How Going Broke Changed My Wardrobe

Photographed by Pheobe Chuason.
Three years ago, I was on top of the world. I had just paid off — in full — the balance of my student loans, my first novel was about to be published, and I had a thriving freelance career that allowed me enough of an income to not only support myself, but my live-in boyfriend, who I helped put through school as well.
Then everything came crashing down. The aforementioned boyfriend left me in a loft that I couldn't afford on my own (there should be a special place in hell for New Yorkers who ghost their S.O.s in matters of real estate), my book deal didn't pay out as expected, and my emotional stress was so consuming I couldn't cultivate freelance gigs the way I had in the past.
Living in denial, I tapped my savings to buy unnecessary luxuries. For me, shopping had always been more than a pick-me-up: Cultivating style was part of my creative expression. At a time when I was feeling so bad, I at least wanted to look good. The problem was, I made some emotionally charged purchases that were not only foolish, but also depleted my already dwindling account balance. But, while I may have lost my money, picking myself up after so many unexpected disappointments taught me invaluable lessons — six, to be exact — along the way.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Tip No. 1: Investment Pieces Need To Be Wearable, Not Frivolous
One day, I had a revelation. I'd accumulated such an expansive wardrobe that it swallowed me (literally, as I had to downsize from my spacious loft). One time, I bought an Opening Ceremony top that I thought was a showstopper. It cost around $500. I never wore it. My friends dubbed it the "shower curtain" top.

We all know about fast fashion and how to shop at retailers like Zara and H&M for lesser quality designer-inspired looks. But I have secrets for slow fashion and how I learned — albeit with help from some New York designers — to do more with less. A French friend of mine (with impeccable taste) told me that she buys one outfit a year, and it's always Chanel. Over time she's amassed a killer wardrobe. And while most of us (myself included) might not be on her spartanly luxe level, it is possible to evolve your fashion palate to achieve a more sustainable and sophisticated look, all on a budget.
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Photographed by Pheobe Chuason.
Tip No. 2: Investment Pieces Should Be Transformable
If you're going to spend, make sure you can wear a garment in more than one way. Investment pieces should be impeccably tailored, made of quality fabric, lined (many fast-fashion retailers do not do this, so their items don’t last as long), and should not have the ability to go in and out of style.

For fall, I'm sporting designer Charles Harbison's Trompe l'Oeil ensemble, a sheath and jacket with removable sleeves. The look, which takes me from day to night, is what Harbison calls a legacy piece — at $1,800. "Because of the quality tropical wool, this piece is something you can pass down to your kids," he explains. "I have pieces from my mom and dad from the 1980s that have endured.” So, while this ensemble is not inexpensive, it's multifunctional as a suit, coat, and dress.
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Photographed by Claire Pepper.
Tip No. 3: Build On A Monochromatic Palate
Black, white, and neutral tones can seamlessly work into any wardrobe and exemplify classic minimalism. These colors work particularly well with body-con knitwear, sophisticated dresses, and matching separates. "With fitted knitwear, the body is an accessory all on its own," says Julia Fox, head designer of emerging label Franziska Fox. "When wearing an empowering dress, the only thing a woman needs is attitude and allure."
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Photographed by Eva K. Salvi.
Tip No. 4: Do Your Research
New York is filled to the brim with the best of the best of, well, basically everything. The best thing about this city, however, is that you don't need to be an A-lister to have access to these things; all you have to do is some research.

When rebuilding my wardrobe, I was looking for statement accessories that I could wear with uniform basics. I fell in love with a nail ring I saw Beyoncé wearing in her "Sweet Dreams" video. After some digging, I found the designer of the original piece.

Jules Kim of Bijules takes client appointments at her Bowery shop. While I couldn't afford Beyoncé’s bling, during our meeting I worked with Kim to create a custom piece within my budget. Shopping hyper-local is an intimate experience that allows you to develop relationships with designers that you may think are reserved for celebs. Not so! Kim worked with me to create a custom sterling silver/gold vermeil, amethyst, and emerald crawler ring, which I was able to purchase using a custom payment plan.
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Photographed by Ingalls Photo.
Tip No. 5: Pump Up An Outfit With Creative Accessories
With four tattoos, I'm no stranger to body art. But it wasn't until Sonia Agostino, head designer of couture latex label Tableaux Vivants, turned me on to Body Lab Society that I realized they could be gilded. And while not everyone can afford the couture version, anyone on a budget can splurge on gold-leafed body art that's avant-garde yet accessible.

Body Lab Society, a New York–based artisan company, is working with designers, artists, and stylists to create limited-edition temporary tattoos that range from just $20 to $30 per pack. Unexpected body art that glitters is not just a statement but also a signature accessory.
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Photographed by Pheobe Chuason.
Tip No. 6: Indulge In Affordable Luxuries
"If you're rebuilding your wardrobe," explains designer Bliss Lau, "you will need central armor." She means this both literally and figuratively. Her sterling-silver Interlude Body Chain ($731) includes a conflict-free black diamond that falls above the heart. Though I wear her body chain on the outside of my dress, it can be worn beneath garments against the skin, as a sensual reminder of who I am.

At a more affordable price point, the sterling-silver Whisper Earring with Cuff ($252) also emphasizes the designer's vision to "decorate unexpected parts of the body." Affordable luxuries don't have to be extravagant, but they do have to be just for you.