Whenever I advocate being fashionable, people challenge me that fashion isn’t exactly college budget-friendly. In my opinion, those people probably haven’t learned the ways of smart shopping. I hate buying anything at retail price. Any clothing item in my closet can retail from $10 to $280 but I have never paid any more than $180, and that evening gown was an investment. The breakdown can get very detailed, but the average cost of my daily wear and business casual is probably $20 an item. 

So where do I start? At the bottom, of course. Secondhand shops are hopefully old news to everyone here on campus, from the Rice Students Selling Clothing Facebook group to the many Goodwill and thrift stores near campus. While I don’t go thrifting as often as I should, I always manage to find great deals on designer items or unique pieces when I do. I highly recommend searching for coats and jeans at thrift stores before going to the mall.

For the most part, I like to shop in person because I enjoy the experience of going from store to store, trying new things on, and leaving with my new treasure. I always check to see if there’s a student discount, which is sometimes in-store only. LOFT, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, J. Crew. Madewell and Steve Madden all offer student discounts, though they may vary by location.

Some of these discounts apply for your entire purchase, while some, like Club Monaco, apply to only regular-priced items. For this reason, I don’t always use the student discount if I can find a better deal in the sale section. Always go to the sale and clearance sections in a store first. Yes, those are old collections but trends don’t come and go as quickly as you think, and if something looks good on you, it’ll always look good, no matter what the trends are.

I also try to time my shopping trips with sale weekends. Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving (which are separate from Black Friday deals) and winter holiday sales are only a few of the big sale weeks of the year. On top of those sales, if you subscribe to your favorite brands’ mailing lists, you’ll receive emails about their flash in-store sales or “secret” sale weekends. Of course, they’re always having online sales of some sort as well. Admittedly, I window shop way too much and waste so much time, but sometimes I’ve found an item I tried on in-store but didn’t buy because it was too pricey, only to find it on sale online.

Though I prefer to buy clothing in person, there are some stores that are online only and carry really nice pieces. ASOS offers a student discount online and Everlane has very good quality basics that I prefer over Gap’s. Just make sure you read the return policies, as some online stores can get picky and it could be a hassle to return things that don’t fit — a common problem when shopping online.

My shopping philosophy ends with shopping for pieces that are either unique and stand out, or classics that can be combined with many different pieces to give me plenty of outfit combinations to choose from. This is particularly important for students because you want to be able to maximize the number of outfits you can get out of a small closet space and a small budget.

Thanksgiving month is coming up, which is the perfect time to look for great deals, so good luck shopping!