How to Look Expensive on a Budget

DC is starting to feel like spring and I’m vaxxed up and ready to hang outside with my other vaccinated friends. Which means I have to retire the loungewear I've been wearing at home and start thinking about what I want to wear to hang with friends. I want to look polished, put together and feel my best. You don't have to have a lot of money to do that. Make use of what you already have in your closet, take inventory, see what still fits and looks flattering. Then put together a few outfits following the rules I'm going to lay out here with eight tips. This will be a two part blog post. 


When it comes to luxury, I think the most important thing that people negate is smelling rich. First tip is to always smell good. You know what classy ladies always have in common - a signature scent. It leaves a long lasting impression and makes you look put together and expensive. Marilyn Monroe was once asked what she wears to bed and she said Chanel No. 5. I prefer Chanel Beige which smells of frangipani flowers (Hawaiian lei flowers). Beige is one of the cornerstone colors for the fashion house and Coco's favorite color. But, their most popular fragrance for young women is Coco Mademoiselle. I list all of my favorite fragrances in this post.  Your scent does go before you in terms of creating a good impression. You should invest in your perfume because it creates the perfect package to always smell good.

I know you can't go to stores to try on perfume anyone so I recommend ScentSplit to order samples. They don't sell Chanel, but I've been watching quite a few youtube videos on best recommended fragrances for spring and two fragrances were mentioned frequently that I think smell nice: Rouge Malachite and Bal d'Afrique. I've had luck finding pricey niche perfume on ebay and they're new bottles. The trick is to only buy from US sellers who are long term members of ebay and have 100% feedback to ensure authenticity. Zara sells dupes of popular fragrances for $20. You can't sample in the store, but it's not much of a loss to blind buy. They release new perfumes every year so it's hard to research reviews. Also Sarah Jessica Parker's Stash is an affordable perfume that smells expensive. It's a unisex woody scent that's not sweet or fruity. It's a great affordable dupe for the more pricey Tom Ford Santal Blush (my fave) or the famous Le Labo Santal 33. Retire that Marc Jacobs Daisy fragrance you've been wearing, it too generic and boring. Create an expensive aura with your fragrance. You'll be noticed as that classy chick that always smells good.


You can look expensive without spending crazy amounts of money on your whole outfit and without breaking the bank. What I'm hearing everyone say is that you should stick to neutral colors: white, black, and brown. And I'm adding blush pink to my color palette because that looks good on my skin colorSome colors just look more expensive and that's everything in the neutral color palette.  Neutral colors are easy to style and timeless. Think about it, an all black outfit always look chic and it hides whatever cheap fabric it is. I don't wear too much black, but I'm all about an all white outfit. I'm trying to add more brown outfits to my closet. 

I'm not saying don't wear color, I love to wear color, but pick one statement color at a time. The royals love to wear monochromatic color outfits because they always look fantastic.  For some reason it’s very aesthetically pleasing to be wearing an outfit that’s different shades of the same color, it looks really polished. So when in doubt, monochrome. Get some pinterest inspirations for monochrome outfits and you'll see that they look more exquisite. 

Avoid too many patterns and prints which can tend to look cheaper. I own dresses with prints on them, but my preference is to wear a solid color dress. Switch your buttons if they look cheap, my mother always did this. She also sews in tiny snaps between my buttons if my button down shirt has gaps there. (Large chested women know what I'm talking about.) If your buttons are droopy, resew them to tighten them up. Check that the top seam of a blouse lines up with your shoulder, my mother is very particular about this when taking photos. Roll up your sleeves a little bit when you're wearing a button down shirt or sweater, this is a great detail that helps to elevate your outfit. 

Try to avoid clothes with exposed zippers in the back, designer clothing usually hides zippers under fabric on dresses and skirts. Also ditch your sheer shirts, tie dye clothing and shirts with words on them. No cold shoulder tops, let them go, they look dated. Also no head to toe in a designer logo, unless the fashion house is paying you to advertise for them. Otherwise it looks cheap. Limit the logos to one. 

Toss out your ribbed sweaters, I don't know what it is but something about them just look cheap.  Another trend that doesn't look good on anyone are waterfall cardigans. The extra fabric and material just adds more bulk and looks frumpy. I'd also stay away from oversized cardigans and ones with large floral prints on them.  Be sure to wear a fitted shirt under your cardigans because the cardigan is already giving you that extra layer to conceal your shape. 

Invest in a few quality pieces. For instance a nice coat or blazer can elevate any look. Camel color (like in the first pictures above) in particular makes an outfit look expensive. It took me a couple years to find the perfect camel cardigan. If you buy one pricey piece, get a trench coat, mine is baby pink. Whatever you wear, make sure your clothes look tailored or structured for a streamlined look. Anything baggy looks sloppy and not put together. Cuff your jeans by rolling them up with a tiny (not wide)  fold.

