Cocktail Parties. Awards Banquets. Weddings. Reunions. If you have any of these events on your social calendar, you may be stressing out about where to find the "perfect" formal attire. With all those eyes upon you, you want to look your best.
But before you blow your clothing budget on one outfit that you wear for only a few hours, remember the smart person's mantra for clothes shopping: spend the most money on the clothes you wear the most, the least money on the clothes you wear the least. Don't drop a lot of money on formal attire that's going to be worn once before it's shoved to the back of your closet. Invest in your everyday items. Go cheap on everything else, even for special occasions.
High impact doesn't have to mean high cost. All you need are a few sure-fire strategies that will allow you to make a grand entrance without spending grandly to do so. Here's how:
1. Start with Your Own Closet
If you've been to a few similar functions in the past, you may already have something on hand that will fit the bill nicely. Pull out those clothes sitting in the back of your closet and take a good look at them. Do you have something that can be worn "as is?" What if you changed the accessories? Added a different top? Paired the jacket with a different skirt? Wore your hair in a different way? What could you come up with? Just because you wore something one way doesn't mean you have to wear it the same way again. Allow your imagination to wander a bit and you may be surprised at what you have.
2. Borrow from Someone Else
Don't have anything that meets your needs? Who do you know in your size that might? Would they be willing to lend you their finery? Oftentimes, they will. If they spent a lot of money on formal attire that's just sitting in their closet, chances are they'd be more than willing to put it to good use. I've loaned gowns to friends many times over the years, and have borrowed just as many. Who wants to drop $200 on a cocktail dress for a function you need to attend when you're eight months pregnant with your third child? Not me! The money is better spent elsewhere. Borrow clothes if it all possible.
3. Comb the Sales Racks
When my 16-year-old niece refused to wear the beautiful, atypical $200 bridesmaid dress she'd worn for her aunt's wedding last year to prom this year, my sister-in-law informed her that she would have to pay for her own prom dress. Undaunted, Kiley started combing the sales racks at the designer outlet mall not far from their home. The result? A sales rack dress beautiful enough to compete with her status-y friends' $400 gowns for the amazing low price of $14.99. Glance through the weekend circulars in your local paper for similar buys in your area.
4. Shop Consignment Stores
Have rich tastes but a peasant's pocketbook? Shop upscale consignment shops in your area. You'll be astounded by the merchandise and bargains to be had. Since many of the clothes will still have their original tags attached, the only thing you'll be losing by shopping consignment is the hefty retail markup. And there's nothing second rate about that. Shop often and grab when the getting's good.
5. Buy Classic Separates
If you do decide to buy something new, opt for the long-term approach instead of the short-term quick fix. Basic, classic styles that you can mix and match for maximum versatility are a far better investment than a single, unforgettable garment. Well-made basics will last you for years, and they can be instantly transformed by adding a snazzy necklace, a lace jacket, a trendy belt, or whatever. The best part? Having a few basic pieces on hand means you'll never be caught unprepared when you get a last minute invitation. It can mean the difference between looking good and having a great time or sitting home with nothing to wear.
So don't "break the bank" to buy cocktail attire or formal wear that you'll only wear once. Tap your closet first, your friends second, and inexpensive retail third. Or buy classic separates that will last you for years. It's the only way to justify the expense.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of "Occasion Magic," an ebook that shows women how to dress appropriately for every occasion, regardless of where they live. Visit her online at FashionForRealWomen.com.
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