Don't buy this, buy that: Designer vs. non-designer sunglasses, cashmere sweaters and more

Fall and back-to-school time means more than just backpacks and school supplies. No matter how many years out of school, the desire for new shoes, fall clothes, or something cozy around the house is difficult to overcome. And so are the ads, commercials and fat fall issues of magazines that taunt me with new hot trends.

In fact: I once accepted a challenge to go three months without looking at a single magazine or website that covered material objects, to see if the desire for new things would go away. It did -- I really lost all desire to shop -- but I didn't make it much past the three-month end point before I returned to old habits.

No matter what your income or consumption patterns, though, there's rarely a reason to overspend on fashion items. Get these designer goods for less:

Buy this:
Modern Home Herringbone Stripe ($24.99 for a three piece set)
Not that: Missoni Home "Jazz" bath towel ($60)

These Missoni towels are like catnip. The bright color combinations and signature weave are unique but exorbitantly priced for something you dry your behind with. Meanwhile, Target's version stopped me cold while shopping one day. Though a little more muted with fewer details, they look stunning hanging on a hook (just the way I saw them in a photo spread of a celebrity home), and are far more practically priced and get the job done.


Buy this: Urban Eyes Polarized ($17.99)
Not that: Ray Ban Aviator ($189)

Lots of folks happily buy inexpensive sunglasses at kiosks, festivals and discount stores, and rightly so. Of all the items to spend money on, sunglasses are perhaps the ones most easily lost and broken. But you don't want to skimp on the UV protection that more expensive glasses often provide. Also, pricier pairs often offer polarization, which reduces glare, so do a little research before buying even cheap lenses. You'll look just as cool and see right through all the posturing.

Cashmere sweater
Buy this: Eddie Bauer Cotton/Cashmere Deep V-Neck ($49.50)
or this: J. Crew Cashmer V-neck Sweater ($145)
Not that: Ralph Lauren Black Label V-neck Cashmere Sweater($475)

Cashmere sweaters come in such a wide range of price points, it's difficult to justify spending more than necessary. Luxury labels like Ralph Lauren are coveted by swank folk; Oprah Winfrey counts it among her favorite things (and sells it at her store in Chicago), but precious few of us have Oprah's money. (Okay, nobody.) Eddie Bauer's version is a blend with just enough cashmere to give that cozy feel and warmth fall cries for. The J. Crew version costs a bit more, but it's a classic style, will last for years and comes in 15 colors.

Buy this: Old Navy black denim legging ($39.50)
Not that: Hudson black denim legging ($154)

The "jegging" is a marriage of the legging and skinny jean. Once I got over the silly name, I realized just how practical and indispensable these things are. Thicker and sturdier than a cotton blend legging means it's better suited to colder climates and fall/winter weather, the denim material fades less quickly, and the extra stretch isn't nearly confining as skinny jeans. Both the luxe and inexpensive versions come in various denim washes, but buy them in black and all anyone will know is that you've got great legs.

Buy this:
Zetta Tall Rain Bootsat Target($24.99)
Not that: Hunter Original Gloss ($125)

Both versions come in bright shiny red. Both will keep your feet dry and make you happier than you ought to be on a wet and dreary day. But the Hunter version, while a classic, means spending $100 more to stomp in puddles. There are many fun, colorful and patterned rain boots out there, but Target's Zetta is the tallest I've found, making these great for torrential downpours and even snowy days, when worn with the right socks.

Trench coat

Buy this:
H&M ($34.95)
Not that: Burberry Classic Trench ($1,295)

I often fall for the old "it's a classic, you'll wear it forever" line, but at $1,295, the original is now and will always be out of reach. Thankfully there is H&M, the IKEA of the apparel world. The color is so close, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference, and there's no need to worry when it ends up in a crumpled ball somewhere on a rainy day.
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