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Shopping Tips With One of Melbourne's Top Stylists, Anthea O'Connor

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Anthea O'Connor is the previous Melbourne Editor of Vogue Australia. But don't let that fool you, she still adores a bargain.

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O'Connor now works as a stylist and fashion copywriter, working with brands such as Country Road and David Jones. We picked her invaluable fashionista brain for some shopping advice, in pursuit of helping you out during the season of vigorous gift buying.

What's your plan of attack for Christmas shopping?

Firstly, I need to stop hyperventilating as I'm panicked that I've only just started! I did great work at the Seed sale recently and ticked a lot of my list for the cousins and family friends' kids. First thing's first– I start with a list, detailing everyone I am buying for with some preliminary ideas of what to get each person. Then I block out days in my diary to hit the stores to try and get a lot done in one go, momentum helps me with Christmas shopping!

Tell us some items you don't mind paying full price for? 

I don’t mind paying full price for things of quality that I feel are good value. If it's an investment piece that will last the test of time, then I am happy to pay full price for it. So that would usually be a gift for an adult. With the kids' gifts I am always looking for a great sale that will let my dollar go further, since there are so many presents to buy this time of year.

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What wouldn't you dare pay full price for? 

I always like saving on things like towels, bed linen and doona covers. I've bought some incredible sheets from Adairs this year; they are vintage-washed cotton. They are so cosy to sleep in and look brilliant. Plus, they're a fraction of the cost of designer linen bed sheet sets! I feel very smug about having these and have told lots of friends about them. 

What's a store you shop at that you wouldn't typically admit to loving?

I am always happy to declare every store I shop in– high priced, low priced, and everything in between! I LOVE Kmart at the moment, they have the best homewares, decor and gift-y things. Currently the store has a 16-piece gold cutlery set for $25– ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IT'S THE MOST AMAZING THING!

So know I am totally giving all my secrets away, but happy to share! Who needs George Jensen?! Seriously, there's incredible stuff here for everyone.

At the other end of the spectrum I love buying gifts at Mecca Cosmetica as I think I can justify the cost as they are gifts for close ones, and I love choosing them. 

How much of your shopping do you do online? What are some of your favourite sites?

I tend to do most of my Christmas shopping in-store as I do like to hunt around for good buys at the best prices, so if there is a sale I try to suss it out. Similarly I love the experience of going to the bookstore to buy books for my family and as gifts. I would rather support my favourite bookstores than buy online.

I mainly shop online for fashion items for myself, as I know exactly what I am looking for and it's super easy an item if it's not right.

My favourite sites are:

Share with us the best bargain you've ever gotten.

My best ever bargains are usually in the shoe department. I put my investment into my accessories and shoes, and often I act like a crazed detective locating things in different stores then waiting until they go on sale.

Recently I managed to snag a pair of sneakers I had been dreaming about for a year. I had seen them on sale at David Jones last year but didn’t buy them. Anyway, I was in there trying another style by the same label at full price when I asked if they still had the old style. They tracked them down as a return an Adelaide store, then I was alerted to a David Jones cardholder sale starting following day. So I called the Adelaide store that afternoon and they very kindly put them on hold for me, then the next day I called and paid for them, they were reduced to half price with an extra 25% discount on that sale day! Felt pretty pleased with my retail  work that day.

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I have a David Jones loyalty card just to get the special offers and discounts offered. It is super easy to isolate your purchases and pay them off. You can also easily return and buy from interstate stores over the phone.

I am always combing through the sale racks for bargains in the imported shoe department at David Jones in the CBD. It's also wise to check out Myer's designer/import shoe department– there are so many great things in there that are usually heavily reduced. 

Keep an ear and eye out for the brands you like and when they commonly go on sale. Recently I purchased a large bed quilt for my daughter– it was originally $300 at Country Road and after being reduced, I paid $62 for it. BARGAIN! 

You've got $10,000 to spend on a shopping spree. How would you use it, where and why?

Grace Melbourne– they have a brilliant edit of imported labels that you can't find everywhere else. I would buy the Inès & Maréchal leather boyfriend pants. So thats $1300 gone…

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I would then buy a couple or silk Equipment shirts, a special top to wear out for dinner and a great blazer. Lastly I'd throw a pale grey marle v-neck cashmere sweater on the pile, too.

Next is Marais Melbourne– for a pair of incredibly cut razor sharp Celine pants, preferably in navy. 

David Jones– straight to the imported designer shoe department and I will take a pair of Chloé Susanna boots in black with gold studs. They go with everything.

Next I'd stop at Torsa– for a smattering of some Isabel Marant tops and t-shirts. Also maybe some gorgeous fine gold jewellery. 

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I would jump online to any (or all) of my favourite fashion sites that I mentioned previously, to gather some little tops and pieces that would fill out my new wardrobe. Things from;

  • April May
  • Sea NY
  • Equipment
  • Mother
  • Frame
  • M.I.H Jeans
  • MGSM

Then I'd round it up with some online shoe shopping– Nicholas Kirkwood heels, Tabitha Simmons strappy sandals and Aquazurra heels. 

Think I've blown the budget now!

Having said all of that my message to all my clients is consistent– buy less and buy better.

Buy one great, well-cut, well-made piece that is the best quality rather than five lesser quality items that feel like a bargain at the time, but will quickly become landfill as you flick it the following season.

Now, I'm wearing black pants I bought from Scanlan Theodore 15 years ago. I retired them for a couple of years then bought them out again and have been wearing them so much over the last few years.

It proves that investing in quality works out to be a much more cost-effective strategy, longterm. I am a big believer in this approach. I also say to all my clients, wear and enjoy your good (expensive) pieces. Don’t save them and wear them scarcely– wear them a lot and get joy from wearing something you truly love, all the time. 

How can we look like $1 million, for $100?

Buy less but buy a series of things that all work together, to create a consistent and signature style. Buy a great pair of black pants, jeans that work for your body shape in blue denim and black denim. Also pick up a navy blazer (Zara have fabulous ones), a couple of great silky shirts– it doesn’t matter if your budget doesn’t extend to real silk shirts. Viscose and other man-made fabrics are so brilliant these days, they look like silk and drape like silk. These are all available at high street stores like Seed, Country Road and Zara. Also look at Uniqlo– when cashmere sweaters start at $60, why would you pay $600?

Invest in one good, classic coat (like a camel-coloured trench coat) that will last for years because it has design integrity, and is authentic. Spend money on key things like well-cut tailored pants, a great blazer, a coat and shoes.

Get clever and economise on cotton t-shirts, knitwear and denim. Zara, H&M, Seed and Country Road all do amazing denim at a fraction of the cost of designer denim brands. 

If you're keen to learn a thing about style, check out Anthea's website here and follow her on instagram here.

Image credit: @antheaoconnor

Seed THE ICONIC THE ICONIC

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