Dressing For Derby Without Paying The Price

Contributing Writer

Red dress, Urban Attic, $18 - Total Look: $50.60

Red dress, Urban Attic, $18 - Total Look: $50.60

If there’s anything that years of playing dress-up have taught me, it’s that there will always be an argument in favor of splurging on a fabulous new outfit for a special occasion. But with Derby right around the corner and a checking account that’s not so easily convinced, I recently found myself facing a dilemma: should I really spend money I don’t have to look fantastic and just hope I back the winning horse to bail me out? Tempting as this plan seemed, I didn’t feel prepared for the month of ramen noodle dinners that would surely await me when it didn’t pan out. So I decided to make my own luck, and headed out on a mission to put together a Derby look that’s trendy, flattering and fun, without breaking the bank.

First I considered my budget: $50 seemed reasonable to spend on one full head-to-toe look, especially if I could get pieces that I’d wear again. I decided to start at a few favorite local thrift stores. Not only do secondhand shops offer drastically lower price tags than most retailers, but as an added bonus there’s the thrill of the hunt – one can often uncover beautiful, unique items in great condition, simply by taking the extra time to search. I made a list of the kinds of pieces I was looking for ahead of time to keep myself focused, allowing for two different looks (fun and flirty, and classic and elegant) since I had no way of knowing what would be available so close to Derby.

Lavender Nannette Lepore dress, Nearly New Shop, $6 - Total Look: $45.60

Lavender Nannette Lepore dress, Nearly New Shop, $6 - Total Look: $45.60

I began at the largest thrift store in my radius, the Nearly New Shop (located inside the Mid City Mall on Bardstown Road), and worked my way through two others – Urban Attic (also on Bardstown Road), and All For One (on Douglass Boulevard). At each store I made a point to check every dress rack, regardless of size indicators, knowing that garments can often be misplaced. I also refused to discard any dresses I liked based on dress size since that number can mean little, especially on clothing manufactured by different brands, several years apart. This was how I discovered my favorite piece, a lavender Nannette Lepore wrap-front dress with pockets, which only cost me $6! Even though it was outside my usual size range, once on it was easily adjusted to fit perfectly. I applied that same philosophy to shoes, trying on just about everything and ending up with two adorable, great-fitting pairs to show for it.

Once I’d established a couple of basic looks with my core pieces, I headed to Mall St. Matthews to pick up some accessories. At Dillard’s, I tried on some amazing hats and fascinators but couldn’t work them into my limited budget. By moving over to the juniors department, however, I found the perfect alternative: an understated, whimsical flower headband. My jewelry came from Claire’s and Forever 21, where I chose inexpensive statement necklaces for maximum impact, and smaller stud earrings to keep things balanced. For the finishing touch, I picked out easily totable (and cost-effective) wallet-sized purses: one at Forever 21, and the other secondhand at Hey Tiger on Bardstown Road.

By the end of the day, I had two fun, unique Derby looks, ready to wash and wear, having spent less than $100. And with an extra outfit and a little more cash to spend, I may have found the perfect excuse to check out Oaks day as well!

Secondhand Shopping Tips

  • Shop early and often: The further away from the occasion you are, the more time you’ll have to really look … and the pickier you can afford to be!
  • Go prepared: Decide on a theme or look ahead of time, but wait until you’ve found one standout, central piece before you choose a color palette to coordinate accessories.
  • Stick to the plan: When everything is less expensive, it’s easy to forget that it can still add up. Look for specific pieces and respect your budget.
  • If you can’t do it right, do something else: Don’t waste your time trying to duplicate a specific piece you can’t afford (like, say, a Derby hat). Consider other kinds of pieces that could look just as great, or better.
  • Get creative! Especially if you’ve got sewing or safety pinning skills, think about how potential purchases can be altered. A handbag with a tacky nylon strap can easily become a cute little clutch with the help of some scissors. And if you screw it up,well, at least it was only $3.

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune