While nothing gets me quite as excited as adding a new piece to my closet, watching my hard-earned money from my retail job disappear is not so fun. Enter fast fashion brands—think Urban Outfitters, Princess Polly, and Shein—designed to give social media-dependent college students the biggest bang for our buck. These brands and their networks of influencers constantly bombard us with Instagram content reminding us that we can get the hottest new trends for less. 

Over the last few years, I’ve found myself drifting away from the fast fashion brands I loved early in high school and gravitating more towards emerging designers that offer higher quality (and often sustainable) options and set their own more daring trends rather than follow them. While shopping from these brands can make for a more versatile wardrobe that emulates runway looks—and chances are, the pieces will last—the steep price tag that comes along with them makes purchasing these items difficult on a college budget. Here are a couple of ways to upgrade your wardrobe without breaking the bank.

1. Do Your Research.

Before making a purchase, I always check other sites for cheaper prices. While it can seem like a waste of time—especially if the item is already way on sale—you’d be surprised by how often items are marked down even more elsewhere. If you can’t find it for less and you still really want it, you can take it as a sign to make the purchase. Good sites to check out for discounted finds include Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off Fifth, The Outnet, and YOOX.

2. Plan Ahead. 

Before splurging on an item, I always make sure that it goes with multiple pieces I already own. Personally, I like to look through my closet and write down ways I would style it—down to the shoes and accessories—in the notes app in my phone. If I don’t have at least a few different ways of wearing the item, I try to resist purchasing it. Not only will this ensure that you don’t need to spend more just to wear it, now you’ve also got a list of cool looks waiting for you to throw on when you’re feeling uninspired or indecisive.

3. Know When to Splurge.

While spending a lot of money on one item can be scary, in some cases, it’s worth paying a little extra instead of getting an item you’re just going to have to replace in a year or two. To this day, one of my favorite pieces in my closet is a leather 7 For All Mankind moto jacket that I saved up for at the beginning of high school. Consider investing in quality, versatile pieces from a brand you trust that you’ll have forever—think leather jacket, blazer, sturdy boots, crossbody bag, or sterling silver or gold jewelry.  

4. Skip the Cheap Impulse Buys.

While buying more expensive, quality purchases and spending the same amount as you usually would on fast fashion means you’ll end up with fewer items overall, less is more. Making cheap purchases may seem like no big deal, but it adds up, and chances are you’ll be tossing the item or giving it away next year. That being said, it’s safe to say that there’s no point in splurging on items that are just going to get trashed at Voodoo, the Boot, or Mardi Gras. No matter how much an item costs, exercise the same caution that you would when purchasing a pricier item—and if you think you’ll get your wear out of it and really want it—go for it. 

5. Watch Out For Sales.

If you’re not afraid the item you want is going to sell out, stick it out and wait for a sale—plus, giving yourself some time to think on it will let you weigh all the pros and cons. Net-A-Porter does a huge biannual sale (and it’s happening right now), where you’ll find endless designer finds for less—think silk Rixo dresses for 70% off, statement Alice and Olivia pieces at 60% off, and LoveShackFancy bikinis for 50% off, while many emerging designers offer the occasional end of season sale on their websites. Subscribe to the email lists of your favorite designers, as some may even offer early access for subscribers—I recently scored Anine Bing leather boots I’d been eyeing for months at nearly 70% off this way.

6. Look for Second-Hand Options.

Thanks to the internet, finding discounted designer pieces has never been so easy! Before you splurge on a piece like a Gucci bag or Off White belt at full price, check out sites like Fashionphile, Rebag, and TheRealReal for second hand authenticated designer finds—often in perfect condition—and  Poshmark and in-store second-hand shops like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads for designer denim. 

Most importantly, shopping should be fun! Buy pieces that you’re excited to put on in the morning and that you can easily remix into new looks!

Cover Photo: Chloe Saraceni

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