A Million Dollar Makeover Without Spending a Million Dollars

My first outfit I bought post makeover, that makes
me feel beautiful- and I used to think I looked
terrible in green!
I grew up in a home, that, to be honest, was not very fashion conscious. It was something that bothered me; I realized that I was wearing nerdy, out of date clothing, and wanted desperately to fit in. But I had no idea what I even needed to wear to be fashionable. It was a struggle, to be honest. I did my best to wear stylish clothing by knowing what the "in" brands were, and scouring racks at the thrift store for clothing made by those name brands. Slowly but surely, I managed to wear clothing that looked half decent and didn't make me a laughingstock. I can't say it was remotely near perfect, but vastly improved.

And then I moved to a new country where people tend to be smaller than I am, where plus sized clothes are very difficult to find, where I'd routinely walk into clothing stores and the largest size they carried was smaller than I was. At the same time, I had babies and gained weight and my body shape changed.

It was so hard for me to find clothing, that what ended up happening was that if I found clothing that fit me, I bought it. If it was free, even better. I had a closet bursting with clothing, most from clothing swaps and second hand stores, but some from cheap clothing stores. You know the phrase "water, water, everywhere, nor any a drop to drink"? Well, it was like that with me and my clothing. So many clothes and yet nothing I put on made me feel good about myself- I had nothing to wear!

One day, after trying in vain to find something, anything to wear in which I looked decent, I looked at myself in the mirror and felt like crying. I looked terrible. I felt like a lump of drooping, blobby, yucky mess, and my clothes, despite being nice clothes, in theory, weren't helping me feel any better about myself. I knew something needed to change, but I wasn't sure what.

I've posted so many times on my blog about Facebook, but not for no reason. Crowdsourcing is pretty awesome, and in my hour of self pity, I did what I know how to do best- vent in one of the supportive Facebook groups I'm in, and crowdsource for help.

I told them how I was feeling yucky about myself, and I realized that my clothes made me feel really ugly, and the suggestions from then on literally have been life changing (because when you feel good about yourself, that confidence can literally can change your whole life), and I'm sharing what happened with you because, hopefully, what helped me might help you too.

The first suggestion I got was to get a better bra.
If you feel there is something wrong with your appearance, check to see if your bra is the issue. Depending on how well endowed you are, a good bra can really be the difference between looking and feeling yucky and not. I had thought I was wearing a good bra, but then learned how to tell if a bra was properly fitting or not, and mine was not. Getting measured for a properly fitting bra and then making sure to wear a good one affects not just your chest but also your posture and how your clothes fit you overall, not to mention how well proportioned you are. A bad bra can make you also look much fatter than you are, if your girls end up hanging too low. I know this post is supposed to be without spending a million dollars, but this is the part that may be the most pricey of your makeover. If you can get a cheap bra that does a good job for you, that's terrific. But if you need to spend more to get a good bra for you and your size, it's still worth it as it can do a world of a difference to your looks, not to mention your self confidence and even health.

But beyond just a good bra, what I learned was that when you want your clothes to make you look good, it's not enough to just buy (new or secondhand) name brand clothing, because it doesn't matter if something is stylish or not if it doesn't look good on you. You can have the most beautiful dress in the world that can look horrible on you, and you can have an out of style outfit that can make you look really wonderful, if it is right for your body. In short, there's no one thing that looks good, there's only what looks good on you, and that isn't the same for two different people.

For one, you have to dress for your body type. Different cuts of clothing and different styles work well for differently shaped bodies. There are many articles out there about how to dress right for your body type, different do's and don'ts for different body shapes. I realized only more recently that what was wrong with my clothing wasn't actually that there was something wrong with them, nor was there something wrong with me, but simply that the clothing that I had didn't work for me and my body type. There are charts out there to figure out what your body shape is, and then tips on how to dress that is most flattering for your shape. For example, my body shape is hourglass shape, and I was doing most of the don'ts for my body type, including shapeless and unfitting things, and things that ended in exactly the wrong places, calling attention to the parts of my body that I didn't find so attractive. Once I read up about the ideals for my body shape, I also asked some fashion conscious friends their thoughts, and realized what I needed to change.
I went through my clothing shelf and got rid of all the clothes that looked tenty on me and ended in all the wrong places, and bought myself a few new pieces of clothing to mix and match that are better for my body type.
Pencil skirts, for example, became my new go-to. I also wear a lot of A-line maxi skirts.
Tops, I now nearly always wear fitted or at least somewhat fitted or tailored, nothing drapey or extra loose that made my waist look much bigger than it is. Wrap shirts and dresses also are my go-to, and shirts with a v-neck look much better than wide necked boat necks or square necks.
And heels. Though I don't wear them often, I now know what a difference heels can make, so when I want to dress up, I pull out those heels.

