Home > Building a Wardrobe on a Budget: What Looks Cheap and What Looks Expensive

Building a Wardrobe on a Budget: What Looks Cheap and What Looks Expensive

For the past couple of years, I have been trying hard to build a wardrobe built on classic, quality pieces that I can wear for years to come.  So far, so good.  I have been actively shunning H&M and Forever 21, as more often than not, the pieces I’ve bought at these two stores wash terribly and don’t last…but then Forever 21 debuted their Contemporary Line and I’ve found myself crossing the threshold of that teenybopper store more often.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When I want a fun outfit for a night on the town, or need something in a pinch that’s trendy, Zara, H&M and Forever 21 are usually my first stops, but I adhere to a set of rules when looking for outfits at these stores.  For instance, I will probably be hitting up these stores to pick up some of the fall 2015 trends like one shoulder shirts, skinny scarves and Victorian dresses that I’m starting to see everywhere.  Side note: I won’t be caught dead in a “dickie” – which are big this fall. I will file that tragic look under “Things I Don’t Understand” like Donald Trump’s hair and the appeal of the sugary disaster which is the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Donald Trump Human Spice Latte Style Domination Blogger
From l to r: Trump’s impressive hair, PSL, Hilarious Cousin Eddie wearing his obvious dickie, and if you don’t know what movie this still is from, don’t talk to me. #classic

So, I’m going to share with you my rules for building a wardrobe on a budget, especially when shopping at fast-fashion stores:

Buy items in neutral colours (black, white, grey, beige)

I absolutely love colour. Some of my favourite colours are emerald green, cobalt blue and fuchsia.  My personal preference though is to buy brightly coloured clothing from brands I trust in natural fabrics such as silk, wool and linen.

More often than not, when I hit the fast fashion stores, I buy items in neutral colours only, and usually in black. Black hides a myriad of design flaws and usually always looks more expensive than, let’s say, a sad yellow dress which highlights all of the loose threads, bad seams, puckering, dinginess, etc.

Stay away from items with writing on them

I generally do not wear clothing, especially shirts, with writing on them.  If a cute little tee has “Hottie” emblazoned on the front in red rhinestones, I won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Same goes for writing on the seat of pants.  Hello!  2004 wants its pants back!

Ugliest pants Victoria's Secret Pink Style Domination Bloger

Try not to buy items with garish prints

Don’t get me wrong – I love prints!  There are so many wonderful prints to choose from!  Unfortunately, fast-fashion is generally made so poorly, that manufacturers do not take the time to make the clothing properly, and that includes matching up the prints.  I see this all the time with cheaply made polka dot dresses or clothing made with fabrics with large patterns. Also, I’m sorry, but a blouse covered in hamburgers or marijuana leaves does not scream “classy” to me, but to each their own.

Hamburger sweater STyle Domination Blogger
NO! Pic courtesy of www.geekalerts.com

Stay away, far away, from shiny fabrics

As tempting as it is, do not buy cheap sequinned clothing. Beading and sewing sequins is an art – one that has yet to be perfected by fast-fashion retailers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen sequined dresses at these inexpensive stores with hundreds of sequins missing, all over the floor below their display, or they are sewn so badly onto cheap, stretchy mesh fabric, that the dress becomes see-through in some spots and would make even the tallest, skinniest supermodel look trashy.

The same goes for satin or those terrible high-waisted skinny jeans in shiny fabric. Come on!

Grease Sandy Olivia Newton-John Style Domination Blogger
Say with me, people: “These pants were only meant for Olivia Newton-John.”

Try to buy items made with natural fibers

Ok – I’ll admit it.  It’s hard to find clothing made of natural fibers at these types of stores, but they do exist if you search hard enough!  Items made of cotton, linen, wool, silk, etc. just hold up better.  You won’t have too worry to much about pilling, clothes becoming misshapen (generally wool and cashmere aren’t great from the less-expensive stores), colours fading and bad fit.  Regarding fit, I feel that items made with natural fabrics fit better. Rayon and acrylic items tend to lose their shape, wash poorly and fall apart more quickly.

Cheap vs. Expensive Fabric Guide Style Domination Blogger
Pic courtesy of www.whowhatwear.com

Tailor it!

While in Toronto this weekend, I found a great little tweed minidress at H&M. It fits remarkably well, except for the arm holes which are too large. I bought the dress anyways as I felt that at $49.99, it looked much more expensive and I knew I could get a lot of wear out of it this fall/winter season.  The $20 tailoring charge is worth it to me to make it look perfect.

If you see something you like that is inexpensive and looks great, but needs a little tailoring to perfect it, buy it and march it directly to the tailor shop! Tailoring is always worth it as great fit can make the most inexpensive clothing look wonderful. I have been known to tailor $10 tops if I feel it’s worth it!

What do you guys think?  Any shopping tips to share?  Anything you disagree with?  Let me know in the comments!


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Dominique Baker
Dominique Baker

Dominique is a Canadian-based fashion and beauty influencer with a strong voice in Ottawa’s black community. Since launching her blog Style Domination in 2015, she has amassed a global fanbase. Dominique shares her life through beautiful imagery and compelling story-telling that speaks to her fans on a personal level. She’s been featured in The Guardian, Flare, The Kit and Cityline. She also hosts events for Dress for Success, the Gem Conference, and has been named a United Way Person 2 Know for the past three years.

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Leave a comment

  1. September 19, 2015 / 4:07 pm

    What are you talking about!? Donald Trump’s hair is fab!! ??

    • September 20, 2015 / 10:03 pm

      You’re right. Caramel-coloured cotton candy hair folded in on itself is always a good look. Lol!

