Expert Interview with Mary Hall on Designer Fashion on a Budget for Mint

For better or for worse, men and women both are quick to form an opinion about someone based on how they look.

So if you want to make a great impression and to appear confident and competent, then it's time to start presenting yourself better, says Mary Hall, chief recessionista and owner of fashion and beauty blog, The Recessionista.

"If you're dressing well and using the right make-up and skincare products, I find it to be confidence building," Mary says. "It's an investment in yourself that pays great dividends in the workplace and personally."

Mary recently checked in to offer advice for dressing in high fashion on a tight budget. Here's what she had to say about looking and feeling great without overspending:

Tell us about Recessionista ... when and why did you start your blog?

I started in July 2008 with an idea I had that the great recession would change the fashion industry ... and I was right, although I could never have guessed how much would happen in the last six years. When I started, no one would talk about the recession and fashion in the same sentence. When I would mention it, sometimes people made a face like they just smelled a bad fish!

Why is it that designer labels are so expensive? Is the quality truly reflected in the price?

Well, with the designer labels, there is always a big mark-up because so many things are built into the price of the garment - the advertising, the marketing - for a luxury brand, the rent on their store space will be pricey, plus you have the salespeople, the manufacturing, the cost of quality fabric and quality thread, buttons, zippers, and finishing is also part of the price. Big fashion brands have a corporation to run to bring their products to market.

For some designers, quality is definitely reflected in the price although they are also making a tidy profit because of the mark-up. However, for other designers, they are indeed cutting corners, outsourcing to super cheap factories and economizing the fit and materials. It shows in the end result, and you can see it in the overall quality, especially the fabric.

Why is it important to you to be able to find designer fashion at more budget-friendly prices?

Because I think that times are still tough. The great recession hasn't ended, but we all still want to look our best and present ourselves well. When you can go to Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks off 5th or Shopbop and get a great deal on a quality product (possibly designer), why should you go shop at a big box discount retailer with a poor quality product? People need education and tools to make good choices - just like financial investing.

I still think most designer fashions from a quality label with good fabric and material is going to be an investment and will fit better than, say, the latest Target designer collection.

I have a little black dress I bought from Barney's, and it's Barney's brand, that I have been wearing for 10 years. It's a classic that never goes out of style. I got it at the Barney's sale.

What are some of your favorite tips or advice for tracking down high fashion at low(er) prices?

I still love and regularly set up Google Alerts on my favorite brands to find out when they are having sales or sample sales at discounts. Also, reading blogs like The Recessionista is a great way to keep up.

What tips do you have for navigating sales at high-end stores?

Go in with an idea of what you are looking for; spend some time in store to try things on to make sure it looks good on you. I see way too much impulse shopping for trendy fast fashion items that don't even look good on. You don't just want low price, you want good fit.

Finally, use your mobile phone to check prices and get coupons while in store. I regularly find codes on website and coupons to use in store, sometimes while shopping. I price compare, too, on the phone by just "googling" the item to see the range of prices from various retailers. It's a technique that works.

What do you think of the trend of chains like Target, Kohl's or H&M offering designer labels? Do the clothes live up to the hype?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Overall, Kohl's has done a great job with their collections. The current Elie Tahari one is very well done and the Catherine Malandrino line for Kohl's was really fab-u-less. Phillip Lim for Target was AMAZING, but not all the Target collections have been. Many offer poor fit and horrible materials (like zippers and cheap fabric). Generally, each Target collection has a few finds, but also misses, too.

H&M has done a great job delivering quality for price and designs faithful to the designer's RTW line. However, their prices continue to go up, so their collections are not as low priced as they were.

Why do you think fashion and beauty should be accessible to everyone - even in the worst of times?

Because we need fashion and beauty; they lift us up, make us feel good and increase self-esteem.

Fashion and beauty are essential to do our jobs, go to work and feel good. Even though the work place is casual, you sill can't go to work naked.

With beauty also, good skincare is so important. You want to take care of your skin and look as good as you can for as long as you can. And today, even in these tough times, you can find many good products at affordable prices.

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