The Frugal Fashionista

The How-to Guide for Looking Your Best Without Breaking the Bank

Nowadays, it’s hard to watch television, flip through magazines, or even run through your Instagram feed without being bombarded by designer after designer goods. And designer clothing, as the sold-out $120 Plain White T Shirt by Kanye West demonstrates, is expensive. This is something fashion stylist, Sheila McElrea, knows all too well: “I really like brands but they aren’t accessible because not everyone can afford a thousand dollars for a pair of shoes. Sure, everyone would want Givenchy, but not everyone can afford it.” Her solution? Mix-and-match, style well, and do-it-yourself:
How do you know when your wardrobe needs updating?
I always think, if you don’t care about the stuff you wear, then you don’t need to update your wardrobe. Fashion isn’t necessary to enjoy your life, your happiness is more important, but if having different clothing would make you happier, then I support it. Maybe that’s the wrong answer coming from a fashion stylist, but fashion really stresses some people out. It should be fun; I feel like you can’t re-do your entire wardrobe every season, so there’s no point in stressing. But, if you add in just a few new items per season, each spring and fall, it augments your look without too much stress.
What are some must-add items for the upcoming fashion seasons?
Culotte pants (a shorter pant that’s very wide) are very in for fall. Denim is also big and we’re still in athleisure mode, so a lot of brands are doing stylish athletic gear that’s super trendy, and sneakers are in, for sure. That biker-y look is always in, and we’re still wearing fur for winter.
With that in mind, how do you put a look together?
Everyone starts off somewhere different, but I usually start off with a jacket and curate an outfit based on that. To me, a jacket defines the structure of the look. If you start with a jacket and base your decisions from there, you can add in a shirt and some shoes, and pants that flow from what your jacket looks like, and I usually add in jewelry last. For example, I love leather, so if the client is interested in it, I’m prone to starting with a leather jacket, then doing a white t-shirt and jeans, with a nice pair of heels. Maybe a studded shoe or something, to soften it.
So that would be the biker-y look, which starts with the leather jacket.
SM: Exactly, yeah.
MB: But what about starting with a jacket that’s colorful or has a crazy pattern, how do you know when its overkill?
SM: It’s all about confidence. If you don’t feel right in it, if it’s not you – it’s kind of like putting on too much make-up, you feel it when it’s not you anymore. Most of the time, if it’s head to toe patterns and prints, it might be a bit much. I don’t like when things are too matchy-matchy, unless it’s intended to be overtly matchy and I don’t like when things are too perfect. So a smaller print with a bold, loud print, make it look really beautiful together. If what you’re wearing makes you feel claustrophobic, that’s your answer.
MB: Okay, so avoid anything matchy-matchy, but how do you know if it works?
It’s hard to explain, but it should feel right. Often, people are scared to try things on or to try things together. But if it doesn’t work, you’re not stuck with it, you can change it. People are adverse to trying things. There’s lot of things I have tried on and never left the house in, but it’s good to experiment.
What about age appropriateness? Something women, I think, hear a lot is that you should ‘dress your age’.
I only think weather appropriateness is important, because wearing a mini-skirt in a blizzard is not a good look. If you really want to wear something, be practical. Wear a mini-skirt but with a jacket. I don’t think there should be age restrictions because typically age restrictions just speaks to older women not being allowed to wear skimpier clothing, but if they look good, who cares? Anna Dello Russo, the fashion journalist, wears tight and revealing clothing all the time and I think she looks awesome. I think she’s a great example of that.
What about other fashion restrictions?
I don’t really like when there are rules, I think it’s too limiting. I don’t like when people say ‘oh, that’s manly’ or ‘oh, that’s girly’…why does it matter? I wear men’s clothing all the time; I love the hang of a man’s sweater. I always try to adopt to that silhouette.
That’s a good frugal tip – shop in your boyfriend’s or husband’s closet!
Yeah, so if you’re trying to feel confident in men’s clothing, just keep your silhouette. A belt around your waist with a pair of heels and a super baggy men’s sweater is a cool image. Add something feminine while you’re wearing your boyfriend’s jeans.
What about repurposing clothing from your own closet?
Sure, ripped jeans are on trend right now, and I have ripped my own jeans many times before. You can go for a single slit in the knee caps, which isn’t frayed or isn’t really naturally distressed. For cutting a slit, I would just take a pair of scissors, fold the jean vertically, and cut on straight slit. With a distressed look, you cut it up a little bit more. With scissors, cut two straight slits and pull the threads down vertically, so only the horizontal threads are left and they fray and you’ll have the distressed look without being too perfect. You can also use rocks or sandpaper. If you just keep hitting the same spot in your jean, it’ll distress it naturally. It takes some time but it looks really nice, and it discolors the denim as well so it looks naturally distressed.
How do you know exactly where to cut the jeans?
It depends on where it falls on you. If they are tight jeans, just cut a slit in the middle of your knee cap. If they are looser, then the cut should be on the upper knee cap.
I’ve seen some pretty wild cuts on the back of jeans, what about that?
I don’t love it, it’s not for me, but it’s definitely a look. I’ve seen worse. I would rather you wear a mini skirt that’s really short instead of cutting up the back.
What about crop tops? They seem to be really in.
If you’re going to cut your own crop top, definitely get a fabric that doesn’t fray, so if you cut it, it won’t be ruined. Either that or get it hemmed. T-shirt material doesn’t fray, whereas knits do. The only thing about crop tops is you have to wear a really high-waisted bottom piece, like a high-waisted skirt, where there’s an inch or two of stomach showing. Don’t do a super short shirt with a low pair of pants.
Could you cut your own off the shoulder shirt?
Off the shoulder has been huge for the last six months. I haven’t seen it on any red carpets recently, but it’s still around. I wear shirts sometimes where the neck is too wide and it goes over the shoulder. But I wouldn’t cut anything to make it yourself. You can get a cowl neck sweater that’s wider and push it to one side.
What about DIY accessories?
I love a good choker. I have a friend who literally ties shoelaces around her neck and it looks super cute because she has the end of the tie in the front. With a longer necklace, you can clip it in the back, but I wouldn’t because it might fall down, but I love the shoelace idea, I think it’s brilliant; it’s very cheap and very nice. I feel like chokers bring the look up a little bit, so you can wear it with a higher neck, obviously not a turtle neck, but any other neck line it would suit, it’s very wearable.
How do you know what accessories go with what you’re wearing?
An accessory should accent what you’re wearing and not take anything over. Everything should blend together instead of your necklace being not noticeable or be a focal point. Really, everything should blend in. I always like wearing a larger pieces or a statement necklace with something casual to even it out.
Any final words of advice for frugal fashionistas?
A good pair of shoes and a jacket update a wardrobe instantly, because you can wear a dress from a couple of years ago and update it with new shoes and then you’re not buying a whole new outfit. And just have fun. It’s just clothing. Trial and error, there’s no right answer; do whatever is best for that moment. You’re dressing so that you feel good about yourself, so just have fun and be experimental.

Written By: Mariana Bockarova

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