Saving on summer's hot looks

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      The original plan was to tell you how to assemble a complete summer wardrobe for around $100. What kind of drugs was I on? The only places you can do that are thrift stores, H & M (and even there you'd whip through the budget fairly quickly), and the Real Canadian Superstore.

      Don't mock. Remember that the Joe who lends his name to the Joe Fresh line is Joseph Mimran, the brains behind Club Monaco. Roam around, and you'll see you can buy a cute yellow-and-white-striped three-quarter-sleeved dress, a sweet blue-and-aqua pleated skirt, and tops galore, and still have change from that theoretical $100. But here's the thing, and the same applies to, ahem, Chanel or Prada: dressing head to toe in the same label doesn't say much for your wicked personal style.

      So, on to Plan B: a generally cheap approach to putting together summer looks by building on what you've already got, plus some items I found during a rainy-day mall crawl that give maximum payback for minimal cash.

      If you're one of those rare girls who routinely cleanse their wardrobe, go play in someone else's sandbox; this is one game you can't join. Those of us who stockpile clothing till the closet resembles the SkyTrain at rush hour can start by rooting through it and seeing what still looks current. I'm thinking of capris or cropped pants, short pleated skirts, basic tanks and Ts, anything blue or purple, and any shift-style dress with a vintage feel to it. Now, do a swift edit and chuck the real no-hopers to make space for the new.

      It's the job of fashion magazines to convince you that you have to invest in a completely fresh wardrobe each season. In fact, all you really need is one or two carefully chosen finds. You'll also want a few little tops. I'm a fan of the skinny-strapped style at Zara (1056 Robson Street; Metrotown) for several reasons, starting with price: $9.90 a pop is hard to beat, and so is the colour selection. Mixing trendy hues into your closet is a no-brainer way to update. My picks would be purple, because of its current hotness; a medium blue because, after being in the wings forever, blue is starting to move to centre stage; one or two in green; and a couple in white and black, for obvious reasons.

      Owning some sort of opaque underlayer makes you more likely to pick up a fashionably sheer top, such as the tunic ($59.95) with little sleeves in a leafy print that includes browns, blues, and taupes, at Le Chí¢teau (various locations). Folding a new colour like blue into the mix works in this context because (as with any pattern) the presence of black or white lets you match it with solid black or white skirts, pants, or accessories. Keep that thought at the fore as you shop. (And while you're at Le Chí¢teau, grab a couple of their faceted bangles, $6.99 for a pair in faux tortoiseshell or grey, and clear plastic; big and bold are the words for jewellery this season.)

      Hands up, those who glided along Robson Street the past summer or two in an ankle-length tiered peasant skirt. Pat yourself on the back, because if you remove one or two of the tiers, you'll shorten the style to something very like the ruffly cotton skirts ($44.50) sold at the Gap (various locations). I'd put my money on one in emerald green, wear it with a cropped cardi and boots for now, then slide on the sandals and tank top when the sun eventually comes out.

      The problem with skin-baring tops is that they don't look appropriate in all work situations-unlike a grey fitted T-shirt from Jacob (various locations). I've owned one for about three years, and it's still going strong. Cut with a scoop neck and little sleeves, one of the chain's new styles has "investment" written all over it. (At $15, it's a small one.) The fabric is cotton for comfort with a bit of stretch for streamlining, and it comes in scads of colours, including navy if you want to have a crack at the nautical look that's getting major airtime.

      Also on the horizon, city shorts first showed up last year. Maybe you already own a pair, but not all are the kind you can wear to work, unless you're slinging beer on a patio. The best in terms of cut and price are those at the Gap ($39.50) in a fine grey-and-white seersucker. Thread a belt through those loops, play up the menswear aspect with a crisp white shirt, and you can comfortably take these to the office.