Fashion : High-Style Dress for $100 or Less

Money isn't everything. It can't buy style. Even well-heeled businesswomen and wealthy socialites get reminded of that sometimes. This summer, for example, La Prairie cosmetics company owner Georgette Mosbacher and New York social butterfly Blaine Trump got roasted for their wardrobes by W, the fashion publication.

So many people have learned firsthand that spending is no guarantee of looking good that a new battle cry is rising from the ranks of the most avid shoppers: "Style, not fashion."

Cost-Conscious Departments

Big spenders might be surprised to know that it is entirely possible to put together--for about $100--an outfit the toughest critics would approve. Getting to know stores' most cost-conscious departments is the first step.

That includes the junior department, where dresses and suits tend to resemble much higher-priced versions of the latest looks. The bodywear department is a source for leotards and tank tops to wear under jackets. Even the girls' department is worth looking into, for small purses and trendy hair accessories.

LeeAnn Roskelley, fashion director for Nordstrom in Southern California, says her store's Savvy and Point of View divisions are always stocked with moderately priced clothes that she describes as designer interpretations.

Experienced budget shoppers look for the Tapemeasure label, known for styles that resemble the high-priced Donna Karan line. And they look for the Victor Costa label on special-occasion dresses that are priced at a fraction of similar designs by Christian Lacroix and Valentino, among others.

"Some customers can't afford designer names," Roskelley says. "But because there has been such an interest in designer looks, manufacturers are interpreting them at prices more customer can afford."

She buys her own clothes in the value-priced departments, after she updates herself about the latest looks by top designers. Using her system, she believes, the most trend-conscious clotheshorses can find what they want at the price they can afford.

Independent fashion consultant Yvette Crosby agrees. Although she has staged fashion shows using the top-rated designers in town, she personally prefers shopping at discount stores. She recently bought four quilted jackets adorned with gold buttons for $19.99 each at Marshall's. She describes them as "Chanel-like," and tells of a particularly memorable compliment paid to her when she wore one last fall.

"I didn't know if I dare wear a $19.99 jacket to a Geoffrey Beene fashion show in New York," she begins. "But when a fashion editor asked me whose jacket it was, it really drove the point home. It's not who makes the jacket, but how it is worn."

Sometimes Crosby puts her emerald-green "Chanel" over a chocolate-brown top and matching wide-leg pants that she made for herself. She adds a burgundy cummerbund and plum-colored suede shoes.

There are budget shoppers who maintain that what you don't buy is almost as important as what you do buy. One who knows is Linda Dano, owner of a New York-based fashion-consulting business called Strictly Personal and co-host of "Attitudes," a daytime show on Lifetime Network.

"Too many women buy on impulse," she finds. "They go into a store and buy something just because it is on sale, when they would be much better off if they would buy the belt they really need."

Dano gets mileage from her basic wardrobe that consists of just five items and enough accessories to vary the look. One of her favorite pieces is a winter-white jacket by Donna Karan, priced around $800, which she wears with a $30 black skirt she ordered from a dressmaker. She sometimes wears bone-and-black onyx earrings that cost about $40. Other times she puts a black shawl over the jacket.

Kathleen McGillivray of the Broadway fashion office said clotheshorses on a budget must learn two skills: creativity and versatility.

"When you're working with less money, you should go for the style that accessories can give you. It is much more interesting to create your own look."

One way to do this, McGillivray says, is to choose an outfit most people might wear only for special occasions and adapt it for other times. A black-and-white polka-dot strapless dress designed for cocktail parties can be converted to day wear by adding a man's white shirt with French cuffs as a jacket, McGillivray suggests. She would wrap it about the waist and tie it in back for a fitted look. She also recommends using earrings as cuff links and putting a similar pair on your ears.

Another way to make clothes dollars stretch is to upgrade a purchase by improving certain details.

"If I hate the plastic buttons on a shirt, I'll replace them with wooden or leather buttons," L.A. fashion designer Karl Logan says of the clothes he buys for himself. He also removes belt loops from pants if he doesn't plan to wear them with a belt.

Roskelley of Nordstrom says one of the best ways to stay a step ahead in style is to watch for low-priced fashion trends. Some prime examples this summer are white tennis shoes, amulets and charms worn on craft shop leather cords and bandannas as everything from head bands to bracelets.

"People shouldn't be afraid to start their own fashion trends," Roskelley suggests. "Fashion dictates aren't the only option."

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