How to look expensive on a budget [2022 Edition]

How to look expensive on a budget [2022 Edition]

On a budget but want to make sure your clothes say “I’m expensive”? You’re in the right place.

Fact: Designer labels aren’t what make you look expensive. In fact, labels without taste can make you look cheap and try-hard – so don’t worry about trying to save for that one ‘wow’ piece. Let’s instead focus on making the most with what you’ve got!

Looking expensive comes down to 4 key areas…

  1. The make of your items
  2. How they fit you
  3. The condition they’re in
  4. How you wear/style them

Nail all 4 and you’ll be feeling confident and chic, no matter what you spent on your outfit.

So let’s dive into each and give you that budget-friendly makeover you deserve!

Tip 1: Expensive looking pieces

The cut, color and fabric of an item plays a huge role in determining whether it looks cheap and trashy or high-end and classy. And while there are a few more variables to consider (we’ll get to those soon!) below is a cheat sheet that’ll give you a major headstart when it comes to knowing which ones to consider and which ones to put back on the hanger.

Cheap features to avoid:

  • Small, busy patterns
  • Synthetic fabrics that are very shiny or stretchy
  • Glitter and sparkles
  • Asymmetrical hems or trendy cuts that will date
  • Fluorescent colors
  • Fiddly belts or built-in accessories
  • Flashy plastic buttons

Features to look for:

  • Natural fabrics like linen, cotton and wool
  • Neutral or jewel tones
  • Well tailored pieces in timeless cuts
  • Block colors or large, simple prints

Here’s an example of a blazer (a wonderful expensive looking piece if done right) done 2 ways… Both are in a similar price range and yet look quite different!


Shiny, poorly made, unflattering cut, fabric is too light so wrinkles easily
Nice nude shade, simple cut, well tailored, matte finish fabric

While color is a fantastic way to express yourself, for very bold colors you need to be careful as they can easily look cheap. For outerwear and other staples, neutrals will help make them look more expensive and you can save colors for accessories or fun summer dresses.

Tip 2: Expensive looking fit

Nothing says cheap like an item that doesn’t fit quite right – whether it’s too long, too short, too tight or too baggy.    Fit isn’t just about being able to do something up. We’re looking to tick the following boxes…

  • The shoulders width is just right
  • There’s no gape under the arms
  • It hugs (or skims over) the chest and waist
  • If long sleeve, the cuff just hits the top of the hand
  • If full length, it sits above the floor in the right shoes

It’s not always possible to find a perfect fit, however, so there are 2 things to consider before deciding whether to buy/keep something:

  1. Can it be worn in a way that will improve the fit? For instance if it’s going to be worn as a layer or can have a belt added to cinch the waist, the whole outfit may still look well-fitting.
  2. Can it be adjusted by a tailor (or you)? If it’s just the length or the waist that’s not quite right, it’s not a big deal to have something tweaked to make it just right. Especially if it’s an expensive piece you found at a discount!

If it’s a no to both, then just let the piece go – it’s going to be impossible to make it look expensive if it truly doesn’t fit.

Tip 3: Expensive looking condition

Sometimes even just the smallest detail can make an item of clothing look cheap. Because if you think about it – aside from labels, the main difference between expensive and cheap clothing is the quality. So while we’ve talked about some of the keys to buying items that look more expensive than they are, now it’s time to talk about how to prevent the clothes in your wardrobe from looking unnecessarily cheap.

Here are some of the most common giveaways for low quality pieces:

→ Loose threads

Get yourself a min pair of “snippers” and cut the loose threads as close to the seam as possible. If the loose thread came from the hem, you may also want to get a candle lighter and burn the thread – but be very careful with this, especially if the fabric is quite synthetic as it could melt like plastic!

→ Pilling

While pilling (also known as bobbles, fuzzballs, or lint balls) can happen on any kind of clothing, it’s usually because of wear and tear and will make your item look old and tired.

Things like bags, backpacks and even seatbelts often create pilling (because of how the strap is rubbing on your clothing) so keep that in mind when wearing tops that are made from knitted fabric (wool, cotton, polyester, acrylic and other synthetics).

Removing pilling is generally pretty easy if you buy a fabric comb or battery-operated pill/lint remover – both super affordable and worth the investment when you think about how long they can extend the lifespan of your clothes.

→ Cheap buttons

Yep, believe it or not, even something as simple as buttons can make your clothing look cheaper since mass produced items will use the cheapest ones available that often don’t even match the fabric or look obviously “plastic-y”.

So since buttons are pretty darn cheap to buy and easy to attach, a simple fix for any that look a bit sad would be to replace them with higher quality ones – or even some statement buttons which will immediately take away the mass produced vibes – to give your item a new lease on life.

