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Everyone wants to look their best, but high quality is often associated with high price tags. If you want to know how to look expensive without paying designer prices, then you’re in luck — because looking expensive is about more than just price.

Let’s talk about the real elements of looking expensive. The purpose isn’t to ‘spend to look better’, but rather to understand why some outfits are labeled as expensive-looking. Of course, not everyone is after the expensive look on a daily basis — but maybe you need to fit in at a big event, you want to impress someone, or you just want to feel a little pampered. Whatever the reason, whether it’s a one-off or your new everyday style, this post it’s going to help you understand what makes expensive vs cheap looking clothes.

(Psst, feel like watching this blog post in video form? Why not check it out on my YouTube channel?)

What Does ‘Expensive’ Really Mean? 

Of course, ‘expensive’ means different things to different people. To me, someone looks expensive when I find myself in a mundane setting, such as waiting in line at the airport or picking up groceries, and I notice the person next to me wearing a classic, effortless, well-put-together outfit. When you take an extra moment to notice the details, they’re all right there in perfect alignment. That kind of sophisticated, understated elegance always catches my attention — and probably yours, too!

While expensive-looking clothing doesn’t need to be high-end label, most high-quality garments will still be a little more costly than fast fashion. We all need to retrain our brains a bit to what well-made clothes should cost, myself included. Even when it’s premium, a white t-shirt won’t be $5 unless it’s 80% off. Ultimately, while getting that expensive look is mostly about design choices, there’s still things like material to consider, and nicer materials will always increase price.

So if expensive is about a look, a style, and not a price tag, what really defines expensive-looking clothing?

Consider Your Prints Carefully

Here’s an example of what prints are like in expensive vs cheap style. Take a close look at these two dresses: one costs $27 and the other $385.

I deliberately chose similar styles and colors so you could see how big of a difference there is. One is really over-saturated with colors and patterns, so it’s all just a bit chaotic. But the other one has very deliberate, considered shapes, and you can clearly distinguish the flowers in the print. Here is what stands out to me: the attention to detail! One has simple sleeves, the other has tailored sleeves that flow into well-defined, delicately buttoned cuffs. One has an elegant collar, and the other doesn’t.

In the expensive option, the stitching at the waistline is sewn in a double belt to flatter the figure, while the cheaper version has just the plain belt. In terms of fabric, they’re both polyester, but even though this jersey looks more comfy, the structure of the buttoned A-line dress looks more polished and elegant.

Really, I like them both — but you can see that one looks fun and wearable, while the other looks unmistakably expensive.

Why White Clothes Are So Elegant

White is often considered to be a timelessly stylish color, but let’s take a deeper look into some of the meaning behind it.

Some say wearing white dates back to historical wealth. In the 19th century, there weren’t many paved roads around, which means lots of mud and very little stain-remover. Maintaining white clothes would have been a real challenge, and so most women didn’t wear white. But after Labor Day, when families left the cities for the summer, rich women would have a whole new white wardrobe for the warmer months. This must have been costly, which by extension made it easy to differentiate between those who could afford several wardrobes and those who couldn’t.

Of course, white is still prone to stains even now. Although I did buy some casual white jeans last spring, and even though I usually wear them in all-white looks top to bottom, I’ve never once stained them…

I think the monochromatic white look is still accepted as expensive style because we’ve always had this historical elegance in our minds. But even if white never goes out of fashion, it definitely feels a little outdated to say that you can’t wear white after Labor Day! First off, we can afford several wardrobes now and we’ve got to adjust to the seasons, and secondly, we’re no longer slushing around in the mud doing hard labor. So if you want to know how to look expensive, at least you can keep white in mind all year round.

Act Expensive, Look Expensive

Photo by Esra Afşar

Before we get carried away with tailoring and accessories, let’s talk about how to wear your clothes. Elegance is about not just the clothes themselves, but also how you move and hold yourself when you’re wearing them. For example, keeping a thoughtful eye on handbag because you know it’s worth a lot; don’t leave it open on a public table while you run off. Take care when you put it down or hang it, acting thoughtful and considered, and this is a simple way to show that your outfit is expensive. Even when you straighten your dress before you sit, it shows that it’s an expensive item deserving care.

