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Cheap Clothing and Accessories That Always Look Chic

Dress for success with these $40 (or less!) winners

A sandal, sunglasses, summer bag.

Amazon, Gap, Amazon

Who needs a logo bag or designer label anything? Not us, not anymore! Mass retailers and specialty chains have caught the trendy bug from fast fashion, and all lure us with stylish updates. They're hard to resist but there's a catch: Some low-cost manufacturers and factories achieve that amazing prices by cutting corners and costs, while others don't. Finding something cheaper is great, looking cheap is not. Fashion stylists and editors know how to edit born-that-way bargains down to the ones that always look à la mode. You can too. Let these 10 smart buys rock your runway for $40 or less.

1. Print dresses 

Choose any style you like — shift, shirtdress, sheath, wrap or fit and flare — but make it a print. Unlike solid colors, the distraction and swirl of prints instantly disguise imperfections in fit, fabric or construction. Wow florals such as Target's Long Sleeve Midi Shirt Dress by Who What Wear ($35-$37, target.com) or the Women Studio Sanderson for Uniqlo Bra Dress ($30, uniqlo.com) are trendy and well-made. When in doubt, the bolder the print the better.

Two pairs of sunglasses.

Gap, Urban Outfitters

2. Sunglasses 

Dark sexy sunglasses are dead-ringers for pricey department store ones — especially aviators (traditional or round) such as Gap Retro Round Aviator Sunglasses in Black Smoke ($20, gap.com) and cat-eye frames such as the Foster Grant Cat 1 Women's Sunglasses at Walmart ($10, walmart.com) and Urban Outfitters Cry Baby Cat Eye Sunglasses ($16, urbanoutfitters.com). They make us feel glam and work their magic like a good smoky eye. Buying low means you can afford plenty of backups. Just be sure the lenses have UV protection to minimize squint lines, aka crow's-feet.

3. Pretty blouses 

Feminine details with a bohemian twist have made the return of blouses stick. Snap up beauties like the wrap waist style by Ava & Viv Plus Size Stripe Long Sleeve Blouse ($28, target.com) or the Long Sleeve Embroidered Print Peasant Top from Knox Rose ($28, target.com). The trick is to cheat here and go up a size. Sometimes the arms or chest do feel snug in bargain blouses. By relaxing the fit, you gain elegance. Go with the flow!

Two side-by-side tan bags

H&M, Amazon

4. A summer bag 

Woven bags made from paper, reeds or raffia — unlike pale leathers and suedes — resist stains, so spilled drinks, oozy sunscreen tubes and melted makeup are a no-show. Avoid open market basket styles in favor of a softer medium to large “shopper" tote. Look for a secure top closure (link-latch, tie or zipper), a fabric lining and inner compartments for keys, mobile, credit cards, money and glasses in bags such as the H&M Shopper ($30, hm.com) and Ilishop Classic Summer Beach Sea Shoulder Bag/Hand Tote ($26, amazon.com). Priceless! 

5. A bodysuit 

Soft stretch opaque bodysuits — like leotards with a snap closure crotch — are on every woman's most-wanted list now. They stay tucked and sleek with absolutely no bulges from excess fabric and make ideal layering pieces under lightweight sweaters and cardigans. Look for stretch cotton T-shirt styles such as the Jezebel Women's Cotton Bodysuit ($22, target.com) and tanks such as the Women's Ribbed Seamless Bodysuit by Gilligan & O'Malley ($17, target.com) in neutral colors like navy, gray, white and black.

Two sandals, one dressy, one casual.

H&M, Amazon

6. Metallic summer sandals 

We've moved on from strappy thongs and gladiators to slides like the Amazon MVE Women's Rhinestone Strappy Slip On ($15-$20, amazon.com) or H&M Platform Sandals ($30, hm.com) and closed-toe mules like the Women's Junebug Mules by A New Day in Silver ($23, target.com). The latter let you skip the pedicure and are work-friendly, but both styles are cool in every way. Want to make sure that first wear is blister-free? Swipe sensitive spots where fabric meets foot with stick deodorant before slipping on sandals.

7. Striped boatneck tops 

Forget the Chanel suit and red lipstick — nothing makes us feel more like a French movie star on vacation (even if we're in an office cubicle in Des Moines) than striped three-quarter sleeve or long sleeve boatneck tops. Affordable versions such as the Old Navy Relaxed Mariner Stripe Tee for Women ($9, oldnavy.com) or L.L. Bean French Sailor's Shirt Three-Quarter-Sleeve Boatneck ($30, llbean.com) do it better than the scratchy, pricey ones. Stick to classic colors like navy/cream red/black and black/white to keep it real.

A striped shirt and black pants, side-by-side.

L.L. Bean, H&M

8. Slim ankle pants 

Between the tailored, straight cut and rich dark neutral color, these all-purpose nonseasonal 24/7 pants never require a splurge. In fact, the bonus of low-cost stretch blends like the Zara Ankle Cropped Pants in Black ($40, zara.com), H&M Dress Pants ($30, hm.com) or Straight Leg Slim Ankle Pant by A New Day ($25, target.com) is they never bag or crease and are machine washable. The only caveat: always check the rise standing and sitting for a flattering fit before removing the tags.

9. Statement tassel earrings 

Make heads (including yours!) turn all season long with tassel earrings. The cheapies are surprisingly light enough to not stress piercings but heavy on style and look super day or night. Even those with extended or dropped piercings close to lobe rims can handle silk or beaded styles such as the eManco Bohemian Handcrafted Tassel Drop Earrings ($13, amazon.com) or Madewell Tassel Statement Earrings in Poppy ($28, madewell.com). 

Green earrings and a grey scarf.

Amazon, Kmart

10Long floaty scarves 

In summer, loosely draped airy scarves are lighter to wear than layers of long beads or chunky statement necklaces. Choose soft tints of color — peach, gray, pink, mint green, butter yellow or blue such as the Kmart Women's Fashion Scarf ($7, kmart.com) or the Uniqlo Cotton Linen Ombre Stole ($10, uniqlo.com). They'll add light and warmth to your face and help shield your neck from sun damage, too.

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