Accessorizing On A Budget: Some Ideas, Sources And Tips

Une Femme Économe: Accessorizing On A Budget

using accessories to create different looksI’ve been banging the drum for a while about building a wardrobe around a foundation of basic pieces that can dress up or down, and using accessories to change up the look. Whether you’re planning a travel wardrobe, have limited space, or are just trying to stretch your wardrobe budget, it’s my belief this strategy helps us look consistently well put together with less and for less.

Above, simple navy trousers and sweater styled two ways: sweater | pants
Left: scarf | bag | shoes
Right: earrings | bag | shoes

I also believe that an elegant accessory or two can elevate the entire look of an outfit. I’ll always encourage choosing quality over quantity, and investing in classic (for you) pieces when possible. But I get it…sometimes a budget doesn’t have much wiggle room. You can still make a style statement with accessories, and use them to put your own personal touch on your look.

Sure, there are a lot of inexpensive “fast fashion” accessories options out there, and yes, those “cheap frills” can be fun. However concerns about rip-offs of independent designers, working conditions of the people making the pieces, and environmental impact of production have many people re-thinking their appetite for a fast fashion fix. But if you want something more unique, and that will support artisans rather than mega-corporations, here are a few ideas:

Etsy. Yes, perusing this site can be pretty overwhelming, but using specific searches based on the type of item and materials you’re looking for can help narrow down the selections. The upside to buying from sellers and artisans on Etsy is that you may find a lovely one-of-a-kind piece, vintage or handmade from quality materials at a reasonable price. The downside is also the one-of-a-kind aspect; something you see today may not be available tomorrow, and you have to rely on the photos and descriptions of the pieces to get a sense of the item. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and check the seller’s shipping and return policies too.

statement bead and stone necklace

Fall colors stone and bead statement necklace: $20

gold hoop earrings with pearls

Pearl hoop earrings, $40

black vegan shoulder bag

Black vegan leather shoulder bag, $62.90

Novica. This company is associated with National Geographic and sources jewelry, clothing and home decor from artisans all over the world, using Fair Trade practices.

fair trade handcrafted bracelet

Fair Trade Handcrafted Lapis Lazuli beaded bracelet, $24.99

pearl and sterling silver earrings

Handcrafted Pearl and Chalcedony earrings, $39.99

Blue Jasmine silk batik scarf

Silk batik scarf from Indonesia, $33.99

Scarves: I’ve found some fabulous vintage silk scarves at thrift and vintage stores, almost always for less than $20, and sometimes for less than $10. Look for interesting designs, in good condition. Sometimes a cleaner can get stains out, or an otherwise perfect scarf can be tied in such a way as to hide the stain. I’ve also found some nice scarves at very reasonable prices (especially on sale) at retailers like J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Madewell.

Flea markets, craft fairs, and even farmers’ markets can also be a source for interesting but inexpensive accessories. Museum gift shops, while not always the least expensive option, also have some fabulous jewelry and scarves for “costume” prices.

Where do you find your favorite inexpensive accessories?

Stay in touch.

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  1. nell
    August 17, 2016 / 4:13 am

    The thrill of the hunt. We have a large antiques “cooperative” in town that deals in all kinds of vintage jewelry. It’s especially fun to find long bead necklaces made with quality Czechoslovakian glass and other long-ago superior materials. They go for a song. My favorite 40 inch strand of similar old, (1930’s?) one-of-a-kind beads I got there. It’s an unusual mix of gorgeous earth tones and a few midnight blues mixed in, and is perfect for autumn…

    Working in our church’s “rummage rooms” exposed me to more great finds. People sometimes will not sell for profit cherished old pieces, but will gladly donate them to a church or other charitable group they know will use the money for good. All kinds of lovely accessories turn up– pretty scarves, jackets, watches and jewelry…

  2. August 17, 2016 / 4:56 am

    A word of warning to you and your readers about Etsy; they’ve opened up their definition of “craft” to include anyone who designs one item and then outsources manufacturing to other countries. So you can design one tee shirt, start having it manufactured by the gross in Bangladesh, and still sell on Etsy. That said, they have tons of wonderful things, and my accessory wardrobe would be much poorer without things I’ve found there.

    • Valerie
      August 18, 2016 / 2:14 pm

      Agreed, Janice. Etsy ain’t what is used to be. Not at all.

