We're prepared to prove that looking fancy doesn't have to come with a luxury sticker price. Armed with $100 each, six editors were tasked with putting together a complete wedding outfit from a different mall-brand store. While the challenge of constructing an entire head-to-toe ensemble in one go, from one shop, is a bit more stress-inducing than necessary, our results might just assuage your next formal-wear freakout.
Connie Wang, style director
"When I first moved to New York, the first store I hit wasn't Topshop, Opening Ceremony, or Uniqlo; it was KMart. In between stocking up on dish soap, hangers, and paper towels, I swung through the clothing racks and ended up picking up a few basic items that still make it into my outfit rotations today —and continuously get compliments. It's funny how that happens — in a city known for its style mojo, you've got to go to the most basic of superstores to find something that nobody else has.
"So, I knew that KMart was going to deliver when I drew the name for this particular challenge. The trick is to go deep — the clothes presented in the front of the departments aren't really my style (sorry, Nicki Minaj, but you and your one-shouldered bandage dresses and fringed bras caught me a few years late), but KMart's main lines, including its Attention collection, are classic without being boring. The hero item? This smart short suit that's a subtle seersucker and is actually really well made. I was waffling between this set and a really lovely black-and-white floral blazer (worn with a flippy persimmon-colored skirt). The Sofia Vegara purse comes with a detachable strap, the moccasins are great, and the sunglasses were too fun not to get. So, I went over by $8, but I will have you know that online, the blazer and shorts cost $22 less than I paid in store, thankyouverymuch."
Annie Georgia Greenberg, senior style editor
"H&M is a perfect store for a challenge like this because it has affordable options at every level of dressiness. I took the task to a different place by making sure this one didn't include a crop top (since most of my outfits tend to in these challenges). I actually love the silk blouse as an alternative, because it makes the look more sophisticated and can be worn on weekends with cut-offs or to work with wide-leg pants. The lace-and-beaded skirt was a no-brainer (especially on sale for $30) and is a somewhat unexpected but still appropriate piece for a wedding. And yup, I bought that clutch in two different colors for real life, too."
Emily Holland, styling director
"I was skeptical about the options I would find at TJ Maxx. In such a massive store with so many brands, I worried I would get overwhelmed and lost in the racks. I decided my go-to item would be the always-classic and timeless LBD. I found a fairly simple and flattering one for a great price and, because it's so basic, I knew I'd be able to wear it again. I decided to push color and texture with my accessories to spice up my simple dress, so I chose a sequin clutch and a pair of red shoes. Styling note: Don't match your accessories to each other; your outfit will be way more coordinated if you choose ones in complimentary colors. The shoes are just the right height to comfortably dance the night away, and the purse is the perfect size for my lipstick and phone (because really, what else do you need?).
Gina Marinelli, associate fashion features editor
"I was bummed I couldn't stay within my budget this time around — not only for the sake of the Cheap Challenge, but also because I consider myself somewhat of a former Express savant. (Let's just say I shopped there quite a bit in college.) I headed first to the sales rack — knowing it's usually filled with party dresses and 'going out' tops aplenty — but didn't have much luck finding anything that seems wedding-appropriate and that felt particularly me. This dress was much more my speed and was also just the kind of thing I could actually picture myself wearing for a night of toasting and dancing.
"However, it was the accessories that really tipped me over. While the heels were double-discounted, I refused to just leave with one of the silver cuffs (which were buy one, get the other 50% off). Actually, I think it's the Wonder Woman jewelry that's my favorite part of the whole look. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough to get a bag, so I recycled this one from my own closet. I call it my 'something old.'"
Chloe Daley, associate lifestyle editor
"In typical procrastinator style, I waited until the morning of the shoot to buy my look. Luckily, there happens to be a Strawberry three blocks from our office. And, it happened to be having a 20% off sale. Score. I'm actually not going to any weddings this summer, but I found this black maxi dress, which is great for a more casual backyard or beach destination wedding. It came with a Southwestern belt that I snipped off. Some people do frown at wearing black to a wedding, but our recent etiquette guide said it's fine, as long as you add punches of color. The over-the-shoulder gold tote I found (perfect for traveling) did the trick. And, the leopard-print sandals looked like they could be from Madewell, but were priced at $23.99. My total time in the store: 20 minutes. Strawberry, you have my love."
Rachel Besser, fashion assistant
"My style is inherently sporty (I grew up with a very athletic family). So, I try to incorporate that vibe into every one of my looks — including my wedding style. While Ann Taylor is traditionally a must for sophisticated, feminine pieces, I've never really thought of the retailer as a destination for athletic-feeling wares. But, to my surprise, I found the perfect outfit that aligns with my personal style. This dress, albeit girly, is fresh and current with its sporty, square-cut neck and fun, lemon print. Pairing it with funky platform sandals tones down the sweetness, making the look that much cooler."