"It is not money that makes you well-dressed, it is understanding."
Although legendary couturier Christian Dior first spoke those memorable words decades ago, they are just as true today- perhaps even more so due to the wide variety of inexpensive but stylish items available now. You can blow a paycheck or six on the latest styles at Saks, or you can shop at H&M, Zara, or even Target (Tar-zhay to those in the know) and look just as chic. With a bit of skilled bargain shopping, you can look like a million bucks for considerably less.
Every fashionista worth her stilettos checks out Zara and H&M religiously. These stores knock off runway looks for a fraction of the price, and they do it at lightning speed - Zara had two versions of the oh-so-popular Roland Mouret "Galaxy" dress in stores within a week of his show. Besides relatively decent copies of designer looks, both of these stores do excellent basics and well-cut original pieces, making them the first stop on the budget-minded fashionista's shopping trail.
Major department stores like Macy's, Lord and Taylor, and Nordstrom are also a good place to look for steals. Scan the clearance racks regularly and soon you'll be scoring pieces for 60% or 70% off the original price. Don't forget the shoes, bags, and jewelry! Some stores have really valuable coupons and codes too, so keep your eyes open for deals. Same goes for mall stores like Banana Republic and Express - everything will hit the clearance rack eventually, so never pay full price.
Finally, there are the Holy Grails of bargain hunting - Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Loehmann's, etc. These stores tend to have past season or even current season wares from brands like Tahari, Max Studio, and Ralph Lauren. The sheer amount and variety of merchandise at these stores can be overwhelming, so it's best to go when you've got some time and are not looking for anything in particular.
The most important thing to remember when searching for your look for less is that it's not about your labels (although quality does count - but a "name" doesn't necessarily guarantee quality), it's about your style. Use magazines, ads, and the runways as your inspiration, not as a blueprint. Try to find a signature, such as big chunky jewelry or just wear what you love, and wear whatever makes you feel happy and confident, and you will look fabulous.