Status labels aren’t for everyone. Most real-world students just can’t afford them, while others find them politically taboo. But whether protesting capitalist atrocities or merely watching their wallets, some people just have a knack for penny-pinching in style, as proven by the variety show of dress-for-less styles seen on college campuses. Such fashionable thrift can take many forms, as students scour venues from Wal-Mart to Loehmann’s and Off Fifth in search of finds. Some girls prefer to cling to their lost youth, searching children’s departments for nifty Ts. But the most most popular place for ferreting out fashion at a price—and the one that offers the greatest opportunity for creativity—is on the used clothing circuit. College students across the country routinely comb through the goods at yard sales, peruse the piles at trendy vintage shops and hit that all-purpose student’s retailer, the Salvation Army.

"What I like about thrifting—especially in a place like Charlottesville—is that everything hasn’t been picked over and marked up like it would be in New York or L.A.," says University of Virginia senior Kelly Powers. "It’s like an Easter egg hunt: You have to go through tons of junk until you find a real score."

Powers, who says she has uncovered spanking-new $3 Ferragamo shoes, $1 Pucci scarves, $4 Lilly Pulitzer sundresses, $6 Brooks Bros. business suits and even a $3 Hermès bag at the local SPCA’s annual rummage sale. The 10-day event has become so popular, drive-through service is offered to donors unloading their loot. "The prices have gone up over the years," she says. "Now skirts are $1, and coats are $10 instead of $5." But the sale is not her only treasure trove. Powers, who first discovered the joys of thrift shops while in high school, knows that vintage is an international emporium, and is counting on a close friend studying in Slovakia to return from her semester abroad with some flea-market gems. She knows her friend has a good eye because, "We shopped together at the flea markets in Italy and France."

Culling her fashion inspiration from Pippy Longstocking and Punky Brewster, Oberlin College student Sarah Updegraff heads straight to Goodwill, garage sales and thrift stores when she needs a little sprucing up. She usually drops between $5 and $20—preferably at the low end of that self-restrictive scale—for skirts to wear over jeans, off-the-shoulder sweaters and head scarves. But thrifty doesn’t mean boring. Bright polyester-blend T-shirts "that age well and have cheesy sayings" are her favorites. "I will spend maybe $8 on a good one," says the biopsychology major.Updegraff wears one of her finds, a used J. Crew jacket, almost every day, but says she never would havepaid the original ticket price for it. She’s also inclined to make her own handbags, which suit her needs and her fancy perfectly. Her sisters provide secondhand lipsticks. "I like to express myself through what I wear, but I think it’s disgusting that people will spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothes when so many people are starving," Updegraff says. "It’s also uncreative. Make it yourself!"

University of Wisconsin entomology major Blaize Naasz agrees that a girl’s dress is her calling card, andopts for children’s clothes to distinguish her style. "I hate looking at people who all look alike," she says. "I have problems telling them apart."

Countless other collegians are equally adventurous. Scores of students at State University of New York atPurchase wouldn’t dream of buying full-priced clothes. Michael Cesario, head of the graduate program in design and technology, has seen his share of Chanel jackets turned into vests with frayed edges and personalized secondhand shirts. "For these students, thrifting and reconfiguring vintage clothes is much more interesting [thanbuying new]," he explains. "Oddly, it’s not so much artistic as it is intellectual. The way they dress is a commentary on their lives."

Costume sales are held regularly on campus to cast off no-longer-stage-worthy items for 50 cents or so apop. Then imagination kicks into gear. Is a camouflage T-shirt with sewn-on gold lamé epaulets a commentary on the war on Iraq or something else? Tough to call. "I had a kid walk into class one day and say, ‘Hey, look. I’m Pat Nixon.’" Cesario recalls. "And she was. But she was wearing her little dress over pajama pants and sneakers." A male student showed up for one of Cesario’s classes wearing a pillbox with a Plexiglas shield. The makeshift milliner referred to his handiwork as "Jackie Thinks Twice."

Plain, black, affordable clothes may sound accessible enough, but James Creque, a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. ,has trouble finding them. "There aren’t a lot of small miscellaneous stores here, so I pretty much stopped going shopping," he says. "My favorite shirt is the black button-down I made for costuming."Creque, who has an all-black wardrobe and the e-mail address "itgetsworse," makes light of the local shopping scene. "Now I just buy toys like a digital camera and a Dell computer instead of clothes," he says. "But I didspend $150 before Christmas on a few shirts, a jean jacket and a few pairs of jeans."

Like most of the people he "tends to loiter around," Creque is primarily concerned with how somethinglooks. Brand names are, at best, of secondary importance; they don’t carry much clout with him or his friends."They wouldn’t buy something [just because it was] from J. Crew," he says. "It has to look nice — nice, of course,being entirely subjective."—Rosemary Feitelberg


Where do fashionistas come from? Sometimes, from the hallowed halls of academia. WWD’s collegiate trek revealed numerous students who live, work and breathe fashion—and who buy a whole lot of the stuff.

