The holidays are just about here. But even if your to-do list is crazy long, it may be missing one important item: What have you done for you lately? We sent the Deal Divas, our intrepid style mavens with budgets tighter than JLo's jeans, out on a mission: Find fresh looks to wear now and after the holidays, all at fair prices. Since nobody has time to be running all over the place, each outfit, including accessories, had to come from a single store. And since it's always fun to try something new, each diva chose a different value-oriented store to complete her mission.
Happy shopping. And happy holidays.
Swoonworthy, but savvy
I used to go to Kohl's only when I had a coupon, or when they had a fantastic deal on toaster ovens. But lately, I've been leaving with swoonworthy clothes that only look expensive.
A-listers Vera Wang, Jennifer Lopez, Dana Buchman and Lauren Conrad all have signature lines at Kohl's, an early leader in wooing high-styling celebrities to design for the masses. On a recent trip, I couldn't take my eyes off Lopez's sparkling holiday line.
• A silver sequined crop shrug, originally $84, but on sale for $58.80, captivated me. It was more than I planned to spend, but the piece screamed possibility. Think club night (paired with a miniskirt), a swank date night (thrown over a little black dress) or even a casual dinner party (topping off jeans and a tee).
But right now, I wanted a holiday outfit. JLo's sequins were the perfect complement to an •iconic crimson draped dress by Simply Vera Vera Wang. Come January, I'd tone the hue down for work with a black or white blazer. And on sale for $34.80, marked down from $58, the price couldn't be beat. Thanks, Santa Vera!
I left Kohl's with a bag full of glamor for $100.15. And the cashier handed me a voucher good for $10 on my next purchase, so I'll be back soon for another fashion-forward fix.
'80s, updated — in orange!
Sometimes, the freshest looks happened 25 years ago.
This •structural dress is $35 at H&M, the Swedish fashion staple that finally opened in Tampa's International Plaza this year. It eschews a more obvious flouncy skirt in favor of a dramatic tapered hemline.
That construction not only takes us back to the '80s, it leaves ample room for pockets. We love pockets!
The result is feminine yet sharp, sexy, impenetrable to nonsense. It's Erica Kane crossed with Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner, with a sprinkling of Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl. It's covered enough for the office, yet take-charge enough for the wine bar after work.
We added some •gold geometric earrings to play up the sharp silhouette, and a simple gold bangle. The accessories together totaled less than $15.
While your attitude wanders back to the Falcon Crest Winery, your sensibility will stay modern. This piece comes from H&M's Conscious Collection, a line that attempts to be environmentally friendly. This dress is made from more than 50 percent recycled materials.
And as a bonus, orange is the shade of the moment. No, really. The color kings at Pantone have named "Tangerine Tango" the official hue of 2012.
Work it out, in style
Workout clothes might not seem to matter that much. Who cares what you're wearing if it's going to get all sweaty and dirty? But looking your best is important, especially if you're new to the exercise thing. We could all use a boost of confidence at the gym, what with all those mirrors. And there's something to be said for sweat-wicking fabrics.
Old Navy can help. This store known for fleece, sweaters and catchy commercials has a surprisingly large and varied collection of athletic gear — and at reasonable prices. They stick with basic blacks and grays for most items, but perk them up with fun accent colors and special features.
Check out, for instance, the pants and capris equipped with compression technology that holds you in all the right places without feeling too tight. A regular pair costs $29.49, but I found a pair of •black and pink compression pants in the clearance section for $15.49.
This same compression fabric can be found in most of the active tank tops, like the •racerback purple tank I found on a sale rack for $8.99 (regularly $26.94).
On my way out, I couldn't resist snagging a stylish teal-colored gym bag marked down to $7.99 from $19.94.
Hey, a girl's gotta carry her clothes in something, right?
Between the piles of merchandise and the hordes of teens, shopping in Forever 21 can be like a tough workout: exhausting, but usually worth it in the end.
I typically have to have a specific outfit or garment in mind before entering, but for this shopping trip I went in open-minded. I left satisfied, but feeling like I needed a nap.
I landed on a •patterned long-sleeve, sashed dress. The muted pastels are a nice contrast to the expected darker hues for winter, and the scattered dots remind me of a painter's brush strokes. It set me back $24.80 — not too bad for a dress I could wear to holiday parties or to work. I'll have to be extra careful laundering it, though, as Forever 21's clothing sometimes might appropriately be called A Few Washes 21.
To tone down the sweet factor, I threw in a •black lace sweater. The chunky knit cuffs add a touch of edge. Also $24.80.
And tying it all together, a long, delicate rope necklace. I chose gold to warm up the cooler colors in the dress. Bonus: It was on sale from $6.80 to $4.76.
All told, I was out the door for a little more than $50 — more than I spent on groceries this week. Not bad.
Urban and edgy
Going into Urban Outfitters can feel a bit like walking into a hipster's novelty shop, with all the ironic T-shirts, gem-covered shoes, sweaters with swans, a section devoted to funny coffee-table books and games.
But if you can see past the child's play, Urban Outfitters has some fairly cutting-edge pieces of reasonable price and quality.
The items I chose on a recent visit were all full-price, though they were having an amazing sale, with racks jammed with clothes at up to 70 percent off. I got a very cute black-and-ivory striped shirt knotted on the side for $9.99 (not shown here).
The •grape-colored miniskirt you see here has a zipper in the back ($38) and is thick and stretchy. On more daring evenings, I might wear it just with platform shoes or boots, but I'm more likely to add leggings. The •white shredded pullover ($39) is wispy and pretty over a bandeau or camisole.
I love these •gypsy feather earrings ($29), which I can hide underneath my hair or let swing with a ponytail.