      • August 20, 2016 / 9:58 am

        True, but I’ve found as long as you stick to buying things that pretty obviously aren’t/couldn’t be outsourced to other countries then Etsy is still fine.

  3. Thea
    August 17, 2016 / 5:37 am

    I have been trying to incorporate some “vintage” pieces left to me my mother and her sister, who passed within 2 months of each other. Lots of scarves, jewelry, small bags and …shoes! Luckily, we all wear (wore) a 7.5 . This past weekend I worked a pair of Papagallo chunky-heeled sandals into my outfit! I love telling the story behind an item if (when!) complemented!

    • August 17, 2016 / 6:13 am

      I have also inherited some really wonderful pieces from my Mother: costume jewelry really came into its own in the 60’s and she had (I have!) some great pieces.

    • Jill Ann
      August 17, 2016 / 5:25 pm

      Thanks to our Moms! Unfortunately, my mom & granny didn’t wear precious jewelry other than wedding rings, but they did have a nice line in sparkly costume stuff. Some, I think, dates back to great-grandma. So while I do envy ladies who inherited Cartier & Tiffany pieces, I’m pretty happy with my Corot rhinestone flower pins, and my marcasite monogram pin (& others).

  4. August 17, 2016 / 5:53 am

    Thank you for this post. While aspiring to stick to a basic, quality wardrobe, I have found most of my basics and accessories at consignment, thrift, and second hand venues, or on the deeply discounted sales racks of my local large box stores. I find it exciting to snag a cashmere sweater barely worn, in perfect condition, for less than $20.00. Or vintage accessories for less than $10.00. Anyway, the point is, most of us are on a smaller budget and appreciate seeing the timeless wardrobe presented her, but are not realistically able to pay over $1,000 for a bag. I would rather use that kind of money, when I have it, to pay for a trip to an interesting place.

  5. stephanie
    August 17, 2016 / 6:08 am

    I am on a budget but love nice quality clothes and fashion. Two years ago I took up couponing, not the crazy shelf-clearing variety but sensible and modest. I have used the money saved (40-70 bucks per week) to buy many beautiful pieces from sites such as and the My latest purchase was a Halston Heritage purse down from $550 to $103. I have a wardrobe full of Eileen Fisher, Joie, Skin, Halston Heritage,Chloe, Paul Green etc. Ordering online can be a bit of a risk I suppose but all in all it has worked well for me. Saving money and then trawling the sales is rewarding and actually a great hobby.

  6. August 17, 2016 / 6:11 am

    Funny, I was just thinking of you and the blog yesterday as I was shopping at Nordstrom. I have read and re-read all your posts, and the many comments, about the value of buying Eileen Fisher. (Post on this coming next week!) Well, I have done it! I just don’t spend that kind of money on clothes but this time I did. I bought a top that fits perfectly…oh so perfectly. And then the crepe pants. Oh yes, they are lovely. We’re traveling for three weeks in France end of September: renting a small house in Provence and then on to Paris. And this time I am determined to do carry on! Anyway, I always focus on unusual accessories and now will have some really nice basic clothes with which to wear them. I tend to buy my jewelry in France: I have found Bon Marche to have some very fun, inexpensive pieces. And, of course, the markets.

  7. Joyce Coker
    August 17, 2016 / 6:16 am

    Susan I love the idea of punching up basics with accessories. Since I have been reading your blog I have been inspired to step up my wardrobe by purging my closet of the junk, curating a selection of quality basics, and being much more selective and thoughtful about how I shop and what I buy. Thank you.

  8. August 17, 2016 / 6:23 am

    I recently received some pieces of my mother’s. Not only are they beautiful and well-made–though just costume, except for a diamond ring–but they make me think of her.

  9. ValToo
    August 17, 2016 / 6:30 am

    After a couple of bad experiences with Etsy with the quality of items I bought, I found SCOUTMOB. The website features handmade items from independent artists all over the U.S. You can buy jewelry, handbags, scarves, and clothing, as well as all sorts of items for the house. Scoutmob has become my place to shop for unique gifts. And for items for myself!

  10. August 17, 2016 / 6:47 am

    I love scarves and hats! Two of my favorite scarves are from J. Crew–and I found them on sale. I agree accessories are what take an outfit from plain to spectacular.

