Back to fashion: pick up a pick-me-up for less than $20

Later this week, we'll be talking about fashion investments -- pieces that are priced to demolish your monthly budget but will stay in your rotation of wear for years.

But today, we're thinking about the total opposite: call them pick-me-up buys. It's been widely reported that this recession has failed to live up to the history of lipstick economies (traditionally, during a downturn, lipstick sales rise as women who might normally treat themselves to a handbag or an outfit scale back).

Some attribute the lack of lipstick effect to shoppers exhibiting stricter self-control than ever. It should also be taken into account that there are far fewer women trotting around in shock-and-awe fuschia lip color than there were in the shoulder-pad-fabulous 90s.

In any case, the moral behind the phenomenon still applies: when an urge to shop collides with a need for frugality, a cheap, pretty, surprisingly useful purchase is the perfect solution.

Here are our top 10 pick-me-up buys -- each under $20.
It happens every season -- designers bust out a color that you suddenly can't imagine how you lived without. The problem? Their busting-out medium usually consists of a coat or a shoe that costs hundreds of dollars. The other problem? That same color you're suddenly dying to wear may very well seem ridiculous to you when next season rolls around. So the undeniably pragmatic place to put trendy shades is on your nails -- and for my money, the smooth, long-lasting formulas from Essie rule. This $17 set of minis will keep your digits on-trend.

Many guys I know -- none of them the fussy salon-product type -- swear by these grooming products (available at and at Target). And I can see why -- with components like sandalwood and mint, they're definitely a step up from the chemical-laden products in the same aisle.

The last three winters have made it official: tights aren't going away. In fact, they're only getting bigger -- where nude and black once dominated, brights and patterns have broken in. Hue's styles are affordable, fashion-forward, durable enough that you can count on rocking your plum and teal legwear indefinitely -- and so eye-catching that no one will notice you've been topping them with the same black dress all season long.

The other way to make sure no one notices you're wearing out that same black dress? A daring hair accessory. Forever 21's insanely cheap collection covers every trend, from practical to whimsical.

Yeah, I know -- if you want to make a note to yourself these days, it's easy enough to tap it into your Blackberry. I'm still going to suggest the notebooks Ernest Hemingway used for two reasons. One, they're classic and indulgent. Two, I'm willing to bet that 70% of the time you make a memo on your cell phone, you either forget how to get back to it or forget it altogether.

Fred Flare's happy gadget goodies are as functional as they are smile-inspiring. Consider the Tetran Headphone Winder, which will shave the five minutes you spend unraveling your snarled earbuds right off your commute. Or the USB Tulip Hub, which eliminates desk-cord mess. At $22, it breaks our under-$20 rule, but certainly not the bank.

T-shirts are universally accessible: you can wear them anywhere, and you can buy them anywhere. But let's face it, you're going to feel less clever in that ironic tee from Urban Outfitters each time you pass another person wearing it. Treat yourself to something more original with a tee from Threadless. The inventive shirts come in men's and women's sizes and are all sold as limited editions -- so you can drastically reduce your odds of disappointing tee-twin run-ins.

If you're stuck in a shirt-and-tie dress code, one of the few things you can do to set yourself apart from everyone else on your floor is to get some original links. "Vintage" has a nice ring to it, and an even nicer price -- on Etsy, retro styles start at, um, 20 cents. Bonus points if you can find a throwback pair with your initial, which brings me to my next recommendation...

Don't laugh. Every time I pull one of these out of my purse, someone asks me where I got them (which can be awkward, since I'm usually about to blow my nose). What's fabulous about monogrammed tissues? Only a totally wealthy person would think of them, but at $1.80 a pack, anyone can afford them.

It's still the original instant wardrobe updater. And thankfully, it comes in hundreds of colors besides fuschia. If you're going to splurge, you might as well opt for one in entertaining packaging, like this little Cargo number.
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