Affordable Accessories to Kickstart Your Style

by Andrea Karim on 24 February 2011 13 comments
Photo: Helena Liu

Stylish people with a frugal streak know that building a wardrobe around classic cuts and chic, quality basics is the best way to save money while dressing like you mean business. But even the most classic styles can seem stale after a while, which is why fashion-conscious people who still like to pinch their pennies know how to utilize accessories to make their sartorial choices stand out.

Accessories are pretty much anything that you can get away with not wearing (so, for instance, pants are not an accessory). Accessories go in and out of style more frequently than clothing, but are often all you need to update your look. You can wear the same black turtleneck and black jeans for years, but build a real wardrobe out of the accessories that bring color and character to the outfit. (See also: 10 Places to Find Inexpensive Accessories).

Scarves and Cowls

Scarves and cowls aren't just for staying warm — they are must-have accessories. Choose colors that compliment your coloring — scarves and cowls are the perfect way to bring out the color in your eyes or to accentuate your great hair. Scarves in bright pink and red can shine some warm light on sallow skin.

Cowl scarf

Photo credit: Angela Wierzbinski at MissMisoDesigns

Scarves aren't just for women, as men have also been rocking a wide range of plain and pattered scarves for years. Keffiyeh look particularly manly, and most women are total suckers for a guy in plaid. Learn how to knot a scarf and watch how women react to you (the ability to fake an Italian accent might also be of aid).

Belts

You may have noticed that belts have made a real comeback over the last few years. You can put a belt over more or less anything — dress, jacket, trench coat, sweater, long shirt — it doesn't matter. Belts can add a bright pop of color to an otherwise staid ensemble and offer a hint of a waistline for people who lack one.

Girl in yellow belt

Photo credit: Ashley Marcin at (never home)maker

Right now (Feb. 2011), the trend in belts seems to be a mix of skinny, colorful leather straps, and large, corset-like bands in black or brown. Where you go to buy one really depends on how long you plan to wear it — if you only need it for a couple of seasons, a cheap belt may suffice. However, if you want a belt that will last a long time, check out Nordstrom Rack, Filene's Basement, or Ross to see if you can score a discounted, but well-made Italian leather belt.

Hats

Hats are finally making a comeback after years of languishing in the closets of vintage collectors. Credit (or blame) Mad Men for making a casual chapeau more acceptable, but I for one am delighted to see people wearing hats, not just caps, as a part of their personal style.

Hat

Photo credit: HeatherHeatherHeather

There are so many options when shopping for a hat, and while you certainly don't have to follow current trends, you could do worse than checking out a modern fedora or pork pie hat at your local mall. I ended up with a stylish herringbone fedora this weekend at a BOGO sale at Men's Warehouse.

Floral Accents

Fabric flowers of all shapes and sizes are still major fashion accessories right now. Flowered belts are a huge accessory at the moment, and calexandra's Etsy shop features this beautiful spring-like design that would make a plain white t-shirt look like a million bucks.

Flower belt

Photo credit: Carlotte at calexandra

The great thing about fabric flowers is that you can stick them ANYWHERE. You can buy silk flowers at your local craft store and remove the wire stems and leaves to make pins, barrettes, headbands, brooches, shoe clips, bracelets, bib-style necklaces, collar appliques, sashes, belts, bridal accessories, and more.

Flower

Photo credit: Georgianna at aSundayGirl

If you are crafty, you have even more options for floral accessories, such as making fabric flowers yourself. aSundayGirl sells tutorials for under $5. You can use any material, including silk, denim, and even lace. Another popular option is the folded ribbon rose


Go to the video

If the DIY force is strong in you, you can easily find tutorials online on how to make any style of fabric flower. The awesome craft blog Hey Jen Renee has a really simple tutorial on how to sew simple fabric blossoms onto a plain t-shirt. Simply Vintagegirl has an easy post that shows you how to singe the edges of silk to make fake flowers look like real flowers.

Money-saving hint: If you buy silk flowers, only buy during a sale. The mark-up on silk flowers is ridiculous.

Headbands 

You've probably seen headbands and hair accessories taking up more shelf space at your local shopping mall. Headbands are an easy way to make you look like you put extra effort into dressing, even if you only had a few minutes to get ready.

Headband

Photo credit: Gina at Acute Designs

Buying handmade is great and worth spending a few more dollars on, but don't pay full price at any retail outlet — you can find cheap ones in the bargain bin at any major department store.

Look for colors that add a pop of visual interest but work with your hair color and can be integrated into your overall look. Headbands are a life saver when you don't have time to wash your hair, too — just collect it into a messy ponytail or muss it around with a little hair pomade, and place the band strategically.

flowered headpiece

Photo credit: Thatiana at House of Telsa

For people who get headaches because of bands pinching behind the ears, the thin metal headbands that are sold at drug stores are a good option. They can be bent slightly to reduce the tension applied to your scalp. Headbands are perfect for your glue-gun skills. To add a flower or accent to a plain headband, simply clear the back of the flower/applique so that it is more or less flat. Apply glue to the headband, place the accent, and then glue a piece of felt to the underside of the headband in such a way that it covers the underside of the accent piece. Then trim excess felt away until it can't be seen from the front.

