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Fall Fashion

25 secrets of recession chic

How to look grand even if your wallet’s only full of Jacksons.

By Tina Sutton
August 23, 2009

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LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Visit your closet before the mall, says Boston personal shopper Alexandra Ryan, owner of Show Me Style. Organize all your clothes for the upcoming season to see what you have, what’s missing, and where you went wrong with unworn purchases. Learn from your mistakes, and make a list of immediate needs and wants to keep future shopping trips focused.

STOP REPEATING YOURSELF

Do you really need another pair of black pants? “Clients tend to buy the same thing over and over again because it’s easy,” says Scout’s Alisa Neely. In this economy, it’s better to invest in a wardrobe game changer or something that instantly updates what you’ve got.

MULTI-TASK Don’t buy something unless you can wear it at least three ways, advises Ryan. Great examples are DKNY’s versatile “Cozy” sweaters (prices start at $160) that wrap and tie in 12 different configurations. Or try this fall’s sleek wool jersey “it” dress, such as Ann Taylor’s gray cowl-neck style for $140 that works with a wide variety of jewelry, shoes, and layering pieces.

SLEEP ON IT If a boutique only offers store credit for returns, never make snap decisions. Sure, the chic whatever looks fantastic on you. But so will lots of other less pricey items. Put it on hold for 24 hours. When the fashion adrenaline rush has subsided, your desire to buy often goes with it.

SHOP WITHOUT THE BFF

Close gal pals are great for dating advice but can be enablers on the shopping front. She’s your friend. Of course she wants you to have that outrageously expensive designer blouse you love. Add the pressure of an enthusiastic sales person, and you can be megabucks lighter in a flash.

GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT Open a no-fee credit card account at high-end stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barneys New York for access to promotions and discounts. Loyalty reward dollars good on future purchases are another perk. And ask department store salespeople about seasonal “friends and family” discounts of 15 to 20 percent storewide.

ODD? THEN SUBTRACT

You know why that mustard plaid designer jacket is marked down so low? Because it doesn’t go with anything but the now-unavailable matching skirt. No matter how great the sale price of an item, if you can’t immediately turn it into an outfit with what you already own, it’s a waste of money.

MAKE FRIENDS IN HIGH-END PLACES

Form relationships with store salespeople and boutique owners, says Neely. They’ll get to know your style, and even if you can only afford one special piece at the beginning of the season, they’ll let you know when items you covet go on sale and often put them aside for you.

TRYING ISN’T BUYING

Another Neely tip: Try on all the designer items you love when they first hit stores, even if you can’t afford them. (Note: Leave credit cards at home!) You’ll discover some things you drooled over weren’t right for you after all. And you’ll know your correct size for quick action at future in-store or online sales.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

For cool styles at hot prices, check out store “private label” collections. Without the advertising, marketing, and sales costs of a big-name brand, in-house lines are often a great value. And many talented designers work quietly behind the seams, like Joseph Abboud, who creates Lord & Taylor’s spiffy “Black & Brown” menswear.

ONLINE, ON BUDGET

For bargains on top-tier designer lines like Dolce & Gabbana, Vera Wang, and Alexander McQueen, Alice Miles of Stilista recommends the invitation-only Gilt Groupe (sign up at stilistaboston.com/blog); ruelala.com is another favorite for great fashion deals. Go local by signing up at getsugar.com for free weekly discount coupons good at boutiques such as Stil, Moxie, and First Date.

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

Retro trends were parading down fall runways. Shop vintage instead and save, says Newton public relations consultant Debbie Weisberg, author of The Fashion Lover’s Guide to Incredible Bargains. She suggests checking websites like http://poshvintage.com for bold print dresses, short belted winter coats, and elbow-length gloves. Or visit vintage boutiques Cafe Society in Brookline and Dame in Jamaica Plain.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Attending loads of social events with the same circle of friends? Don’t feel the need to don a different dress for every occasion. If Michelle Obama can wear her memorable clothes more than once, so can you. And wouldn’t you rather look fabulous in the same spectacular dress than so-so in several sale-rack specimens?

CONSIGN OF THE TIMES

Secondhand doesn’t mean second-rate; just give dealers time to find what you’re looking for, says Kevin Kish, owner of Boston consignment store The Closet. Kish keeps detailed wish lists and will go on the hunt for you. “I have some great New York consigners and will call clients when that perfect dress comes in.”

