How to Look Expensive on a Budget: The Definitive Checklist

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Want to feel and look your best with a fashionable, expensive-looking style without breaking the bank? You’ve come to the right place. Just because you aren’t rich, doesn’t mean you have to look like it!

Here is how to look expensive on a budget:

  1. Make sure your clothes fit well
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Keep your clothes clean and polished
  4. Wear timeless, rich colors
  5. Pay attention to details
  6. Match accessories
  7. Make sure your grooming and personal hygiene is on point
  8. Invest in quality shoes

In today’s post I’m going to go over each of these ideas in-depth and provide you with actionable advice that you can begin implementing right now to upgrade your style. Read on to learn exactly how you can start looking more expensive.

Why Dress to Look Expensive?

Before we go on, you may be wondering why anyone would want to dress to look more expensive anyway? For me, dressing to look more expensive is less about trying to impress other people and more about feeling confident, well put together and polished everyday.

Research and studies are also showing that dressing well does in fact effect our performance and makes us feel better about ourseleves and more confident. I work from home, but I still get dressed in nice clothing each day. While it can be tempting to work in my pajamas or yoga pants I feel happier and more productive when I make the effort to put my self together.

Additionally, like it or not – we are judged by the way we dress and present ourselves to the world. You’ve probably heard the statement before “dress for the job you want”. Not only do you feel more confident when you are dressed to impress you are also precieved as more confident and successful by others.

Whether you are reading this post to look more professional for work or just want to up your personal style game, I encourage you to experiment with dressing nice everyday, even on the weekends and see how it makes you feel. My motto is don’t just dress for the job you want, dress for the life you want. Alright, let’s continue.

Make Sure Your Clothes Fit Well

You can have some of the most expensive clothes on the market, but if they don’t look like they fit you well, you will not look expensive.

Getting clothes to fit you just right isn’t always all that easy. You want to make sure your clothes are not too big and/or loose, but not too small and/or tight. The goal of fitting your clothes properly is to both show off your aesthetic strengths and conceal your aesthetic weaknesses.

Correct Sizing

The best way to make sure the clothes you buy fit you well is to pick clothes that are your exact size, not based on the size the garment is labeled, but the measurements the garment actually is. When shopping at a brick and mortar location, you can always try on the size you think is best in a changing room and adjust as needed.

Online Shopping: How to Pick Clothing Size

When shopping online, unfortunately, you don’t get the opportunity to try the clothes on before purchasing. While you should do your best to select sizes that you think fit you best, make sure that the company you are ordering from has a return policy in place. In case the clothes you order don’t fit you perfectly, you want to be able to return them for a refund.

One way to make sure you always purchase clothing that will fit well is to have measurements of your body taken by a professional tailor or clothing store employee. Once this is done, you’ll be able to order the exact right size for all of the different kinds of garments.

Alternatively, you can take the necessary measurements yourself.

Women – You’ll want to measure your bust (the fullest part of your chest), bra size, natural waist (slimmest part of your torso), hips (the fullest part at the top of the leg, around your bottom), inseam for pants and slacks, neck size, and sleeve length. These measurements should be all you need when ordering any kind of garment online.

Men – For pants and slacks, measure your height, waist size, inseam, and hips. For upper bodywear, you’ll want to measure your chest size or waist size (whichever is larger), sleeve length, and neck size.

Need some additional measuring help? More detailed measuring tips are provided using the instructions found here.

Size Charts

Unfortunately, different clothing companies use different measurements for their clothes. The only way to know for sure that you are ordering the correct size from a certain company is to look at the size chart they base their sizing off of and find whichever size correlates to the physical measurements you took from your own body.

Keep in mind that a certain size – like medium – might actually be a different size from company to company. This is why it is important to make sure you look at the size chart of each and every company from which you are considering ordering clothing online.