Just making these changes made such a difference to me.

But that wasn't all.

Color makes a huge difference. And for this, I wish I knew how to tell you what colors would be good for you. There is a website, Dress Your Truth, with ideas about how to figure out what kind of clothes, especially colors, would be good for you based on your personality type, features, etc... there are also Youtube videos on this, but I'll be honest, the biggest help was my close friend Michelle, who is really amazing at helping people figure out what type and color clothes are best for them.
I learned, pretty much, that the colors I was wearing were all wrong for me, that they brought out the worst in my features and made me feel and look yucky. Even though those colors are beautiful, they are simply not for me. And it isn't even about color, it's about shades of color.
I used to think that I looked good in blues and yellows and pinks and bad in greens, but what I discovered is that I look great in some blues and terrible in others, great in some yellows and pinks and greens, and terrible in others.
I need bold colors. Bright, bold, stark, striking. I really look terrible in pastels.
Most of my clothes were pastels.
Ding ding ding.
No wonder I felt yucky in my clothes!

While friends suggesting what colors may look best on you, it's also a matter of how you feel. Another realization I had was that I can love a certain color and think it is gorgeous, but it still may not be a good color for me to wear. (To decorate with, sure. but not for me to wear.) What I need are colors that aren't beautiful, per se, but make me feel beautiful. I wrote, when I was talking about my home makeover, that I really don't like maroon... in home decor. But when I wear it, I feel so beautiful, because it just does something special for me. Certain oranges and blues that I love for decorating my house simply are not my color for clothing.

So I also went through my clothing shelf and got rid of all my pale, muted colors, and passed them on to some other people that would feel beautiful in them.
Now I stick to bold colors, and it has made such a difference to me and how I feel about myself. It doesn't even need to be a pretty or a fancy outfit- we recently took family pictures and I was simply wearing a bright blue t-shirt and a black pencil skirt, and I felt more beautiful in that than I did in any of my previous "pretty" pastel clothes.

My shelf now has clothing that is brick red, magenta, emerald green, cobalt and azure blue, violet, black, pewter, gold, chocolate brown, and no more pastels! And all of them make me feel gorgeous. (Ok, other than a few articles of clothing that I kept for either nostalgia reasons, or for comfort.)

In my opinion, even more important than dressing right for your body shape is dressing in the right color. Because wearing clothing the right color but wrong shape will probably be much more flattering than the wrong color but correct shape.

I joined a few fashion Facebook groups where women like myself discuss clothings and styles so I can get ideas of what things are in style, and I can ask for styling tips and advice for myself.

To be honest, once I went through all the clothing that I had, and took out the ones that were either the wrong color or wrong style, I didn't have very much of anything left to wear, and a mountain of clothes to give away. But no matter. It doesn't pay to keep things that don't bring you joy, and if your clothes make you feel ugly, nix them.

So then what? Once you got rid of all your clothes that don't make you feel good about yourself, what do you wear without spending a fortune?

Well, if you're lucky like I was, hopefully you will be able to strike it rich at clothing swaps. Once I purged my shelf, I scoured clothing swaps for free clothing. But this time, instead of just taking something because it was the right size, I didn't even pick it up if I saw that it wasn't on the list of approved color shades. Because I am worthwhile, and I deserve to feel good about myself and the clothing that I wear. I owe myself to not just put on whatever clothing I can fit on my body that is affordable, but to wear things that make me feel beautiful.
Even if it means only having 3 or 4 outfits (fortunately, by now I have more), it is still worth it to have a few articles of clothing that make you look good instead of hundreds of outfits that make you feel like trash.

I also bought a few basic pieces from frugal stores that I mix and match to suit the occasion. Now that I know what style and color looks good on me, I know that it's not about the brand that makes you look good, but all these other factors, which means that I can look good even with clothing from cheap stores.
Other than a few basics that I got from certain stores to ensure they had my size, the rest of the clothing now on my shelf came from second hand stores, clothing swaps, hand me downs, Aliexpress.com, NextDirect.com, and ebay.com. A few came from cheap Target/Walmart like stores.

I can't put a total for how much my clothing makeover cost me, because new pieces were bought every so often, for the last approximately two years or so since I had my makeover, and I'm not finished replenishing my wardrobe. But if I had to put a number on it, I'd say, in total, my new, post makeover clothing cost me tops $200 (and I likely would have spent close to that much on clothing, even had I not had my makeover, and just not felt good about what I bought).

