Can You Tell the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Pieces?

In case you didn't know, "tacky" things are in and good taste is out. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I'm now confused about what looks expensive and what looks affordable. From the Pat Butcher–levels of leopard print to the fact that everyone's swapping traditionally fine-looking jewellery for cutesy plastic beads and bangles, it's a great time to be on a budget (not to mention a fun time to splash some cash on items that are anything but boring).

Think everything from out-there white shoes (once seen as tacky but now a wardrobe staple) to chunky sneakers even the most eagle-eyed fashion expert could mistake for a Topshop purchase (even if they actually cost you more than a month's rent). We're throwing down the A/W 18 gauntlet and asking you to step up to the challenge: Can you really tell what's expensive and what's cheap? I won't judge, and I won't ask which versions you ended up buying.


Beads are quite hard to differentiate from expensive or cheap. However, the good thing about affordable iterations of this trend is that they're almost identical to expensive versions. Should you want to spend more, that's cool with us, but can you tell what's what in the beaded-bag world?

Okay, I've given you an easy start with this one, as you undoubtedly recognise the Shrimps bag that countless influencers have carried. You can tell from the structured handle and interior (plus the more intricate beadwork) that this costs a pretty penny.

One could argue that the lack of an interior layer here makes the bag look cheaper, but I reckon the chunky glass-looking beads could still pass as being vintage and/or pricey.


How far has the reputation of white shoes come? Quite far. A few years ago, everyone was still tentative about the idea. These days, however, even the most luxurious brands are creating chic white shoes (see the Céline beauties above), and options abound all over the high street. There are some differences to look out for: the colour of the soles, the heel tips, the interiors and whether the leather looks good quality.

From the artfully sculpted heel to the super-skinny slingback silhouette and white interior, no design expense has been spared here. That's how you know these are more expensive white shoes.

You might be able to tell these are cheaper from the more basic heel and tan interior, but in all honesty, they're a bloody great pair of elegant white slingbacks. Plus they're lined in leather, so they're good quality and won't destroy your feet.

3. Mock Croc

Real croc bags are few and far between, but the look (in either leather or faux leather) is back en vogue for A/W 18.

The noticeable difference between expensive, designer mock-croc bags and cheaper ones primarily comes down to two things: Firstly, they'll be real leather. Secondly, they'll have more attention to detail (like the great pearl-ring clasp and functional double-strap detailing on this Mulberry bag).

When you're hunting for expensive-looking mock-croc bags, seek out neutral, retro colours like brown and tan. Also, look for buckles and chains that feel a bit vintage. This burnished metal will seem far chicer than a brashy gold or faux silver.

4. Crystals

Crystals are now on everything for A/W 18. It's hard enough to tell what's expensive from clear diamanté these days, let alone when the jewels start to get colourful. The only guiding principle will be the actual garment or accessory they are adorned on. If it's a cheap-looking dress in the first place, crystals are only going to make it look cheaper.

When it comes to the more expensive crystal jewellery pieces, scale and simplicity are everything. These jumbo heart earrings are a total winner for the season's '80s outlook.

High-street crystal earrings are by no means bad. In fact, they're a great way to buy into a frivolous trend. You might find they don't withstand a particularly furious night on the dance floor, but maybe that's just my particular brand of enthusiastic shape-pulling.

5. Animal Prints

There isn't a single animal print that's exempt from the dangers of looking cheap. I've decoded some of the signifiers behind leopard print at different price points, but if there's one key takeaway right now, it's this: Try to avoid anything with too much shine, and make sure the pattern is placed nicely. Those are two dead giveaways.

A classy silhouette, matte finish and careful print placement make this look all the more sophisticated.

The fabric is definitely more lightweight, but thanks to the subtle colourway, this still totally gets away with looking expensive.


Thanks to the likes of Roxanne Assoulin and Dinosaur Designs, acrylic jewellery is most definitely having a high fashion moment. These pieces are, of course, more intricate and special in their design, but it's quite easy to pick up on the youthful jewellery trend via the high street. Bracelets, in particular, have captured the imaginations of many, but necklaces, earrings and rings are still part of the action. This is one of those trends where if you want to spend more money on it, go for it. If not, no problem.

Admittedly, the artful curation of beads and the cooler-than-cool choker style of this necklace does set it apart from cheaper options.

Plastic jewellery on the high street can veer into "art teacher" territory, but wearing a jazzy piece with something plain will make you look 100% cooler.

7. Chunky Sneakers

Ah, chunky sneakers. What would 2018 be without them? A far less bouncy place, for sure. Now that the trend has been around for so long, it's no great surprise that cheap options are around. Aside from the obvious differences in leather and production quality (and the all-important brand logos), on the surface of things, can you really tell what's cheap and what's expensive?

This is the sneaker style that's launched a thousand imitations. Regardless of how you feel about Balenciaga's Triple S shoes, they've been truly influential and have a great deal of attention to detail in terms of colours, fabrics, pattern cutting and finish.

High-street versions cannot compete with the quality of designer sneakers (pricey ones are usually much more detailed), but if you're on a budget and into the look, at least there are options out there.

8. Satin

Just like animal print and white shoes, satin has a history of being a bit cheap looking, which is unfair, as quality satins can be really beautiful. The best thing you can do is steer away from anything too polyester- or viscose-heavy. Synthetic fabrics are well and good in many instances, but silk-satin is always going to look more expensive thanks to the weight of its drape and the fact that it's more comfortable to wear. However, no satin fabric is exempt from the inevitable crease problem (sorry!).

The sheer amount of fabric in this swishy skirt instantly makes you realise it's probably more expensive.

Still pretty darn good, I'd say.

9. Logos and Slogans

Let's be honest: There are a lot of crap logo-printed sweaters out there that really don't make any sense. I'd suggest always looking out for something that's quite plain (like a simple jumper or tee) and has something genuinely witty or interesting on it.

Intarsia knits (the ones that have patterns knitted into them, not embroidered on top) are really quite tricky to manufacture. So this complex Prada creation is worth every penny.

This has a combination of intarsia stripes and an embroidered logo, so it's a pretty good middle ground for affordable, trendy knitwear.

Related Stories