I’ve had the pleasure of attending some pretty swanky parties – all in the name of journalism, friends – and with the Toronto International Film Festival upon us I thought I’d share some of my event-dressing-on-a-budget strategies.
When one is expecting to hob-nob with movie stars on a journalist’s wages they must learn to be crafty, quickly.
Tips for looking glamourous on a budget:
1. Don’t try to look “glamourous”. The word rings of “sparkle,” which can be one statement necklace away from “tacky”. Your watchwords are: sophisticated, simple, classic.
2. Go shopping – in your closet. Book an hour at home with yourself a week or two before the event. Pretend you are a fearless celebrity stylist. Open your closet and see your wardrobe with new eyes.
Mix-and-match old and new items you’ve never paired before – even if you think they may look silly – try on at least five new outfits (no one will know). Layer with zeal. You’ll find you probably already own a fabulous outfit or two.
3. If you’re going to buy, try vintage first. Not only will your purchase be unique and earth-friendly, you’ll find a quality of craftsmanship that’s attainable only in high-end labels today.
Take an afternoon to peruse consignment shops, vintage boutiques and even Value Village-type stores before you buy something new. Don’t just focus on the dresses. Sometimes a cashmere cardigan, embellished clutch, or sequined shawl are all you need to make your favourite LBD look like new. Remember: You are a fearless stylist now.
Vintage jewelry can also be a lovely and affordable way to add a whole new aesthetic to your look. Be sure to negotiate and shop around.
Don’t buy a vintage item if:
- it’s out of your budget
- it has sweat stains
- the fabric is faded or over-worn
- there are tears in spots that aren’t easily fixable
4. Visit a seamstress. Whether you buy vintage, fast fashion or a new item you hope will last forever, getting an item tailored to your figure is a great idea. For what usually costs $30 or less, you will look like a million.*
*If you buy vintage that wants tailoring, visit or call a seamstress before the purchase and get an estimation. Use this figure in bargaining.
5. Stick to the basics. More often than not, an item in a solid colour with clean lines looks more sophisticated and will last through more seasons. If you’re set on wearing a print, keep in mind that you don’t want something that will go out of style next season (pyschedelic paisley, for example, will not be “in” forever).
6. Accessorize with the whole look in mind. So often when I write about celebrity style, I think of how much better a star’s look would have been had they left one item at home.
Focus on accessories, especially statement necklaces or earrings, as contributions to the whole look, rather than individual items that you really just want to show off.
If a neckline is already flattering, you may want to re-think the necklace. If you decide to wear an oversized cocktail ring, a stack of bangles will probably be overdoing it (no matter how much you like them).
7. Borrow. If you’re thinking of buying an item you only see yourself wearing once, ask a chum or relation if you can borrow theirs. This is an especially good option for shoes, as vintage heels may not be the best idea with regard to comfort and safety and new heels aren’t worth buying if you can’t spend enough to get a decent pair.
I more or less live in Oxfords and hiking boots, so when I have an event that my handful of heels can’t cover I dig into my mother’s collection.
8. Be comfortable. Seriously, don’t buy or wear anything you can’t sit down or stand up in. Nervously fidgeting in a skirt that’s too tight in the hips, or a wincing each time you stand in heels is so unappealing and can’t be fun.
Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain celebrate at a Soho House Toronto-Grey Goose party during TIFF 2011. (Getty Images for Grey Goose)
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