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Fashion Cents

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When I first came to America as a teenager, I recall going to a retail outlet where everything was discounted: rows and rows of designer clothing on racks, stacks and stacks of folded sweaters on shelves, accessories galore.

As a European shopper, I was somewhat taken aback. Not that we didn't have sales in London, but our sales were seasonal and short-lived, such as the January sales at Harrods.

This was a whole new world.

Once I got over the bargain-basement sticker shock, I decided there and then that I'd be more creative in how I shopped for clothing in the future. While it's decidedly glamorous -- even fun in a perverse way -- to have a pencil-thin Parisian in a pencil skirt sell you an extortionately priced chemise once in a while, it's also a must to get the most bang for your fashion buck.

I routinely mix high and low, and in today's economy, stretching my extra dollars like I wouldn't dream of stretching my cashmere sweaters, doesn't hurt. Here are a few of my recessionista tips:

Reconsider your Closet: You'd be surprised what you can do. Make skinny jeans out of old jeans for a new look, pad the shoulders on a jacket for a lift; replace buttons to refresh a favorite blazer, or shorten a long skirt to show a bit more leg. The possibilities are endless.

Swap Meet: Get together with girlfriends. Each bring along 5-10 items that you bought but never wore (you know the ones). Exchange with pals and see what new concoctions you can come up with.

Buy Gently Used: I just got a great pair of J Brand jeans for $40 at a used clothing boutique. I might've gotten a bigger discount if I'd waited (items usually discount further), but these were a must-have-now. Frequent these stores, as inventory often changes. You may even be able to offload some of your own designer faux pas.

Rapport Report: Get to know the sales staff at your favorite clothing shops. They'll guide you to the good stuff, especially if they know what you like. Some will even tip you off on upcoming sales or hidden deals in the store.

Outside the Shoebox: One of my best bargains was a pair of never-worn Prada ankle boots that I bought at an estate sale. The size fit. I frequently pick up vintage scarves and jewelry for a buck or two at such places.

Do Chain Store Designers: I was addicted to Isaac Mizrahi when he designed for Target. Most chains have low-priced high-end design. For example, Norma Kamali for Walmart, Nicole Miller for JC Penny, Vera Wang at Kohl's and so on.

Shop Sales: In the US, I always shop sales, because everything goes on sale at some point. If I love something specific, I may track it for supply and buy it when the price is right.

It's All in the Mix: I'll do high-end jeans, a $40 trench, Payless Lela Rose pumps for $20, and a Cole Haan tote. In the end, only I know the difference, though I'm happy to divulge details.

Borrow, don't Beg or Steal: If you have a fancy party or wedding to go to, don't blow your season's budget on one dress you'll rarely wear. Borrow a dress from a friend and be happy to lend one back.

Bling It: Never underestimate the power of the right piece of bling. Whether you attach an heirloom gold brooch to a jacket lapel or wrap an inexpensive clutch of faux pearls around your t-shirted neck, you can achieve a stylish look of depth and richness without putting out much dough.

Have fun being stylish without going broke. Thrift is chic.