How to Dress Like a Fashionista on a Recent Graduate Budget


The click of my Louboutins against the New York City pavement is lost on the ears of passersby as the horn of the taxi I’m about to hail is slammed by the driver.

I share a secret smile with myself and raise my hand to call him over, letting my Tory Burch bangles fall toward my elbow and my oversized Juicy ring glint in the dirty sunlight of the city. The cab pulls over and I step precariously over a puddle before smoothing my Michael Kors camel skirt and sliding onto the seat.

“Where to?” he asks me in a gruff accented voice.

I nonchalantly mumble the address while clicking open my email on my phone. My editor has updated my deadline and I’m late. Ahhh, the life of a writer in New York City…

Wait! A writer in New York City? Okay, sorry Sarah Jessica Parker (AKA Carrie Bradshaw), but there’s no way a writer (especially a young one) can afford to look like she just stepped off the runway. UNLESS there’s some secret fabulous-but-budget-friendly trick no one is telling us about.

Actually, there is!

We’ve taken some time figuring out ways to look like you have a lot of cash to throw down for your clothes (even when you’re really on that instant ramen diet).

Here’s how to dress like a fashionista on a recent graduate budget.

In Real Life (IRL)

  • Consignment/Used Clothing Shops

If you don’t already know what a consignment shop is, it’s time you found out. These stores are places where people can take clothes they no longer feel attached to and then other people (who haven’t worn that dress already) can go and find some pretty cool stuff at a reasonable price.

The cool thing here is that you can actually find some super nice items because the buyers at these stores are looking for products that they know trendy kids like you are looking for.

Something to keep in mind about consignment shops is that you’re going to have a similar experience to that of any second-hand store. You can definitely find higher-end brands, but you’re going to have to sort through some duds first.

OR you can check out some of the exclusively higher-end shops but keep in mind that the prices, though discounted, probably won’t be what you’d call “cheap.”

Two of the best used clothing shops (that can be found in just about any city) are:

Buffalo Exchange

Crossroads Trading Company

  • Clothing Swaps

Swap clothes with your friends. Crazy thought, right? But really. Think about it. Sometimes you’re sick of wearing something while your best friend has been secretly eyeing that top for years, waiting for you to be done with it. Try it out. Gather a group of friends, a couple of bottles of wine, and start turning trash into treasure.

But it doesn’t stop there. Get this! These swaps don’t have to just be with your friends. If you’re totally over not only your own closet, but also the closets of everyone else that you know, you can find local clothing swaps in your area.

The ground rules are simple: Everyone brings a bag or two (or ten!) of stuff they no longer want, you go through and take whatever you like, and any leftovers at the end get donated to charity.

I happen to be extremely intrigued by this one offered right here in San Francisco that promises to pamper you first and let you swap second.

  • Make Your Own

Now, what better way is there to get clothing you’re sure to love than by making it yourself? Did you know that there are clubs you can join that will not only teach you how to make some spiffy duds, but will also allow you to make some friends at the same time?

Stitch ‘n Bitch – This is an awesome group of knitters that has chapters all around the country and world! Meet up, learn new stitches, make cool things—and new friends.

Dressmakers Clubs – There’s no specific website for this type of club, but you can do a quick search and see if there is one in your city. Get together with a group of experienced seamstresses to learn to make different styles of dress with different fabrics. Soon you’ll be creating outfits you can wear with flair.

Jewelry Making Clubs – Let’s not forget that no outfit is complete without accessories! Why pay a high price when you can create your own original pieces? Check out what jewelry clubs there are in your area.

  • Search for a Sponsor

Instagram savvy?

Build a strong following and then start reaching out to brands that you love to see if they’d be interested in having you wear their products in your pictures. Companies are happy for the exposure and you get to dress yourself in those outfits you adore.


Now, we may not be living in the world that Zenon told us we would be by the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t AMAZING parts about our current era. For example, there’s the internet and because of that, there are now some great resources for clothing online!

  • Consignment Shops

Twice – Sort through Twice’s clothing collection by choosing the type of clothing, size, and brand you’re looking for. There’s also a nice assortment of handbags. And don’t forget that this is a consignment store, so there will be new items all the time.

ThredUp – This site is filled with steals. I personally found the perfect New Year’s dress for only $14. There’s also a “condition” button you can choose when sorting through the featured clothes so that you can easily find clothing that is basically brand new.

  • Rentals

Rent the Runway – Need to get glam quick? These stunning items are all designer wear but at a fraction of the price. Rent a gown for a night and look like a movie star. The only thing you really need to keep in mind is the fact that the rental period is pretty short, so don’t shop too far in advance.

Le Tote – This rental site is subscription based. After feeding the site a few descriptive factors about your personal style, you’ll receive a “boutique box” which will include three garments and two accessories. After giving the items a trial wear, you can decide if you love them and want to keep them or if you’d rather send them back.

Gwynnie Bee – This is a plus-size clothing rental site. You can browse the system and add items to your profile. Then choose a Gwynnie Bee plan and subscribe to the site to get those items you chose sent to your house. Then you can exchange the items you’re done wearing for more.

  • Trading

Swapdom – You do not have to spend any money at all on this site as long as you have something to trade. It’s a little like looking through items at a garage sale and it might take you a while to find something you actually want, but once you do, you can strike up a trade. Without spending any money you can have a brand new piece of clothing or accessory that you totally love!

Swap Style – For this trading site, you create a profile before you start browsing items. You pick three different adjectives that describe your style. Then, based on that information, the site will bring up clothing items it thinks you’ll be interested in. Based on your own collection of items, you can choose to swap something you have for an item or just buy it outright.

So, there you have it. You CAN look fab even if your paycheck doesn’t have very many zeros attached to the end. Check out all of these awesome resources and create a style you’ll be remembered for!

Need a little more inspiration? Be sure to check out our Pinterest board, “Fabulous fashion on a recent grad budget” for a few ideas.


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