Having a great sense of style should not be confused with having an unlimited budget to finance it. In fact, some of the greatest outfits—snapped on the streets or on that style saavy Kate Middleton—are a mix of high-end and fast-fashion pieces, for a timeless and personal look that happens to be totally on trend.
To deconstruct the art of high-low dressing, we chatted with Amy Lu, a celebrity stylist based in Toronto, for her expert tips on how to curate your closet each season.
1. Build up the bones of your wardrobe
For a wardrobe that you can stand beyond one season, search for key items, designer or otherwise, that you know you’ll love forever. “Look for investment pieces—think about things that will be timeless in your wardrobe,” says Lu. These will be the “bones” of your closet. “Then look for trendier pieces to fill it out.” The on-trend items—from fun prints to timely cuts—give the outfit your unique touch.
So what makes up the bones of a timeless wardrobe? Think classic boots, denim, and a beautiful handbag. “That’s where you should be spending your money,” she says. The rest of your look can be spruced up with accessories and flirty tops from stores like Aritzia, Zara and H&M, she adds.
2. Add in inexpensive on-trend items
A thoughtful, put together outfit isn’t about wearing off-the-runway designer pieces head to toe, but mixing in great on-trend items with your basics. “Fast fashion has increased the accessibility of super trendy pieces that are affordable,” says Lu about the straight-off-the-runway looks found at Topshop and Joe Fresh. “The art of wearing it well is to look expensive head to toe.”
And it doesn’t actually have to be. “Try a quality black sheath dress,” says Lu, “and mix in a funky blazer and great accessories.”
3. Opt for chic neutrals
A great way to determine if something will become a classic in your wardrobe? Ask yourself if it’s something you’ll wear all the time. “Pay attention to great-quality fabrics,” says Lu. “Invest in dress pants, pencil skirts, and a sheath dress as your basics.”
In terms of colour, a neutral palette with black, grey, navy are great colours to keep in mind. And while we love a floral or metallic print pant this fall, it may not bode so well in your closet season after season.
4. Swap in fun accessories for your night look
Bumping up your basics with colourful fast fashion pieces and chunky statement jewellery makes for great transitional dressing as well. “Going from work to play is easy to do with accessories,” says Lu. “Swap in your kitten heel for something higher.” And leave your oversized purse at the office, and bring out a sleek envelope clutch in its place.
5. Invest in a great coat
Think about it: when you’re out of the house running errands all day, what’s the one piece you have on throughout it all? Your coat. “It doesn’t matter what you have on underneath,” says Lu. “Look for a well-tailored coat in a shade that looks fabulous.” We couldn’t agree more.
6. Be like Kate Middleton
The reigning queen (or Duchess, we should say) of high-low dressing is Kate Middleton, who famously mixes designer labels like Jenny Packham and Alexander McQueen, with off-the-rack fast fashion pieces. “Kate Middleton has access to the best clothes in the world, and she still rocks Topshop,” says Lu.
READ MORE: 10 of the best suitcase sets ever
And then of course, there’s Michelle Obama, who’s known for wearing designer pieces from Jason Wu as much as she is for sporting looks from J. Crew. “It’s calculated and she looks incredible.”
7. Whatever you’re wearing, just rock it
At the end of the day, high-low dressing is all about piecing together different looks you love for one outfit that’s uniquely your own. “The whole point is to pair great basics together with pieces that look expensive,” shares Lu. “And great shoes.”
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.