My other last tip is having a shopping buddy. But not in person, if that doesn't work for you time-wise. The biggest issues I had with my clothing was buying clothes, spending a lot of money on them, and then coming home and discovering that it didn't look so good on me, that it didn't make me feel pretty, and that the salespeople convinced me to buy something I shouldn't have. If you have a friend who is good with fashion, before you buy anything, send her a picture of what you're planning on buying, ask what she thinks, see if it's the right color for you, if the style suits your body, so you don't regret your purchases. Michelle is my shopping buddy, mainly via whatsapp and I've put back things I considered buying once she pointed out potential issues with them. This alone saved me lots of money, because it meant that what I bought actually got worn, and wasn't wasted.

As a side note, I'll admit, the fact that I lost weight also helped me feel better in what I wore, but I'm not focusing on that in this post, because that was all a side factor. Even before I lost weight, the right clothes made me feel good and pretty and the wrong clothes even after losing weight still make me feel ugly and yuck.

I can honestly say that I am so appreciative of this clothing makeover, and it really has made me feel like a million dollars when I wear the right clothing, and best of all, this makeover really didn't break the budget at all.

What type of clothes do you tend to wear? Clothing that fits you, wherever you find it, whatever it is? Clothing that is, particularly, in style? Clothing that specifically is flattering for your body type and color? Have you ever had a point where you were wearing clothes that simply didn't work for you, and didn't make you feel good, and then you had a clothing makeover (hopefully without spending too much) that made you feel like a different person overnight? What did that makeover entail? What were the biggest differences in your clothing before and after?
What suggestion would you give to someone to help them look better in the clothes that they are wearing?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Aww thanks for the mention! So I'm the Michelle in the post, and I asked Penny if I could comment here. If someone wants tone/shade advice or body type advice and I can answer- here I am :). Feel free to post in the comments or add a picture and I'll try and help. Best is skin and eye tone (similar to what is required for draping if you are familiar with that system), although hair counts too :). Have fun!

    1. I've figured out which colors look great on me and which shapes of clothes I love...but then I gained weight from my third pregnancy that I haven't been able to lose. All my shirts that no longer fit were tailored or fitted, which looked awesome on my hourglass figure before, but now with an extra fifteen pounds around my middle, it all looks terrible. I find myself in baggy shirts to hide my pooch (that looks like I'm 4 months pregnant all the time), which really makes it look worse. What's the solution for an hourglass shaped gal with extra weight?

    2. Hi Michelle, thank you so much for your generous offer and I would love some advice but do you have an email I can send my pictures to instead?

    3. Hi Jessica! Hourglass figures who find themselves with extra weight for whatever reason do excellently with drapey clothing and fabrics. Try a layering technique- something light and cotton under so you aren't hot, and then a drapey over top, with or without a belt, and a flowing skirt. A-line, as I'm sure you know, is always the best for hourglass- and the drape on top gives you give. Also with jeans- the same applies- you can wear a comfy pair of jeans but a drapey top will hide the stomach weight instead. Don't go for baggy- it doesn't accentuate anything. Also don't be afraid of patterns- patterns are AWESOME and striking, and can usually cause any excess weight to just be ignored. V-neck tops are also really pretty- inexpensive ones can be found from H&M for example- and that with a nice belt and a pair of jeans or a good skirt can make all the difference. Good luck!

    4. Hi Anon- I'm not accepting requests via email right now. But, if you describe to me a skin tone or link to a pantone color (I love Pantone and am a big fan of using them to figure out exact shades or shade groupings), then I can try and help!

    5. Hi Michelle,

      I am East Asian so pale with a yellow undertone. I'm fairly petite though I do carry a bit more weight in my legs, which I hate with a passion. Would love any advice!

    6. Hi Anon! Try some flattering jeans- look for skinny jeans if you are uncomfortable with leg fat, or try some skirts on for size- they hide weight well. Yellow undertones might or might not look good in browns- but you might be surprised with things like deep greens, deep purples, or deep blues.

  2. I recently went through a similar experience! I think it's harder for us hourglass shapes to come to this realization because most store manikins are not dressed this way! Also, after I did my purge I realized that I don't need to refill my closet with as many clothes as I purged. Once you have clothes you love you don't mind wearing the same things over and over!