BUY IN HASTE, REPENT AT LEISURE

Just got invited out to dinner? Don’t run around town trying to buy something new, advises Ryan. “Stress shopping” invariably leads to spending too much money on a not-so-great outfit, she explains. “Spend that time shopping in your closet and reinventing something,” such as pairing an edgy necklace with an elegant dress, or creating a chic mix of colors, like navy and black.

GET CRAFTY

Value-priced handmade clothes and jewelry are a great way to personalize your wardrobe, says Miles. She likes Oak on Newbury Street and etsy.com, where “you can get a killer one-of-a-kind necklace for as low as $15.” Click on the editor’s picks for the best of the best, she adds. And visit Cambridge’s designhivemarket.com for upcoming dates of its independent designer markets, where local creativity rules.

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Don’t chase trends, advises Neely. Cultivate a personal look that suits your lifestyle and body type. “You end up finding you don’t need so many clothes.” Neely suggests investing in one truly special piece each season from a local boutique like Stel’s, dress, or Looc, then mixing it with hip bargains from Zara, Target’s GO International designer lines, and The Gap’s cool styles by Patrick Robinson and Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund winners.

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF REINVENTION

Own loads of dainty beads and chains, but no trendy statement jewels? Take a “Repurpose Your Jewelry” class ($40) at Bead + Fiber in the South End (http://beadandfiber.net). Also, rethink your favorite summer fashions for fall. For example, the asymmetry of a one-shoulder tank top can update the neckline of a classic blazer when worn under it.

DO SOME LEGWORK

When it comes to fashion bang for your buck, you can’t do much better than dramatic hosiery. Picture a little black dress and high heels with opaque turquoise hose, animal-print tights, or sexy seamed fishnets. Hue Studio in the Natick Collection has an amazing array of leg candy.

PATRONIZE SHOEMAKERS

And not just the talented souls who make your well-worn footwear look new again. Inexpensive shoe clips, like the “Sabrina” black bows with rhinestone centers ($12.50) at absolutelyaudrey.com, can totally transform your basic pumps and flats, says Miles. Carry them in your purse for an easy work-to-nightlife makeover.

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

Don’t buy anything you don’t love 110 percent, advises Ryan. Go for that immediate “Wow.” Her local store picks for great trendy items under $100: Pinkyotto, Soodee, and Lit on Newbury Street, Habit and Ku De Ta in South Boston, and Mint Julep in Brookline and Cambridge. They also have great sales help, she adds. Or go it alone at The Runway off-price designer departments at T.J. Maxx in Framingham and Fresh Pond Shopping Center in Cambridge.

TAKE MY BRIDESMAID DRESS, PLEASE

Want something new for free? Organize a clothing swap with friends. One person’s fashion mistake can be your funky treasure. The key is inviting pals with similar tastes and spending habits, so the exchanges are on par.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

To figure out if a big-ticket purchase is worth the investment, divide the price by the likely number of times you’ll wear it, says Alisa Neely, owner of the Boston personal shopping/styling service Scout. In a Boston winter, she asks, are you really going to be able to wear those Stella McCartney pink satin shoes out of the house? But a gorgeous pair of designer boots may be worth a splurge.

TAKE COVER

In New England, coats get more daily exposure than Paris Hilton. While navy blue or black is safe, why not make a major fashion statement wherever you go with a bold color and notice-me style? Great picks are Betsey Johnson’s A-line tomato-red quilted topper with back bow, a Nordstrom exclusive at $138, or Via Spiga’s dramatic fuchsia wool trench coat, $340 at Macy’s.

IT DOESN’T HURT TO ASK

“A lot of stores are more willing to negotiate prices these days,” says Alice Miles, co-owner of Stilista, a Boston personal styling agency. But be polite, and don’t expect a huge discount. If it’s “no,” accept that gracefully, she adds. Miles suggests approaching boutique owners, because they have the most obvious authority to reduce prices.

Tina Sutton writes the weekly Fashion Snapshot column. E-mail her at tsutton@globe.com.

  • August 23, 2009 cover
  • august 23 globe magazine cover
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