  11. Kate Budacki
    August 17, 2016 / 7:26 am

    Thank you for this!

  12. Kathi Brown
    August 17, 2016 / 7:55 am

    I have built a versatile collection of vintage silk scarves (Etsy and Ruby Lane) and high-end second-hand items thanks to consignment sites (The Real Real, ThredUp and I also shop Etsy for easy-to-wear custom made clothes. There are a few Etsy designers whose work is worth checking out, including Treehouse128 and Loft415. For handmade pieces, their prices are reasonable and they take pride in their product.

    • Kathi Brown
      August 17, 2016 / 10:16 am

      Oops, I meant Treehouse28 on Etsy.

  13. RoseAG
    August 17, 2016 / 9:03 am

    I’m someone who is always shopping so browsing accessories is something I do without clear ideas in mind. Usually I scan for colors or designs I like. Earrings with sturdy backs or agate stones will always attract my attention.

    I recently saw a uTube about how to use a scarf to shorten a cross-body bag strap. I have some cross-body bags with straps I’d like to be a little shorter so the next time I was out browsing I looked around for a scarf that I wouldn’t mind wrapping around a bag strap -while it doesn’t ruin the scarf it’s not something I’d do to my favorite treasures- and without too much effort one turned up.

  14. Naomi
    August 17, 2016 / 10:33 am

    Susan, your thoughtful writing is always a treat, but this post is one of your best! Merci beaucoup!

  15. August 17, 2016 / 1:51 pm

    I do love to browse in thrift and consignment stores for jewelry – it’s a fraction of the retail price! I also keep an eye on the local vintage fairs (our annual giant expo is coming in September), and look for unique vintage pieces. I collect mid-century copper, started from a set given to me in the mid-80s by my grandmother. I also have many pieces “liberated” from my mom’s jewelry box in that period that I still love and wear. Awesome article!

  16. Luisa
    August 17, 2016 / 2:34 pm

    economé? what do you mean?

    • Susan B
      August 17, 2016 / 2:46 pm

      Fixed. 🙂

  17. bellsonme
    August 17, 2016 / 3:17 pm

    With just a few inexpensive tools and some findings, you can recycle old costume jewelry into useful new pieces. I’ve got a ton of glass pearls saved from my grandmother’s broken necklaces, and a good handful of Czech cut glass beads, which I’m having lots of fun with. You can find all kinds of great inspiration, tutorials, etc. on Pinterest.

  18. August 17, 2016 / 5:39 pm

    I am delighted you have raised the issue of working conditions of so many of the people who turn out items for the fast fashion companies. The majority of these workers are women. Women must support other women. The environmental impact of throw-away fast fashion is horrendous. I don’t recall who said it bur the words have always stayed with me…”Every time you spend money, you are voting for the type of world you want”.

    • August 18, 2016 / 6:42 am

      Yes, the tragedy – and mass murder, as management knew the building was extremely unsafe – at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was a watershed moment for many, with garments from several prominent Western brands – upscale and “fast fashion” strewn among the dead and injured, as the Triangle factory disaster (with the exit doors locked) in NYC was a little over 100 years before.

      Caroline, I certainly agree, but it is so hard, especially for those of us without a lot of money.

  19. August 17, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    A certain Frenchman just placed me on a “no buy”. We’re returning to Paris after Thanksgiving so I’ll be doing some Christmas shopping over there. In the meantime, my all time favorite hoop earrings are from Walmart. Yeah. Walmart. I get a full card of various sized hoops for less than five dollars. Makes my heart zing!

  20. August 18, 2016 / 4:42 am

    I find wonderful jewelry at the resale shops, as well as Etsy. Great ideas here, Sue! xo

  21. Jill Ann
    August 18, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    Glad to read this post….I’ve been a big fan of your blog for quite a while, but I never could wrap my head around spending thousands of dollars on a bag or a jacket. I guess I ***could*** afford to do that, but my blue collar middle class roots will not allow it. I would hear my mother’s scandalized voice in my head if I did so!

    What I would really love to see (and maybe you’ve done a post like this), would be a post addressing which items are truly worth the splurge; for example, where does the quality and timelessness really merit spending the big bucks? I’m thinking my Cartier tank watch was worth it, but I would never spend $800 on a pair of Louboutins. Your mileage may vary, of course!

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