If you prefer using ribbon or elastic headbands, Love Maegan has some lovely pictorial tutorials on how to attach silk flowers and lace to headbands.

Jewelry

Jewelry is a timeless option for changing your overall look from blah to elegant (or funky, or spicy, or whatever). Jewelry comes in such varieties nowadays that there is something affordable for everyone out there.

Bold Jewelry

Big, bold jewelry has really taken center stage as of late with the introduction of the bib necklace. Easily the fastest way to turn a t-shirt and jeans into a dressier affair, the bib necklace is generally at least two inches tall by four inches wide, and hangs across the chest a little like a baby's bib (hence the name), but minus the regurgitated food...hopefully.

Bib necklaces are on sale at your local Macy's because retailers are busy bringing in the latest spring accessories, which will include MORE bib necklaces in different colors.

If necklaces aren't your thing, then large plastic and wood bracelets are selling for mere pennies at JCPenney and Macy's, right at this very moment.

long feather earrings

Photo credit: Rachel Junek at Pixie Glamour

Another popular item at the moment is a good pair of feather earrings, and I am completely taken with the super-long feather earrings (above) sold by Pixie Glamour. They look great with short hairstyles and dress up pretty much any outfit. They aren't for the shy, but it's much more fun to make a statement than to be a shrinking violet, anyway.

Vintage Jewelry

Etsy and eBay are great places to find vintage pieces. Very few things can take an outfit from dullsville to outstanding faster than a vintage brooch. Enamel, milk glass, and rhinestones are all very popular options, and there are thousands of antique items out there looking for a new home.

Brooch

Photo credit: Carrier's Cozy Cottage

A good rhinestone brooch or fur clip can be used with cardigans, scarves, sweaters, blazers, little black dresses, evening gowns, and wool coats. They are versatile and elegant. That said, remember to keep a cool head and not overbid on anything on eBay.

Vintage Glasses/Sunglasses

Vintage glasses came back into style during the mid 1990s, thanks to the band Weezer and their ode to Buddy Holly. Fortunately, vintage glasses have more or less remained in style since then, which means that you can snatch a pair at pretty much any used clothing/antique shop for a steal. Get your own prescription added to the frame or go with fake lenses if you actually have great eyesight. If you sit in front of a computer monitor all day, ask your eye doctor about getting graduated lenses (like bifocals) that give your view of your work an extra boost.

Glasses

Photo credit: Deb at BibbysRocket

Etsy sellers like BibbysRocket have a wide range of authenti vintage frames, or check out your local vintage/secondhand stores. There are so many styles of glasses that are "in" at the moment. You can pick up a style ranging from 1950-1988 and still be totally in the now.

Bags/Purses/Satchels

Carrying a purse is almost a given for most women, even women who swear that they don't need to carry much to survive. Having a quality bag that you can use for years is one option, but if you haven't settled on your forever purse yet, you can change your bag as often as you change your mood.

A poorly made purse will fall apart quickly, so look for quality handbags at thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. A ripped lining or seam can be repaired, and finding a good vintage purse with decent "bone structure" can be a real boon to your wardrobe.

vintage handbag

Photo credit: Claudia at Lange Vintage

Many women will find a purse they love and buy it in every color, but it can be smart to change out your style. For instance, carry a clutch in the winter, a hobo bag in the spring, a canvas satchel in the summer, and a structured handbag in the fall. It's not just that style gets updated to match the season, it's also good, ergonomically, to change the way you hold your bag.

Tights/Leggings

Bit by bit, even the most conservative among us have come to accept the presence of leggings in the general populace. Leggings are perfect for wearing under an extra-short dress or skirt, saving the world from knowing exactly which undergarments we have selected today.

leggings

Photo credit: BeauBazar

Tights, of course, are a lifesaving accessory in any woman's wardrobe. Like nylons, but without the extreme fragility, tights let you get away with wearing skirts and dresses in the dead of winter, even if you haven't shaved your legs in a good long time.

We will not discuss jeggings.

Leg Warmers/Arm Warmers

When leg warmers first made a comeback a couple of years ago, I howled in protest. "This is not Flash Dance!" I would mutter at teenagers who bopped on by, oblivious to a grumpy 32-year-old who was unable to cope with her childhood style coming full circle already. But I was won over quickly enough when I realized:

  1. I have a fondness for pretty much anything from my days in ballet.
  2. Leg warmers look amazing over a pair of heels, giving a "faux boot" look. Just be careful not to trip on them.

Arm warmers are often associated with the Gothic aesthetic, but I have a raspberry pair that keep me warm in my sub-Arctic office and add a pop of color to my traditionally dour wardrobe. I also love arm warmers made from recycled clothing, like this pair form Euphraxia's Closet.

arm warmers

Photo credit: Molly Schwarzenberger

Colors

Lastly, let's talk color. Colorful, fashionable accessories have never been so widely available and so affordable. Every season, designers trot out the latest "it" colors — one or two shades that are supposed to be lovingly used in the fashion world until the next season rolls around. Fashion is, after all, fickle.

