Hunting deals with the Budget Fashionista

Want some deals? Ride along with shopping columnist Ellen Warren and Kathryn Finney for designer deals and frugal fashion expert tips.

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Shopping with Kathryn Finney

Budget Fashionista Kathryn Finney looks for deals on colorful spring looks at Forever 21 in downtown Chicago on Sunday, Apr. 17, 2011, in Chicago. (Shauna Bittle/for the Chicago Tribune / April 28, 2011)

For years, I've been nagging Kathryn Finney to take me shopping.

That's because I was dying to see her in action. Kathryn, 35, literally wrote the book on frugal clothes shopping ("How to be a Budget Fashionista") and her blog,, is filled with savvy advice on looking good for less.

She and I boast about our bargain finds when we talk on the phone, but we'd never been in the same city at the same time — until now!

Her first words to me when we finally met face to face? Of course, "Let's go shopping." My kind of woman. And did we ever!

"This year I've decided I'm not buying one black thing … Nothing that's not color," she said. "When you put on color it really changes your disposition. You smile. It's hard to frown when you're wearing red and purple" (as she was) — as opposed to black (me).

So, finding colorful items at a great price became our mission at three different categories of stores where bargains abound.

Giant fashion retailer The tri-level Forever 21 is a vast palace of budget fashion on Chicago's Mag Mile and a Kathryn must-see. I turned my back for just a second and she'd bolted — for the giant first-floor accessories department.

By the time I caught up, she had a death grip on a pair of bright beaded bangles ($5.80 each). "Accessories at Forever 21 are hands-down amazing," she said — especially the jewelry and extra especially the earrings.

"There's a lot of stuff you can buy here (540 N. Michigan Ave., regardless of your age and size," she said. For instance, the floor-length tube-top dress she bought for herself in magenta for $12 off the "yellow tag deals" rack. She'll wear it as a skirt with a belt, with the top tucked in, "almost like a slip."

And she screeched to a halt at a rack of colorful camis for $2.50. "No matter who you are, you can get a couple of these. If you're younger you wear this alone. If you're older, then wear it under a jacket."

Kathryn tips:

•A $4 steal is no bargain if you won't wear it.

•Afraid of color? Find an online color wheel to learn what colors work together.

•Hats and outrageous hair clip-ons are an outfit "game changer."

Consignment shop Some of my best buys ever came from McShane's Exchange, 815 W. Armitage Ave., (there's another branch at 1141 W. Webster Ave.) so our next stop was a no-brainer.

"You need to try on everything," Kathryn declared like it was one of the Ten Commandments as she efficiently pawed through the vintage area. That's because sizing is so drastically inconsistent.

One of her favorite finds here was an $8 denim Gap trench which looked forlorn on the hanger — and had belt loops but no belt. "I'd change the buttons," she said, then she added a fuchsia $14 belt. The ho-hum coat perked up immediately. Kathryn's point made: Color is powerful.

We both craved an Italian silk Moschino blouse, very pricey at $168. "It's about buying things that you love. It's about buying things that you'll wear and there are things you'll spend some money on." For her, it's the designer Lanvin.

Kathryn tips:

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