Real-life experts: Looking super chic on a real-life budget

I love an expert opinion as much as the next gal--that's why I regularly tune in to Oprah--but there's something to be said for the everyday experts in life. And when it comes to dressing well, day in, day out, these are the women who make my head spin. They're not tailed by hair and make-up people, they don't have Rachel Zoe in their pocket, and they're not working with Carrie Bradshaw-sized budgets. Naturally, it was to these women I turned for advice on how we can all make over our closets from something stuffed with crap into something marvelous. Here, their tips for looking good without breaking the bank:

  1. Find one 4-season item that you love and makes you feel great. When you are frequently living out of a suitcase and still managing to look chic in places like Croatia and Portugal, you learn a thing or two about getting dressed--especially when you manage to do it all on a non-glamorous budget. Frequent flyer Katie suggests that "every woman needs an every-season dress that she loves, though really this could be a skirt or a pair of trousers." The idea, she stresses, is to pick something you love that can be worn in 1,000 different ways. If you've got legs to Texas, this might mean a great fitting pair of slim cut trousers; with Salma Hayek curves, a wrap dress might be your ticket to feel va-va-voom on a Tuesday. Find the right piece for you that "can carry itself through an entire year when paired with the right tights, tops, sweaters, and jackets."
  2. Seek inspiration, even if it's beyond your budget. Lisa, author of the blog A Dinner Party, is pretty much the most impeccably turned-out woman I know. And while she doesn't spend a lot of money on clothes, she's not afraid to seek inspiration from the other half. "Sometimes I go to stores that are way out of my budget just to browse and get inspired. If there's an article of clothing I fall in love with that's too expensive, I'll try to find a close approximation somewhere else. It might not be the exact same pink dress, or shirt, or boots, but I can settle for a cheaper version that captures the same general idea without draining my checking account."
  3. Keep your shopping focused with code words. Wordsmiths will love this tip from my Jean Seberg look-alike, English professor bestie, Alison. "Before I go shopping, I like to have an idea in mind of what my 'look' is about. For instance, my key words are 'sweet' 'tough' 'vintage' 'classic' and occasionally 'Victorian.' Whatever words I'm thinking of, I try and find clothes that fit the idea." Putting the "code words" together is when the secret to a truly individual signature look is revealed. "I like to mix things--if I get a classic cardigan, I'll look for some 'tough girl jeans or boots to pair it with."
  4. Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. All three real-life experts agree on the importance of accessorizing. Despite not being one for jewelry, Lisa admits loving fun necklaces. "They don't have to be expensive, but it's the easiest way I know how to dress up a boring outfit, or make me feel a little better about a bad face or body day." Katie says "little accessories (necklaces, belts, tights, earrings, broaches, etc.) can do as much for the newness of an outfit as an entirely brand new outfit." And Alison calls accessories her "secret weapon." "Having a lot of simple pieces in your wardrobe that you can accessorize differently creates a lot of looks without having too-stuffed closets. My go-to pieces are a studded brown belt, a couple of vintage scarves, my great-grandmother's locket and various other little pieces that help my a basic outfit look more distinctive." Check out these accessories to glamorize even the simplest outfit.
  5. Get your must-haves. For Lisa this means "flattering jeans that fit and are comfortable, a killer pair of shoes that make you feel sexy, something in a bright, bold color (be it a sweater, necklace, or pair of pants), cozy pajamas to come home to, and, of course, a great all-purpose black dress." Whether you're a sneakers girl like Ellen or a dress a day type lady, find what works for your personality and shape, and don't be afraid to stick to it as your personal "uniform." And remember pick-me-ups beyond clothes. For those days when no outfit can be made right, Lisa reminds us of the power of a 5-minute face: "I always feel 100% better with mascara, lip gloss, and a little tinted moisturizer."

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