Just because you may have blown your budget during the holidays, it doesn't mean you have to start the new year off in a frumpy fashion funk. You can look like you have designer style even when you've got less cash to spend. It just takes an attitude adjustment.
"It basically boils down to this: The way you dress tells the rest of the world how you expect to be treated," says Clinton Kelly, lifestyle expert on ABC's "The Chew" and author of "Freakin' Fabulous on a Budget." "And when you are treated the way you really want to be treated, it feels pretty freakin' good."
Kelly, who has dished out his fair share of style advice on TLC's "What Not to Wear," feels like having a great wardrobe does not require a huge investment. It may help, "but money does not guarantee good style."
Here are some of Kelly's tips for improving your style this year:
—Create a fashion budget. We may have heard this a million times, but it deserves to be repeated. Think before you spend, especially now that we are in the middle of sale season. "Don't spend money willy-nilly because you will end up with a closet full of mismatched pieces," says Kelly. "Dressing well on a budget is not about bargain shopping; it's about smart shopping."
—Kelly suggests determining how much you have to spend on clothes per year — whether it's $200 or $2,000 — and then use 70 percent on classic clothes and 30 percent on trendy pieces ... depending on your age and lifestyle. Think cost per wear — the value of a garment is the cost divided by how many times you wear it. A great pair of jeans for $140 that fits you perfectly and you wear two to three times per week is a much better deal than a pair of bargain-brand jeans that don't fit so great and you may wear only two to three times per year.
—Follow the rule of "2 plus 2." "Every garment should be able to fit into two categories of your life — work, weekend and evening," says Kelly. For example, a jacket you pair with jeans should also be able to be worn with a shirtdress to the office and a sparkly top with trousers in the evening. "When nothing works together, you end up with a closet full of clothes with tags on them and a wallet full of regrets."
—Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse. Who doesn't hate to clean out his or her closet? But Kelly assures us it will change our lives. "Ditch your skinny clothes and your fat clothes," he says. "The pile you're left with will usually show you just what kind of style rut you are in."
—Know that fit is the essence of style. "Women with great style and money know that fit means everything," says Kelly. "Invest time and money on some nips and tucks. Buy clothes that fit your most difficult body part, and then have them altered to fit the other areas."
—Choose a style icon. Audrey Hepburn is a personal favorite of mine. "You need somebody to look up to, to learn from, someone who does what you want to do better than you know how to do it," says Kelly. His inspiration? Mr. Rogers and his cardigan sweaters and Gene Rayburn with his mismatched prints on "The Match Game."
Kelly cites the example of Gwyneth Paltrow. "You can ask yourself every time you shop, 'Is this something Gwynnie would wear?' White cross-trainers? Probably not. Drapey silk blouse and multichain necklace? Sure."
—Study high-end design. "Designers knock off looks all the time," admits Kelly. "And that's your duty when shopping on a budget — to take a high-end look and completely knock it off by doing it in a budget-savvy way." Check out stores like H&M and Target that regularly feature designer collections at less expensive prices.
—Shop for classics. These are the backbone of your budget — the dark jeans, the trench coat, the pencil skirt, the cardigan, the little black dress. "If you can imagine yourself wearing it five years ago, it will probably be in style five years from now," says Kelly. "It's really helpful when you're standing at the register about to pay for your purple leather walking shorts."
Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association. To find out more about Sharon Mosley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.