That said, seasonal color choices can really give a needed "oomph" to basic office blacks, whites, and grays. Let's talk about the color combinations that are big right now — there are so many that there has to be something for everyone.

Unexpected Color Combinations

Combining two or more colors that normally wouldn't "go" together is extremely fashionable now. Baby blue with bright red, dark yellow and light gray, lime green and oatmeal, turquoise and coral, navy blue and yellow... the possibilities are endless.

Tracy Owens Chasteen, owner of Polished Two, a popular Etsy shop, started making jewelry when she found herself with a lack of personalized options in the marketplace. Tracy now makes custom pieces of jewelry that she sells at incredibly reasonable prices, and has a particular knack for finding colors that contrast and compliment at the same time.

"I actually started making affordable jewelry because I wanted interesting, boutique style accessories, but could not afford all of the latest trends when I was on an entry-level salary," Tracy told me. "To solve that problem, I learned how to make my own jewelry."

Photo credit: Tracy Owens Chasteen at Polished Two

Soft Neutrals

Neutrals are always classic choices for wardrobe basics or accessories. By neutrals, I mean black, white, gray, beige, taupe — inoffensive colors that aren't particularly exciting but that, because of their lack of character, are interpreted as classy. I'm not knocking neutrals; I'm personally a huge fan of both gray and taupe. This season's offerings are just plain packed with neutrals, from camel-colored wool shorts to dark gray blazers.

This season, stylists have put a romantic twist on neutrals by incorporating pinks into the mix. Go to any young fashion department store, and you'll find wispy blouses in sheer fabrics, floral patterns, sheer lacy camisoles, all in shades of dusty pink, taupe, gray, and beige.

Working neutrals into your accessories is extremely easy. Basic black necklaces and bracelets always make a striking statement. A pair of beige leather gloves looks as good against a red wool coat as against a denim jacket.

Metallics

Burnished gold, bright copper, and sparkling silver are incredibly hot tones this spring, and a little glitter can go a long way into brightening dull winter skin and adding accents without necessarily having to rely on bright colors.

Metallics are especially popular in make-up tones right now, so you can add a bit of sparkle to your morning mirror time through a quick swipe of gold eye shadow across your lids. Feeling shinier? Get your hands on some glimmering body lotion. Sparkly leggings, shoes, and plastic accessories will all be widely available in your local department stores — keep an eye out for online deals and coupons.

4.666665
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

13 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
Tiffany

Great ideas! I've been working on revamping my wardrobe to include more classic pieces, and these accessories will go perflectly.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks, Tiffany! I'm trying to figure out ways to revitalize my own look, which mostly consists of black clothing (I tend to spill coffee down my front, so black is a good choice). ;)

Guest's picture
Tiffany

One of my little tricks: cute cardigans in great colors or with some fancy embellishments or other details. Throw one over a simple t-shirt or cami and a nice pair of pants or jeans, and you instantly look pulled together. And in my mind, a cardigan will never go out of style!

Andrea Karim's picture

Cardigans are an invaluable part of a good wardrobe, that's for sure. I always have trouble keeping mine looking nice, though. Do you have any brand or care recommendations? The ones I buy at Macy's always end up looking terrible after a couple of washes.

Guest's picture
Tiffany

Most of mine come from TJ Maxx (so, random brands), but I have a few from Gap that have held up nicely. I wash them every few times I wear them (usually in one of those mesh bags for washing delicates), and only throw them in the dryer for about 15 minutes before laying them flat to dry. That seems to keep them looking nicer longer.

Guest's picture
Desiree

Reading this blog just cost me $54. There should be a warning above the fold on those feather earrings. Damn you!

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, no! That's why I linked to the article on places to find affordable accessories - if you can't afford the artisans on Etsy (I can't afford everything I see on there), usually similar pieces can be found at Claire's or Forever 21!

Mikey Rox's picture

I love sunglasses, belts and scarves. I have waaaay too many of each. And I'll tell you a little secret - I grew my hair out once and wore a headband (a very masculine one, thankyouverymuch) when I was in Europe. Other boys were wearing them, so I thought I'd try it out, too. Turns out it's not quite my look, but it was fun trying something new. Nice piece.

Mikey Rox's picture

I love sunglasses, belts and scarves. I have waaaay too many of each. And I'll tell you a little secret - I grew my hair out once and wore a headband (a very masculine one, thankyouverymuch) when I was in Europe. Other boys were wearing them, so I thought I'd try it out, too. Turns out it's not quite my look, but it was fun trying something new. Nice piece.

Guest's picture
michelle

this is so lovely! i would be honored to be featured in something like this...you sure made the shop owners feel special!

Andrea Karim's picture

Your shop certainly has many affordable items, and I love the rosette headbands. In fact, I think I just might buy one right now!

Guest's picture

Jewelry & scarves are amazing for mixing up your style! So easy to make, thrift and borrow...

Guest's picture

Another accessory I love? Buttons! Just changing the buttons can transform a boring cardigan into a fun one. Cheap, simple and super-stylish.