I have found this is be a very reliable method for selecting the correct size when ordering from stores online. However, knowing your measurements is also key when ordering secondhand clothing online from places like Poshmark, ThredUp, Ebay and similar sites. Make sure the item listed has the measurements listed and if not, contact the seller and request them.

Get it Tailored

Even if you order the right size clothing, it might end up fitting a bit awkwardly on your particular body. A tailor can resize and readjust garments so that they fit perfectly for your specific body shape and size.

On average, tailoring will cost 5% to 20% of how much you paid for the clothes. If you are buying inexpensive clothes in the first place, getting it tailored will be quite affordable. The best part is after paying once to have your shirt or pants tailored. You’ll have a perfect fit for years to follow.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to trying to look expensive, less is more. Avoid flashy details like jeweled embellishments or intricate styles and items such as distressed denim. Instead, opt for a clean, simplistic style made up of solid colors that fit you well.

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Don’t Overdo it With Name Brands

When trying to look expensive, it is best practice to avoid wearing clothes with big logos and brand symbols, as this will simply make you look like a walking advertisement. Picture some of the wealthiest and most famous celebrities; you usually do not see them flexing the name brand of the clothes they wear. Instead, they wear comfortable, simple, high-quality outfits that suit them perfectly.

For most pieces, you should be able to find a generic equivalent, without all the logos and branding, that looks and fits virtually the same as the original. This will allow you to not only look more poilished but also save your budget!

Classic Outfits

When looking to rock a simple style, stick to classic, timeless pieces that are staples in the fashion industry.

Women – some classic outfit ideas for women are:

  • Trench coat
  • Dark wash jeans
  • Pencil skirt
  • Knee-length, no-heel boots or Chelsea boots
  • Tailored button-up
  • Blazer
  • Little black dress
  • White T-shirt
  • Black pumps

Combine any of these with some stylish accessories, and you’ll be on your way to looking like a million bucks.

Men – some classic outfits all men should have include:

  • Tailored black, grey, or navy blue suit
  • White button-down shirt
  • Dark wash denim jeans
  • Cashmere sweater
  • Blue blazer
  • Khakis or chinos
  • Polo
  • White T-shirt

Combine any of these with a clean pair of shoes and a nice watch, and you’ll definitely be looking expensive.

Keep Your Clothes Clean and Polished

When most people think of something expensive, they imagine something clean, polished, and pristine. A more expensive outfit that is dirty or wrinkly will look a lot cheaper than a less expensive outfit that is clean and neat.

While it is not difficult to keep your clothing clean and polished, it does take a bit of conscious effort beyond simply throwing it in the laundry every time you think it needs to be washed. If there is a stain on your clothes that you can’t remove, take it to the dry cleaners as soon as possible.

Tips for Washing Clothes

While it might seem counterintuitive, washing your clothes too often is not always recommended as this can cause fading and wear-and-tear which will make your clothes look old and cheap.

Whenever you see a mark or small stain on your clothes, instead of throwing it into the laundry, spot clean it as soon as possible with a toothbrush or a sponge and some warm water.

Use the Freezer!

Putting your clothes in the freezer is a great way to kill off any bacteria or bad smell without putting them in the laundry and causing unnecessary wear and tear. While it might sound kind of silly at first, it really does work. The freezer works great for smelly shoes, old jeans, shirts, and sweaters that have been shedding. Steaming is also an effective method to freshen smelly clothes. More on steaming below.

A few more tips:

  • Use cold water as it is gentler on fabrics and will your clothing will be less likely to shrink in the wash
  • Wash dark clothing inside out to help keep them from fading
  • Use mesh laundry bags for delicate items

Proper Maintenance: Ironing vs. Steaming

One essential aspect of your style you must keep in mind if your goal is to look expensive is to keep your clothes wrinkle-free. Whether in a casual or professional setting, wrinkles make you look unkempt.

The two main approaches you can take to eliminate wrinkles from your clothes are to either iron or steam your clothes. Each of these two methods has its pros and cons, but ultimately either one will work for removing wrinkles.

