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French Fashionista Tips: 5 Ways to Build Your Professional Wardrobe

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For Women & Co. by Laura Vanderkam

You can't judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, but that doesn't mean people won't try. When it comes to clothes, "Whether we like it or not, we are still judged on how we look, so a nice impression goes a long way," says Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat and Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility. Here are her tips for shopping for professional clothes on a budget.

1. Choose a few investment pieces.
"There's no need to break the bank to look presentable, but a nicely fitted jacket with a skirt or well-cut pants (avoid jeans, even if young and skinny) with small heels and a good haircut are good investments," Guiliano says. "A nice accessory, whether a simple necklace or a bag, can also make a statement."

2. Rethink cheap.
Sure, those $10 shirts look like a bargain, but, beware: "At the end of a year, one can spend more money buying junk that must be thrown away after a couple of washes. A better idea would have been buying one good item and building on it," says Guiliano. "My French friends and their daughters still buy this way." A good wardrobe is not about volume.

3. Skip most trends.
As with cheap clothes, the cost of chasing trends adds up over time. "Try to stay pretty classic, as classic pieces are timeless; if the quality is good, you've made a good investment."

4. Bring along an honest and well-dressed friend.
Sales people want you to buy. A friend cares about you, and one who's knowledgeable about clothing can help you discern quality. "One must learn to look at the material, the cut, the designer -- and that takes a bit of practice, so take along someone who is savvy and can give you a few tips," says Guiliano.

5. Exude confidence.
In France, Guiliano says, there's a saying that it's not what you wear that makes you beautiful, but how you feel in it. "A woman should wear the clothes -- not the reverse," she says. "I like Coco Chanel's words, along the lines of: 'Fashion is not something that exists only in clothes, it has something to do with ideas, with the way we live and with what happens around us.'" Know who you are and know what you want to say, and you're well on your way to being frugally, fabulously chic.

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