The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Start Here: 10 Practical Style Tips for the Fashion-Challenged

I often get emails from readers who feel utterly overwhelmed when they shop and have no clue where to start when it comes to fashion. To them, I say, you are not alone! Looking good is not easy. And while fashion should be fun, sometimes shopping can be a daunting chore. So, I started brainstorming and came up with this list of 10 concrete tips that will hopefully offer some guidance on how to begin to look fashionable on a budget. What wisdom would you share with a friend who was just getting into fashion?

1. Know when to buy multiples: When you find the perfect cardigan, tee, ballet flat, bra, cami or panty, go ahead and stock up. These are wardrobe essentials you wear often enough to justify buying more than one at a time.

2. Get practical inspiration: If you see another gal who looks great and, even better, has the same body type as you, ask her where she shops. Ask to take her picture (no joke): Most people are flattered and will readily pose for a quick outfit photo that you can refer back to later.

3. Read the Outfit Ideas section of this blog (under Categories in the right nav): Rome wasn't built in a day, which is why I update this section of my blog daily with detailed breakdowns of a variety of outfit types, from casual to dressy. Heck, print the outfits you like and take them with you next time you go shopping.

4. Remember what works: When you have a good day (you feel slim, your hair is cooperating and you can't stop smiling) take your own photo so that you can remember what worked for you and why. Print these photos out and tack them on your fridge or closet door so you can easily recreate great looks from the recent past.

5. Build an arsenal of "secret weapons": Things like a quality handbag, nice shoes, fabulous shades, red lipstick or a colorful scarf add a lot to an outfit for not a whole lot of money, time or effort.

6. Buy everything in neutral shades: Sounds boring but it's not. Neutrals mean you can mix and match with ease while looking pulled together and grown-up. When you're faced with 10 shades of something at the store, go for black, white, gray, beige or navy first. You can add pops of color later with accessories.

7. Trust your gut. Don't get caught up in fashion dos and don'ts, name brands, or what you should or should not be wearing. Your style is anything that makes your heart skip a beat. Follow your bliss.

8. It's not you, it's them. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Stores want you to make a purchase. How you look afterward is not their biggest concern. Loosely translated, this means that the majority of what you see in stores is unwearable. I'm talkin' stuff that doesn't fit, doesn't flatter, isn't comfortable and won't last—not for you or anyone else on the planet. Do not despair!

9. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I make questionable style decisions all the time. But the only way to learn is to practice. This is tough when you're on a budget, I can totally relate. Thankfully stores like Target, Walmart and Forever 21 make it easy to experiment without blowing your budget!

10. Shop alone. Friends might inadvertently insult something you love or tell you sweet lies in the dressing room. You're also more likely to spend more by buying things you don't need when shopping with friends. Shop solo and see if you have more success.
Love the tips!
#1 LadyLUX on 2010-04-06 12:54 (Reply)
Random Q - my friend just referred me to Budget Babe, do you know anything about this site? The suggested shoes are really cute but they don't have any brand names... (literally)
#2 05girl on 2010-04-06 13:15 (Reply)
hmm looks a lot like (kim k's shoe of the month club). never ordered from either but i think you'd be better off just ordering from as the quality appears to be similar (lots of the same styles). that's my two cents!
#2.1 The Budget Babe on 2010-04-06 14:52 (Reply)
This is FABULOUS! As someone who is just getting into the art of looking good and getting in touch with my inner girl these tips are just what i needed! Want to look fab all the time (even when casual) but have no clue how to put pieces together :-( Def checking out the outfits ideas!
#2.1.1 Elle on 2010-04-07 09:59 (Reply)
I'm actually a member on Shoefab, and I love it! The styles are great. The real advantage is that they they have stylists who send you 6 custom picked shoes, so if your super busy like I am you still get to go shoe shopping, but dont have to spend hours surfing the web or driving to the mall.... It's great!
#2.2 Heather on 2010-04-15 18:37 (Reply)
When I shop I tend to think in terms of outfits not just a cute top or skirt. When I get something it has to go with at least 3 other items in my closet in order for me to purchase it.
#3 Tracie on 2010-04-06 13:30 (Reply)
Love this!
#3.1 The Budget Babe on 2010-04-06 14:48 (Reply)
Thank you, thank you. One of my recent resolutions was to start dressing with more style, better accessories and overall sophistication. It's hard! Before I was just buying tops, bottoms or dresses from the same 2-3 places, not really thinking about my body type or how it all goes together. Anyway, I love the tips, especially #10. I have so many items I have literally never worn, due to the well-intentioned (but bad) advice of shopping partners.
#4 Amanda (Homepage) on 2010-04-06 13:42 (Reply)
I love your site! Thank you for your tips. I'm going to start taking pics of my favorite outfits! I think it also helps to imagine what you will wear the outfit/accessory/shoes with--that you have already.
The other thing that helps me is to think does this outfit look great on me? If so, I buy it! Sometimes it does look great on the hanger/mannequin, but then it looks crappy on me. Argh!

