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BY DESIGN : How I Spent My Spring Wardrobe Budget

February 23, 1995

What if you bought all your warm-weather clothes in one fell swoop?

That's what we asked three professional stylists to do. And like everyone else, they had to do it on a budget. One stylist had just $200, another was given $750, the third had $2,000.

Each stylist created a fictional woman who needed clothing suitable for her lifestyle. One works in a record company. The other shifts between a corporate setting and a home office. The third--and most affluent--is a classicist who dresses only for herself.

The results may look worlds apart, but the guiding principle is the same for all three: Scrimp where you can; splurge where you must.

$200

* Stylist: Joanna Dendel

* My Mythical Shopper: This young woman works in a record company. She's on a limited budget but needs to look pulled together--and slightly off-beat.

* Her Fashion Perspective: She's a discount-chain devotee with a penchant for color. She likes to be noticed.

* Pivotal Component: It's a sleeveless silk tunic top by Anne Klein II from Marshall's in apple green. It was $44.99--a bit pricey for my mythical shopper's budget, but beautiful and expensive-looking with little sparkling rhinestone buttons.

* Wardrobe Add-Ons: Inspired by a rack of purple separates by I.B. Diffusion that I spotted at Marshall's, I decided that purple silk pajama-style pants, $29.99, would make a fresh contrast with the apple green tunic. At Target, I found a short-sleeved camp shirt splashed in a Day-Glo print for $17 and more purple--this time in drawstring silk shorts, $9.99, for the weekend. At Mervyn's I found a bright, Picasso-type printed athletic bra top for only $16 that would go perfectly with the purple shorts.

* Eureka!: Somehow I had to find something, maybe a vest, to pull these colors together. Pier 1 Imports has the best selection of clothing and accessories hand-crafted from such places as India and Bali. Even when not on sale, the items are affordable and sometimes unbelievably low-priced. I picked up a cotton vest from India striped in apple green, purple and orange. Even better, it was marked down from $30 to just $8.

* The Right Shoes: I stuck to orange as my accent color and chose the sexiest high-heel pumps for only $39.99. These are the ones that are cut so low in the front that you can see the cracks in your toes. I found them in one of the best bargain shoe stores I know in Downtown's Santee Alley. The name of the store is simply Shoe Store.

* Details: Ethnic-looking earrings in blue, purple and apple green were $8 at Mervyn's. From Pier 1, I chose three orange and three turquoise enameled bangle bracelets for $1 each to pile on the wrist. For the finale, I found a 24-inch glass-bead necklace for only $8; it picked up all of my mythical shopper's colors.

* 1995's Must-Have Shiny Purse: The cutest little structured shoulder bag (they're in again for spring) in bright orange patent leather for $9.99 at Mervyn's.

* Grand Total: $199.54, including orange nail polish for $1.59 from Thrifty.

$750

* Stylist: Maureen Sajbel

* My Mythical Shopper: This woman works in an office with a loose dress code. After work, she might go on a date or to the movies with pals.

* Her Fashion Perspective: She wants to look contemporary, but she draws the line at blowing a month's rent on a shrunken sweater. She needs to get mileage out of her clothes, and that means buying separates that work with her existing wardrobe.

* Pivotal Component: A pink sweater set. The set can be worn in place of a blazer in the office with something she already owns--such as narrow pants or a straight skirt in black or navy. Donna Karan's cashmere version is $1,075, but I found a more affordable, ribbed-cotton version in the designer's DKNY Jeans collection: cardigan, $95, and crew, $85.

* Working It: Outside the office, she can avoid the Doris Day look by breaking the set into separates. The crew works with blue jeans. She can toss the cardigan around the shoulders of a little floral date dress.

* Rejects: A navy skirt, $160, from Calvin Klein's CK line in the "new length" (read: right at the knee). It looked new, but not particularly good with the sweater set. Much too PTA. I also passed on spring's new lace-edged shiny charmeuse skirts, which are turning up in every store. Who wants to wear a slip in public?

* Eureka!: A shiny rayon-silk skirt with a '40s floral print by DKNY Jeans. This would be a sweet date skirt, and my mythical shopper can justify the $165 price tag by wearing it with a pastel jacket to summer weddings.

* The Right Shoes: These should be pale and strappy, with a slender, high heel. At the Broadway--a gold mine of affordable spring shoes--I bought delicate leather-trimmed nubuck shoes, by Jones New York for $89, to match the sweater set.

* 1995's Must-Have Skinny Belt: At Bullock's, I found an $18 Liz Claiborne blush-colored belt to wear with the sweaters. The Limited also has a huge selection of skinny belts in pastel and neutral suede for $16.

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