Aim to look good all the time - then it becomes an expectation for the way you want to live. That means having nice loungewear for at home, nice pajama sets, and not walking your dog in your pajamas. Even if you're just going to the grocery store, who knows who you're going to run into. Plan your outfits for the week on Sunday to make it super easy to wake up in the morning and always look good.  I use the Stylebook app to plan my week's outfits. At a minimal, plan your outfit the night before to ensure you have enough time to dress better. That gives you more time to work on the perfect outfit.

When you feel confident in your clothes, that confidence radiates to the world. My personal style is always evolving and my goal for future shopping is to look for more earthy colors and build monochrome outfits which means getting slacks in royal colors. 

Iron Your Clothes

Don’t wear wrinkled clothing or else it will look cheap. My mother loves to iron her clothes, I'm more of a steamer kind of gal. I feel like ironing is such a chore taking out the ironing board etc. People underestimate the power of ironing as you can make something expensive look like crap by not ironing it or you can make a cheap item look more expensive by ironing it. Go out in fresh and crisp clothes that are pressed and tailored. And use common sense, wear clean clothes with no coffee stains and not covered in lint. I keep my lint roller and static spray by the front door so they are easy to find at the last minute when I need them.


Wearing jewelry is a must for every female as jewelry is what puts an outfit together. 
Have you heard of the Third Piece Rule? If your shirt and pants are your first and second pieces, then you add a third piece to your outfit (not counting shoes). Both the Banana Republic and Nordstrom require their employees to follow the third piece rule to ensure that they look stylish at work. Your third piece can be a cardigan, belt, hat, or necklace. That third piece adds the finishing touch to any outfit to transform it from boring to fab with the layering. Always incorporate jewelry into your outfit but stick to dainty delicate jewelry. Don’t wear any statement pieces as it will overdo it and look tacky. Some popular bracelets right now are the Cartier Love Bracelet and the Tiffany T bracelet, lots of dupes around of them. 

I'd recommend  switching out your large watch for a smaller watch. I think a lot of people wear watches as jewelry now as they will check the time on their phone. A luxury watch is a statement piece in and of itself. Your wrist speaks, it's not just for men, so carry a vibe in how you speak with your hands.  For your necklaces, don't wear that shiny fake looking yellow metal which only looks cheap.  Chain necklaces are in style. Diamond studs add elegance without effort, I wear them daily since my neck often feels sensitive to wear necklaces. Having versatile pieces mean you don't need to own many accessories, just a few pieces that go with everything. Incorporate designer accessories into outfits, as having that one item instantly elevates the outfit. 


You can make a cheap outfit look expensive with accessories.  A good pair of statement sunglasses always look posh and can really impact your look.  You just need one pair that flatters your face nicely. Tip: don't rest your sunglasses on top of your head, it stretches them out and that's why they slip off your face later. Costco will tighten your sunglasses for you. pictured below are my sunglasses from Quay which are no longer on their site but I found a dupe for them. I've been wearing Quay sunglasses for a few years now and I liked this pair so much I accidently bought it twice when they had a sale so now I have a backup pair. You don't need designer sunglasses, an affordable pair can look expensive. I think the key is oversized. Sunglasses are always on trend (celebs consistently wear them) so having a style that is unique to you will make you look stylish. 


Yes, even the smallest part of your body should be well groomed. Always have neat polished nails but avoid the Khloe Kardashian length. Very long sharp nails tend to distract from your outfit, so keep them simple and chic. Chipped nails look unkept and juvenile which ultimately does not look expensive or classy. The lady who I know who always looks wonderful  always has a fresh light pink gel manicure and that's something I always notice about her. Because beautiful nails make you look put together and they can look fantastic in different colors as well. I love bold colors, so feel free to wear any color that fancies you. I talk with my hands a lot and my co-workers occasionally comment on my nail color in zoom meetings, so have your nails done ladies. I've been painting my nails every Sunday since middle school. 

Designer Pieces that Aren't Worth the Money

I'm always going to be straight up with you. I know this is going to ruffle some feathers here but I have to say it. 

Please retire your Gucci belt, everyone has one, it's passé. Repeat after me: Just because it's expensive, does not mean it's tasteful. Teenagers are wearing the Gucci belt and pairing it with the Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote. All the people with terrible taste flock to this belt because they think its some sort of status symbol but the rest of us know it symbolizes bad taste. If you want a bag that everyone on the block has then go ahead and get the LV Neverfull tote. I think the LV Netherfull tote is for the mom upgrading her handbag because she's way too above her previous Michael Kors bag. It's basic, everyone has it, it's the number one bag I see at the airport, please don't get it. Strive to be different. 

The three belts I like are the small Valentino Vlogo belt,  the Hermes Mini Constance belt and the Tory Burch reversible belt.

I also think the Gucci Marmont is overexposed. So if you must get the Marmont, don't get it in brown or black, get a different color. I got in the royal blue velvet.

I think these pieces are all very basic and that there are way better options for your money.   I'll be nice and share some links to designer inspired bags. But I encourage you not to get pieces that everyone else has. I understand that sometimes you just like what you like and I carry rainbow color bags which I know doesn't go with the first rule of wearing neutrals, but I think that's what makes me unique - I'm carrying a bag in a color that no one else has. 


If you can only invest in one thing for your wardrobe invest in a nice handbag. A luxury bag automatically elevates your outfit. Pairing your outfit with a bag makes people believe your outfit is more expensive than it is. A structured bag is better than a slouchy bag. 

What I think are really cool bags right now that are on the lower price spectrum for designer bags is the Coach Pillow Tabby. Coach has really rebranded and released a unique looking bag. The older Tabby is on sale right now for $165.  Prada has the Re-Edition 2000 Nylon Mini Bag which comes in 10 colors. That's been my everyday bag. I also like the Tory Burch Kira Chevron bag which reminds me of the YSL pillow bag. Aldo has an even cheaper version which is cute too. With summer coming up, you might want to look into getting a white bag. I actually saw a cute one at Target or I'm loving this YSL clutch. 


A lot of people purchase designer bags on the resale market. In college, I loved Kate Spade bags and would buy them from Ebay. Vintage bags are unique because they're rare since less people have them so that's a great option instead of getting the same bag as everyone else. Other great resell sites are the Vestiaire Collective, Fashion Phile, and TheRealReal. You might have heard that Chanel is suing theRealReal for selling counterfeit bags but TheRealReal is countersuing them back with receipts saying Chanel is just trying to limit the amount of retailers who sell used Chanel bags and that they're also upset their bags are being sold without the duster and box. Chanel has been raising their prices every year for literally the same bag, so that's why a lot of people are shopping for Chanel on the resell market. The newer lambskin bags do scratch easily so go for the caviar texture. Also check out your local thrift store for designer bags. And Estate Sales are another good way to thrift, they are put up by people are moving.
Organize your closet for accessibility. I don't have a fancy bookshelf to display all my bags but I found space at the top of my shoe closet to have all my bags in one place so I can easily switch them out everyday. From left to right in my closet is the Bottega Veneta - Jodie Mini Knot Boho bag in almond. This was my first bag in a neutral color, very different for me, but it pairs fantastic with an all black outfit. Behind it is the Gucci Marmont in blue velvet. The little green bag is the Jacquemus mini bag, yes fully aware that buying a bag too small to fit my phone is ridiculous lol. The red Gucci Jackie is named after Jackie Kennedy who sported an older model of the bag. Behind it are the Prada nylon and the Prada Cleo in pink. 

Hanging on the stand is the Dior saddle bag in navy which someone just told me they saw Sarah Jessica Parker sporting in an episode of SATC (see bags never go out of style). The pink Lady Dior bag was named after Princess Diana who used to wear the black version of it frequently. My goal was to have a purse in every color of the rainbow and my yellow purse just holds my phone when I go on my daily lunch walk outside. My white iridescent Chanel isn't pictured. Colorful bags are an easy way to add a pop of color to your neutral outfit.

For anyone who says spending money on luxury bags is a waste of money, if you keep a bag in prime condition you can sell it. So saying that women are stupid for spending their money on anything for themselves, especially luxury goods is basically saying that women don't know how to spend their own money and are dumb for spending money on themselves. Men spend money on expensive cars (which don't have good appreciation), too many sneakers, expensive sports tickets to events you can see for free on TV, etc. so everyone has their hobbies. As long as your budget balances and you can do both: buy a bag and save for a vacation, then it's nobody's business how you spend your money. Rest assured my shopping during the pandemic has been racking up a lot of airline miles on my credit card. I can count on one hand the number of times I went out to eat in a restaurant in the past 12 months so that's a huge savings. No, I didn't replace that with delivery/ take out. I'm the last person to have cancelled my landline today, that will save me $510 over a year. I cancelled my Orangetheory membership at the start of the pandemic so that's a savings of $1764 for the year. I don't own a car because I live in the city. I've been working on padding my emergency fund and have no credit card debt. So I'm financially stable and try to be smart with my money, but I think treats help with your mental health. Do what makes you happy, you are worth it. If luxury makes you happy, enjoy it, it's ok.

Anyway, I didn't want to make this post too long so I wrote a part 2 for shoes in the next post.

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