The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Goodwill Hunting: Black Tie Looks for Less

thrifting black tie goodwill

In 2006, Reese Witherspoon accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in a second-hand Dior gown from a vintage shop in Paris. (It was later revealed that the dress once belonged to an unnamed princess.)

While you probably won’t find imperial treasures at your local Goodwill, you can find pricey designer gowns for a fraction of the cost (less than three figures) at a number of discount stores, like Nordstrom Rack, Neiman Marcus Last Call, T.J. Maxx, and Filene’s Basement. With the right accessories, hair, and makeup, your Shoestring style can easily channel any Oscar ensemble.

Be ready to snatch up formal finds complementing your gown on your next secondhand shopping spree with these five categories of steals:

Grace Kelly went to the 1956 Oscars wearing day gloves. Audrey? Hers stopped at the elbow. Skip the manicure and opt to purchase a pair of vintage satin gloves, instead. Not only will you save on jewelry, you’ll also be able to easily hide chipped nails while giving your gown a bit of old Hollywood glamour.

Both Mariah Carey and Sigourney Weaver wore diamond and gemstone brooches last Sunday to the 82nd Academy Awards, but even cheap costume brooches give life to a gown in need of some shine. Tack one on the shoulder, hip, or back of your dress to accent the movement of the fabric. Vintage and rhinestone brooches can be found at any Goodwill, flea market, or thrift store.

Remember what Grandma said about “summer diamonds”: Some are diamonds, some are not, and hardly anyone will know the difference. Vintage costume pieces are so well made that few will wonder whether or not your gems are real — they’ll simply be jealous of your style. Vintage costume pieces are almost always available for less than $10 in the glass case at the front of your local Goodwill.

Desperate for the real thing? While you might not be able to compete with Cameron Diaz’s $49,500 Cartier “Trinity” hoop earrings, you can snag real diamonds from a local pawnshop at major discounts. Divorce and financial ruin ensure that beautiful pieces are sold to shops every day in exchange for quick cash. A good cleaning gives a diamond tennis bracelet back its original shine in no time.

Judith Leiber it may not be, but if your handbag is covered in shimmering beads, sequins, or Austrian crystals, who cares? Flea markets in Europe and the U.S. alike sell sparkly or French beaded handbags in all shapes and sizes, and usually for less than $20.

Easily purchased in Chinatown or at an antique store, rhinestone-covered hair embellishments add a bit of romance to any hairstyle when worn correctly. If wearing an up-do style, add rhinestone clips under your locks to make your hair really sparkle for the cameras. Just remember: with hair, less is always more unless you’re chaperoning a high school prom.

What are your favorite black tie or “red carpet” looks for less found at Goodwill & vintage stores? We want to hear from you!

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Copyright 2010 Shoestring, LLC. Photo: KT Boyle