by Carly J. Cais, Fashion Designer & ChicSteals blog

As a designer I’ve developed an eye for style over the years, and an appreciation for the fact that sometimes, designer pricetags can be downright scary. While life necessitates a splurge once in a while on that can’t-live-without-it fabulous item, much of the fun of fashion is mixing high with low to create outfits that are creative, and also budget-friendly. Each week, I showcase five hot designer-style steals (each for $100 or, in most cases, for much, much less)…along with one must-splurge item.
Although the focus of this column is getting the look for less, truly stylish choices are about more than just the bottom line. To avoid becoming fashion roadkill, busted as a Fashion Don’t by E! or worse, black-barred in the back of Glamour, here are five timeless tips on how to safely stay fabulous (plus some fabulous outfit ideas to get you started):


Unless you’re on the catwalk, the Chanel-clad matriarch of an old-money family, the designer him/herself and/or schmoozing with the actual designer (like Lil’ Kim at the Cinema Society screening of Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton), avoid looking like a walking billboard by rocking pieces from multiple labels. Lil’ Kim’s red heels would definitely look more fab paired with a neutral cami or blouse, this $30 dip-dye silk skirt from (right), and some accessories in red & pink to balance everything out. Oftentimes, even the designer doesn’t intend for all his pieces to be worn together…it’s overkill. (3.1 Phillip Lim bead-embellished silk blouse; Stella McCartney wooden belt; Linda Farrow Luxe 24k gold-rimmed sunglasses; Chloe Saskia tote; Two Lips Cotton Club pumps)


Even if you could afford the same eyecatching ensemble as seen on the it-girl du jour, a famous outfit once worn…is worn. Re-creating it slavishly tells the world the wearer is a wannabe sans her own stylish flair. Instead, steal what you loved most about the outfit and customize it. (For example, the oversized gray tee Rachel Bilson wore belted as a dress: American Apparel has a similar version for $20 in their men’s section – just buy an XL or XXL and rock it with your own cool belt.) Be inspired by – but don’t mimic – high profile fashionistas. By accessorizing an outfit similarly and making it your own, you’ll be hailed as a maven of fashion-forward style. (Rag & Bone Blade Belt; Grace Hats Leaves Hat; Nooka Zub 38 Zot GG Watch; Bliz black leather gladiator sandal) BBUNNY black Paris hobo


The first rule of shopping American sizing is too ignore what the tag says; it’s called vanity sizing for a reason and is a cynical attempt to capitalize on those headgames we all play in the dressing room (“I know deep down inside I’m a Size 8, but these say they’re a 2 & if I lay down on the floor and squeeze, they fit!“) Size inflation is less of a problem with European labels because their sizes are standardized. Also, ignore that pesky little voice that insists, “I used to be a 6 ten years ago, so I can still squeeze my ass into Size 6 jeans!“). Instead, focus on the evidence: how does it fit and what does the mirror say. If you have your own Hollywood trainer, be our guest and look like you’ve been poured into your clothes…but remember, the truly stylish don’t hesitate to retire the low-rise muffin-top jeans in favor of a mid-rise that fits, aren’t afraid go up a size if need be, and seek out fabrics and cuts that skim flatteringly instead of hug. (Matthew Williamson beaded chiffon blouse; 18th Amendment Colbert jeans;Oliver Peoples Hollis sunglasses; Chloe oversized leather tote; Celestina stone-embellished cuff; blue patent Stackedd peep toe pump)


For every Kate (Hudson or Moss) who always seems to look effortlessly stylish, there is the rest of the pack which always looks like they’re trying a bit too hard. Examples include wearing something straight off the runway without translating it into reality, being overly styled, or dressing age-inappropriately (both cougars underdressed in sexxxy 20-something outfits and 20-somethings overdressed in stuffy couture). Leave an outfit on the rack unless it makes you feel fabulous without too much extra effort…warning signs include requiring some of all of the following to rock this ensemble: your hair being elaborately “done”, the right makeup, shoe, jewelry, and, possibly, underpinnings and lingerie. When in doubt, opt for a classic (like Spiegel’s Matelasse sheath for $70) and remember that less is more…but fun accessories are the spice of life. (RM by Roland Mouret Pigalle wool dress in taupe; Burberry double-buckle belt; Donna Karan Mongolian gilet; Oliver Peoples Skyla sunglasses; Fendi multicolored ball bracelet; Alexander McQueen patent Elvie bag; ight=”1″ src=”″ width=”1″ /> Mercci snake stiletto)


You’re kitted out in a chic Chloe frock, sky-high Loubies, a vintage-fabulous clutch…and all your date/manfriend/husband can seem to muster is a “you look nice” (the same comment you got, ironically, while wearing those low-slung Old Navy sweats and his old wifebeater – sans bra – while lounging around the living room). The fact is, most (straight) men simply don’t care about the fashion curve, and mostly appreciate that (a) you don’t look like their mother, and (b) you’re groomed. While your gay BFFs will thrill over your perfectly-put-together look (which is why we love them & keep them around), what matters is, ultimately, what you think. As styled by fashion iconoclast Patricia Field, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw got away with some of the kookiest, out-there outfits because she wasn’t dressing to impress, she was dressing for herself. Mix high with low, designer with fast-fashion, and most of all: celebrate…by wearing what you love, just because it makes you feel good!

If there are any high-priced pieces you’d like me to find similar, less costly versions of, please email me at carlyjcais AT fashiontribes DOT com. ‘Til next week, fellow bargain-hunters!
– Carly J. Cais


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