      • September 20, 2015 / 10:28 pm

        thank you for acknowledging the facts 🙂

  2. September 19, 2015 / 4:44 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I collect vintage wool & linen skirts — a lot of Pendleton & other “heritage” brands — & with few exceptions, these items look good as new 30+ years after they were made. It’s truly amazing!

    I find that another good rule is: if it’s fully lined, it will look better, fit better and wear better over the long run. Even more expensive unlined pieces can sometimes look cheap (even disastrously cheap!) if you can’t locate just the right underthings to pair with them. Yikes!!

    You have such a down-to-earth approach to the finer things, D– I love it! You should do a similar post on buying the right jeans, which — I swear — sometimes feels way more anxiety-inducing than buying new clothes ever should be. 🙂

    • September 20, 2015 / 10:03 pm

      What a good idea – thank you for that. I will do a post on picking great jeans soon. Wow – I thought Pendleton only made blankets! Their clothing must be gorgeous.

      I learned recently that wearing a slip (full or half slip) makes all unlined things look so much better! I recently went shopping and was for all of the skirts I found, not one was lined. Ridiculous.

      Thanks for your kind comments! I try so hard to write as if “I’m speaking to a friend”. Glad that’s shining through! xoxo

  3. September 19, 2015 / 6:57 pm

    This past year I’ve been streamlining my wardrobe too and I agree with all of your points. Great advice!

    • September 20, 2015 / 10:00 pm

      Thank you, Esseri! I’m with you. I am officially sick of buying crappy clothes in vast quantities that don’t last.

  4. September 19, 2015 / 7:15 pm

    Great article! Thanks for the advice re fabrics. Xo

    • September 20, 2015 / 9:59 pm

      No problem – you’re welcome.Thanks for reading!

  5. September 19, 2015 / 11:57 pm

    Christmas Vacation = Funniest Movie Ever!!!
    Love this blog! Whole heartedly agree with you! xo

  6. September 22, 2015 / 4:23 am

    I don’t have a clue in the world as to what you are talking about because I think ‘dickies’ are just fabulous *rolling eyes* … LOL. I must say that your comparison to Donald Trump’s hair was just perfect BUT pumpkin spice latte’s are pretty delish and I rest my case on that note haha. Amazing tips and pointers lady … I agree with you 110% on each and every note; I found the points on avoiding clothing with writing, ridiculous prints and purchasing in neutral colors the most resourceful.

    Not quite sure if this fits into building your wardrobe on a budget but I must share with you anyway; I often say to women trends are meant to inspire your personal style. They are not supposed to identify and reflect your individual sense of style and just because something is the ‘IT’ thing this season; it doesn’t necessarily mean it is fitting to you. Every trend is not meant for every Tom, Dick and Harry and I guess that could definitely fall under building a wardrobe on a budget for self-proclaimed fashionista’s haha.

    Xo. http://www.sonamnaiducreative.com

    • September 22, 2015 / 9:06 am

      I agree with you, Sonam. You gotta have fun and if trendy stuff makes a person happy, have at it. God knows my own closet is full of it. I wish I thought harder about the “clothing with writing” rule, as I do see some cute pieces with sayings on them. I guess what rubs me the wrong way is when I see someone wearing ALL of the trends at one – lol!

      And as for the pumpkin spice lattes, a co-worker of mine stopped by my desk to tell
      me how “nuts” I was for not liking them after she read my post. Wow – that really rubbed people the wrong way!!! Ahahahaha! Sigh. I guess I’m more of a raspberry mocha-type of girl (my husband thinks I’m gross for ordering those). xoxoxoxo

      • September 22, 2015 / 1:42 pm

        LOL raspberry mocha? What in the world … Ok yuck no hahaha. I completely agree with you on the note of people wearing every single god damn trend together? How does one stand infront of the mirror and think “Oh yeah … I look great – everything I’m wearing just makes total sense right now” Whattt? LOL I’m sure they don’t say exactly that but I’m sure its along those lines haha. I’m ok with clothing with some writing but it depends – I refuse to wear something with PINK written in block lettering over my bum but a graphic tee with a witty quote paired with some distressed denim and a cool jacket; yes please. Xo.

        • September 23, 2015 / 3:18 pm

          Yes! I agree with you about the writing – I should amend that post. I just saw a super cute athletic grey sweatshirt that said “Beauté” on the front. I would totally wear that!

          As for the raspberry mocha, yes – I am the only person on Earth who drinks those things – HAHAHA!

          You ever see that meme of some guy wearing the fakest, tackiest Louis Vuitton suit? It’s head to toe Monogram print?? LOL! Now THAT is taking trends to the next level!

          So Sonam, I was thinking, you should consider a hair care post! You have the nicest hair I’ve ever seen!!

  7. September 24, 2015 / 4:46 am

    This is seriously one of the best blogger articles I have ever read. One of my favorite sayings when Im shopping is ‘Buy less, choose better’. Great read, thanks very much!

    • September 24, 2015 / 8:14 am

      You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your kind words!

  8. October 4, 2015 / 3:48 am

    Another great article.

    I really enjoyed the read.

    I do agree with you on all your points. Although I do try and tell people to wear what makes them happy! Even I can see the benefits of not doing most of the above as you have mentioned.

    Color blocking is another way to look trending without breaking to much bank, and we’re quite lucky in that instance as you can slightly differentiate between your fabrics when you color block and still look good.

    The only time I think shiny looks good is in black leather skinny pants. I know that is rather specific and ticks a lot of body shapes off the list (not as many as you think) but I love a pair of black leather skinnies with a classic button up white shirt. Just amazing! Really really stunning, with nude make up and a bold red lip!

    You can wear that look anywhere. To lunch paired with pumps and a floral clutch.
    To dinner paired with heels and cotton scarf.
    To a meeting paired with a tailored jacket or on errands, in a short sleeved version



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