You're sitting at a cafÃ©, drinking a latte, feeling good about how you look: sleek hair, hot dress, trendy accessories, great shoes. You feel stylish, well put-together, confident.
In walks a girl, about your age, dressed far more casually than you - flats to your heels, pants to your more glamorous dress - but one look at her and you suddenly feel overdone, fussy, almost tacky.
Why is it that no matter how 'chic' you put yourself together, there are always other women who seem to be born 'expensive'? Whose clothes seem to reflect 'pricey' even though there's no label in sight. Who spell effortless while you, somehow, just look like you're trying too hard? Is it genetic, like the diabetes gene, or is there a secret that the rest of the world is in on - minus you?
The answer lies somewhere in between. Yes, some women are just mysteriously born alluring (think Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Angelina Jolie), but the important thing to remember is that they weren't born rich! What they did learn are some essential rules that make the difference between classic and contrived. We culled what you need to know.
THE BEAUTY FILES
What permanently gorgeous women know that you don't… Moisturiser is your best friend- and it needs to be on every single, miniscule inch of you. It's like a prayer, the one thing you don't skip whether you're happy, sad, dumped, hungover, exhausted, partying, whatever.
The world's best groomed women rely on less: less makeup, less products, less drama, because they prime their skin to be one of their best assets. That means giving everything - yes, even rarely-seen areas like your lower back-an intense daily moisturising session. It means focussing on your heels and knees, elbows and shoulders. It means firm, clear, unlined skin; it means eye cream under your eyes and night cream before you crash.
Stock up on Sunblock: a tan is sexy, a burn isn't. But that's not why you need sunscreen: true sun damage shows up as fine lines and less-than-flawless skin; truly nourished, protected skin has an evenness and glow that only comes with being pathological about sun damage.
Fragrance rules: that means never running out of alcohol-free deodorant and a subtle-but-sexy fragrance. Subtle is the keyword here: there's nothing chic about a perfume that announces its presence five minutes before you do.
Hair do's: Think of five classic women you admire, and zero in on their hair. Chances are none of them have over-done, fussy styles. But hairstyle alone isn't the key to looking like a direct descendent of Princess Di. The bottomline of a chic mane: quality. That means glossy, thick, zero-frizz hair. How you get that: spend time, effort and yes, a little money on giving your hair deep conditioning and nourishment.
Experts insist you condition every time you wash; make leave-in conditioner part of your beauty arsenal; and above all, sleep in a deep-conditioning mask at least once a week. Another stylist tip to internalise: when getting a hair colour job, never go more than three shades lighter or darker than the colour you were born with. With most Indian skintones, another good bet is to colour your hair black (or deep, dark brown). Wondering why you should pay good money to get virtually your own natural shade out of a bottle? You'll get the answer the instant you see a glossier, more 'finished' version of yourself in the mirror. When it comes to style, pick classy, with a modern twist: get face flattering bangs or of-the-moment layers, but without getting an entirely 'now' hairdo that will need to be reinvented every season.
Nails: We know ditching the red varnish may seem too high a price to pay but it's an absolute no-go for classic style. There's nothing loud or arresting about 'expensive' women-they don't do drama, they do style. Mile long talons, black varnish and-gasp-nail art will just have to leave your lexicon. Think well-buffed, sleek nails with a French manicure for dressed-down chic and cool metallics or classic shades for dressed-up glam. Go bare-or at least clean-on the makeup front. Peach blush, gloss and mascara are your beauty best friends; ditch foundation (with your new, flawless skin you won't need it) but do stash some concealer in your bag.
Here's a fashion oxymoron: To be always in style, you've got to give up being trendy. As every truly chic woman has learnt, trends come and go; timeless stays.
Put a fabulous tailor on speed dial: can't figure why Angelina's plain black pants and vest look uber cool while your high-end splurge doesn't quite manage? There's nothing more chic than an outfit tailored to your shape.
Doesn't mean you ditch store bought - but it does mean you give up the habit of buying unless you're 100% satisfied with the drape. That means putting back on the rack the jacket that will 'fit like a dream once you lose those last two kilos'!
Pick natural fabrics that flow: you're almost never going to find a truly chic woman who wears polyester. For truly welldressed women, material texture and fall is everything. Cotton, linen, pure wool or cashmere, silk-they're suited to Indian climate, which means you stay cool (top requirement in the looking-chic stakes); they drape well, which flatters any shape; they have fabulous finish, which means never looking OTT or tacky. Buy quality even when buying basics: it tells in the wash and wear of your clothes; the fit and fall of even a simple pair of track pants; the cut of a vest. It helps you look as chic on the 10th wear of a particular outfit as you did on the first.
Ruthlessly acquaint yourself with your body - every A-lister we've ever spoken to (and we've spoken to a lot) has issues with their body: flawless figures seem a figment of our imagination. Chic women aren't always the ones with the best bods-though fitness ranks high on their priorities- what they do have is a ruthless awareness of their flaws and how to cloak them. That's part of why they won't wear trendy; not every trend flatters every shape. They wear what works on them, and make that a signature, trendy or not.
They make or break the outfit, and tell the wannabes from the well-heeled.
Shoes & Bags: All shoes are not born alike, so buy the best you can afford. Finishing, fit and quality of leather will all show up in the long run; not to mention comfort, when you've been standing at a cocktail do for three hours straight. Go for classic, sexy styles and invest in at least one very well-fitting pair of boots.
Ditto for bags: don't buy the 'IT' style of the season, pick the eternal faves that have sustained season after season (think Birkin or Lady Dior). Not buying luxe? Pick bags that are clean and fuss-free: it's the detailing which tells quality from inexpensive, so pick styles that don't have too much fuss and you'll be fine.
Bling: Diamonds, it goes without saying, are your best friend but that doesn't mean other things aren't. The secret is in how you wear them rather than how many you wear: a dramatic crystal ring is just as chic as a solitaire if worn right.