Confessions of a California Recessionista: Now including tips on how to dress up your wardrobe!!

I hate to say it but you can’t be a true fashionista in this economy.  And by “true fashionista” (I use this term loosely), I mean heavily affluent or heavily insolvent consumer with an impeccable taste in clothes and fashion.


A once obsessive, compulsive shopper, I am the said “heavily insolvent consumer.” My taste in clothes is not necessarily impeccable, however quite impressive. I do care for some high-end, quality brands, but as a middle-class fashion lover, I am far from being a label whore. Still, I do have a problem.  Had. Had a problem.  Well, that’s going to take some getting used to. I had a shopping problem and as a result of this problem, I now have a mound of debt.


With only having a part time job, being a new graduate in a slow California economy and job market, and recently quitting an inauspicious, unpaid internship at a crappy PR company, it’s easy to see why the funds in my bank account are as low as the water in a dried up lake bed.  Which is why I have decided to reprioritize and pay off debt before I buy any new clothes.  It may take a while before I can purchase this amazing blazer I’ve been eyeing from ASos or those hot nude leather boots from Steve Madden, but this is a personal choice. It needs to be done.


With all the disorder in this world like the Revolution in Egypt, the turmoil in Libya, and the devastating Quake/Tsunami in Japan, all of which are effecting our economy, I would feel guilty for wasting a money on a new blazer when thousands of people are dealing with major political revolutions, losing lives and losing belongings.


While reflecting on worldly issues, I feel that we must be grateful for what we have.  Perhaps we should minimize our need for peripheral consumerism.  I know this goes against the whole fashionista code, but isn’t it important that we spend the money that we so diligently worked for towards a more important, less selfish cause?


I took some of my own advice. I made sure all of my bills were paid, took any disposable income that I would have used for clothes and donated it to Japanese tsunami relief and U.S. school funding.  Boy, did it feel good.


I’m going to be honest. The feeling wasn’t like a full day of guilt-free shopping at my favorite store but it did feel greater than the temporary satisfaction you get when a stranger compliments you on your outfit. The sensation was somewhat like having a healthy dinner.  Say delicious grilled salmon, steamed veggies and rice, which is totally satisfying and even good for you, but not the mouthwatering New York steak and buttery mashed potatoes that you crave and desire.


Still, with all the conflicts in life, and this may sound completely narcissistic, I won’t allow my wardrobe and style to be limited. I mean, fashion is an avenue of art for me, and it is something that ultimately makes me feel good. It is a major element of who I am.


How will I be a fashionista without breaking the bank, you ask? Well, let me remind you that refusing to purchase unnecessary clothing is a personal choice.  I am in debt (including student loans) and it is important to me to be responsible, even if it means having to put-off buying a snazzy outfit for a while.


As a woman who’s got champagne tastes on a beer budget, I’ve realized that there are tons of ways one can update a wardrobe without sinking deeper into the debt-hole.  Shopping at yard sales, going to flea markets, trading items with friends and perusing through grandma’s closet are great ways to find new-to-you clothes.


Sales are also great. Target and Old Navy always have great deals with pretty decent, casual threads. Companies like Forever 21 and H&M are also wallet-friendly. By the way, Forever 21 recently had a massive sale and 100% of the proceeds went to Japan. Kudos Forever! Way to mend your ways after that whole sweatshop debacle.


To me, one of the best ways to update your wardrobe is to shop in your own closet. Try cutting that old jean jacket into a fitted open vest or dye that stained white-T a different color.  There are tons of ways to edit and re-make clothes.


And with a little extra work (maybe turned to new hobby), you can recycle your clothes and have hip new pieces. If you are a recessionista like me, here are five ways to revamp your wardrobe without having to spend more than $20.  A warning: you may have to channel your inner Martha Stewart for some of these.


1) Throw a Barter Party.  That’s right, ladies. Sip on some cocktails and nibble on some hors d’oeurves while you exchange trinkets and clothes.  Now, this may take some work but if you can manage to get a handful of your favorite fashionistas together, this party can definitely be a success.


  • Set a date, round up your friends, and have them bring over any slightly used, but unwanted clothing items and accessories or any other miscellaneous things to your house.
  • Make sure you have tables or areas set up to separate each other’s items.
  • Add some cocktails and some munchies and start trading!


Now, don’t be weary over trading old things. These people are your friends remember? You would be surprised.  You might have the opportunity to trade in old pumps for a fabulous vintage purse.  One woman’s junk is another woman’s jewel, right?


2) Start hacking away! And I mean this in the nicest sense.  Take that old denim jacket and cut off the sleeves for a hip, yet grungy new vest. Add some well-placed metal studs or folded zippers for a punk rock yet stylish take.


Not the Kurt Cobain enthusiast, you say? Well, you can also try (as we all have) cutting those old jeans into some short cut-offs or a comfortable pair of walking shorts.  For walking shorts just cut off at the knee, fold up the bottom part about an inch and a half, sew together and voila! You have the perfect pair of shorts just in time for the warmer months.


3) “Tell me about it, Stud!” Take and old pair of plain pumps or flats and glue studs or jewels to different areas of the shoe (try the heel or around the toe).  A hot glue gun would probably work best, but make sure you do a trial run and stick the studs on with putty first before permanently gluing.


4) Stop by your local vintage or thrift store and peruse through their glass kiosks for some hip costume jewelry. I always look for pins and brooches.  Take your newly bought item and glue it (use that trusty hot glue gun again) to a plain black headband or snap clip. You can also make chunky rings out of old cameos just buy gluing them to adjustable rings.


If you would like to have your own custom design, gather fabrics like lace or chiffon, pearls, ribbon and cardboard cutouts to construct your own personal piece and use the same method by gluing to a headband or clip.  The possibilities are limitless!


5) That outfit is to-DYE for.  Yes, it’s time to travel back into the 5th grade and pull out the large bowls for craft corner with fabric dye. Now, if you’re a well-endowed woman like me, you probably have a handful of white T-shirts with stains splattered across the chest area from food (it’s a curse, I know!).


Now you can take that flawed top and turn it into a brand new casual tee.  If you don’t have any dye lying around, you can pick some up at your local fabric or craft store like Michael’s.


Follow instructions on the bottle, it should be pretty easy.  I always choose dark colors, like grey or black, but feel free to brighten it up accordingly. If you’d like a little twist, try dip-dying your shirt by dipping once, letting it dry and then dipping again and repeating for a faded ombre look.


Just remember to do your work outside or in the tub. It can get pretty messy.


In light of all these crafty ideas, by no means am I trying to convince you not to buy fabulous things.  Fashion is one of my loves and I don’t know who I would be in a world without trend.  But I always think it’s great to reflect on how blessed most of us are. There are people in our world that don’t even have shoes, let alone the luxury of choosing a fabulous pair to don everyday.


So, as I take measures to adjust my financial woes and having learned such an important lesson, I encourage you to be happy for what you have. Prioritize and learn to make new things from old ones.  Purchase to reward yourself for hard work, take pleasure in the little things, appreciate sustainability and try to reuse and recycle.  In the long run, it will be better for us as a whole.