Ironing

Ironing is best if you need the best possible results for suits, trousers and other items requiring pressed creases. Requiring an ironing board and much more effort involved in developing the skill of ironing, this method allows you to iron out the deepest of wrinkles and create sharp-looking seams.

Steaming

Steaming is another way to remove wrinkles from clothes as well as kill bateria and remove body odor from worn clothing. This method is faster and more efficient than ironing and it is a lot easier to use than a steam iron. I use this steamer (which I love and highy recommend) when I have multiple items to steam and this smaller portable steamer when I travel or need to quickly steam a single garment.

It is generally recommended to steam your clothes for casual outings and iron your clothes for professional outings like an interview, etc. However, I must admit that I never iron unless I absolutely have to and find that my trusty streamers work for most of my needs.

Keeping Whites White

White clothes look sharp and expensive – as long as they’re white. Keeping all of your whites white isn’t the easiest task, but it is doable.

Here are the best practices to follow to ensure all of your white clothes remain white:

  • Sort and wash whites separately (this is the most important step!)
  • Do not overload the washer
  • Avoid excessive heat
  • Dry clothes outside in the sun
  • Use the hottest water recommended
  • Add borax/baking soda

Always remember to take a close look at your white clothing to see if there are any stains that need cleaning.

What about detergents with optical brighteners? While these detergents may help your whites look brighter by enhancing how blue light bounces off of them, they don’t make your whites any cleaner. They are also not a green option and the chemicals used in them are potentially toxic and dangerous to you and the environment.

Always opt for a natural detergent or one that uses enzymes instead, like this one or this one. I use the later and find it works amazingly well for all my clothing. I also find that is removes stains exceptionally well when used as a spot treatment prior to washing.

Polishing Leather

Leather is a great high-quality material and a staple in many expensive-looking styles. However, it does require some maintenance in the form of polishing.

When polishing your boots, follow the following steps:

  1. Use a damp cloth to scrub off any dirt, mud, or dust
  2. Apply a small amount of shoe or leather polish using a soft cloth or rag
  3. Use a brush to remove excess polish and create an even, consistent look
  4. Buff the leather with brisk back and forth strokes with a soft cloth to create a final glossy appearance

Wear Timeless, Rich Colors

Wearing timeless, rich colors is another way to make your outfit look more expensive than it truly is. Colors such as black, white, navy, and burgundy are timeless and coordinate very well together. Be careful not to go too over the top with bright colors and prints/patterns.

Black and White is the Best

When in doubt, go with black and/or white. These are the two most popular colors in the fashion industry and for good reason. They match with almost any other color and suit a wide variety of different styles.

Pay Attention to Details

Expensive clothing is all about the fine details: quality fabrics, designs, and finishes that indicate high quality and high cost. When wearing inexpensive clothes, the trick is to conceal any details that might reveal its subpar quality. You don’t want to wear any clothes that have stains, holes, loose threads, ripped seams, or are missing buttons.

Fabrics

Something that can easily be overlooked is the kind of fabric you are wearing. Keep in mind that a slightly more expensive shirt made with a better fabric will outlast a cheaper shirt made with cheaper fabric, so in the long run, you will save money by going with nicer fabrics.

Opt for natural fabrics that are soft to the touch, such as silk, high-quality cotton (look for pima or supima), linen, and wool.

Seams

Most people don’t pay attention to how the seams of their shirts and pants sit, so by doing so; you will end up looking more “high-end.” Check to see if the seams on your t-shirts and pants twist on one side and if the cotton yarn is strong enough for the seam to hold, or if any seams have ripped. You can always artificially create or alter seams when ironing your clothes as well.

Buttons

This is a small detail that can easily make your entire outfit look a lot more expensive than it really is. Simply replace any plastic buttons with buttons made of metal, mother of pearl, or bone that you can order online. Also, make sure your outfit isn’t missing any buttons and that buttons aren’t loose.