→ Unintentional fading

Some pieces are obviously designed to fade as it adds to the overall grungy or vintage look, but if yours don’t fall into that category, fading will absolutely cheapen the look of your clothes.

Washing your clothes in higher temperatures and with harsh detergent will always speed fading up, so try and stick to cold washes where possible and buy color-safe detergent if you can work it into your budget. For black items – especially denim and cotton – it’s definitely worth buying a black wash to use occasionally as it will help to keep that “true black” look for much longer.

→ Wonky seams, stretching + other bummers

Unfortunately some wear and tear is irreversible and comes down the quality of the item. For instance, t-shirts whose seams have gone from straight down your side to eventually twisting towards your navel (because it was cut incorrectly) or loss of elasticity that results in saggy bottoms or crotches.

As much as we’re all about stretching your wardrobe as far as it can, there comes a time when you need to let a piece go because it will look cheap no matter how you wear it. In the words of Marie Kondo, thank your item for its service and wish it well before deciding whether it’s one to donate to a shelter or if it could be turned into a cleaning rag (perfect if it’s cotton) so that it doesn’t end up in landfill.

No matter what you spent on your item, treat it with love and respect and it *will* last longer than if you don’t care. This means…

  • Always reading the labels (ideally before you buy it in case the care is too high maintenance for your lifestyle!)
  • Washing your clothes inside out – and not mixing delicate items with items that could damage them (anything with zips or metal details)
  • Hanging them to dry whenever possible (the dryer is extremely harsh on clothing, as much as we love the convenience of it)
  • And ensuring they’re stored safely in your wardrobe (again, Marie Kondo has great tips on this)

Tip 4: Expensive looking styling

Your ability to create outfits (rather than simply grabbing 2 pieces and throwing them on before you walk out the door!) is going to make a huge difference when it comes to how expensive you look. This is a big topic and something we’ll need to do an entire post about, but here are a few tips to get you started.

→ Create a color palette

Being intentional about the colours you’re wearing can do wonders for your overall style. For instance, dressing all in one colour can look incredibly sophisticated, and having details on times (or accessories) that match other pieces will help pull a look together. Having an overall colour palette for your wardrobe will also mean you shop smarter, only buying items that match with other pieces you own, meaning your ability to mix and match will create so many more outfit possibilities. You can read our post on how to create a colour palette for your wardrobe here.

→ High-low dressing

Dressing head to toe in mass produced clothing can make it challenging to look expensive, so one of the simplest ways to fix this is by having a small number of higher quality pieces in your wardrobe that can elevate any outfit. For instance, a cheap H&M t-shirt with Target jeans is nothing special, but if you add a well made blazer or kimono, suddenly those basic pieces lose their focus as your high quality piece is what will stand out. 

Alternatively, it may be the jeans you want to splurge on since you wear them so often and the better quality fabric and fit give you next-level confidence – so if that’s the case, a cheap and cheerful tank top with some fun bright accessories will look at lot less basic.

→ Add one “wow” piece

Stylist Lori Thomas of Stylesmarts talks about adding one “remarkable” piece to any outfit – in other words, an item worthy of remarking. This has nothing to do with what you spend on the item, but ensuring the item has some wow factor that’s fun or striking (whatever allows you to express your personality) as it’ll become a focal point, visually, but also of conversation. Think an unexpected pop of colour, some sparkle or texture, an unusual shape or fabric, or even something that features an intricate detail that makes it more unique.

→ In the words of Carson Kressley: Zhuzh it!

Remember Carson from the original Queer Eye? He made the term ”zhuzhfamous — which essentially means to give it some flair. Again, we’ll need to do a whole post on this, but for now, when you put your outfit on ask yourself the following:

  • Would this top look better tucked in or even partially tucked?
  • Could I roll these sleeves up?
  • How many buttons done up looks best with this look?
  • Does this outfit need a belt, scarf, pocket square or even a quirky brooch?
  • And for the makeup wearers: would a feature lip or eye take this to the next level?

For more on how to take your styling to the next level, check out our post How to find your signature style – a step-by-step guide”

Whew, so that’s all for now but we hope it helped! Like with anything in life, remember it’s not about trying to do it all at once (or right away), but choosing even 1 little idea you can take and implement so you’ll see an immediate improvement.

And remember: you can download The ‘drobe app for free which will help you create your colour palette, run an inventory of what you own (there’s a section for adding notes around ideas for repairs & improvements too!) and starting to get creative with how you pull together outfits so you can look more expensive – and feel more confident – every day.

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