How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank

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How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending MuchDo you ever feel like you are on a never-ending quest for that perfect piece of clothing?  You know the one–the super flattering dress that will instantly make you look 10 pounds slimmer, or the ultra-cute top that makes your eyes sparkle, or the to-die-for boots that make perfect strangers stop just to tell you how great they are.

My problem is usually that I’ll like something for a while and then suddenly I’ll hate it and have nothing to wear.  Again.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past where I spent way too much money on clothes, only to hate them all a short time later.  These days, I’m much more conscious of what I’m spending, and as a result, I am also much better at picking out things I’ll like for the long haul.

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much

(Top: Aryn K.; Jeans: Vigold; Boots: Miz Mooz)

A cheap shirt is not a bargain if you’ll only wear it once

A few weeks ago, when I cleaned out my closet, I spent some time sorting what to keep and what to give away, and when I looked it all over afterwards, I noticed a trend.  The vast majority of items in the Goodwill pile were lower-end mass retailer pieces I had picked up for super cheap–usually less then $5–that I had only worn once or twice.

There was nothing really wrong with them, I just didn’t like them anymore, whether it was the way they fit after they were washed, or the feel of the fabric.    I realized that even though all those items were pretty cheap, the pile still added up to a lot of wasted money.  I would have been far better off spending more on 1 or 2 high quality pieces.

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much(Top: Three Dots; Jeans: Indi via Groupon; Boots: Miz Mooz)

Stick to brands & stores you know you like–then search for bargains!

High quality doesn’t mean full price!  Even the most expensive stores & labels put things on clearance.  Everything goes on sale eventually–you just have to be willing to wait.  I have had some of the most success finding new clothes I really love by specifically searching for bargains on brands of clothes I already have.

Know what works (and what doesn’t) for your body type

Go to your closet, pick out your favorite shirt or dress and try it on.  What do you like about it?  Chances are it’s your favorite because it fits well, it’s flattering, & shows off the right assets while hiding your flaws.  When you know what necklines, colors, &  shapes look best on you, and you will start to like the way you look in your clothes a lot more.

Be honest with yourself about “problem areas” too.  This doesn’t mean pick yourself apart–no one is perfect–but it does mean be aware of what areas you may want to conceal a little more.  My own problem area is my belly & love handles, so I usually focus on finding tops or dresses that don’t cling to that area.  I am also a big fan of strategic pleats and ruffles that offer a little extra camouflage.

Buy things that fit

As a girl who loves a bargain, I have been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit.  I’ll find a gorgeous dress on some hot clearance rack in a size too small and buy it anyway.  It was such a good deal, I’ll tell myself, and besides it will be motivation to finally lose those last 10 pounds.  And what happens?  The dress inevitably just sits there in my closet, collecting dust, because it doesn’t fit.  It is money down the drain!

Don’t be afraid to take a risk

Look for interesting details or lines or bold colors & patterns.  Sometimes “basic” is just another word for blah, which often means boring.  You don’t have to suddenly go from wearing all black to neon floral, but a statement belt, bright yellow purse, or super cool pair of red shoes could be just the “pop” you need.    Just be sure it fits well & looks good, and rock it!

When in doubt, ask for a friend’s opinion.

If you’re really not sure whether something looks good, ask a friend for an honest assessment.  (Unless you’re looking to start a fight, I wouldn’t recommend asking your husband.)  Sometimes a second opinion can make a big difference.

And speaking of opinions….

I need yours!

Next week I am headed to NYC (for the first time EVER).  I need to pick a dress to wear at a red carpet event & I honestly can’t choose!

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much

1.  Halston Heritage Front Cowl Dress ($70–75% off at Amazon 2 months ago)

2. ECI Black & White Dress ($35–50% off at Nordstrom 6 months ago)

3. Green Swirl Dress ($9.99–95% off at Macy’s 7 years ago)

4. Calvin Klein Red Dress ($10–90% off at Dillards 3 months ago)

And just in case it impacts your decision, here are the shoes:

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much(VANELi Birgitta Open-Toe Pump Aren’t they pretty?  Yay for Swagbucks!)

