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Cheap tricks for fashion and beauty

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • Published Monday, June 10, 2013, at 12 a.m.

It doesn’t take a fortune to be fabulous. In fact, money can sometimes be a hindrance. Yeah, I said it. Spending more doesn’t mean you get more. Have we learned nothing from the uberpopular Macklemore and Ryan Lewis “Thrift Shop” ditty?

You have to appreciate style, not just consume it. Shopping at thrift stores, buying a well-made skirt that doesn’t have a designer label, getting denim for the fit, not the pocket and knowing what flatters your body are all cheap and easy ways to look great without spending a fortune.

If you have the money to spend, make it a splurge. Make it count. Make it a stunning gotta-have-it-will-love-it-forever kind of item. I’m talking to you, Rick Owens leather jacket. Otherwise, unless it’s second nature to you, don’t go nuts for a $100 T-shirt.

Shopping for quality and shopping for what you love is cheap trick No. 1. Never buy something just because it’s cheap. Forget the price and ask yourself if you love it. Ask yourself if you have anything that already serves the same purpose. Ask yourself if wearing it will make your day just a little bit brighter. If the answer is no, it’s probably not worth it at any price.

And because we’re on the topic, we thought we’d share a collection of cheap tricks to get the most out of your style, not your wallet.

•  Have an arm party. Wear your many splendid bracelets together. Never was a fashion trend so universally flattering, easy and cheap. There are no rules, but a full-fledged arm party generally has at least five attendees, while a modest gathering can have three. My favorite looks include a watch. Mix metals and stud bracelets, look for heavy and light styles, combine natural tones and vibrant colors; anything goes.

•  Watch out. The watch is where you can really cheap out, especially at an arm party, because the atmosphere obscures the finer details of your timepiece (i.e. the designer name or lack thereof). So feel free to pick up a tiny $5 neon throwaway from the clearance rack at Target for days when you feel sassy. But the watch you own is probably fine.

•  Buy cheap T-shirts. Ashton Kutcher has put his stamp of approval on the Pickwick & Weller “perfect T-shirt” collection (priced $26 to $79), but Kohl’s has a Rock & Republic seamless tank in nine colors that’s as close to perfect as I need ($15 on sale), and there are slub, crew and scoop neck variously sleeved options in more than 15 colors under $10 on sale. In this case, cheap depends on your budget. If you’re a T-shirt connoisseur, go for gold, but if you’re looking for something to wear with shorts or under a cardigan or blazer, go cheap.

•  Practice portion control. Don’t cheap out on your beauty regimen unnecessarily. If you’re treating a skin condition – acne, age spots, hyper-pigmentation, wrinkles, sun damage, whatever – you’re probably paying more, no matter what. However, I’ll bet you’re wasting most of it. For spot treatments, don’t treat your whole face. If you’re targeting acne, treat acne areas. Dab, don’t slather. If you’re treating wrinkles or hyper-pigmentation, same thing. Put a few dots where you need it, then finish by lightly brushing the excess over the surrounding parts of your cheek or forehead or neck. The only product you want to slather on face and neck liberally is sunscreen.

•  Recycle buttons. The sure sign of a cheap jacket, cardigan, shirt or sweater is the buttons. Take the boring hum-drum utilitarian white ones off and replace them with an eclectic mix from your button drawer. Don’t have a button drawer? Search a thrift store for quality buttons, but be mindful of size. Take a sample from your garment to compare and don’t forget to count all the buttons you’ll need. Buying new buttons is pricey, but it might be worth the investment if you find the right style.

•  Exercise caution. No matter the season, shop the clearance exercise gear rack. Let’s face it: Exercise clothing rarely goes out of fashion. And you can get a great deal on pricey jackets, hoodies or sports bras. For typical gym and yoga exercisers, cheap T-shirts and tank tops are your friends, but you might not want to cheap out on bras and pants. Test your Spandex bottoms carefully, meaning bend over and look in a mirror behind you. Cheap (meaning low-quality) stretch materials can go from opaque to see-through at an embarrassing pace.

•  Mascara mania. Buy cheap, replace often. If you wear mascara every day, you should ideally replace it every other month no matter what. Need convincing? Google images of the bugs that live on your eyelashes. On the package, check the product’s predicted shelf life once opened (check the little picture of an open jar and a number for the months the product is good for). Never share mascara and, when in doubt, throw it out (buying cheap makes that easier).

•  Use your eyelash curler. You have one somewhere. Find it, use it and you’ll be able to skip the mascara ... maybe ... some days. The bug thing scared you, right?

•  Recycle glass and plastic jars with lids. Need some organizing containers for your vanity? Reused olive or pasta sauce jars will hold makeup brushes, cotton balls and a collection of tweezers and eyeliner pencils.

•  Double the life of your manicure. No gel required. Just wait a few days, make sure nails are clean and relatively oil-free and reapply a clear top coat.

•  Sponge on your foundation. You’ll use less liquid foundation if you apply it with a damp sponge. Dab extra product on trouble spots, let it settle in for 30 seconds to a minute and then blend. And if you use a simple round cosmetic disc-sponge, cut your costs by cutting them in half, literally. Wash once a week and replace at least every other month.

•  Skip a salon updo. For a quick and easy polished style, invest in the Wrap Up by Sarah Potempa ($12 at sarahpotempa.com). It makes a stylish topknot incredibly simple.

•  Color me quick. Hair U Wear makes 16-inch Put on Pieces color strips (cut to your length) in a variety of fun colors to clip in as highlights, lowlights or brights ($12, hairuwear.com). Skip the dye job and have your stylist work a few of these into you summer ’do. If you can do a braid, you can weave one into your tresses pretty easily. Go for a look that’s not obvious; the color should be a surprise, not overkill. But blondes shouldn’t fear playing with hot pink or purple that peeks out from underneath.

•  Quick leg bronzer. Feeling a little pale? Mix one or two drops of baby oil with your foundation and rub it over your legs for a quick silky sheen.

•  Run a humidifier. Most people are looking to put moisture back into their skin and hair with very expensive products. While you sleep, you lose a distressing amount of moisture because the air is dry, your mouth is open, the bedding is absorbing sweat. Using a humidifier will help your skin and hair look better naturally because you won’t have to deal with as much loss. Look for cool mist varieties and something that’s really easy to clean. Clean it once a week. Run continuously.

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