Thursday, July 7, 2011

How to shop like Rachel Zoe on a college student budget (well, almost)

Ok, confession time: I have a lot of really nice clothes. As in, not only could you not tell by looking at me that I'm a broke college student who pinches pennies like it's actually my job, but you might mistake me for someone who has a pretty decent chunk of change. A peek inside my closet reveals a surprising collection of Calvin Klein clothing, as well as other high-end brand names and designers. I mean, OK, maybe it's not quite at Rachel Zoe's level (it's on ANOTHER level, get it? Anyone...? Anyone watch Rachel Zoe? ok. Moving on) but still, it doesn't quite seem to fit the profile of a self-proclaimed broke as hell freebie-loving penny-pinching tightwad such as myself.

So how on earth do I afford this? Well, of course, there's an awful lot of vehement justification - I'm a fashion design major! I NEED expensive, high-end clothing! I support my fellow designers! I'll need these for my future big-girl job! - but I do have a couple of tricks up my sleeve that help me afford my clothing habit. Here are a few tips for those of you who, like me, would rather own a $300 Betsey Johnson jacket than eat real food for a month (THAT JACKET IS SO BEAUTIFUL, you don't even know). Read on!

1. Every time I purchase something, I sell/donate something else. I don't have a lot of stuff in my closet that I never wear. As a fashiony person, I do spend time creating outfits each and every day. My rule is this: If I haven't worn it in 6 months, it might be time to get rid of it. If I haven't worn it in a year, it's DEFINITELY time to get rid of it. I try to make sure that the rotation of my closet is such that every item gets worn on a regular basis, and if something isn't fitting into that rotation, it gets the axe. I sell clothing online via LiveJournal and ebay, to stores like Buffalo Exchange and Plato's Closet, and donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army to receive the full value for the clothing back on my tax return (donating akes quite a while to see money back, but it pays out better, honestly). With the money from selling my other clothes, I can go and buy new things!

2. I spend a lot of time hunting around designer discount stores, thrift stores and consignment shops. I'll be honest - 50% of my closet (and my Calvin Klein collection) is from T.J. Maxx and Marshall's. These stores - and stores like them - sell designer clothing, not knockoffs, for a paltry amount of the original price. Whenever there's an error - the wrong button, an unfurnished edge, or perhaps just an over shipment - these stores receive the goods and sell them to us. You don't always know what you'll find in these stores, but you're bound to find SOMETHING good. I also love thrift shopping, but that's almost another entry entirely. To find something good in a thrift store, you pretty much have to spend all day searching, and know exactly what's a "treasure" and not just someone's old clothing. That said, I've found loads of clothes at the Salvation Army. The nicer an area is, the nicer the castoff clothing is. My boyfriend has been the recipient of several boxes of vintage designer button up shirts, most of which I ended up stealing back from him (for my Calvin Klein collection).

3. I shop at one-day designer sale sites, such as HauteLook. I have an entire entry on the wonderful site that is HauteLook, as well as entry on other sites like it. These websites sell designer and brand name clothing at drastically reduced prices during brief private sales to their members. Membership, although invite-only, is FREE, and the best part is that you get credits for referring your friends (when they make a purchase). Every time a good sale is going on, I get on facebook and bug all of my friends about it, and eventually, someone makes a purchase. Say this happens 5 times - that's $50 for me to spend on whatever I want on the site, entirely for FREE. HauteLook is my favorite place to buy high-end makeup products - they often have Stila, Urban Decay, Vincent Longo and Lorac sales, at around 75% off retail price.

4. I prioritize my spending habits - and abstain from buying frivolous purchases in favor of buying expensive things. Basically, you won't ever see me eating at a restaurant - even at a fast food one (unless, of course, I have coupons or there's a free deal going on, in which case you'll ALWAYS see me there). You won't ever see me buy a drink at a gas station, or even a t-shirt. Why is this? Because all of those $7 burritos, $15 t-shirts, and $2.50 sodas add up, and I use that added up cash to fund a big purchase on a high-quality item that will last for a long time and provide a lot of use. The basic items I do have - camis, t-shirts, etc - were either free or are about 4 years old and cost me less than $5. Everything else in my closet is some frou-frou designer brand name high-end silk crap that I saved up for by eating oatmeal for dinner every night for about 5 weeks straight.

Now, this is not something everyone can do. I mean, I really like oatmeal, and don't mind eating it every night, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority. But the concept works for other things, too. Say you're a foodie, or you like to travel. Or maybe you're a photography major and all of your gear is $500 minimum.
Well, maybe you go without buying clothing (save the absolutely necessities, like underwear) for 6 months. Or you buy yourself one bottle of alcohol and force yourself to drink only that for 6 months instead of going to bars. Then, after you're done living in squalor, you can splurge all that money you didn't spend on an expensive meal, or a plane ticket! Or that additional $500 camera. This is basically what I do - I prioritize the things I spend money on. For me, clothing is at the top of that list - and food is at the bottom. (Did you know oatmeal is only $.95/lb? I buy that shit in bulk. 1lb of oatmeal is a LOT.)

5. I shop smart. I have an entry with tips and tricks for smart clothes shopping. Before I go out shopping, I research coupons and sales. If I'm out and I see something I love that's too expensive, I leave it in the store and if I can't stop thinking about it, I buy it - if I forget about it, I didn't need to buy it at all. I pay close attention to return policies and ALWAYS leave the tags on my clothing - if I haven't worn it within 2 weeks of purchasing, I return it. I always ask if a store gives a student discount (and many do! I'm researching a list for a future entry, but do always ask - and if you have a military ID, many places discount for that too) and although I do try to take advantage of sales, I don't let them take advantage of ME: if a sale or coupon has a minimum purchase value, for example, I ignore it; it usually just makes you purchase more, hoping to get a better "deal," but you probably would've spent less in the first place if you didn't pay attention to the sale/coupon. It's not about how much you SAVED, but rather, how much you SPENT, so don't let the "$15 off!" signs compel you! There's a good chance that the store just marked it up $15 so they could say it's $15 off. Don't be fooled!

Well, there you have it: my tips for maintaining a rabid clothing addiction without spending more than you can afford. Now you know my secret, and if you happen to see me shoveling free samples into my mouth at the local grocery store (this is my lunch 5 days of the week, not even kidding) wearing a silk blouse and $70 jeans - well, now you know why.


P.S. If you're fellow fashion addict, please follow my fashion tumblr! While you're there, follow the BSG tumblr too. Not on tumblr yet? Join the party!


  1. Great advice!
    I'm a photography major student and my gear IS pretty pricey. I do a lot of the things you demonstrated and it has gotten me pretty far. Even if you just do your shopping at TJ MAxx and the thrift stores, that saves you a bundle right there - as long as youre not taking the money you saved and blowing it on something else overpriced.
    Thanks for all the great info!

  2. This is such a great post! I do consider myself a poor and starving student but also someone who puts fashion high on my priority list :) So this is just the kind of information I'm looking for!
    Great blog :)


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