Also, I noticed is that great shoes does make the outfit! Do you think that's true? I would definitely save up now for some nice shoes. They tend to last longer me thinks... :-)

Just want to gush about your site! I check it every day--in fact, I've finally subscribed to your site just so I don't miss anything. :-)

#5 Sue on 2010-04-06 14:21 (Reply)
Looking good is work indeed, but also a little like sports: you can train and you'll get better.
As already mentioned above, I usually tend to think about an outfit whenever I see an item I like. When shopping for pants or skirts, it helps to go and check for a top / blouse / sweater similiar to somethign you own to try it on with. so you'll get the idea whether it works with other items in your closet.

what also helps is figuring out what you actually NEED to make your already existing wardrobe work. people tend to buy more and more of items they already have. So looking trough your wardrobe and checking for missing items ("I could pull that outfit of if only I had a xyz" is a good indicator for something that's certainly missing...) always helps mindful (and successful) shopping.
#6 Belle (Homepage) on 2010-04-06 14:30 (Reply)
Brilliant! I can't say I've got the guts to snap photos of total strangers, but if I could, I'd be FAR more stylistically evolved.
#7 Sally (Homepage) on 2010-04-06 14:43 (Reply)
Thanks budgetbabe for the advice!
#8 donna (Homepage) on 2010-04-06 15:05 (Reply)
This is really good stuff. When I go shopping I do a quick inventory of my closet and already existing outfits that can be made from all of my items with accessories and shoes included. That way, I can go to the store with a plan in place and not wind up with a bad impulse buy that doesn't work well for me. It sounds nerdy, but sometimes I go with a list of things that I would like to add to my wardrobe, lol.

Also, I always get teased by family (lightly) about how I dress because I favor ballet flats over 4 inch heels, my overall style is kind of boho/girly, and I don't like to show too much leg or cleavage. I stick to what I like though, because its flattering and comfortable and I don't feel like I'm dressing to impress anyone or to keep up with what someone else is wearing. I think when it comes to fashion you have to stick to your guns since its definitely not meant to be one style fits all.
#9 Athena on 2010-04-06 16:33 (Reply)
Good post, although I'd disagree with No. 10. Shop alone OR with somebody who has a good critical eye and will be honest (for me, that's my sister). I tend to try on loads of stuff and like or love almost all of it, but she's good at immediately rejecting things for specific reasons ("wrong color," "that sweater is 'fat length,'" etc.). Not surprisingly, she pretty much can never find something she likes enough to buy.
#10 jane (Homepage) on 2010-04-07 03:43 (Reply)
excellent post! these are great tips to keep in mind...i know so many of my clients feel so overwhelmed just looking at their closet, much less in the store trying to shop. i can't tell you how many times i've heard, "i bought that because the salesperson said it looked good on me. i have a similar list of tips that i give to my clients.

and, i ALWAYS ask strangers where they purchased something if i really like it! wouldn't you be flattered if someone asked you?? :-) thanks BB!
#11 jill (Homepage) on 2010-04-07 08:01 (Reply)
Great post BB! I agree with all your tips.. although sometimes I do shop with my very honest sister who always -kindly- gives me her opinion. I also agree with trying to picture what is in your closet, so you don't end up with 5936396 black cardigans like me LOL
#12 nora on 2010-04-07 08:42 (Reply)
yeah i miss shopping with my sister (we live in different cities). she's good at giving me that extra nudge to try new things and be more adventurous with my style!
#12.1 The Budget Babe on 2010-04-07 17:04 (Reply)
Great tips!
#13 Johanna on 2010-04-07 10:54 (Reply)
My tips would include being very picky about fit, cause if it doesn't fit right it's not flattering, and cleaning out your closets every season so you know what you have and can toss stuff you don't wear.

Love these tips! Now I'm off to check out the outfit ideas section!
#14 Danielle on 2010-04-07 11:00 (Reply)
I agree, fit is very important. If you try it on and realize it needs to be tailored, then you have to make the commitment to actually take it to the tailor.

My tip? What would Clinton and Stacy say?
#14.1 Brianne on 2010-04-07 17:40 (Reply)
nice post..thx for sharing.. i love fashion :-)
#15 daily fashion (Homepage) on 2010-04-08 00:30 (Reply)
My tips:
A - Know what works for your body.
B - Invest in a few unique/cool pieces. (Of course on my budget an 'investment' is anything 70-100 bucks.) I just bought a dark navy sequin blazer from H&M ($70 on sale). Practical? No. But it will look good over any basic top with nice jeans and heels for a night out in Chicago.
C - Don't feel like you have to buy things every time you shop. Keep in mind certain pieces you're looking for and try on lots of different items. Only buy what you REALLY like. 9 times out of 10 I don't buy anyting when I shop. Be picky about your clothing 'collection' as I like to say. Have fun with is a reflection of you. :-)
#16 Jen on 2010-04-08 09:35 (Reply)
Awesome post. I totally need a wardrobe revamp and to make my style a little more grown up and classy! So glad I found you :-)
#17 Marzioan (Homepage) on 2010-04-10 00:21 (Reply)
great tips, budget babe! When I can get him to come along, I shop with my fella. In general, his eye is more honest than mine, because he knows me really well and can approach my wardrobe with my objectivity and my body with more kindness than I can. I really trust his eye.

Also, I'd encourage those building a wardrobe on a budget to shop consignment, vintage, and thrift. All of these options mean a greater investment of time, as you have to try on everything (remember, even if you know your size, secondhand clothing could have been altered by its original owner - don't trust the tags, and don't get discouraged!!), but you can often find higher quality and better construction at a much lower price.

I personally don't buy in multiples, but that's only because I'm comfortable mixing and matching and I want great variety in my closet.
#18 sarah (Homepage) on 2010-04-10 10:38 (Reply)
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