer, can really elevate a basic outfit. [11]
    • Avoid clothes that have some extreme quality, such as styles that are too short, too long, or too baggy.
    • Steer clear of pieces with too many frills, confusing asymmetry, or unnecessary embellishments.[12]
  3. Limit yourself to solid-color clothes in your favorite neutral shades. A solid piece will stay in fashion longer than its patterned or printed counterpart. Stick with neutrals like black, navy, camel, and white.[13] Then choose a palette of brighter colors in either jewel tone shades, brightly saturated shades, or airy pastels. Start with whatever you have the most of in your closet and continue working in that direction; dont mix and match colors from multiple categories.
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    • To add interest to solids, look for unique textures rather than prints and patterns. If you wear lots of navy blue, find navy blue pieces in cable-knit wool, cotton, faux fur, or satin.
    • A neutral and restricted color palette will be much easier to mix and match, and wont be clashing.[14]
    • Avoid buying prints. In fast fashion, prints tend to be lower quality, and youll start to see the prints fading and the fabric pilling after a few washes.[15]
  4. Purchase pieces that you can mix-and-match or layer with your other clothes. Develop a small but highly functional capsule wardrobe.[16] Whenever youre out shopping for new additions to your wardrobe, pick clothes that work well with the pieces you already have.
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    • Look for basic cardigans and blazers that can be layered over simple blouses and t-shirts. Choose dress shirts that would pair well with the trousers and jeans you already own. Pick out practical shoes in classic styles that can be worn with a variety of outfits.
    • If youre considering buying a piece but you know that youd only be able to wear it with 1 or 2 things, dont bother.
    • If you have 20 great tops, 10 pairs of trousers, 5 skirts, and 2 pairs of shorts, you can technically make 340 outfits![17]
  5. Spend your money on high-quality wardrobe basics. If youre going to splurge, splurge on the essential pieces that you wear all the time and that youll be wearing for years to come. Upgrade your faded white undershirts, saggy boxer-briefs, and holey socks. Aim for well-fitting, higher quality pieces that wash well.[18] Purchase 1 or 2 neutral bras in the right cut.
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    • Extend this strategy to other essentials like shoes, outerwear, and other classic pieces.

[Edit]Shopping Frugally

  1. Wait to buy trendy items once they go on sale. If you have a solid, classic capsule wardrobe, you can still shake up your look with inexpensive accessories. Try a pair of funky earrings, a printed scarf, a unique hat, or a cool pair of patterned socks. Dont jump as soon as you see a trend hit the shelves; wait until the end of the season so you can buy it on sale.[19]
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    • Another good reason to wait is that after a few months, youll know whether you really want to purchase the trendy piece or whether it was just a fad.
    • Shop at the end of the season to buy pieces for the following year. Wait to get your summer shorts until the temperatures start to drop and retailers slash their prices. While you wont get much use out of them immediately, youll have a great new pair of shorts to enjoy next summer.[20]
  2. Apply coupons and discounts to your purchases. Avoid paying full-price for anything if you can help it.[21] Instead of browsing new arrivals when you enter a bricks-and-mortar shop, head straight to the clearance rack, especially when theres a deeper discount on clearance pieces. When youre shopping online, dont get your heart set on anything until you have a chance to add it to the cart and enter your promo codes. If the codes dont apply, consider waiting until you can get a better price.
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    • Subscribe to a retailers emails online to snag a coupon, then unsubscribe once youve used the offer so you arent tempted to spend more money.
    • Some clothing retailers offer student discounts. Browse online to see which brands participate in this kind of program.
  3. Buy quality clothes at off-price retailers. Off-price retailers are known for their wide variety of styles, mix of high-end and lesser-known brands, and affordable prices. Browse off-price retail stores rather than heading to pricier boutiques and department stores.[22] Bring a specific shopping list when you visit and restrict your search to the pieces on your list. Try things on until you find the right cut and style. Dont let the low prices persuade you into making impulse buys.
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    • Popular off-price retailers in the US include TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, DSW, Stein Mart
    • Off-price retailers associated with department stores include Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, and Neiman Marcus Last Call.
    • Try factory stores and outlet malls as well.[23]
  4. Try shopping at thrift stores and second-hand retailers. Look for gently-worn pieces from quality brands at your local thrift shop. If you see a piece in good condition or that still has its tags, and it works for your budget and with the rest of your wardrobe, consider adding it to your wardrobe.[24]
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    • Before making a purchase, inspect each garments underarms for stains and holes, make sure closures like buttons and zippers are working correctly, and check out the areas that tend to get worn out quickly like knees, elbows, and crotch area.
    • In the US, try shops like Platos Closet and Buffalo Exchange as well as charity shops including Goodwill and the Salvation Army.


  • Keep your clothes clean and pristine and youll look more put-together. Hang or fold your clothes nicely when theyre not in use. Iron or steam garments that need de-wrinkling. Spot-clean stains and make sure to take dry-clean-only clothes to the dry cleaner.
  • If you know you cant take proper care of dry-clean-only garments or wrinkle-prone pieces, dont waste your money on them! Many mainstream retailers offer easy-care garments at affordable prices.
  • Maintain a well-groomed appearance to make the rest of your outfit look put-together.[25] For a woman, consider picking out a signature shade of lipstick or spend some time on blow-drying your hair to smooth out the frizz. For a guy, try using hair pomade to keep your slicked-back style in place.
  • Exude confidence and youll instantly look great! Remember that money cant buy you good taste or impeccable style. Confidence is the key to looking and feeling great.[26]

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