Ask CF: How Do I Keep Up with Trends on a College Budget?

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How to keep up with trends on a college budget

Welcome to our new column, Ask CF! Every two weeks, we select a reader fashion question and answer it here on the site. Do you have a specific fashion question for us? Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn how to send it our way!

After our first Ask CF post, we received a bunch of great questions from our readers. This week, we’re going to answer one that most every college girl can relate to.

Ask CF Question

Dear CF,

As broke college students, my friends and I have trouble with fashion blogs and magazines. It seems that no one takes the time to find cheap versions of trends. Even the bargain issues of magazines (which come very rarely) aren’t within our budget. We don’t make a lot of money, the little we do make goes to school, and we just can’t afford to splurge on trends that will pass within a few months. Please, CF! How do we keep up with trends and still have money left over?

Sincerely, Chic and Cheap

Our Response

Dear Chic and Cheap,

I loved your question because I believe it’s one we can all relate to. Here at CF, we are always letting our readers know about the latest trends (some of the summer 2011 trends we have covered recently include mesh tanks, cropped tops, hair and nail polish trends, sheer polka dots, and snake print). But with all of these trends popping up constantly, us college students cannot afford to switch up our wardrobes every season. To help with your dilemma, I have written down a few of my own tips that have helped me save money while still maintaining my style. I hope they come in handy for you as well!

Sincerely, Jessica

1. Know your personal style.

Knowing your personal style is crucial when faced with all the trends each season. Is your style girly? Classic? Trendy? Quirky? Or do you like to mix it up? Whatever your style may be, keep it in mind when you shop! You need to understand what you love to wear so that when you see a new trend, you won’t fall into the trap of wearing it just because everyone else is. Knowing your style will keep you from buying things that you’ll later regret.

2. Assess the trend.

This is probably the most important tip of them all. Before trying a trend, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I like this trend? Is it because everyone else seems to like it? If the answer is yes, it goes without saying that this might be a trend worth skipping.
  • Does this trend fit within my personal style and the items I already have in my wardrobe?
  • Do I feel comfortable and confident when wearing this trend?
  • Has this trend been around before? If it shows up season after season (florals for spring, anyone?) you can bet it will continue to be around for a while.
  • Do I see myself wearing this trend 3 months from now? How about 6? I’m a big fan of the cost-per-wear method when shopping. If there’s a trend that I know I will continue to wear season after season, I won’t feel so bad about making the purchase. But if I am uncertain of its staying power, I will either skip it or buy it only if I find it super cheap.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, ask yourself this question: Do I absolutely love it? If I absolutely love a trend, I won’t care if it is “so last season” six months down the line.

For more on this, see our post: How to Decide if You Should Skip a Trend.

3. Bargain shop for trendy items.

Don’t spend extra money on trendy pieces that you will only wear for a season or two. Forever 21, H&M, Target, and other similar stores are great places to try out new trends without going broke.

Also, don’t forget about stores like Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and Ross. While these stores can be overwhelming and can require patience, with a bit of luck, you can find great pieces here for very cheap. Just this week I found an awesome cropped summer sweater at Marshalls for only $12.99. I had already decided that I loved this trend for summer, but when I tried one on that cost $40, I couldn’t justify spending that much on half a sweater. You can only imagine my excitement when I found a similar one for 1/3 of the price.

Another way to bargain shop for trendy pieces is to go thrift shopping. Thrifting also takes luck and patience but can be worth it in the end. Most trends cycle throughout the years so there is always a chance to find previously worn items that are on-trend once again.

4. Invest in wardrobe essentials.

When you have a wardrobe full of classic pieces, you can easily add on a trendy and inexpensive top or accessory to incorporate the trends of the moment and transform your look without spending a lot.

It is much easier and cheaper to pick up some trendy accessories and maybe a few inexpensive tops, rompers, skirts, shorts, or dresses and pair them with your existing basics. This way, you can get the look of a trend without sacrificing a put-together look.

5. DIY.

Like packing a lunch from home versus eating out, making a clothing item or accessory yourself can be much cheaper than buying it already made. Even if you don’t know how to sew, there are still many DIY projects that you can do with a little creativity. To learn some great DIY tips, make sure to check out our DIY section, and look out for our DIY expert Jill‘s previous and future posts.

Do you have a fashion question? Send it our way!