Yale junior Vanessa Lawrence discovered thejoys of fashion in the seventh grade, after her bestfriend gave her a copy of Seventeen. Lawrence swiftly graduated to Vogueand, she says, “it all just snowballed from there.” She delineates her middle and high school years in style phases (seventh grade: Betsey Johnson), and since high school she has interned at Glamour, Halston and Vogue, where she spent 10 weeks last summer and kept tabs onmiles of vintage Ralph Lauren and got to assist on location for a large-scale Bruce Weber shoot.

Working closely with Amy Jain, vice president of external affairs of the student-run Yale EntrepreneurialSociety (YES), Lawrence and fellow fashion-smitten Elis Katherine Capelluto and Ella Gorgla this year inaugurated“Seventh on Yale,” a lecture series that featured Valerie Steele and André Leon Talley. Anna Wintour and Michael Kors are on the wish list for next year.

Despite her Ivy workload, Lawrence, an art history major, woke up at 6 a.m. daily during the recent fall showsto check out the previous day’s looks on She also made the two-hour train trek to New York duringfashion week, penning a witty piece for the Yale Daily Newsabout spotting “fashion royalty” (Carine Roitfeldand Suzy Menkes) at Bryant Park.Lawrence hits the summer sales in Paris, where her parents rent an apartment for two weeks every year.“We stay in the sixth arrondissement, so it’s perfect shopping,” she explains. “Vanessa Bruno is nearby. So isPaul & Joe. And Cacharel—I love their stuff ever since Clements and Ribeiro took over.” Also on her list areColette, The Bon Marché (for Petit Bateau T-shirts), Miu Miu and even a gardening store on the Palais Royal forperfect canvas totes. She admits to having a bag fetish, and for her birthday she got a small Takashi Murakamicherry blossom Louis Vuitton from Mom and Dad. Lawrence loves just about everything Jacobs does, and “would wear Marc by Marc all the time, if I could afford to.”

Also at the head of the fashion class is Katie Peek, a Princeton freshman. Peek started early, spending thesummer after her sophomore year of high school in the beauty department at Glamour. At the tender age of 16,she imagined a summer of high glamour. “I thought I’d be hanging out with Tobey McGuire and Charlie Sheen every night,” Peek jokes. But she soon learned the reality was quite different when she was sent to the sample closet to sort through troves of mascara. Undeterred by the dearth of celebrity contact, she then interned at Nylon and most recently at Radar. She also pitched—and won—a first-person column in Elle Girl. Editor in chief Brandon Holley agreed to run Peek’s “Princeton Diaries” after reading a sheaf of witty e-mails the coed had exchanged with her mom.

Like Lawrence, Peek is a fanatic. She also logs onto and reads a slew of fashion magazines.She counts Roitfeld among her style influences, calls John Galliano “a driving force,” and can’t wait forthe day when cocktail parties outnumber frat blowouts so that she can wear dresses from Roland Mouret,Lanvin and Proenza Schouler. The list of stores where she gets “very involved” includes downtown New Yorkboutiques such as Geraldine, Mayle, Kirna Zabête and Martin.

Peek speaks with the jaded sarcasm of a seasoned editor—particularly in her assessment of her fellowstudents. “Girls do dress well in tons of Polo and Lilly Pulitzer,” she explains. “But there’s no deviation fromthat whatsoever. And oh God, Burberry is like a virus!” But while Peek has a fashionista’s opinion on everything,her ultimate goal is to be a novelist—and not necessarily one who writes about fashion. “I don’t want toturn into Lauren Weisberger,” she says, referring to the former Vogue assistant’s thinly veiled memoirs ofworking for Anna Wintour.Unlike Lawrence and Peek, Tulane sophomore Ashley Sands isn’t headed for the glossy offices of a fashionmagazine. She is intent on law school, preferably Georgetown, Columbia or NYU. Still, for her, fashion is a way of life. After all, her father is Glenn Sands, who owns Global Inc., a company whose holdings include Coach.

“Fashion is not really an interest: it’s more or less the way I grew up,” says Sands, whose most recent acquisition is a pair of baby blue New Balance sneakers. Sands has amassed an enviable collection of accessories: aChristian Dior “Addict” bag, several Louis Vuitton bags and, one of her favorites, the Gucci bamboo shoes.

In fact, the same skills that Sands intends to exploit in a law career can also come in handy when huntingdown that hot item. “I’m stubborn, and I like to argue,” she says. When it came time for her sorority’s formal lastyear, the bamboo shoes were a must-have. “I went to the Gucci store and begged the guy to put me at the topof the list,” she recalls. “I just convinced him, so when they came he sent them to me.”—Meenal Mistry

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

To Read the Full Article

Tap into our Global Network

Of Industry Leaders and Designers

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus