How to Look Classy on Any Budget

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to fashion and style is that it costs a lot to look classy, but it’s far more important to dress in a way that is tasteful and flattering. I’ve rounded up 10 ways to look more polished without breaking the bank.

True confessions: It might have taken me longer to decide on a photo to use for this graphic than it did to write the post. It’s a lot of pressure!

How to Look Classy on Any Budget

#1. Get rid of worn, ill-fitting, and out-of -date clothing.

How to Purge Your Closet and Love Your Wardrobe Again

I would much rather have a small, highly edited wardrobe of items I love and wear over and over than a closet crammed full of everything I’ve purchased over the past 20 years. My goal is to keep my closet to clothings and shoes that I actually wear on a regular basis. It makes it much less overwhelming to put outfits together.

If you haven’t done a good closet edit in a while, this is the place to start. Getting rid of items that are worn, out of style, stained, ill-fitting, or too large or small should be the first step towards elevating your style.

Need help with that? Read my post: How to Purge Your Closet and Love Your Wardrobe Again.

#2. Learn how to dress your unique body and define your personal style.

The single best thing I ever did to elevate my personal style was to learn my body type and how to dress it properly. If you haven’t done that, I highly recommend the Adore Your Wardrobe course or this Body Shape Quiz offered by Everyday Style School. Given what I’ve learned from both of them, I now know how to discern if an item of clothing works for me or not, and I’m much better at putting outfits together that have the correct balance and proportion for my body. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend one or both of their courses.

As far as defining your personal style, Jen at Everyday Style School has a Signature Style Quiz that’s a good place to start, and Kelly also addresses this topic in Adore Your Wardrobe. Putting a label on your unique style will help you clarify and define your look, and ultimately make shopping and outfit-building easier.

#3. Wear properly fitting undergarments. 

They’re called foundation garments for a reason. If the foundation of a house isn’t sound, the whole house will collapse… and the same is true for our outfits. Be sure to get regular bra fittings, and replace your bras and underwear regularly.

Also, be sure you are wearing your bra correctly and caring for it properly. I wash my bras on the delicate cycle using mesh laundry bags and hang them to dry. And it’s good to tighten the straps every few wears to make sure your “girls” are up where they belong.

#4. Have your clothes tailored.

Because of my job, I don’t have time for this, and fortunately I’m a pretty average size and shape. But most celebrities and others who always look so perfectly put together rarely wear clothes right off the rack. Tailoring is the best way to make sure your clothes fit and flatter your unique body.

If you find yourself needing a tailor often, it may pay to spend a bit more at stores like Nordstrom where they provide this service for free or at a discount… and have the tailoring done immediately, before even leaving the store.

#5. Know when to splurge and when to save.

It’s worth it to invest in quality pieces if you will wear them often over the course of many years; but if it’s a trendy item or something very memorable that you may only wear a handful of times, you probably don’t want to spend so much. Learn your labels and how to discern quality garments, and buy pricier products second-hand from consignment shops or online retailers like eBay, Poshmark, Thred-Up, etc.

I would also add, incorporating a trendy item from time to time that aligns with your personal style is a good way to keep your look current, but don’t over-do it with the trendy pieces. That’s a sure way to look like a slave to fashion.

#6. Know your fabrics.

The materials you wear can reflect poor taste. Some simply look cheap, plus, man-made fibers won’t hang properly on your body like natural wool or cotton fabrics. A while back, I wrote a post about What Makes A Garment Good Quality (or Not). You may find it helpful.

#7. Take care of your clothes, but don’t over-wash them.

Learn the proper way to care for different types of fabrics, and if in doubt, wash according to the instructions on the tag. Also, over-washing can break down fabrics over time, so I don’t wash my clothes unless they’re stained or dirty.

Get in the habit of hanging your clothes or folding them and putting them away when you take them off. Leaving them draped over the ironing board or in a heap on the floor will compromise their shape and structure over time, plus it forces you to wash them more often.