Is there something in your closet that you can’t seem to figure out how to wear? Do you have an event coming up and need an outfit idea? Do you have a specific fashion conundrum you need help with?

If you have a question you want to see answered in this column, just send it on over via email to askcf @ and one day you might see your question answered right here on the site!

Please note: We get A LOT of email and unfortunately we will not be able to respond to every single question. However, we will read through each question and then decide which ones will be most helpful to the most readers. Thank you for your understanding.

What do you think?

How do you save money while keeping up with the trends? Have you ever used some of these tips before? Have they worked? Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share? Please comment below to let us know what you think! 

15 thoughts on “Ask CF: How Do I Keep Up with Trends on a College Budget?”

  1. check out plato’s closet. You can sell them your clothes or buy VERY cheap cute clothes there. its the best thing ever.

  2. A lot of people at my school say that they find great things in thrift stores, but I live in a pretty small town and go to school in an even smaller one. The range is usually pretty limited to No Boundaries (ahh, good times in Wal*Mart) up to Old Navy. Every now and then a Tommy polo will pop up out of nowhere but never anything that I’d clutch my chest in awe of (which I do a lot when I see something I love).

    I’d love to thrift, but it takes a lot of frequenting one store before I find that treasure I wasn’t looking for.

  3. Another great way to shop, spend less, and STILL get some good deals on clothes are thrift stores and yard sales. It does take patience but with the thrifting and yard sale hopping that I’ve done so far this summer, I bought an H&M dress that was on SALE at a thrift store for only $3. I got a F21 leopard print bubble skirt for $5 at a yard sale, and an H&M top for $2.50 at another thrift store.

    At least in my area, a lot of people are donating brand clothes at thrift stores so I always find Express, F21, H&M, GAP etc clothing for a really, LOW price. Just need to know where to scout. Usually, I shop at the same thrift stores over and over because they tend to get the same supply of brands from donations.

  4. Love this piece, last night I just purchased the All You magazine that is sold at Walmart. They just did a similar story, they took an article of clothing (pencil skirt, tunic, slouchy vest) and showed how to wear it for spring/summer but also incorporate it into fall/winter fashion later!

    Love this gals!

  5. You can also try thrifting. A lot of these trends are just recycled (70’s anyone?) and can be found in secondhand/thift stores for an even better price.

  6. I usually shop for trends at Forever 21 and H and M. 🙂 I love going there for clothes, shoes, and jewelry. The cheaper, the better but the quality does suck sometimes, so I go shop at Nordstroms.

  7. I don’t go to Forever 21 for trends. While they have many pieces that mimic hot designer trends, they are constantly in a lawsuit over this. They’ve stolen from 50-something designers. I’m not at all saying you should buy the real thing either, but European-based stores are more reliable if you’re looking to find trend-inspired clothes for a cheap price, due to copyright laws THERE that we don’t have here.

  8. Shop in places that are unexpected — your mom/sister/grandma/friend/roomie/gay bff/boyfriend’s closets, resale shops, flea markets, online (etsy, bonanza, shopgoodwill, ebay, etc.), and keep up with fashion blogs devoted to budget conscious style:

    Also, save your money up for the investment pieces. If you scale back on lattes, read magazines and borrow movies for free at the library, and walk instead of driving or taking public transport, you’ll be able to afford that (barely used) Yurman ring or LV Speedy you’ve been dreaming about (from smart sites like Yoogi’s closet or Luxury Exchange of course) in no time!

  9. I’m on the broke side too…yay for being in college/going into college!

    My favorite thing to do is wear things in multiple ways. Like, a dress can also be a skirt if you put another top over it (including a crop top, which is one of CF’s summer trends), or a top if you put a skirt over it (a long, full skirt over a mini-dress works great) :D.

    Look at the clearance section of websites (Alloy, Delias, and Torrid all have good ones) for trends that are repeating for a season and ALWAYS google coupon codes before you order online – you can usually score free shipping or 15% off or something.

    Plus, don’t write off stores like Target, Walmart, Sears, or K-Mart. You never know when you will find something cute :3

  10. I personally don’t have a terribly hard time trying to keep up with trends on a small budget. You don’t have to follow every trend, and it’s about making what you already have work for you! DIY and thrifting are super fun, so I’m glad they were included here. When all else fails, “shop” your mom’s, sister’s and friend’s closets. Trading with others is a fun and cheap way to mix up your daily style. 🙂


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