Elegance on a shoestring budget

When it comes to clothing, shoes, and jewelry, elegant doesn’t have to mean expensive. And affordable doesn’t have to mean cheap.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, elegance does not have to elude you. Be a smart and informed shopper who’s willing to think outside of the box, and you’re likely to find formal attire and accessories that are appealing and affordable.

For starters, why not rent instead of own? There are tons of online businesses which make it possible for customers to rent formal and/or designer gowns, formal apparel, shoes and purses for a fraction of the cost of purchasing these items. In many cases, you can have the rentals for several days. The selections are terrific, too. We’re talking luxury looks and the latest fashions! And yes, the clothing is dry-cleaned before it goes to the next customer. The other items are cleaned as well.

A word of caution: Remember that sizing is not universal among clothing and shoe makers, particularly in the designer realm. One of these online rental businesses sends each customer the same dress in two different sizes of the customer’s choice. Always check the company’s policies, as policies can change over time and vary from company to company.

This rental option for women has been around for several years, and has been around for men since … well, forever it seems. Men have been renting tuxedos, shoes, cummerbunds, ties, all the fixings for formal wear, for several decades at least. Oprah.com featured an article about the fashion phenomenon for females. The article is a good primer for those who are late to the party when it comes to renting designer duds, shoes, purses, etc.

Another option for those who would rather to buy their formalwear and accessories is to buy separates. For example, purchase a skirt (they do make ballgown-style skirts as separates, and in luxurious fabrics) and then purchase the top. In that example, you could pay a bit more for the luxurious, stylish skirt and look for a bargain on the blouse – or vice-versa. Look for a well-made, inexpensive top that looks expensive and is made (at least in part) of a fine fabric such as silk or a silk blend. In some cases, and with the right belt, it may actually look like a one-piece dress. Pair this outfit with the perfect pair of shoes (there are bargains to be had here, too – or maybe you’re willing to rent shoes, or borrow from a friend). Then, accessorize with a small purse or clutch bag, plus affordable, great-looking jewelry … and you are ready to go!

Speaking of jewelry, there’s still hope for finding nice jewelry even if you can’t afford the Hope Diamond! There is high-quality, stylish and fashionable jewelry which can add that element of elegance and polish without putting you into debt. For example, if you wish to accessorize with gold jewelry, why not buy sterling silver or brass pieces flashed with yellow gold for a polished look? You’ll have the look of solid gold in an attractive, affordable option.  Online retailers like In Season Jewelry offer an extensive selection of attractive gold plated jewelry. The image below shows the composition of 18K gold plated jewelry, which has a protective layer on top of a layer of 18K gold, along with hypoallergenic protection, on a brass base.


Image courtesy of In Season Jewelry.

Another way to up the ante on any outfit’s formal and fancy factor is to have an elegant, neatly coiffed hairstyle. A classic up-do is one way to easily achieve this. But whether you wear your hair in an up-do, an elegant chignon (French for “bun”), a neat braid, or a cascade of curls, depends on your preference and what looks good with your outfit and make-up.

If you have an elaborate formal dress, you may want to simplify your hair, make-up and accessories. You don’t want to be overpowering. Decide where you want to put your emphasis (clothing, hair, make-up or accessories), and adjust the other components to boost your overall elegance level. Do a test run before your formal event. Try on the outfit and try out different hairstyles beforehand.

Not finding anything affordable in the stores or online and you refuse to rent? Thrift shopping and estate-sale shopping could be your answer. This is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get method of shopping. There are no guarantees whether you are truly buying a designer dress, purse, or whatever when you buy from a thrift shop or estate sale.

The best advice for shopping in these venues is to find thrift shops and estate sales in the richest neighborhoods. You might find better quality and better-conditioned items. Don’t be surprised if you find items which appear to be unworn, with the original store tags still on them in these upscale locations.

A word of caution: Do your thrift-shopping and estate-sale shopping for elegant clothing, purses and the like when you DON’T have a formal event to attend. That takes away the pressure and makes the bargain shopping a much more pleasant experience. And you won’t buy something you really don’t want – or like – out of sheer desperation. We all know there’s nothing elegant about a desperation purchase … no matter how affordable it is.


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