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From Fashionista to Recessionista in Five Easy Steps

I can never afford fall, with its leather boots, trendy jeans, sexy dresses, chunky knits, and hot lip and eye shades. But this year, I really can’t afford fall. It’s not just that I don’t have money in the bank, it’s that the banks don’t have money in the bank. Rather than fall into the same old trap of buying now thinking later, it seems this year we could all do with thinking now and buying later … like next year later.

Tightening your belt—albeit last season’s belt—doesn’t have to compound the economic doom and gloom we’re all feeling. You can still look fabulous for fall; you just need to invest a little thought, time, and creativity (instead of money) into your wardrobe.

1. Work Your Accessories

Tights: $14 (or two for $20) from UrbanOutfitters.com

Forget shopping for outfits, the easiest way—for your wallet, time, and wardrobe—to inject a little trend into your autumn is to invest in accessories. You can hit up some chain retailers for inexpensive scarves, earrings, bracelets, and bits to mix and match with all of your closet basics. Or you can decide on your accessory budget and spend it on one or two quality hardworking items—like one great pair of boots that will take your summer wardrobe to fall and kick even last year’s basics up a notch, and a good belt, which can make a world of difference to an outfit.

If I had $50 to spend on a fall wardrobe, I’d spend it on fun tights in herringbone, crochet, interesting knits, colors, patterns, and textures. Tights are my favorite way to “autumnize” my summer wardrobe and a great way to change up dressier skirts and dresses.

2. Wear Last Year’s Jeans

Photo source: Judgmentalist (cc)

Not shopping for new jeans in fall can feel pretty anti, like maybe the squirrels will decide to stop collecting acorns and the leaves will refuse to fall off the trees, too. I shop for that elusive dream pair every year, but more often than not, I have a nightmare experience and end up adding more “just okay” jeans to my pile.

Flicking through the glossies’ recommendations for fall jeans, I’m appalled to see that the average price of a trendy pair of jeans right now is $200, and even more appalled to see that style- and technology-wise, there’s really nothing new to justify that tag. The skinny jean is still hot (and it still doesn’t suit me), but this season, it has embellishments on the ankle or it’s a vibrant indigo or purple shade. If you have skinnies from last year, save yourself $195 and bring them up to date with dye or ankle details. Otherwise, just save yourself $200, because every other style you wore last year is fine too, be it the wide leg, high waist, low waist, boyfriend, or bootcut. See, it’s really not the “it” factor that matters, it’s the “fit” factor. Your jeans should suit you, not some style dictator’s idea of what’s cool right now. My favorite pair of jeans is four years old and they’re about to get a fifth rotation.

3. Shop Vintage

Recent selection of vintage coats from mamastonevintage

Proper, feminine, vintage-inspired ladylike styles are all the rage this year. Instead of paying top dollar for imitation vintage, go for the real deal by rifling through consignment, thrift, or vintage stores (eBay and Etsy are great online resources for vintage) with an eye for ladylike purses, high-waist pencil skirts, floaty dresses, tie-neck blouses in interesting prints, and beaded cardigans. The trick to pulling off vintage is to incorporate it into your wardrobe so you don’t come off looking costumey or old-fashioned. So, add a modern knit over a vintage floaty dress, a vintage striped cardigan over a modern dress, a vintage lace dress with interesting tights, and a cardi or an eighties blazer with a more modern floral dress.

Perhaps your best savings this fall and winter can be a vintage coat. I scored an amazing vintage sixties coat years ago for less than $50, and it’s worth its weight in gold every fall (and that’s a lot because it’s heavy!).

Note: Vintage accessories like purses, belts, hats, shoes, boots, and scarves are a surefire cheap and chic way to update your wardrobe for fall and beyond.


 4. Work with What You Have

Instead of mindlessly adding to the clutter in your closet, take a moment—okay, a weekend—to evaluate what you already have in there. Invite a brutally honest friend over for your own version of What Not to Wear. Start by purging your mistakes, excesses, and wistful reminders of sizes (and proms) gone by; it’s only when you’ve cleaned your closet that you can really see the tees for the forest-printed dresses. Listen to your friend’s honest opinion of what makes your butt look big. Now, switch channels and think Project Runway and work creatively together to improve what you’ve got. Consider tailoring blazers and skirts to fit better, or altering hems, sleeve lengths, and even buttons for a second lease on life. Play with layers to make your basics work harder. For example, layer menswear vests over floaty dresses and floaty blouses under shift dresses for more mileage and variation. Belt in your tent dresses, mix and match your patterns, and look to accessories like tights, bold jewelry, and scarves to pull new looks together.

Now, offer to return the favor for your friend. (And yes, you can also return the brutal honesty on what makes her butt look big!)

5. Make Do with Your Makeup

Selection of $1 items from ELF Cosmetics

Fall’s cosmetic counters can seem like candy displays to beauty addicts, with all those new flavors, scents, shiny packages, and colors calling out to be tried. They’re especially dangerous for your pocketbook because even though they feel like small purchases, they add up in your bag and your bank account. I’ve banned myself from stores like Sephora, because the last time I went in for lip gloss I came out with $80 worth of makeup brushes and—gasp, I can’t believe I’m admitting this—a $100 lash enhancing treatment. What amazes me most is how much money we spend on items we already have—I mean how many mascaras can you possibly need?

I’m planning to skip the beauty emporiums and counters (except for the ones I haven’t hit up yet for free samples), and go straight to my local drugstore for knockoffs of fall’s hottest shades—a $6 bottle of mauve nail polish is much more budget-friendly than a $30 bottle. There’s no pressure in the drugstore to buy the latest long-lasting lippy or magic mascara wand, and even better, there’s no conniving sales person shaming me into protecting my parched dry skin with a $200 cream.

Also, big chains like Walgreens and Target carry a host of professional makeup lines for less—I especially love the Jemma Kidd and Sonia Kashuk lines for Target. And hello, you can’t beat the super-affordable ELF Cosmetics, where everything is $1!

Even better than cheap is free—ALWAYS ask for free samples—and even better than free is homemade; whip up your own spa treatments in the kitchen and mix the leftovers of your half-used lipstick tubes to create your own new shades. Finally, there’s always the “natural look,” which won’t cost you anything and never goes out of style.

The great thing about challenging myself to be a “recessionista” this fall—other than being able to pay my rent—is that I can take personal pride in my appearance. I’m pulling my looks together with a little creative thinking and savvy bargain hunting, not just blindly buying up what everyone else is buying. The added bonus is that I’ll be able to sleep a lot sounder too—and beauty sleep is priceless!

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