The same goes for your coat, jacket, blazer, etc. A good example is how I hang my coat at work, where we have the usual multi-hook hanger. Since I wear expensive wool and alpaca coats to work, I brought in my own hanger and I hang my coat there every time. Yes, really! I also hang my blazer when I take it off rather than just tossing it onto a chair nearby. No one taught me this, but it’s just common sense that when you have something expensive you treat it better and look out for it. You also cover yourself when you eat with a napkin in your lap, and are mindful of objects that can stain you. Basically, imagine guarding a precious object. That’s what expensive looks like!

Cleanliness is Next To Godliness

Proper care is vital! You’ve probably heard that wrinkles are the enemy of a polished look. Well, I just paraphrased, but it’s a well-known tip — and it’s probably easy to see why.

Expensive outfits are well-taken-care-of because it projects the image of proper, perfect, flawless care. This aspect is very important to rich people, and they often have people do the maintenance for them. But it’s not as much about the wrinkle themselves as an ‘image is everything’ type of mentality, where an expensive outfit’s purpose is to continuously radiate the look of success.  How often do we see movies where a wealthy character has lost their fortune and, even with the same clothes on, they quickly look disheveled and poor due to the lack of care?

Keeping your clothes in perfect condition and cleanliness will show that you take great pride in your appearance, and — by extension — that your clothes are worth caring for.

Match Those Details

Photo by Nhi Lâm

It’s almost deceptively simple: match shoes to purse, match blazer, coat or jacket to shoes. This can stop your outfit from being cluttered up with color. When I’m at work, I have my everyday black leather work bag which, when full, weighs about 10lb! Just the essentials, right? But I never change it out of convenience. Any other time outside of work, I always match my shoes to my handbag — it’s just something I’ve been embedded with!

Don’t Shy Away From Stereotypes 

Image Credits: Chicquette

What? Aren’t stereotypes bad? Usually, yes, but sometimes you can use what people think of when they look at certain clothes to your advantage.

The preppy look is associated with academic types, which then translates into higher earners, which then leads to… well, a person who can afford to dress expensive. In the same way, we associate wearing glasses with plenty of reading, which means intelligence, which means a good job, which means lots of earning potential. I see preppy looks the same exact way.

Use the outfits above as an example. A simple cotton polo shirt looks 100% more polished than any silk t-shirt. So, even if you’re upgrading the material, the collar style is what will differentiate it, and will be more visible than the fabric. Of course if you combine both great style and great materials, looking and feeling expensive is a given.

Never Underestimate a Simple Pleat

Photo by Tom Swinnen

These remind me of the preppy look in some ways, conjuring images of the cute little mini skirts from tennis games. Guess who used to be able to afford to learn, watch, and play tennis? You guessed it, rich people. It’s much more affordable these days, although private lessons of any kind aren’t something given out left and right.

How about I give you another example: school uniforms, such as in private schools, are all preppy wear. The reason behind school uniform is to create a sense of equality, being treated the same as your peers. But you know what’s interesting when you look like everyone else? It’s your personality, your words, your answers, your non-verbal communication, even your accessories — all the little personal things stand out.

Someone with a natural elegant and expensive style will always be noticeable to the connoisseur. The real class isn’t in flaunting your wealth, but for discrete and understated looks that emphasize the quality of the clothes as much as the person wearing them.

How To Get Jewelry Just Right

When it comes to accessories for an expensive style, just remember: dainty, minimal, well-made and small in number. It’s not your latest trend — jewelry can’t just be bought like a pair of jeans. Instead, jewelry should be meaningful, valuable and cherished. High-quality jewelry is usually reserved for special occasions, simply out of affordability.

If you want to know how to look expensive, you need to be considered in your approach to jewelry. Don’t wear more than 2 pieces, wedding band and ring not included. If I do big, bold earrings, I do a minimal bracelet or ring, and sometimes no necklace at all. When I wear clothes and necklaces that accentuate my neckline or cleavage, the earrings are minimal instead, and I’ll skip rings and bracelets. I don’t want to feel like a Christmas tree!

Get into the feel of your jewelry and, before you walk away from your bedroom, take a moment to reassess if the balance is right. Ultimately, less is (usually) more, so don’t let it overpower the rest of your outfit.

