How to Look Classy Without Spending a Lot of Money

“Classy” is a meaning that often gets confused with “expensive” or “high-maintenance.” Not true. These easy tips will show you how to look classy at low cost.

As a descriptive term, “classy” is (usually) a complement. But its meaning is a little less than clear. Some use it to depict a mode of gracious behavior, others a sense of polite restraint or austerity of dress. However you choose to define it, when it comes to fashion, there is a common misconception about what “classy” means; that in order to achieve it, you need to have a lot of money.

The following tips will give you a few pointers on how to look classy and put forward a polished, expensive-looking style for a surprisingly low amount of money.

Pay attention to fit

Two classy perfect fitting outfits

No matter how much or how little you spend on your clothes, if they fit you poorly, you will look sloppy, or even cartoonish. Blouses that gap, pant leg hemlines that are too short or too long, tops that don’t fit well in the shoulders – these may all seem like small things, but they make a huge difference to an overall look.

If you’re not sure where to start, enlist the help of a friend, or even a sales associate in a clothing store to assess the fit of a garment. Remember, the numerical size on a clothing tag is not set in stone; different brands and designers size their clothing differently, so be open to trying on clothes a size or two in either direction of the size that you think you are. The better a garment fits, the more you will wear it, and the better investment it will be.

If everything seems to fit you in that “almost but not quite” kind of way, don’t lose hope. Most women are not going to find clothes that fit perfectly straight off the rack. It is easy to enlist the help of a tailor to make simple, inexpensive alterations to garments in order to get that perfect fit.

Less is more: focus on fewer, higher-quality pieces

Green classy dress matched with green necklace

One of the hallmarks of a classy, well put-together look is the quality of the pieces themselves. Place your focus on high-quality fabrics that lie well against the body. Seam work should be impeccable, skirts and jackets lined, and tights or hosiery should be of a quality that doesn’t look too shiny or uneven when stretched.

Look for pieces that are made from natural fabrics like wool, silk, and cotton. The fabric should have a good “hand” to it; that’s industry speak for the way it feels. This can be particularly challenging when shopping in many mass market retailers, as today’s focus on fast fashion (the industry slang for the practice of retailers keeping new, low-cost items circulating into stores on a weekly basis) has meant an inevitable decline in quality.

It is equally important to remember that just because you might be shopping in a high-end store, the quality of a garment is not automatically going to be better, as one might expect.

No matter where you shop, inspect a piece before you commit to buy. You should not only like the look, feel, and drape of a garment, but you should feel confident that it will last you for a while. An expensive piece that you are afraid to wear is not a good investment. An expensive piece that you will wear for the next ten years and will take the place of four less expensive pieces is a great investment. Save more by buying less.

Cut the clutter

Classy yet simple look with pearl earrings

Legendary designer Coco Chanel had a great way to keep from overworking a look. Before leaving the house, she would take stock of what she was wearing, and then remove the one thing that happened to catch her eye. Whether that thing was a bracelet, a ring, or a scarf, she felt that the practice kept things in balance. Coming from the woman who once said that “a girl should be two things: classy and fabulous”, this seems like sound advice indeed.

Keeping jewelry and other accessories to a minimum is key to keeping your look refined and sophisticated. Leave the “arm party” bracelets at home, and choose either a necklace or earrings to complement your look, not both. If you must wear both, make them delicate and elegant so the look is balanced and they don’t compete with each other.

While your jewelry does not need to be expensive, it should definitely look expensive. There are plenty of costume jewelry designers out there who make pieces that look so real, even a jeweler would not be able to tell the difference.

The secret is scale; keep stud earrings around a karat or two, and silver or gold pieces should be of a moderate size (by which we mean believable) and look crisp, shiny, and elegant.

If you want to wear a scarf, pick one that is made from a luxurious fabric (or one that looks and feels like a luxurious fabric). There are plenty of discount retailers in which to purchase real, 100% merino and cashmere scarves for a fraction of the major design houses. Once again, the secret is to focus on the hand and drape of the fabric, and not on the brand label.

Granted, it is often difficult to quantify what makes a look classy, but these tips are great jumping-off points for those who want to refine their look. While there is no doubt that part of a classy look is to give the effect of having spent a lot of money, the reality is that it is not necessary to do so.

Well-appointed pieces, be they garments, jewelry, or accessories, can be found just about anywhere. Whether you prefer to shop in mass market retailers, secondhand stores, or in high-end designer boutiques, the secret is to search, be patient, and not settle for anything other than what you are looking for.

With a bit of effort and the guidance of the tips listed above, anyone can get that classy look without breaking the bank.

About the author

Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Kristin is an American writer based in the Scottish Highlands. She is a saxophonist, an obsessive tennis player, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and holds a Master's degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She is the author of the online style blog

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