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How to look a million pounds for fifty quid
Image: AP Photo - Alessandra Tarantino
Looking your best for a big birthday or an important work event can leave you with blotches on your bank account and a bloated credit card bill. Luckily there are cheaper ways to look stylish and groomed without forking out a fortune. In fact, you can look a million pounds for a tiny fraction of the price tag.
Renting clothes has become an increasingly popular choice for the fashion conscious, pregnant women who want to stay à la mode as their body changes and dieters heading for a weight-loss goal.
Numerous websites have sprung up over the last couple of years to cater for those who want the latest looks for a snip of the retail prices. Websites such as Girl Meets Dress offer dresses and bags for hire with prices starting from under £25 for a couple of nights. Membership fees are optional: you simply pick one or more of the hundreds of dresses on offer, wait for them to be couriered to your door and then send them back in pre-paid packaging after the event.
Other websites are more specific. Shoe hire agency Cinderella.me rents out heels from £40 a week, although prices can hit £85 depending on how rare and valuable the shoe is.
It says shoes are only sent out eight times before they are sold off and they are cleaned with UV light and steam between customers. Shipping is free, but there are extra charges in the form of a monthly £9.95 membership fee.
Most of us would baulk at the thought of spending close to £1,000 on a designer handbag, but fashionistas who still want to update their look regularly can save themselves large sums of cash through rental agencies.
Fashion Hire allows you to rent designer bags from £10 per month, although the latest Chloe design can go for £100 a month, but that's not including the £9.95 monthly membership fee, the £12.99 round-trip delivery costs or the insurance costs for theft or loss. You also have to sign up for a minimum of three months' membership.
When renting isn't worth it
Renting clothes and accessories can make financial sense, but if you're frequently going to black tie events you would do much better to buy the best quality tuxedo or dress within your budget as soon as possible.
Some companies will provide loans or even a small clothing allowance if you're heading to work functions, so it's usually worth checking with your HR department.
If you've got a wardrobe bursting with good-quality impulse buys you've barely worn, you could always consider 'swishing' to get a new outfit for free. This is essentially clothes swapping - either online or by joining a swishing party in your area.
At Swishing.co.uk, registered members send off their unwanted clothes in return for virtual money credits that they then use to buy other members' items off the site. The site is free to use and the only thing you pay for is the postage for the swap.
If you prefer to try before you buy, a trip to a designer outlet store could prove just the ticket. Bicester Village, which is an hour outside London, offers reductions of up to 60% on normal retail prices in 130 luxury outlets while York Designer Outlet is home to more than 120 stores through from high end fashion to top of the range home furnishings.
Sampling the high life
Sample sales offer a much cheaper way to get your hands on designer goods, whether you're looking for womenswear, menswear or accessories.
These events, which are frequently held in big cities around the UK (though most are in London), usually last a day and offer bargain hunters up to 90% off near-perfect samples and end-of-line stock. There is usually a nominal entry fee that goes to a good cause, then it's pretty much a free-for-all with early birds tending to bag the best stuff.
Sign up for free with one of the sample sale websites (secretsamplesale.co.uk or designersales.co.uk are just two such sites) and to get yourself onto the mailing list for invites. If you're dubious about getting your main email account potentially clogged up with spam, you can always set up another one specifically to get newsletters and information on special offers.
Many also have Twitter streams and Facebook groups which you can follow to find out the latest on forthcoming events.
Back in March, eBay launched Fashion Vault to compete with the likes of highly successful US venture Gilt and invitation-only Rue La La.
These are exclusive online sales which run for a limited period - usually three days or less - for eBay members. The clothes and accessories come directly from big-name luxury brands and boutique designers and offer big discounts on brand new fashions.
Before you buy anything online, it's always worth checking a couple of voucher code sites to see if you can make any additional savings. Signing up to the newsletters of your favourite stores will also keep you ahead of the game when they launch their next sale.
More than clothes
Pampering can also be done on the cheap - without ending up looking like the bride of Dracula the day before your best friend's wedding.
Group buying power websites have really taken off in the UK in the last couple of months and offer city specific deals for a fraction of their normal price. Groupon is one of the biggest and regularly features spa treatments, hair appointments and fitness sessions for around a third of what you would pay if you booked it yourself.
If a minimum number of people 'buy' the deal, you'll receive a voucher to arrange an appointment within a specific time period. These may have restrictions on when you can use them - and on popular deals you may face a long wait.
Two-for-one spa deals and regular £10 treatment offers can also be found at lastminute.com - with many special deals being launched at 10am on Thursdays.
Makeovers for less
Many department stores and beauty boutiques, such as Space NK, offer customers complimentary makeovers, often coming with samples of the products used. It's all done with an eye to selling you products, but you should pick up some useful tips on which colours suit you and how to best apply them.
These will direct you through to the product supplier's site where you enter your details. Many sites say they will not share your details with third parties, although make sure you untick boxes giving your permission to receive further information from the company unless you want to be kept on their marketing lists.
If you don't mind being something of a guinea pig in return for saving cash, you can always try haircuts at hairdressing training academies such as Toni and Guy or Vidal Sassoon or any local salons looking for models.
Most beauty colleges will also open their doors to the public to give students some real-life experience of treatments and massages while under supervision.
While it still takes a fair chunk of cash to present a sophisticated, glamourous front on a big occasion, that red carpet look is cheaper than you think. And the admiring glances you'll receive are priceless.
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