UPDATE:  This afternoon Maggie decided she didn’t like any of my choices and convinced me, in only the way a 5 year old girly-girl can do, that we should make quick run to the mall before dance class.  Here is what we found:

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much

So NOW which one do you like?

How to Look Your Best Without Breaking the Bank | Look Expensive Without Breaking the Bank | How to Look Expensive | Dress Well Without Spending Much


  1. October 5 at 06:28PM

    I think the purple one is the most elegant and could be dressed up the most with accessories. 🙂

    • Anonymous
      June 25 at 08:01PM

      I agree!!

  2. Abigail
    October 5 at 06:32PM

    I really like #1!!! 🙂

  3. Kelli
    October 5 at 06:33PM

    Either purple or the green swirl! Green seems to POP on you.

  4. karin jones
    October 5 at 06:39PM

    Number 1!! You look fabulous in it!!

  5. Rachel
    October 5 at 06:55PM

    I agree, number one is very pretty and elegant. I also like number two, maybe for dinner when your in NYC!

  6. heather
    October 5 at 07:06PM

    Number 1!!!

  7. October 5 at 07:11PM

    You look the best in #2. It really shows off your figure. I would pick number 3 second. Number 1 drowns you out to much, but it may just be the background. Have fun in NYC!

  8. Patricia
    October 5 at 07:15PM

    I think # 2 is my favorite followed by #1 which could get dressed up with some accessories. Hope you have fun in NYC!

  9. Janell
    October 5 at 07:15PM

    I really like #2. Looks great on you! My second choice would be #4. I love red.

  10. Kerry
    October 5 at 07:17PM

    Definitely #2!

  11. Jaime
    October 5 at 07:39PM

    #1–but don’t forget to accessorize! Bling it on!!!!

  12. October 5 at 07:41PM

    Anything but number #1; I really like 2, 3 and 4 on you.

    And I’d love YOUR opinion – a friend gave me a brown corduroy jacket, not quite my style but it has possibilities. I’m looking for ideas about how to accessorize it. What are your favorite accessories for dressing up a jacket?

  13. Suzana
    October 5 at 07:50PM

    definitely the first one! you look like a greek goddess!

  14. Andrea Henke
    October 5 at 08:07PM

    Either #1 or #4. They are both elegant and could be dressed up with jewelry. I really like the red one on you and think it would go nicely with the black shoes, but the purple one is pretty too.

  15. Yelena
    October 5 at 08:17PM

    I vote for #2! It shows off your figure the best. The red one is cute too, but it looks too plain on the photo.

  16. Angela Wells
    October 5 at 09:02PM

    Number 2 looks great on you!

  17. October 5 at 09:24PM


  18. October 5 at 10:23PM

    I think #1. I also really like #4, but you may blend into the red carpet. :). They are all nice dresses though!

  19. Tina
    October 5 at 10:34PM

    Ruth, I think thre red is very elegant but i think the first is the winner if you want my husbands advice lol ( he walked up and gave his 2 cents) he said 5 was too mature ( dont like that word ) then he said 1 or 2 oh well too funny . Love you Ruth

  20. Jess
    October 5 at 10:41PM

    well I was gonna say #1 or #4 (2 & 3 are nice, but seem a little too casual)…but now I’m going with a solid #6! 🙂

  21. October 5 at 10:54PM

    I say number 6!

  22. jessi
    October 5 at 10:57PM

    I like #2 and #4..#5 is also nice on you..I think #1 is elegant but the wrong color for you..makes you look pale…..

  23. Kristen
    October 5 at 11:15PM

    Number 4!! It looks great!! 🙂

  24. alohakaarin
    October 5 at 11:45PM

    Number 1 by far looks the most appropriate… but number 6 looks great too and you should bring it for another day on your trip.

  25. alohakaarin
    October 5 at 11:47PM

    P.S #1 is also the most current and the coloring looks great on you!! 🙂

  26. courtney
    October 5 at 11:57PM

    youre beautiful! either #1 or #6!

  27. Gaudy
    October 6 at 12:14AM

    #1 & 6

  28. Kim
    October 6 at 01:10AM

    I just love # 2 then I would pick 6 , but with the shoes that you have I would go with #2 very cute 🙂 Have fun in NYC !

  29. Amanda
    October 6 at 01:21AM

    #1 🙂

  30. October 6 at 01:29AM

    which one do you feel most comfortable and confident in? thats the one you should wear…it will look the best because you will fell the best in it 🙂

  31. Tracey
    October 6 at 01:38AM

    #1 and #6 look fabulous on you! 🙂

  32. Taylor
    October 6 at 02:03AM

    I think #1 & #4 look the most appropriate for an evening event. BUT I love the way 5 & 6 look on you. I don’t think either of those options would look as good with the black shoes, as #1 & #4 would. However, I think your new dresses look amazing on you!

  33. Claire
    October 6 at 02:43AM

    Definitely #1 It’s Fall in NYC so you might need to have a wrap – definitely accessorize!!

    And since you are asking for opinions… #2 is good for girls’ night out, #3 church and brunch – love the colors, #4 I do not really like – maybe also ok for a girl’s night, #5 is the least flattering IMO but would be fine for Easter and #6 is adorable but not for Fall in NYC. 🙂 )

  34. Danette
    October 6 at 03:00AM

    Well, it’s NYC – so I normally would say anything black, but the mauve cowl dress #1 looks stunning, a classic, simple sophisticated lines – it will make you stand out!

  35. josie
    October 6 at 03:03AM

    I like #2 it is beautiful and it makes you look nice.

  36. Ashley
    October 6 at 03:19AM

    Number 1 or the very last dress the one that is off the shoulder! I have 2 friends that design for White House Black Market and they both agree for a Red Carpet Function 1 or the one shoulder if the most appropriate. If you chose 1, where your hair the way it is in the picture with small earings and LOUD bracelets!!!

  37. Ericka V
    October 6 at 05:16AM

    I say number 1 because I’m in NYC and it is fall and cold here, the other dresses look very summery. You should pick your hair up in a low messy bun, small earrings, loud bangles and/or maybe a loud clutch and higher heeled shoes(nude pumps preferably). This is my opinion. You will look stunning no matter what you decide.

  38. gretchen
    October 6 at 06:33AM

    #4 and #6 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    red looks great on you!!

  39. Kristine
    October 6 at 06:36AM


  40. October 6 at 12:15PM

    Love all your looks! My vote goes to #1, 4 and 6. 🙂

  41. Lili
    October 6 at 01:41PM

    i say dress #1 or #5

  42. Kimberlie
    October 6 at 02:31PM

    I love #1 for the red carpet event!! 🙂 looks great on you.

  43. Sherri
    October 6 at 02:48PM

    # 1

  44. Kempy
    October 6 at 02:53PM

    #2!!! As soon as I saw the choices it just jumped out at me. You look beautiful in it.

  45. Maria
    October 6 at 03:10PM

    Definitely the Halston one… put a skinny belt to it, add a necklace, or long earrings, some bangles/bracelet.. and with your chosen black pumps it will look simple yet elegant 🙂 Have fun!

  46. Melissa
    October 6 at 03:23PM

    I like #2 the best!

  47. Tracie
    October 6 at 04:26PM

    #1 — gorgeous

  48. Amy
    October 6 at 04:47PM

    I thought #1 for sure until I scrolled down and now I say #6, love that one sleeve style!!

  49. NettyDnDayton
    October 6 at 05:01PM

    I am liking # 2

  50. Cassandra
    October 6 at 05:15PM

    I say the Halston dress. Effortless chique is always fabulous!

  51. Mrs.M
    October 6 at 05:36PM

    My favorite is number 2. Its sleek and classy. I also like 1 and 4 . The others don’t match the shoes in my opinion:)

  52. SJ
    October 6 at 05:44PM

    number 2, definitely. Number 6 if you really don’t want any from the top, but #2 will be best in the lighting/photos as well.

  53. Carola
    October 6 at 05:44PM

    #4…you totally rock in the red dress!!!

  54. NYStylista
    October 6 at 05:44PM

    #2, or #1 would be the best choice for a NY Red Carpet event. If you like #1 best you will need to use some accessories to bring it out because lavender is more of a spring color.

  55. Katy
    October 6 at 06:06PM


  56. October 6 at 09:46PM

    #4 and #6 look the best. #2 would be my alternative. I don’t think the shoes match #4 or #6 or #2 though. For red carpet I think pumps are best or strappy heels. I love NYC. Have a blast!