Also, the condition of your shoes and handbag goes a long way towards presenting a polished appearance. And yes, I have a post for this too — Fight the Frump: Update Your Handbag. You also might like my post about current handbag trends.

Fight the Frump: Update Your Handbag

Whether you spent a lot or a little on an item of clothing, taking good care of it will extend the life of the garment and keep it looking its best.

#8. Wear tasteful accessories. 

Having some trendy fashion jewelry is a fun way to change up your look and create a focal point for a simple outfit, but investing in a few key pieces that are tasteful and understated that you can wear often will go a long way towards elevating your style. These don’t have to be high end designer pieces that cost a lot; it’s more about discerning what looks cheap vs. what looks classy.

This extends to your eyewear as well. Make sure your eyeglasses and sunglasses are current and work for your personal style.

#9. Avoid big logos, and never buy fakes.

Wearing big logos and fake designer items looks try-hard and cheap. It’s far more tasteful to wear a quality piece from a generic designer than to buy a dupe. Also, quiet luxury is trending right now, so yay for that!

#10. Practice good grooming habits.

Keep your nails and hair clean and groomed, take care of your skin and teeth, and learn to apply your makeup. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours at the salon. There are plenty of websites and YouTube tutorials that will teach you how to do these things at home on a budget.

The exception to this is your teeth, but this goes along with cost per wear. If you can afford to straighten crooked teeth or fix your dental work, it’s a worthwhile investment in your appearance that will last a lifetime.

What would you add to this list?

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17 thoughts on “How to Look Classy on Any Budget

  1. Great list, Jo-Lynne. I would add Stunning Style Society to your resource list. Honing in on your personal style right down to “do you like ruffles, flutter sleeves”, etc. She has exhaustive resources for five or six style categories – minimal classic, cute, sporty, etc. My minimal classic style is why ruffles and flutter sleeves are a NO.

  2. This is a great post. I especially love #6, knowing your fabrics. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way and I wasted so much money. All the best – Katie

  3. All good things to remember and work on! I agree with not washing your clothes too often. I discovered that I can refresh a piece of clothing by misting it and throwing in the dryer for 10 minutes or just adding it dry to clothing already in the dryer. I’m sure most of you already do this on the regular, but I used to throw things in the washer and dryer when it wasn’t dirty, just because it needed de-wrinkled or fluffed up!

  4. What would I add to the list? Root touch-up spray is your friend! No matter how much I spend to get my hair done…I feel frumpy if I don’t use it when the gray roots start create a stripe at my scalp.

  5. These are all good points. I would add, that even though i’s not specifically clothes related, good posture goes a long way toward making clothes fit and hang properly, and projects a confident image. I’m also a huge fan of the Adore Your Wardrobe program and have been part of that community for 5 years.

  6. Super post. I always enjoy these posts. Informative pointers. I rarely use the sidebars but handy when hunting something in particular. Looking forward to wearing fall fashions. Thx for all you do to keep us stylish.

  7. This really resonates with me right now. I initially started following your blog in my late 30s, pre-covid (I’m 43 now.) During covid I gained significant weight and stopped following fashion blogs because I was working from home and sort of, I guess, disengaged at some point from caring about my appearance :(. So for years I have not had a lot of nice clothes that fit me. Recently I realized that it is time to dress nicely and like a grownup again. I did a HUGE purge much like the one you talk about here, and when it was time to go shopping to fill in the blanks I thought of your blog because I remembered how great you always were at sourcing pieces, and also because I feel like your style really epitomizes what I am going for — how to dress in a modern, age-appropriate and polished way while still being relatively casual. Sorry for the novel, I just wanted to say how much I really appreciate what you do and it’s really helping me at the moment! This post is a great example.

  8. Fabulous list Jo-Lynne! I have also found that knowing what my signature colors are, along with the neutrals that I look better in has been a game changer.

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