Marvelous Monochromatic Looks

I have to throw this in here, because we can’t not talk about it.

It’s actually harder to dress in one color than it looks, right? But that’s because, if you want to build this sort of look, it means you deliberately purchased items that match — you put in the effort, and it shows.

This also means that you have to watch what you wear, because you can’t mix and match when specific items go together and you need them for that look. What this means is that the person wearing the monochromatic top-to-bottom look either synchronizes everything to be worn together, indicating that she has a plentiful wardrobe to choose from, or has multiple blouses of the same color, to match that one skirt. Who doesn’t have five white button-up shirts, or three black blazers, or three nude tops?

Either way, it requires quite an elaborate wardrobe, which means money was spent on all this coordination, which translates into an expensive look. Consider how expensive vs cheap style would compare here — don’t you always get a feeling of sophistication from that monochromatic look?

A Deep-dive Into Neutrals

Let’s talk neutrals. Why do we think they look expensive? I’ve thought about this for quite a while now, because I like to understand why we like things so that we can apply that reasoning to different things.

Neutral colors are simple, demure, less attention-grabbing. But you see, when I look at neutral beige — for example, a mushroom blazer — I pay attention and it looks expensive to me, because I know the majority of options out there are black, dark, or whatever the current hottest color trend is.

I found that most brands have their own color palette, a handful of colors used to make their garments of the season. Have you noticed when you walk into Express that you see the same 3-4 colors, and they repeat across the new styles in the front of the store? A good tip here is that the older colors are in the back of the store on clearance. Those are the ‘outdated’ trends fashion trackers report on.

But let’s get back to neutral. When I see a beautiful, timeless color that isn’t based on current trends, that to me means that the wearer is well aware of the value it brings to her wardrobe; it is a piece that easily matches everything else in her closet, and therefore was purchased as an investment piece to be worn for lots of seasons to come. And when we talk about multi-wear, ‘lots of seasons to come’ means quality fabric, right? There we go, then! That means expensive.

Don’t Stress Over Distressed Jeans

Fashion trends or not, there are always elegant, monochromatic jeans that are well-fitted and flattering — all hems sewn, no rips, no distressed pockets, no tie-dyes, rhinestones, gems, sparkle or shine. Just a good, well-made, simple pair of jeans. Done.

When you see one of these straightforward yet flattering pairs of jeans, it’s most likely expensive. However, let’s not confuse ‘the difference between expensive looking and expensive price tag ‘expensive-looking’ and ‘expensive price tag’. We’ve all seen $200 ripped jeans which look like a $10 pair, no difference. I’ve got nothing against rips, but the bias we have built towards them comes from the origin of the style, over-worn and uncared for.

And what’s the stereotype we see in movies of those who don’t care about torn jeans? Teens that want to rebel, or sometimes construction workers. Neither of these two groups are really known for looking expensive, right? Let’s put it this way: I haven’t seen one wealthy character that wore distressed jeans.

Some of you are probably pretty upset on behalf of your favorite pair of ripped jeans right now, but it’s okay. Always wear what makes you happy! But if expensive style makes you happy, then the rips have to go, no matter the price tag.

Getting the Perfect Fit

Last, but certainly not least, is the fit of your clothes.

Fit is everything. Simply put, if a garment doesn’t fit you well, it looks as if you either don’t pay attention to detail (while someone with expensive taste does), or you don’t have a tailor to adjust it for you (which people with expensive outfits do).

Thus slouchy or oversized, no matter how fashionable, just won’t look expensive. And for what it’s worth, just because a blazer’s price tag is $400, it doesn’t mean it looks expensive — it just means you paid a lot.

I hope you learned something new about how to look expensive! The biggest takeaway here is that more goes into expensive style than just price. With some understanding of what does and doesn’t count as expensive-looking clothing, you should find it a lot easier to achieve a classy, elegant look, no matter your budget.

What item in your wardrobe makes you feel most expensive? Have you got any favorite pieces that break some of these ‘expensive style’ rules, but you just can’t let go of them? Or maybe you’ve got some ideas for how to incorporate these tips into your new wardrobe? Leave a comment below and tell us!

Want to know more about looking expensive? Read our post about picking the best transitional outfits for an elegant look.

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