10 ways to transform your look for less


If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over my many years as a fashion editor, it is that the most stylish people are not those that spend thousands on their wardrobes, and who only buy designer clothes.

Being able to afford items that are well-made can help, sure, but true style is about creativity, confidence and attitude. With that in mind, here are a few simple style lessons that I’ve learnt along the way – including from a few of my stylish friends and colleagues – that can help transform your look for less.

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True style isn't about how much you spend.

Getty Images

True style isn’t about how much you spend.

1. Small but mighty

Beauty minis are cute, yes, but can also be more wallet-friendly compared to full-sized products. Chemist Warehouse has a small but well-stocked travel section, while Mecca’s minis and travel size section is definitely worth a peruse (in-store, these items are often near the tills to encourage last minute purchases). It’s a great way to trial beauty products too, to see if they’re worth further investment.

2. Know how to shop chain stores

Fast fashion is not your friend, but for many it is the only way they are able to shop – whether for affordability or accessibility reasons. The key to shopping big chain stores is to know what to look for, and to reject impulse buying that will lead to the ever-growing pile of fashion waste.

Look for fabrics that will last (like 100% cotton, which is not perfect but often better than polyester), and try not to buy based on trends – focus on classic pieces instead (I still have a black coat from Uniqlo that I thrash).

3. Kids’ rules

Speaking of accessories: often you can find adorable and more affordable options in the kids’ section of chain stores like Kmart, Country Road and Seed Heritage. Wade through the cartoonish motifs, and you might luck into mini bags, hair accessories and even jewellery.

A friend whose feet are on the smaller side also recommends considering larger sizes of kids’ sneakers, which are cheaper than those in the adult department – especially when the big box stores are on sale.

Shop: Seed Heritage bag, $45

A sparkly purse, based on a Prada bag, from the <a href=kids section at Seed Heritage; Kowtow’s classic white T-shirt.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>


A sparkly purse, based on a Prada bag, from the kids section at Seed Heritage; Kowtow’s classic white T-shirt.

4. Find the perfect white tee

And wear it with everything. Once you find the one that works for you, this classic will become the backbone of your wardrobe – able to be styled with other things you’ll already have in your wardrobe, and accessorised to fit your mood or day. Wear it to work under a smart jacket, wear it on the weekend with well-worn denim, wear it whenever layered under a dress.

It doesn’t have to be by a designer (although I absolutely recommend Kowtow’s, which is well-cut, washes well and lasts) – you might find your perfect fit at the mall, a vintage store, or the men’s department.

Shop: Kowtow T-shirt, $89

5. Add a hair accessory

Entry level accessories that can make a big difference to a look, there are seemingly endless options in stores at the moment too – from oversized scrunchies to statement headbands and hair clips.

Small local brands like Emma Jing, Penny Sage, Caitlin Snell and Gloria offer some fun New Zealand made options (call me obsessed, but I own three of Snell’s oversized hair bows), and some local designers also offer scrunchies in the season’s print.

But if you prefer a bit of DIY, look to US brand Sandy Liang: at her New York Fashion Week show last month, tiny ribbons were tied into models’ hair, although you might like to try just one or two.

6. Make the most of your scarf

A colleague caught my eye recently when she styled a favourite halter-style dress with a printed silk scarf, weaving it through the neck hole to tie it up – a simple styling trick that instantly changed the look.

If you’re like me, scarves can be one of those accessories that you collect but never actually wear because they’re hard to know what to do with – but getting inventive with how you use them can make a big difference. Tie it to your bag, tie it around your waist, wear it as a headscarf, use it like my colleague did: there are plenty of options, and YouTube videos with tips.

7. Embroider your basic shirts

One of my favourite local makers is Megan Stewart, who repurposes vintage textiles into modern linen and cotton shirts, often adding embroidered or appliques. They’re one-offs, and handmade, so can be on the expensive side (plus they sell out almost immediately) – but the approach is worth taking inspiration from.

If you’re skilled with a needle, get creative with some thread (or talk to your favourite seamstress, or Nana, for some tips) and update a shirt or even a denim jacket. Another relatively simple DIY update to refresh items like jackets, cardigans or even shirts? Replace the buttons with something new, and as playful as you’re willing to go.

Bold, sculptural earrings can make a big difference to even the most basic of outfits.

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Bold, sculptural earrings can make a big difference to even the most basic of outfits.

8. Supersize the little things

Adding a pair of big earrings is one of the oldest styling tricks in the book, favoured by fashion editors everywhere. Even the most basic of outfits can be jazzed up with a bold pair, whether they’re golden hoops or colourful drops.

Stores like Iko Iko in Wellington always have a great variety of fun and affordable options under $50, like those from local jewellers Penny Foggo and Tania Tupu.

9. Big belts and buckles

They’re a thing, or about to be a thing (again) – as seen on the New York Fashion Week runway at Michael Kors.

You can often find interesting buckles at vintage stores; they require a bit of retooling with leather belts, but if you’ve got the time and inclination, they’re a fun and easy update.

Also happening in the waist area right now: chain belts, like the ones you may have worn in the early 2000s.

10. Embrace new spots

The thrill of shopping and fashion in general is about discovering something new that brings you joy, but that can be dulled a little when you only shop under the fluorescent lights of the local mall.

Broaden your horizons by looking beyond your usual favourites: think of army surplus stores (which can be great for parkas, classic knit sweaters, white T-shirts, utilitarian pants), and markets big and small. Support a small independent boutique that you’ve not visited before, or pop into a pop-up shop.

It can be easy to get into a style rut by only sticking with the stores and brands that you know that you like, but you might surprise yourself.

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