Tabletop fashions

What if you could look more fashionable than ever — and cut your spending in half? It's so much easier than you think. Here's how: Stop worrying about what you're wearing from the waist down.

Call it tabletop dressing. If you're outfitting yourself for dining out, quit wasting cash, time and trouble choosing the cutest designer shoes, the latest $300 jeans or the perfect high-end trousers or skirt.

Nobody sees any of that when you're sitting at the table. Grab some trusty shoes and an old (black?) standby for your lower parts.

Now, start concentrating your fashion firepower on what goes on from the waist up. That's the territory where you'll make the big statement.

This is a lesson that television anchors, planted behind their desks, have employed forever. The same goes for politicians. I once showed up for an on-camera interview with the first former President George (H.W.) Bush at his Maine summer home.

Waist up, he was immaculate in navy blazer, coat and tie: all business. His bottom half featured Bermuda shorts and boat shoes, the better to make a fast getaway to his speedboat. Similarly, if you're going to a business meeting where you'll be stuck at a conference table all day, focus on your look waist up to maximize the impression you make.

As for dining out, by focusing on your better half, you'll discover the style wallop you can get from low-cost accessories. Acquire a bag full of knockout costume jewelry or an unforgettable hair bauble for less than the cost of another round of dirty martinis.

Shown here are three entirely different tabletop dressing scenarios that definitely will attract a second, or third, look. And get this: Two of the outfits cost less than $100, and the third was less than $150 — for everything in the picture.

In the first photo, arms laden from wrist to elbow with attention-grabbing bangles — barely $50 total — who cares what outfit lurks beneath that tablecloth?

Colorful prints and jewelry are huge for spring, as in the next photo. The patchwork multiprint fabric is a backdrop for drop-dead necklaces (less than $30 for all). In this look, more is ... more.

On the flip side, sometimes simplicity, a single statement piece, is more effective than piling on. This is especially true when showing some skin, as in the champagne-ready halter dress example where a single yellow hair blossom would have you smokin' in the no smoking section.

First photo: Why it works: Takes a trend (colorful, ethnic) but stops short of costumey. A necklace jumble of variations on shades of a single color (green) masses attention where you want it. Jewelry fills in and minimizes low neckline for day to evening versatility. Dress: By Desigual, $104, at macys.com. Necklaces: Four two-strand necklaces, $10.50 each, reduced to $7.35, Old Navy, oldnavy.com.

Second photo: Why it works: Black-and-white is a can't-miss classic. One color accent — only one — makes the look pop. Here it's red, but other colors such as yellow, green or bright blue would do the same. A scarf knotted as headwear is kicky and draws all eyes to your face. Top: New York & Co., $24.95, nyandcompany.com. Scarf: Forever 21, $8.80, forever21.com. Bangles: H&M, wide, $6.95 each; narrow, $3.95 each, hm.com

Third photo: Why it works: Sparkle is great for evening and makes a statement all by itself. A hair accessory adds punch because it's unexpected — and in a surprising color. Polished nails with a big (but frugal fake) ring or two mean that when you talk with your hands, people will listen. Dress: Forever 21, $32.80. Jewelry: Forever, 21, rhinestone ring, $5.80; black flower ring, $4.80; earrings, $3.80. Flower headband: Tasha, $38, Nordstrom, nordstrom.com.