How to make cheap clothes look expensive.

As a fan of the “high/low” mix, I like to think that I have mastered the art of how to make the less expensive pieces in my wardrobe look pretty darn luxe. The truth is that there is no need to drop a ton of cash to look like a million bucks – all you need are a few tricks and tips. Here are the ones I live by:

1. Change is good.

Go ahead and buy that dress off the clearance rack at Forever 21 for five bucks…but change the buttons and swap out the belt! Instant upgrade.

2. Add a touch of gold.

That ten-dollar tee that you got from Gap? Elevate it with a chic necklace or an armload of bracelets.

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3. Keep it simple.

When you’re talking embellishment, you get what you pay for. Stay away from pieces that have a lot going on. Focus instead on clean lines, classic shapes, and not a lot of jingle-jangle.

4. Check it out.

Before you buy a cheap piece, flip it inside out and check the seams. Are they even? Hold it up to the light. Are the colors deep and saturated? Make sure that the item isn’t unraveling before your eyes!

5. Alterations, anyone?

Even expensive clothes can look cheap if they don’t fit well. However, paying a tailor to alter a cheap item might not be cost-effective, so think carefully before you decide to do it. I like to factor tailoring into Cost Per Wear (CPW), then decide based on that.

For example, if the item you are considering costs $20, and alterations would cost another $30, the total cost of the item would be $50. Think about how many times you would wear the item over its lifetime. Twice? Your CPW would be $25. Twenty times? Your CPW would be $2.50.

6. Fabric matters.

It’s a lot easier to pull off a luxe look with pieces made from natural fabrics. With synthetics, the edges often look uneven, the fabric looks shiny, or the seams look too thick or too thin.

7. Take care.

This is really important!

  • Make sure to wash your clothes carefully and don’t just toss them in the dryer! Air-drying makes a HUGE difference in the way clothes last, and in the way they fit.
  • If buttons or hems are loose, take a moment to stitch them back up – makes all the difference between looking sloppy and looking smart.
  • Buy a fabric shaver at the drugstore and use it on your sweaters after each wear. Keeps your sweaters looking brand new!

8. Pull it together.

Mix in a few quality pieces to elevate your entire look. You can easily snag super nice finds on ebay for a fraction of what you would normally pay.

Personally, I like to focus on chic bags. I recently snapped up a vintage Coach bucket bag for $19!! Cost per wear on that amazing deal will be negative by the time I’m done with it.

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 What are your tips for making cheap pieces look amazing?



  1. Great post. I really like the term “high/low mix.” It makes it sound like there’s a philosophy behind my obsessive bargain hunting! I’m terrible at picking jewelry, but a big believer in nice shoes as a way to “elevate” an outfit. Couldn’t agree with you more about air drying! I tumble my jeans in the dryer for a few minutes then hang them to finish drying. They look new a lot longer!

  2. Great tips! I’ll have to be more conscious w the dryer. I like my clothes really dry before I put away do they don’t mold. Not unusual to go find a dress to wear only to find mold spots. It’s because of the high humidity here.

    I’m a pretty simple dresser. I like my dresses. So easy, just accessorize and go. Most don’t need ironing, they pack easy, dress it up. The problem is when I have to go somewhere cold. Like SF in July, or Fargo in February.

    love the coach bag. I have one that looks similar but is chocolate color. FABULOUS for traveling. Except mine of course is covered in mold at the moment since I don’t use it enough.

  3. I love the ideas of adding bling to spruce up the basics. I need to start scouting the thrift stores for fun jewelry I wont care if I loose while traveling. I wish I bought that necklace with the rhinestore daggers I saw at Sola Lucy…

  4. I’m not a fan of this. A classy outfit will remain classy and something cheap will be cheap. As the old saying goes ‘Lipstick on a pig’ … and by pig, I mean clothes, not any person, so don’t take this personally.

  5. pinkisnice says:

    I’m SO on board with this. My mom taught me how much shoes influence an outfit, like Jeri wrote, and it couldn’t be more true. Experiment in front of a mirror and you can see an immediate transformation. On the same note, I’m also terrible at jewelry. Picking it is part of the problem, but actually wearing it is where the real trouble starts! I’d also add this: When you’re feeling less put together, a little lipstick goes a long way!

    • pinkisnice says:

      Also want to say that if it’s not done right, it can fall flat, so your tips on how to make it work are awesome! Remember back in the late 90s when Sharon stone mixed Armani, Valentino, and Vera Wang with items from the Gap? She rocked it!

  6. Cogswell says:

    Why do you want to make your clothes look expensive – who are you trying to fool?

  7. Points Pixie says:

    Jeri – You are definitely in my tribe.

    Rebecca – I guess that is one drawback to living in Hawaii (the mold). 🙁

    Hottie – There will always be another great piece of jewelry! Maybe you can find a good one in Seattle.

    Karen – No offense taken. To each her own!

    pinkisnice – Agree about the lipstick. I recently got an amazing orange color from MAC and I think it transforms a boring outfit into one with pizazz. And y es – totally remember Sharon Stone!

    Cogswell – 🙂

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