Chic on the Cheap

How to shop for high fashion at affordable low prices and find clothing bargains at discount stores.

By Kim Johnson Gross

Smart Shopping AdviceI don’t know about you, but when I find something I love and it’s not expensive, I feel as if I’ve won the lottery. It’s even more fun when the compliments start to come. Then I crow about how little it cost and feel like a master shopper of the universe.It’s become easier to discover brilliant buys as designers apply their talent, eye for proportion, and love of interesting fabrics to clothes that are sold at bargain-basement prices. Target was the first chain to make cheap chic widely available and desirable. When it launched Isaac Mizrahi’s collection, my occasional trek there for workout clothes became a regular pilgrimage. Wearing Mizrahi’s yellow rain slicker lined in baby blue (sale price: $15) never fails to make me smile, and I feel like I’m on the catwalk in his plaid bubble skirt.And I can’t wait to wear the zebra-print halter dress I spotted at H&M, a chain of stores renowned for impromptu collections from such guest designers as Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Viktor & Rolf. I tried on a few sizes (sizing varies greatly at this price level) and started fantasizing about where I would wear it: barefoot parties on the Vineyard, with strappy sandals on dinner dates, under tailored blazers to "creative" business meetings. The dress was too long for my fantasies, so after I scooped it up for $39.99, I had it hemmed for another $25. Now I have a jazzy addition to my summer wardrobe for $64.99.Shopping with my teenage daughter always opens my eyes to stylish steals. The danger is that sometimes I find myself trying on the trendy items I wore at her age: short dresses, pants cut way too low and tops that cling, though not in the places they used to. Thankfully, my daughter brings me back to reality. If you find yourself shopping on your own for high style at low prices, here are a few pointers to remember when faced with trend temptation.Experiment with trends, but keep it simple — one part trend, three parts classic. Since animal prints are the rage, I picked up a python-print nylon skirt at Kohl’s, which I wear with a simple cashmere sweater, a designer bag, and killer shoes.Don’t sacrifice quality, whatever the cost. I’m still steaming over a pricey cashmere sweater I wore for two seasons that became pilled beyond salvage. Fabrics should look and feel luxe, and not wrinkle easily. Those that have stretch or a blend of poly and natural fibers are good bets. Stitching should be neat and not noticeable. Well-done decorative details are a sign of value.Ignore the size on the label and buy what works — and if something doesn’t fit perfectly, consider having it tailored. A proper fit can make an inexpensive garment look a lot pricier. Stay clear of designer knockoffs. Besides being illegal, they’ll cheapen your look.Shop early in the season. If it’s great looking and priced well, it’ll be gone in a blink.What to WearFor Summer Style at a Rock-Bottom PriceSome of us scrimp on summer clothes, feeling the short season doesn’t merit a splurge. Others use summer as a fashion lab to try new proportions or brands. All of us want a capsule wardrobe that’s fresh and versatile. This outfit may shout "I bought this in Milan!" but we’re saving our euros and laughing all the way to the bank. Ann Taylor Loft stretch cotton blouse ($36). Boden cotton skirt ($108). Newport News faux leather woven hobo ($39). R.J. Graziano chain belt ($85) and leather cuff bracelets (from left: $125, $85).For the Bargain Dress of Your DreamsSummer means baring more skin, and that means being more selective about fit and color. Instead of pastels and Crayola brights, choose rich, sophisticated colors such as chocolate or cobalt, and use paler neutrals as accents. This tailored dress by Isaac Mizrahi for Target in cotton lace ($39) has the high-neck, curve-flattering fit that blows slip-dresses and floaty baby-dolls off the style map for us. We wish it came in more colors, because we’d take two. Bandolino patent slingbacks ($65). Lauren Ralph Lauren necklaces (long, $98; short, $68).For Trouser Style That’s a StealIt’s a season of wide-leg trousers. Dress for it in Nine West’s linen flat-fronts ($89) and polka-dot chiffon shirt ($69). Then add Ann Taylor’s silk crochet shrug ($68), which works with every look here. Enzo Angiolini sandals ($99). Club Monaco bag ($199). Coach bangle ($128).Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 17:19

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