  3. I recently got a whole bunch of clothes from a friend whose relative had bought her some clothing that was the wrong cut for her. Turned out that all the things that didn't fit her went great on me. (while both of us are in the plus sizes - and actually wear about the same size, our shapes are completely different.) Initially, I took everything she offered me. After wearing all of them a few times, I realized that a few of them are super-amazing, and a couple... need to be passed on.

    Then I realized that a lot of my clothes feel gross on me right now, so I spent about $100 on a whole bunch of new clothes that feel better on me.

    I actually feel more energetic with them on!

    I think I'm going to get properly fitted for a bra next, because I find that wearing a bra seems like a massive burden to me at this point. I suspect it's because I'm wearing the wrong size.

    1. Bras are SUPER important. My great-grandmother used to be a lingerie fitter at Saks Fifth Avenue, and she always said that a good bra will make or break the outfit- you have to dress from the inside out to look good.

  4. Also you have to have fun with fashion! My friends all told me I would look good in peplums and manhandled me into one. And you know what, it DID flatter my body quite nicely. Problem was, I still didn't like peplums! Even if it makes you look good, if it doesn't spark joy in you, no point to it. I have some clothes that aren't the most flattering but I adore them anyways.

  5. Ah, clothes.... it's always challenging for me. I've been every sizes between 7 and 20, so I could never keep a wardrobe for very long. Hence, I never wanted to invest in one, since my weight always fluctuates. So I tend to buy what is cheap and fits. Plus size clothes are pretty expensive and limited so when I find something cheap that fits and doesn't look too bad it's always tempting to buy it. That said, I purged my closet of all the outdated/unflattering clothes a couple of months ago and was left with basically nothing. So I had to go shopping, and I focused on dressing for the shape I have now instead of the shape "I will have when I lose 10 pounds"! And since then people have stopped asking me so often when I'm due (...I am NOT pregnant, but I have a belly that could suggest otherwise). My prior tops were too tight around the belly. Now I go for flowy material, it fits better. But I have to say that you are right about better fit after losing weight. My clothes looked way better on me when I was smaller. And shopping was much more pleasant, not to mention easier. So I'm working towards this.

  6. I have a boxed shaped body after gastric bypass surgery and losing weight from a high of 120K many year ago to now 67K on 152cm height.
    I have had apronectomy and breast reduction but my body shape is still not exactly curvaceous nor do i expect to look like a Barbie or Twiggy.
    If i knew how to post a pic here, i would.
    Penny has met me for a short amount of time so maybe she could help better to describe my body shape

    1. Box shaped bodies do well with pleated or pencil skirts, and narrow jeans. Try a top that will define the curves, like empire waists (which are AMAZING for curvy or boxy women!).

  7. Another way to know what is in style is to look at clothing catalogs, either on line or from catalogs. I get a ton of them, and usually look and then throw them away, but I do learn what the styles are

  8. I am an autumn (from color me beautiful) and I know what colors look good on me, but I am still searching for my style... I am 5'8", small boned, and have weighed everywhere from 105-135 in the past few years, due to varying weight loss after pregnancy. Right now I am about 110 and have a 4 month old. My tummy is a little loose, but otherwise I am just pretty skinny. I have been gravitating toward maxi halter dresses and maxi skirts, since they can accommodate a certain level of weight fluctuation. I haven't really figured out what kind of shirts don't look dumpy on me, though...

    1. Have you tried empire waists in your maxi dresses? I'm not sure what kind of figure you have but even in maxi there are variations: slinky, empire, halter, gym type, spaghetti straps etc.

  9. This is a big challenge for me right now because my weight is all over the map with pregnancies. I have maternity clothes, breastfeeding clothes, clothes for every season, clothes for being a stay at home mom, and clothes for going out. I feel like I can usually find what I like or need to wear but when you step back there's so much of it! I think this is my last child so I'm looking forward to doing a big purge once my weight stabilizes and I know what my post baby body will look like. I'm guessing that's probably not for another 2 years (I never lose much weight breastfeeding) I usually shop thrift stores and sale racks, but I'm not afraid to splurge on things I wear a ton like jeans and good everyday shoes.

  10. Michelle, I'm in my 40's, fair skinned with blue eyes and light brown hair with dark blonde highlights. What colors should I focus on? And can I wear black?

    1. Anyone can wear black! But why not accent your eyes and go for more shades of blue? You have light brown hair/blonde highlights, so along with your fair skin, any shade of blue (minus that baby blue pastel that needs darker hair to carry it off) would be gorgeous. Head for turquoise, aqua, teal- have fun! You might really fall in love with purples- the deepest shades are almost like black.

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