My body is wholly unremarkable. When young, this seemed a great hardship. I never grew taller than 5’ 4”. I never developed svelte little muscles to replace my baby fat. And even if I did, I never could develop a tan, so the poor, hard-working dears would be lost in a blinding glare of white.
Nevertheless, I somehow look good, almost everyday. There’s a bros-tale passed around by perplexed men: “Women dress for each other, not for us.” Though so simple to be supposed true, their theory sideswipes the main point. People dress to feel good. Nothing changes the way you walk, the way you carry yourself, they way you interact with strangers and others, more than the choices you make in the closet.
But don’t fear. Fashion is not serious like calculus. It is frivolous and playful.
Big-ticket fashion—in which you pay the actual prices listed in captions to photo shoots—must be a ball. If you can fork over $550 for a brocaded tank top, and you have taste, of course you’ll look good. Cheep fashion offers a different reward. You get both the thrill of the find and the thrill of the deal. It’s fairly narcotic.
I have a few basic cheep tricks to keep me on track. These are like mantras—quick words I repeat in the heat of the moment to stay wise.
#1: Fashion is a luxury.
Fashion is many things, but it is not a necessity. This is no food, no shelter. This is good-weather gear. You may want it, but you don’t need it. In cheep fashion, you can always walk away. Money is freedom. And you don’t want to lose your freedom to all the pretty things.
#2: Be an opportunist.
Time is also a luxury. Don’t waste a luxury on a luxury. Instead, be strategic, and build a great wardrobe over time. When I go to the mall every few months to get mineral foundation from Sephora, I’ll park near Macy’s and do a quick skim of sales on the way. I don’t bother looking at anything other than the deeply discounted racks, and by now, I know exactly where these are at many, many stores. I’ll look at anything at “50% off” or above, but I prefer the “up to 75%” off signs. On lucky days, you’ll find those topped with a red insert: “additional 40% off.” This is the golden city of cheep fashion. Enjoy.
Also, if a Ross Dress For Less is in the area, and you have time, stop, skim and savor the sweetest kills.
#3 Be strict on fabric and fit—but open on color and design.
Cheep fashion is not for the faint of dress. You get a great discount only because what you find is not in great demand from the general buying public. Embrace this. You’ll look chic and unique, and spend way less than the crowd. When skimming sales racks, I’ll look for fabric and fit, then label and price. If you have all four, you have a winner. I like natural fibers, like wool, silk, cotton, linen and some cotton-poly blends, with interesting, precise details and a clean fit. Good labels lend their sold brand reputation and high MSRP to back up your pick.
Then, be adventurous. Try different colors and styles and looks. Pay attention to things you find interesting on other people—on TV shows, on Michelle Obama or Lady Gaga, on hip young things walking down the street. This will help you widen your idea of what works and spin your own wardrobe ideas.
#4: Sum yourself up.
Finally, avoid buying things that are wrong for you by giving yourself a loose concept for your overall look. After all, you’re building a cohesive wardrobe that you’ll want to mix and match. I rely on the word classy. This keeps me from buying things I’ll regret, like cute but ultimately hippy or teen-queen outfits. After some practice, this sorting process becomes rapid fire. Soon, in just a few minutes, you’re finding a fabulous orange Fila cotton skirt/short with tan piping marked down from $150 to $5 in the petite discount section at Ross Dress For Less.