So, you want to learn how to look elegant like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality when she goes from being covered in grease stains and picking her ear wax in public to being the very essence of beauty and grace (minus a few slip-ups)...Now, the good news is, you don’t have to be an undercover FBI agent or hire an entire team of stylists to learn how to be elegant.
Heck, you don’t even have to have a ton of money! In this article, I'll show you how to look elegant and be elegant every single day — no matter your budget!
Signs of an elegant woman
Before we dive into how to be elegant let's discuss what elegance means first. The dictionary defines elegance as “the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner.”
And as you read this sentence, you may be envisioning a celebrity who meets that very definition — Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift, Diana Ross, Audrey Hepburn. But what are the signs of an elegant woman?
1. They look neat and put together
I’ll be the first to admit looks aren’t everything… beauty is more than skin deep, the whole shebang. But there’s no denying that one of the first signs of an elegant woman is how she looks.
Every elegant human being I come across — whether online or in-person — always looks neat and put together. They have a style that extends beyond yoga pants (#guilty).
And in today’s sweatpant-fueled, work-from-home craze, it’s easy to forget that other clothes like jeans and dresses and tailored pants actually do exist. (I'm speaking from experience.)
Thankfully, it’s becoming easier to find clothes that look put together and elegant, yet are made out of fabrics that still feel cozy and relaxed. So, as you learn how to dress elegantly, keep that in mind if comfort is key for you.
2. But they also have an elegant attitude to back it up
You may be surprised to know one of the tell-tale signs of an elegant woman is actually her attitude! It doesn’t matter how elegant you appear; if you treat people badly, you’re not actually an elegant person.
An elegant woman builds others up instead of tearing them down. She stands tall, commands attention when she enters a room, and knows her own self-worth; she doesn’t look for validation from anyone else.
So, let me ask you… how do you talk to yourself? How do you treat others? If you’ve been more critical than uplifting, consider taking a 30-day self-love challenge. It can go a long way in helping you feel just as elegant as you’ll look once you finish this article.
How to look elegant daily: 6 Key tips
At its very core, learning how to look elegant and be elegant is all about adopting a minimal, effortless style. It’s not about being gaudy, flashy, or even trendy. The goal is to have your look stand the test of time. Here’s how to do it.
1. Figure out your personal style
Okay, first things first, you have to figure out what types of clothes you actually like to wear. No, I’m not talking about what you see on Instagram or what’s trending right now — like crocs or cheetah print or knee-high boots.
I’m talking about the styles and silhouettes you’d wear no matter what was on-trend. The ones you absolutely love that compliment your personality and body type.
One book that was instrumental in helping me discover my own style was The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. It’s a workbook-style read that focuses on helping you discover your likes, dislikes, favorite silhouettes, and color palettes, so you can build a dream wardrobe that's truly effortless.
I highly recommend renting it from your local library or buying it if you need help developing your style. You can take our personal style quiz to help you too!
2. Keep your wardrobe simple to look elegant
Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite styles and color palettes, consider building a minimal wardrobe where you only keep pieces you absolutely love and can wear over and over several different ways. (Hint: Neutral colors like cream, grey, and black are timeless and always pair well together).
If you have five tops that work with five bottoms, then boom! You instantly have 25 different outfits you can wear from just those 10 items. (This is how a capsule wardrobe works.) But if that one top you bought only works with one pair of pants, well, then you only have one outfit. Not a whole lot of variety, if you ask me.
So, if you’re trying to look elegant on a budget, examine each new item of clothing you bring home. If it’s a shirt, for example, mentally run through all the bottoms you own before you buy it to see how many outfit combinations you could make. The more items it pairs with, the better.
One of my favorite minimalist clothing brands is Vetta Capsule. The company curates five-piece capsule wardrobes you can mix and match to create 30 different outfit combinations. I seriously don't know how they do it, but it's perfect if you want a minimal wardrobe that'll forever be elegant.
3. Choose quality over quantity
The key to dressing elegantly is to choose quality over quantity. Yes, you can go to a fast fashion store like Forever 21 and buy five sweaters for $12 apiece.
But they’ll instantly pill and tear and shrink the moment you wash them. (This is one reason why three out of every five fast fashion items end up in landfills within a year.)
Next time you buy something, think about it in terms of cost per wear. If you buy a $12 sweater and only wear it twice, it costs $6 per wear. But if you buy a $100 sweater and wear it 50 times, it only costs $2 per wear. That's one-third the price!
4. Adopt a minimal makeup routine
Beyond clothing, another way to always look elegant is to adopt a minimal makeup routine. The most obvious benefit is that it saves you time — no more having to spend one hour on your makeup while simultaneously trying to get your kids out the door for school. But it also has these benefits:
- Saves space in your bathroom cabinet and in your luggage when traveling
- Saves you money
- Gives you more of an opportunity to buy quality, good-for-you items over cheap items made with harsh chemicals
- Helps you look classic no matter the season or trend
5. Choose accessories sparingly
If you like flashy jewelry, there’s no shame in that game. The key here is to choose a few quality items you really love — and that ideally work with most of your wardrobe — instead of having drawers full of jewelry you hardly ever wear.
I personally dislike most jewelry, so I have a dainty gold wedding band and a thin gold bar necklace that works with anything. I also really like simple nose piercings, so I have a small gold stud there as well. The key is to own a few pieces you truly love and that pair well with your style and wardrobe.
6. Remember that simple is always in style
Leonardo Davinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” That couldn’t be more true than when it comes to fashion.
One of my favorite things about elegant styles is that they’re always simple. They’re made up of timeless fashion pieces like a classic trench coat, a little black dress, a white dress shirt… items that never go out of style.
Not only does this save you a ton of money, but it also saves you time when picking out outfits and limits the number of items you need to own. So many benefits! Staying simple with your style is how to be elegant every day.
How to be elegant on a budget
You don’t have to drop a ton of money on designer clothes just to look and feel elegant. There are a million ways to develop your personal style on a budget. Here are two of my favorite tips on how to be elegant on a budget:
Shop secondhand to save money and look elegant
Buying clothes secondhand is seriously one of my biggest secrets for how to dress elegantly on a budget. If I find a high-price item I really love, I’ll often search for it on Poshmark, Tradesy, eBay, or thredUP to see if I can find it secondhand.
And many times, the person who’s selling it only wore it once or twice, so you’re essentially getting a brand new item for a fraction of the cost.
I actually used this strategy when shopping for my wedding dress back in 2015. I fell in love with a dress that had a $1,100 price tag but ended up finding it on Tradesy for $500. It had only been worn once. The seller also included the sash and slip to go with it, which saved me even more money as I planned my wedding on a budget.
Earn some spending money by decluttering your closet
As you learn how to dress elegantly, you may realize your closet is bursting at the seams with items you never wear. This could be because they no longer fit, are designed for a fantasy life that just isn’t yours, or they no longer suit your style.
This is the perfect opportunity to declutter your wardrobe,(and even declutter your life!), upcycle as many items as you can, and get some extra cash. You can also set some fashion goals that won’t break the bank if you're really trying to stay on budget.
Feel great and look elegant every day!
Learning how to look elegant and be elegant doesn’t require one ounce of fame or even a ton of money.
If you need help creating a spending plan for your new elegant wardrobe, sign up for our completely free budgeting course.
And don't forget to check out the Clever Girl Knows podcast and YouTube channel for more lifestyle tips!