Loose Threads

This one is pretty straightforward – any loose thread you see should be snipped off right away. Also, any pills on your sweater that formed should be removed. Need to get rid of pills on a sweater? In a pinch you can use a disposable razor to shave them away, but I recommend using a sweater comb.

If you have the ability to or know someone who does, repairing clothing with a sewing machine is a great way to save money by keeping your old damaged garments looking good.

Match Accessories

Once you have your outfit down, it is simply a matter of topping it off with additional accessories.

Handbag

A quality handbag is essential for any woman who wants to look expensive. A handbag is something that you will want to pay a bit more for. Cheaper handbags not only look cheap, but will not last as long as you’d like and in the long run, aren’t worth your money.

Whether it be a designer bag, a shopping bag, or a crossbody bag, opt for something made of real leather or other durable materials and a neutral color that can match most of your outfits. Matching your handbag with your shoes is one of the most effective ways to create an expensive look.

Scarf

A scarf is a great way to up your style and add a bit more dimension to your look in the colder months of the year. Having several different colors of scarves can allow you to either contrast or complement a number of different styles.

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Jewelry

A simple piece of statement jewelry such as a necklace, earrings, bracelet, or expensive watch can be the highlight of a basic, inexpensive outfit. Choose clear crystals and dark metals over plastic gemstones and shiny metals. Also, for any metal jewelry, make sure it has some weight to it and does not look and feel thin and flimsy.

A metal or leather watch can complement a classic look very well. Alternatively, you can make the jewelry pop by going with a more ethnic or vintage style.

Make Sure Your Grooming and Personal Hygiene is On Point

You can be wearing a $10,000 outfit, but if your personal appearance is unkempt and you look like you just fell out of bed, your overall appearance will not look expensive.

Those in respected positions that attain wealth, power, and prestige make grooming and personal hygiene a priority. This makes them pleasant to be around and indicates that they respect themselves and can take care of business.

The essentials for grooming and personal hygiene include:

  • Hair – keep it fresh, healthy, and styled
  • Nails – keep them manicured
  • Teeth – brush and floss daily; whiten if needed
  • Scent – make sure you smell good; use deodorant, fragrance, and/or cologne
  • Makeup – less is more

Invest in quality shoes

Similar to bags, you’ll want to pay more attention to the quality of your footwear. Like a nice bag, a nice pair of shoes can make a less expensive outfit look polished and more expensive. Invest in quality leather or vegan leather shoes and keep them clean and looking nice.

If opting for a vegan option, avoid petrolem-based synthetic leathers and instead look for sustainable options like Matt and Nat.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve got the entire rundown of what you need to do to look expensive on a budget, you’re ready to upgrade your wardrobe and begin implementing these tips.

Need some additional idea for updating your wardrobe on a budget? Check my other article:

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Jodie Locklear
Jodie is a former art teacher turned Graphic/UX Designer and QA Manager. She's applied her knowledge of visual design and software testing on many projects over the years, ranging from small businesses to large well known brands and organizations. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, blogging, and travel. View About Page

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2 Responses

  1. Jodie, your articles are so thorough and well written, a pleasure to read. Fit is key. I have a 10-year-old silk skirt out now to take in for alterations. The skirt was always too big around the waist, but I’ve pinned it all these years. No one else can tell, but I can and I know I’ll feel better once it has been altered. I absolutely hate shopping, so buying quality garments and taking good care of them is a must. I also think that’s why I’ve stayed the same size all these years! 😀

    1. Thank you, Jean! I truly appreciate your kind words. It thrills me to know that you’re enjoying reading (and commenting on) my articles. Now I need to get busy trying out some of the delicious looking recipes on your wonderful blog. We’re in the process of buying a new “old” home and preparing for a major renovation so cooking, blogging, and all the likes, have fallen to the bottom of the list. I 100% agree on the importance of fit and know what you mean about your skirt. I hope it fits beautifully when you get it back. 🙂

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