These days, there are plenty of brands out there that have a couture look and feel, but won’t burn out your entire wardrobe budget with one dress. And I’m not talking about something like Zac Posen for Target (although I suppose those designer lines for Target are always worth checking out) – I’m talking about high-end brands that you can find in your department store. They’re usually in areas that lump a bunch of brands together, so you have to hunt a little, but it’s always worth the dig.
Here are my top five brands that aren’t designer, but sure look like it:
1) Free People. These guys have an off-beat style that reminds me of designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Elizabeth and James. That slightly askew style can lean a little Boho for my taste, but these pieces can look fabulously chic when mixed with more modern or structured styles. You have to be a little careful, because you don’t want to look like a hippie train wreck, but when you wear this brand the right way, it will give your wardrobe that Gaultier touch and no one will be the wiser – except you.
2) James Perse. If you’re looking for simple clean lines and styles for your casual wardrobe, look no further than James Perse. His sizing is different – 1, 2, 3, and 4 – so it make take you a moment to figure it out, but his simple designs look great on everyone. From long jersey dresses to fitted linen button-down shirts, go to James Perse for pieces that look like they could belong to collections from Philip Lim 3.1 and Alexander Wang.
3) Theory. Now, I’m the first to admit that Theory can get a little pricey, but if you go to Macy’s or Nordstrom, you can usually find many of their pieces on sale, and their classic suits, lady-like fitted dresses, and simple tunics never go out of style. If you’re looking for clean, structured lines similar to Dolce and Gabbana, Chanel, or Michael Kors, you can’t go wrong with Theory.
4) BCBG Max Azria. BCBG is great, because their stuff is reasonably priced but has the vibrant look of Diane von Furstenberg and Vivienne Tam, while mixing in delightful confections ala Rebecca Taylor and Cynthia Rowley. On top of that, you’ll get great bags that range from classic kate spade styles to funky pieces similar to those from Marc Jacobs. BCBG carries almost everything: dresses, suits, denim, bags, shoes, shorts, gowns, casual and dressy tops, and great jackets and coats. For a designer look at a fraction of the price, BCBG is a must-see department.
5) L.A.M.B. Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby line (though unfortunately named) is the epitome of sexy punk rock with a relaxed edge. Stefani is known for her whimsical and wacky sense of style, and she recreates it for the rest of us to partake in here. They have great tops, but where they excel is with their shoes. Their heels are up there in stratosphere – they are a slightly less expensive version of Elizabeth and James heels with all of the sass and the punk style, and they’re really, deliciously high. Oh, and I suppose they have flats, too.