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Having a hard time dressing without stressing about debt? Four inspired undergrads demo how it’s done.

Natalie Chapman

Natalie Chapman

Second-year undergraduate majoring in Biochemistry and Commerceat Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick

“I have a very limited budget for clothes but have somewhat expensive taste. I have learned how to find second-hand clothes that are well suited to my body type and that look timeless. The camel coat I’m wearing was given to me by my mother. She didn’t think it was ‘in’ anymore, and I fell in love with the cut and the style. It was hand made in Italy. This outfit basically sums up my attitude towards both style and shopping: You don’t need a lot of money to dress with personality!”

Headband: $1.50, Thrift store
Turtleneck: $3, Thrift store
Coat: $0, Hand-me-down from mother
Jeans: $35, American Eagle Outfitters
Boots: $90, Guess

Clothes spending per semester: $250

Natalie's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Classic movie stars “My vintage vibe is due to the clean, classic lines of the turtleneck and the cut of the coat. My makeup is inspired by Audrey Hepburn from her movie Funny Face.”
Modern accents “I balance the vintage look with a messy bun, skinny jeans, and edgy boots, which give it a modern feel.”
Magazines “I look at the trends in Vogue and Elle to see what their statement pieces are and what trends they are embracing. These might include box-cut jackets, graphic prints, or colour-blocking. Then I rifle away in my closet for pieces that could be used to incorporate that.”

Affordable style tips

“I only purchase items that are new if I really love them or if they are well-made basics, such as plain undershirts. Otherwise, I combine pieces that I’ve acquired over time that may not look special on their own, and make a completely unique outfit.”

  • Start building slowly: Look at your wardrobe as your portfolio. You can build it over time instead of all at once.
  • Look in your parents’ closets: “The camel coat I’m wearing was given to me by my mother. She didn’t think it was ‘in’ anymore, and I fell in love with the cut and the style. It was hand made in Italy!”
  • Never buy full-price items: If you have patience, the item of clothing will go on sale, and you can buy it for a fraction of its original price.
  • Create a mood board on Pinterest: It will help you create an aesthetic so that you have a better idea of what to look for when you shop for yourself. You can even add quotes that inspire you.

Fraser Tripp

Fraser Tripp

Fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario

“My winter wardrobe consists of very few pieces, and they’re all new within about six months, aside from my coat and boots. My favourite item is my denim jacket, which I’ve worn pretty much every day this year. On the really cold days of the winter, I layer it with a peacoat. I get a lot of flak for this outfit from my friends for donning what they call a ‘Canadian tux.’ But I also get a lot of compliments so I’m sticking by it.”

Button-down: $30, Topman
Peacoat: $175, Topman
Jean jacket: $75, Queen Street West shop
Sweater: $25, Stroked Ego
Jeans: $45, Normal
Boots: $15, Salvation Army

Clothes spending per semester: $250

Fraser's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Being a trendsetter “I make my jean jacket work with pretty much every outfit I own. It’s a trend that I can lay claim to once it catches on in Ottawa.”
Preppy style “I’m not wearing polo shirts, but I create my own preppy style with sweaters and button-down shirts.”
Men’s fashion blogs “As part of my job at a local clothing store, I appear on two different television spots. Because of this, I follow fashion so I know what the latest trends are and can speak to them. Fashion blogs have inspired me to make the latest trends my own.”

Affordable style tips

“Miranda from the The Devil Wears Prada said it best: ‘Florals? For spring? Ground breaking.’ I would suggest that students worry less about seasonal trends. I personally wear florals all year and make it work.”

  • If you buy pricier items, make sure you can wear them with anything: “I get a tinge of guilt when I buy things that are expensive, but I know it is worth it because they last for a long time.”
  • Choose pieces that work with outfits you already own: If you can safely say that the item in question will work with at least three or four outfits, it’s worth buying.
  • Buy quality footwear: If you buy shoes that are lower quality at a cheaper price, they will last you two months instead of two years. You’ll end up spending more money in the long run.

Lindsay Roberts

Lindsay Roberts

Third-year undergraduate majoring in Film and Television Production at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario

“I love this outfit because it can be worn to any event, such as a party, hanging out with friends, or at school. It is special to me because I spent the day with my mom, and we picked out the entire outfit together. I like to follow trends that are stylish and comfortable, such as pairing short skirts with knee-high socks or yoga pants with a jean jacket.”

Necklace: $8, Forever 21
Tank top: $4, Forever 21
Skirt: $8, H&M
Socks: $6, Garage
Boots: $12, Forever 21

Clothes spending per semester: $200

Linday's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Other people “I tend to look at what my friends are wearing. If I admire their style, I’ll try it out to decide if it works for me or not. I don’t judge clothing based on trends. If it works with my body, I’ll wear it.”
Having fun “I go to the mall with the goal of having fun. If I go shopping with a specific thing in mind, I find that it makes me stressed out and insecure.”

Affordable style strategies

“I follow certain trends, but not all. I have found ways to keep up with the latest trends while not spending a fortune.”

  • Use thrift-store buyback programs, like the one at Plato’s Closet: Many second-hand stores buy gently-used, brand-name, trendy clothing: “If I bring in the clothes that I don’t want, I’ll get 30 percent back on the items they choose to sell in their store. Last time I visited Plato’s Closet, I received 60 dollars cash back for my clothes and used it to buy new clothing from the store.”
  • Take an inventory of clothes you already own: Before shopping for anything new, ask yourself, “Is this something I really need?” If you already have several tank tops, perhaps you can decide to make do.
  • Be smart while shopping: Visit several different stores and compare prices before you buy something.

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Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Student Health 101. She has also edited collegiate textbooks for Cengage Learning and creating language learning materials for the US Department of Defense, libraries, and other educational institutions. Her BA in Spanish is from the University of New Hampshire.