  57. Krystal
    October 7 at 04:29AM

    2, 4, and 6!

  58. October 7 at 09:30AM

    Oh dear. You look good in all of them. But then again, it should because you wouldn’t get them if they didn’t look good on Anyway, I’m torn between numbers 1 and 2. The purple dress makes you look so girly and dainty. If the effect you’re going for is nice and pleasant, go for that. Number 2 makes you look sophisticated and seductive at the same time. If you’re going for the seductive and elusive look, go for that. But you really do look good on all of them.

  59. Amanda P
    October 7 at 12:11PM

    5,6, and 1. LOve them. and you look great in the them! Hope this helps

  60. Beth
    October 7 at 02:00PM

    #11111111111111111111111111111111111111, so elegant and looks like you belong in New York City! I love it.

  61. Megan
    October 7 at 02:12PM

    I like #5! Its a transitional all day dress. It can go from the street to a nice dinner!

  62. Starbucksgirl
    October 7 at 07:03PM

    Ruth, #1 is the most appropriate dress for NYC. It is sophisticated enough for the city and you look terrific in that dress. Very elegant. I actually like the color with your skintone; it would look ghastly on me but you’ve got enough olive in your skin to pull it off. I only wish it were a tad bit longer as that would make the dress look very chic.

    Have fun on your trip.

  63. Deb
    October 7 at 09:18PM

    Number 6, defnitely!!

  64. Mide
    October 8 at 12:46AM

    i like #s 1 & 2! you look gorgeous in all of them. 🙂

  65. Anna
    October 8 at 06:26PM

    I like 1, 4, or 6. Have fun at the event.

  66. October 9 at 01:48AM

    #2 or #5… either would look great.

  67. Bethany
    October 10 at 02:15PM

    I like 4 🙂 but 1 is a close runner up!

  68. Jennifer
    October 18 at 06:31PM

    I would have chosen #2 or #5. Both are appropriate and sophisticated for the occasion. And can both be worn with the shoes…and some accessories. So which of the two did you go with??

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  70. bumpkin
    October 23 at 01:11PM

    Hey, I know this is way late – but if you ever have a choice again like this – you could use #2 with a black or white tulip skirt underneath. (Tulip is the one that clings to the hips and thighs but then above the knee flares into a nice swingy full circle…

  71. Cindy Hamilton
    March 24 at 10:54AM

    I like 1 with a nude shoe and I like 2.

  72. May 6 at 10:46PM

    absolutely, most definitely…. #2
    that dress is so interesting and flattering!

    #1 is lacking something “interesting” — perhaps a belt?
    #3 and #4 are boring
    #5 is second favorite. looks more conservative than #2 (IMO)
    #6 is cute but should only be reserved for outdoorsy summer time weddings & tours of wine country

  73. May 6 at 10:49PM

    i hope you still have dresses #2 — that’s a seasonless winner!!
    NEVER purge that dress!

    the black & white stark contrast… the print.. the hemline… and all the small details are so, so flattering & interesting.
    if you’re over the dress, i would be more than happy to take it off your hands! LOL

  74. kate
    September 14 at 11:56PM

    The purple one definitely! You look beautiful and elegant in it.

  75. Betsy
    October 10 at 10:16PM

    It’s sexy, elegant,, cute, and fits you perfectly! Oh, and buy it in another color too.

    # 2 Is cute but too conservative. You’re still young. You’ll be wearing these kinds of dresses before you know it.. Enjoy your youth, girl!

    #3 Please don’t wear this dress ever again. I bet it’s really comfortable and feels pretty, but where the belt hits doesn’t flatter you, and that print is too early 90’s! You’re way too cute and fashionable for this dress.

    #4 This dress can be borderline trashy if not careful. So if you’ll be on TV, I’d stay away from this dress. However, it’s perfect for a date night with the hubby and some strappy heels!

    #5 This dress is a better fit for curvy or really busty gals. It’s not a bad dress, it just hides your BEAUTIFUL collarbone and neck! Why would you want to hide that? 🙂

    #6 Cute, but doesn’t scream NYC to me–maybe in the Summer–And it hides one of your collarbones/shoulders.

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