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


Tenzin Yangzom

First-year student in nursing program at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

“This outfit really highlights my personal style. The black and white colors and muted, minimalistic prints are aspects that I believe will adapt to any time period. I can change parts of this outfit to fit any kind of look. This is particularly important for me as a student because versatility prevents me from burning a hole in my pocket.”

$10, H&M
Sweater: $20, H&M
Black jeggings: $20, H&M
Boots: $40, Nordstrom Rack

Clothes spending per semester: $100-200

Tenzin's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Classic combinations “I wear simple and basic clothes that mix well with other pieces. The colors are muted and versatile. I think it is important to buy quality items that will last a long time.”

Being comfortable in your skin “Personally, I don’t like conforming to trends, but I believe that many students gravitate towards them. Because of this, they face the consequences of clothing that [may] fail to work with their body shape.”

“I think students would feel more alert and motivated if they allowed themselves to express their personal style. I feel more awake and ready to start the day when I change out of my pajamas and into an outfit that works well together.”

  • Have a goal: Know what you want to buy before you go shopping. This will help you focus and spend less on extraneous items of clothing.
  • Look for quality clothing: This is key to shopping on a budget. Be sure the items are versatile, comfortable, and will last a long time.
  • Branch out: Don’t be afraid to go into stores you wouldn’t normally go into, such as those with a reputation for selling professional clothing. If you experiment and think outside of the box, you will find some great deals.
  • Buy key pieces: You won’t have the problem of needing to update “last year’s outfit” if you choose your clothes carefully without trends in mind.

nick vasquez

Nicholas Vasquez

Second-year undergraduate, taking online courses, majoring in biology at San Bernardino Valley College in California

“My particular style is all about using items from the past again. I have a vintage look and people often say that I was born in the wrong decade. If there’s one important thing to know  about your clothes: It’s how you wear them.”

Sunglasses: $150, Macy’s
Denim shirt: $70, Levi’s
Corduroy shorts: $40, Urban Outfitters

Clothes spending per semester: $75

Nicholas's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Vintage clothes “I am often referred to as the vintage kid who was born in the wrong era. I listen to classic rock and drive classic cars, like a modern James Dean.”

Being anti-trends “I dislike new fashion trends, how everyone catches on, and how quickly they go out of style.”

Affordable style tips
“Compared with general student fashion, my style is all about using items from the past again while saving a bit too. Instead of buying new clothes, why not reinvent old items? You can also save money that way. Instead of an old feel, why not think of it as a vintage feel?”

  • Reuse and reinvent: Never throw away good clothes because you can always put them to good use. For example, you can wear a new tie or scarf with an old outfit, or you can cut your pants to make them shorts. You never know until you try.
  • Use gift cards for clothes: You may receive cash or gift cards for Christmas or your birthday. With this extra money, buy quality clothes, so you don’t have to spend your own money throughout the year.
  • Use coupons: Before you go shopping, look at sales and deals at the stores you plan to visit. A little extra time goes a long way.

julia scott

Julia Scott

Second year in post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at University of Southern Maine in Portland

“I’m a pre-med student. This is a favorite go-to outfit for my combination lecture and lab day. The button-down shirt and sweater look is so versatile because I can wear it with dress pants if I have a presentation or jeans if I want to be super comfortable. Versatility is our friend when we have things to do, places to go, and unpredictable weather.”

Collared shirt:
$15, H&M
Sweater: $25, J.Crew
Jeans: $25, T.J.Maxx
Boots: $25, T.J. Maxx

Clothes spending per semester: $80–120

Julia's inspiration and affordable style tips

Style inspiration

Italian fashion “I’m inspired by the amount of layering I saw when I studied abroad in Italy in 2010. I think that layering clothes creates a very put-together appearance. It’s easy for me to become tired of wearing the same things day after day, but when I layer clothes, I can create new looks with the same items.”

Simplicity “I like to look at what people are wearing in England and even Japan. I think that both cultures have facets of style that can be more simplistic, which is what I strive for. It’s good to look nice for class, but unless I’m going out to a party or club, there’s no need to be flashy.”

Versatility “I like knowing my outfit is ready for anything. This is important because the lecture halls where I have class are either really hot or really cold. There is no middle ground.”

A mental advantage “I dress up for my really difficult classes or for tests. If I dress up, I feel like I’m bringing my A-game.”

Affordable style strategies

“At my school in Maine, clothes need to be functional, but I think you can strike a balance. Many of my classmates go directly from class to work, and I think there are ways they can dress up.  For example, you can wear a tunic sweater with leggings to class and switch to dress pants for work.”

  • Use your student ID for a discount: You can get an extra 15 percent off at certain stores, even on the items that are already discounted. It’s easy to turn a good sale into an even better one just for being a student.
  • Purchase high-quality items: Although it might seem contrary to a student budget, investing in higher quality clothes will save you cash in the end. Your clothes are less likely to fall apart after a few washes.
  • Look to eBay for hot-ticket items: For example, purses or high-quality shoes often cost more in stores. If an item is new, but missing a tag, it’s discounted even more than it would be on the sales rack.
  • Head to the sales rack: “I have no shame strolling right past the regular priced stuff and straight to the sale section.”
  • Don’t limit yourself or feel pressured to wear a certain brand: You will save money by dressing for you, not everyone else.
  • Buy basics at a lower price: For example, pay less for tank tops and socks. Nobody wants to pay a ton for socks that will probably just be eaten by the washing machine a month later.

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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.