When it comes to shopping in the high street part of the mall (which is by no means a sign of bad taste, as long as you stay clear of stores that specialise in cocktail dresses made out of highly flammable materials or footwear made of acrylic leather substitutes that guarantee Athlete's Foot – here's looking at you, Lipsy) - there are tricks you can use to ensure that you maximise your money's worth, avoid beginner pitfalls, and still put together timeless premium looks like a seasoned pro. How I know this is because I have spent six days a week over the last three years spending advertisement clients' money dressing cast members in what is meant to look Armani, all whilst being given a envelope of money that, upon opening it, makes me say "Oh-Honey." At times, being a stylist really has been like the theological three fish being fed to 300 people. Not that I'm comparing myself to those powers that be, but what I'm trying to say is that a good stylist knows how to achieve premium looks on very modest budgets. Here is how we do it:
1. Look into online shopping. The items on ZARA's Spanish website retail for 30-40% less than they do here in the UAE, and the selection online is a lot more vast. Now, "ZARA do not ship internationally," you’ll say. I have an Aramex Shop & Ship account that boasts a PO Box in 12 countries, including Barcelona. It costs a few hundred dirhams a year and pays back for itself in one purchase. The items arrive in less than three days and, even with paying for the cost of shipping (which tends to arrive faster than it would if you had opted for the international shipping option, if there were one available), you will save loads of money. LOADS, I tell you! And if you're not sure about the fit, sometimes you can be as cheeky as to try things on in the physical store before you place an order online. The hustle is real.
2. Learn all about your body type. If you can’t try things on before placing an online order, you need to have an overall body awareness in mind. For example, as a petite person, I wouldn’t shop for maxi skirts since I know that they will mean added costs of alterations, for instance. At the same token, I know I have round hips, so I am yet to find a pair of bellbottom pants that don’t make me look twice my size – optically, the bellbottoms add to a false allure of width, so the ones modelled by skinny, leggy creatures aren’t for me.
3. Create a Pinterest moodboard with inspiring day-to-day looks. This way, you will clearly see what you are drawn to – meaning if you have pinned a number of looks featuring an oversized white shirt, then that is what you need to purchase next. Keep that in mind next time you are reaching for three nondescript white tops that won’t do for the look you had in mind - even if they seemed cheap at the time of purchase, they are deemed to be useless if they wind up only being worn once.
4. Get the best items your money can buy within each category. By this, I mean if the aforementioned white shirt is a crucial piece for tying together most of your looks, then look towards the upper high street (so, brands such as Sandro, The Kooples, Elizabeth & James, and so on), for the one you'll buy. The old Price-Per-Wear ratio applies here, and one expensive item that is worn 30 times "costs less" than a cheap piece that has been worn once, if even.
5. Learn about fabric composition. Items rich in artificial threads often look shiny and cheap. Look at, and feel, each item before buying it. Your fingertips KNOW the feel of fine cotton, real cashmere, and so on. Try and mimic that sensation when you are touching your clothes. I look like a loon when I go shopping, but I rely on all the senses. Apart from taste, haha - I have never been seen licking a garment!
6. Crinkle items up in your hand when you're in the store. All of the items that are hung up or folded out ready and waiting for you have been steamed and presented nicely to you, but if upon crushing a segment with your hand they look heavily creased and the fabric doesn’t ‘’bounce back,’’ just imagine what you will look like after a 20 minute drive to work. Seated. A tad sweaty, because Dubai. With a seatbelt across your chest. If it's a crinkler, that bargain Victoria Beckham-inspired pencil dress will look like you have slept on it by the time you arrive to the office.
7. Look for lining and even straight stitches in your cheaper purchases. This is where high street brands save money. A pencil skirt that hasn’t been lined doesn’t have that crisp flawless look to it that a pricier version does. Ill-placed skew stitches will make the same skirt keep shifting to the side all day, or a top gather badly over the chest. If you REALLY love that piece and just have to have it, then you can still rescue it with a trip to Satwa and have it lined or restitched by a tailor. But again, just remember that that will elevate the cost of the garment, so by now you might have to mentally add that AED200-300 to the cost, and then could use that same total spend to buy something a little more pricey to start with.
8. Read the washing instructions. Silk and beaded pieces, for instance, will require specialist cleaning so the price-per-wear ratio of these items winds up being through the roof again. Taking care of your clothes will also help them last for longer - so cleaning them appropriately will help to ensure a longer life.
Editor's Note: Teresa Karpinska is a professional stylist, whose clients have included internationally acclaimed luxury fashion brands and global magazine titles. She is also a fashion blogger at StyleDrifter.com, and is the founder of her online e-commerce store, StyleDrifterSHOP.com.
Photography courtesy of Teresa Karpinska.