Is it possible to be broke and stylish?  I feel like I’m always varying degrees of broke.  I love fashion, but I also love having health insurance, a place to live, food and electricity.  Being a business owner with a husband who works in real estate (insert: we both don’t get regular paychecks), the second we have money we’re often either catching up or have money allocated towards the necessities of life…and designer shoes is not a necessity, no matter how many times I try to eke that into the budget.

Being broke can be a frustrating, anxiety producing and scary, especially if it is ongoing.  However, if you’re broke long enough, you actually learn a different approach to money that can be rewarding in the long-term.  I think that the day I’m not broke I will probably spend on fashion quite the same I do now.   When you don’t have extra money it makes you very mindful and aware of what you really need and what is frivolous.  Additionally, being broke seriously forces you to make do with what you have vs. loading up your closet with more stuff thinking that it will solve the problem of having nothing to wear.  In the case of closets, size really doesn’t matter.

If having limited resources has been your excuse as to why you can’t look fabulous, I’m living proof that you can be broke and stylish.  If you think it is hard for you, imagine my life.  I work in fashion, am known as a fashion expert, yet I don’t have the budget to wear designer clothes, to have multiple handbags or a closet full of shoes.   People automatically assume that if your career is in clothing, you have unlimited resources for it.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth for me.

I have thought a lot about how I’ve gotten away with a limited budget while still managing to cobble a look together that is not only acceptable but stylish.

Here are some of my secrets on how to be broke and stylish.

#1- Accessorize

As much as most women hate accessorizing, when you’re broke, it is the single most important thing you can do to look good on a budget.  Truly, there is no better solution.  Accessories can be expensive, but they can also be cheap, dirt cheap.  Case in point, I have a gold necklace that I have worn to death and every single time I wear it I get a compliment.  I literally paid $15 for it.

Broke and stylish

The same $15 gold necklace that I have worn repeatedly.

There are quite a few benefits to accessorizing.  First, they can be worn multiple times a week vs. that cool and exciting top that can get a bit repetitive from overuse.  Second, when you’re broke, nothing jazzes up your sensible basic pieces (because you don’t have the money for extra frills) more than accessories do.  Third, it’s amazing how exciting a longstanding item in your wardrobe, that has begun to put you in a coma, can become when you just tweak how you accessorize  it.

If you are on limited funds and need some freshening up, start loading up on accessories, particularly jewelry, like necklaces, new earrings or some bracelets.  I bet that it won’t be long before that boring outfit that you never accessorized in the first place starts to feel really fresh again when you start adding some inexpensive punch.

#2- Pick a Color Palette and Stick With It

My other solution is to stick to a pretty tight color palette.  As you may know, I don’t wear black.  I’ve also established for myself that I don’t care to wear all that much color.  I LOVE color, but not in large doses on my body, unless it is a dress.  Therefore, my wardrobe is based in shades of browns and grey or navy in the spring/summer.  I pop in color through my accessories, my shoes (I don’t own one pair of black shoes) and my layering pieces like tanks, for example.  When your wardrobe is this tight, it’s easy to add in the few new pieces that you can afford because everything works together.  I don’t have the money for random stray pieces in wacky colors.  However, because my wardrobe is so strongly based in neutrals, even if I did, it would still probably settle in nicely.  Remember a pop color can be worn with any neutral shade you own; not just black.

My advice to you is to taper down your wardrobe to your base neutral (and shades of that color) and then find a few colors that harmonize together as punch colors.  Colors that I find are I’m most drawn to are greens, deep purples, teals and shades of burgundy.  Not only do all these pop colors harmonize, but they look gorgeous with my brown/grey based wardrobe.  Your goal for being broke and stylish is to tighten up your color palette and mix and match more with less.

#3- The Truth About Basics

There is a ton of advice out there about dressing on a budget; all which push the concept of loading up on basics.  While I agree with this advice wholeheartedly, I want to tell you how I handle basics in my wardrobe.

Basics are the foundation on which my wardrobe is built.  However, basics need life to look good.  Life in an outfit is found in what you do to your basics to make them interesting and different each time you wear them.  This is why my advice about accessorizing on a budget is my #1 tip.  If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of cash to spend on clothing, or you’re someone who already has a tight wardrobe and can’t afford much more, I want to assure you that your small, tight wardrobe can be manipulated in a way if you learn how to use these few pieces effectively.

Accessorized Basics Bridgette Raes

Very basic pieces that I wear repeatedly with different accessories. Left: an interesting necklace Middle: a pair of inexpensive earrings make a basic sweater look different Right: A go-to green scarf that never fails me

If your wardrobe is small, you can’t go out and spend a ton on a novelty piece with limited uses that you will be tired of in a season.  However, what you can do is buy or wear basics different ways.  This is a crucial key in getting the most use out of your wardrobe.

Watch this video of me showing all the ways I accessorize this versatile blue dress I own (that has been named “Old Blue” because it is so versatile and I wear it so often in the spring) to show just how much mileage you can get from a basic if you have the right components to wear with it.

Investing in basics is an important key to getting the most mileage out of your wardrobe.  I am living proof of this as I recently wore a pair of Joan & David shoes that I realized I have owned and worn for nine years.  Yet, not all of us have the money up front to invest in basics, even if we know they will stand the test of time and the investment will eventually pay off.

While I’m not a fan of buying clothing from fast-fashion stores sometimes in order to be broke and stylish it is the best we can do.  If these are the stores where you have to shop (like I often do), the best bit of advice I can offer is to still think with a frugal mind.  Just because you can get a sweater for $29.99 does not mean you have to buy seven of them or buy it simply because it is on sale.  For you, that $29.99 may be like $299.99 because your budget is so tight.  Often, when we shop at cheaper stores, we throw all sense (and cents) out the window because the prices are so rock-bottom.  Yes, I shop at fast-fashion stores but I only buy what I need and I still think with a smart wardrobe-investment mentality.

Naya Boots, Leopard Shoes

My basic Naya Gazelle boots that I live in during the autumn and winter and my basic leopard shoes by Joan and David that have been a basic in my closet for nine years.

Additionally, what are your basics?  Often when we think basic, we think boring.  Basics don’t have to be boring, they have to be versatile.  Above are two very basic shoes that I own.   Both pairs are far from boring or without personality, yet I wear them both constantly.  When you’re on a budget it does not mean it has to be a punishment, it just means you have to be smart and know what your life needs are.  Which brings me to my most important tip on looking good on a budget.

#4- Look at Your Life, Seriously…like Really Seriously

A key point in getting the most out of your wardrobe when you’re on a budget is to seriously look at your life.   I have said this over and over again, but the biggest way to money waste is to, as I like to call it “Wishful Wardrobe”, which means buying clothing for the life you wished you lived, not the one you do.  I love a gorgeous pair of stilettos, but, except for the rare special events, my life doesn’t call for such a need.

For many, shopping and adding clothing to an already stuffed closet is more like a sport than an intelligent task.  We “ooh” and “ahh” over something in the store and buy it simply because it is pretty.  Regardless of how much money you have, this is the stupidest and quickest way towards money waste and clutter.  We have gotten to a point in our society that when we think something is pretty we must own it.  When you’re on a budget or broke you don’t have the luxury of this type of thinking.  Being broke forces you to learn that you can admire something without owning it.  So look at your life and what you really, like really, need.

I dream of the day where having limited funds for clothing will be a distant memory.  However, regardless of what my budget is, I will probably keep doing all of the things I’ve learned over the years.  It’s not about being broke, it’s about being smart.