(*Well, almost like designer clothes...)
In an ideal world, The Fashion Police would walk around clad head-to-toe in designer clothing. Everything we wore would be lovingly made from the highest-quality fabric, by the most skilled seamstresses the fashion world has to offer.
(Actually, can we be totally honest here? Even if we miraculously became filthy rich overnight, we don't think we'd be able to resist a quick look around our favourite high-street haunts every now and then. Low price doesn't ALWAYS mean low quality, of course, and once a bargain hunter, always a bargain hunter...)
But this isn't an ideal world. Like many people, if we want to indulge our love of fashion, we often have to shop from the budget end of the market, whether than means thrift stores, eBay, or cheap n' cheerful retailers like H&M, Primark and Forever 21.
Just because we buy cheap clothes, though, it doesn't mean we want them to LOOK like cheap clothes. And luckily, we don't always have to. Here are our tips on how to make cheap clothes look (more) like designer clothes...
1. Not all cheap clothes are created equal
We're starting off with the most obvious tip, which is that you need to choose your battles: and by "your battles", we mean "your clothes". If you're a regular budget shopper, you probably know that while there are plenty of cheap items of clothing which look every bit as cheap as they are, every so often you'll turn up an absolute gem. Have you ever asked someone where they got that dress/sweater/whatever, and been amazed when they answer "Primark!"? We have. This is because not all cheap clothes are created equal. Some are just better: better fabric, better workmanship, better cut. You might have to hunt for them, but they are there, we promise...
2. Pay close attention to fabric
Have you ever watched your mum walk into a clothing store and immediately pick something up and start rubbing the fabric between her fingertips? It's a good habit to get into. Some fabrics just have an extra potential to look cheap. Chiffon, for instance. Shiny polyester. Anything, lamé or sequined. And, in the case of shoes, faux suede or leather. We're not saying these fabrics will always look cheap, just that they're more likely to, and can be harder to un-cheapen if they do. Most of the time, it's pretty easy to tell which fabrics will have this effect, but in general, steer clear of anything too see-through, anything too shiny, and anything that looks like it'll crease easily, and look instead for thicker, more hard-wearing fabrics which don't look like they'll go up in flames if you stand too close to a fire.
3. Fit is everything
OK, it's not absolutely everything. But when it comes to clothing, it's almost everything. Ill-fitting garments will cheapen your whole look, even if they themselves were expensive. Try everything on, don't be afraid to go up a size if you need to, and if all else fails, find yourself a decent seamstress (or learn how to do it yourself) and have the item altered. When it fits like it was made for you, it will look instantly more expensive.
4. Replace buttons, belts and other embelishments
Ever noticed how many high street dresses come with a "free" belt these days? And how often that belt is a flimsy, plastic affair, often in some lurid, neon colour, which looks like it belongs on a doll rather than on a grown woman? Get rid of that belt. And while you're at it, get rid of the cheap buttons (plastic pretending to be metal? Bin it.), tacky brooches and anything else that's been attached to your garment and makes it look cheaper. Replace the plastic belt with a leather one and the buttons with better quality ones and you're item won't only look more expensive, it'll also look a little more unique.
5. Look after your clothes...
...and your clothes will look after you. Or something like that, anyway. What we mean by this is that it doesn't matter how much money you spend on a garment, if you toss it in the back of the wardrobe and don't look after it properly, it'll look like you dug it out of the bargain bin. Iron your clothes. Polish your shoes. Use a lint roller to get rid of those annoying bits of white fluff that like to attach themselves to dark trousers. Don't wear clothes that are grubby or stained. Repair holes, snip off loose threads, replace missing buttons. All basic stuff, all more than worth the few minutes it'll take to actually do it.
6. Mix it up
High-low is not just the name of a particular type of skirt. It's also a way of dressing in which you mix cheaper items with better quality pieces, thus creating the illusion that everything you're wearing is expensive. You don't have to head straight to Hermes for those "better quality" pieces, either: but a real leather bag (whatever the brand) or belt will add the illusion of "expense" to a cheap dress; a silk scarf (which you can often find in thrift stores for much less than they'd cost new) or a good quality coat will go a long way to making sure that while your clothes might be cheap, no one will ever have to know but you.
[Note: This article was partly inspired by a post at Forever Amber: apologies to anyone who's seeing some of the same things twice!]