Conrad mixes it up for 'Style'

During her five years of reality-TV stardom on The Hills, Lauren Conrad says she never once repeated herself when it came to the outfits she wore.

She won't make the same claim regarding retakes of scenes in a show that was, at least in theory, unscripted and unrehearsed.

But her wardrobe choices, she stresses, were fresh every day.

"Add it all up, and that's a lot of different looks over the years," she says with pride.

Now Conrad, who has parlayed TV fame into dual careers as a clothing designer and bestselling author, is letting everyone in on her "secret" to how it is done.

It's possible, she says, for anyone to have a new outfit and look every day, even if the clothes don't include deep pockets.

She knows whereof she speaks. "When I started filming The Hills, I didn't have any money, so it was especially difficult," she says. "I was making my Forever 21 wardrobe stretch a long way."

Her secret (which really isn't a secret so much as a strategy that people often lose sight of) is spelled out in the recently published Lauren Conrad Style, a pragmatic style guide written with Elise Loehnen, editor at large of Lucky magazine.

Simply put, you can get a lot of mileage from having "key pieces" in your closet, a handful of comfortable "wear-to-death" items that can be adapted into a multitude of looks.

"That's definitely a main point in the book," Conrad says. "I think it's very important to organize your closet and to say, 'I have these key items, and now I can build around them.' Otherwise, things just get piled up, and it gets very overwhelming, and you can feel like, even though you have plenty of clothes, you have nothing to wear."

In the book, she illustrates how to execute this game plan, wearing the same little black dress in a series of photos that range from "bohemian" to "preppy" to "edgy." The key piece, the dress, doesn't change. But the looks vary dramatically because of the choices she makes with shoes, a slip, a jacket, jewelry and so on. The only limit, she says, is your imagination.

Conrad decided to write a style book after going on book tours for her first two "L.A. Candy" novels, which were New York Times bestsellers.

"Many of the questions I got when I met fans had to do with style," she says. "Everything from where I shop to where I got a specific item to how I do my hair. Coming off these tours, it occurred to me that maybe I should put it all down into a book."

Mind you, even Conrad has made a few missteps. She has been pictured in tabloid "What Was She Thinking?"-type roundups.

"The funny thing is every time I ended up on the fashion-police lists, it was for an outfit that I absolutely loved," she says. "That just goes to show that style is an opinion."

You can minimize the risk when trying a daring new look. Unless you're as fearless as Lady Gaga, unveiling a dress made out of meat, for example, it is a good idea to take a new outfit for a test-drive "when the pressure is low," before wearing it on a first date, Conrad says.

"I understanding wanting to dress different for a special event," Conrad says. "But going out with a group of friends is a good opportunity to try something different. You can experiment when not everyone is watching."

Here are some other budget-conscious style tips from Conrad:

"One thing we talk about in the book is ways to stay on a budget," she says. "One way is to test-drive trends. So instead of spending a lot of money on a trendy item, maybe you go for the budget version first. Like, if maybe you wanted a leather bomber, maybe go for the faux-leather version first and then, if you love it, then it's OK to invest in that piece.

"We also spend a lot of time talking about fit, particularly how to flatter different body types. And one suggestion we make is to use a tailor. Off-the-rack clothing isn't made to fit everybody. So it's worth going to the tailor and spending $20 to have an inch taken off or have it taken in at the waist."