Save or Splurge? Fashionable Finds for Savvy Students

If you’re anything like me — a shopaholic with a lack of funding — fashion can be fun, but sometimes overwhelming. If you sometimes find yourself debating whether or not to trade a week’s worth of dinner for a pair of heels you can’t stop thinking about, this week’s column is dedicated to you. I love to shop, but my meager college student budget determines what I can actually spend money on versus what I should buy for less. Here are my thoughts on what to splurge on, what to save on, and where to get it.
Basics: American Apparel is practically ubiquitous here at UC Irvine. Because I love the quality of their products and I can’t stand logos in my wardrobe, I’m practically addicted. Unfortunately, I never knew about buying American Apparel from Amazon until recently. Sellers on Amazon carry a few of the brand’s top sellers, including the cozy hoodies and many students’ favorite deep v-neck tee.
Jeans: Jeans can be tricky, depending on style. Because I am petite, I am willing to spend extra on jeans that actually fit. Interestingly, the pairs of jeans that fit me best are the 10-inch ankle opening skinny jeans by J Brand and some inexpensive dark skinnies from Forever 21. By “dark,” I mean that they used to be black, but faded to dark blue in some places, as is expected when you buy jeans (or a lot of things) from Forever 21. I actually like the effect, but my jeans’ devolution just goes to show that you get what you pay for.
Swimwear: One word: Target. This megastore sells plenty of swimwear for less than $20 apiece. For instance, I bought a black bandeau top and bikini bottom, both adorned with gold pyramid studs, for $14.99 each.
Victoria’s Secret also sells mix-and-match pieces for around $20 each. I’ve noticed that most bikinis, high-end or low-end, look exactly the same. You might notice a bit of a difference in quality, but why buy a suit that you would be too paranoid about ruining in the sand and surf? Plus, living this close to the beach, it’s always a good idea to have an arsenal of swimsuits ready in case of an impromptu trip.
Speaking of variety, save some cash by buying solid-color bikini bottoms. This way, if you decide to spend a bit more on the top, you can save on a bottom that compliments it.
Shoes: Every girl should invest in a pair of black pumps to wear to anything from dinner to an interview. These could last for years and years, so splurging on a pair of fabulous heels should be guilt-free. Flats, on the other hand, are a different story. I always have a pair of black flats circulating my shoe wardrobe, but no matter what I do, they always wear down after a few months. Don’t spend too much on these. My favorite places for low to mid-priced flats are Urban Outfitters, Aldo and Nordstrom. If you’re looking for trendier heels and platforms, web sites like Delia*s, Alloy and Go Jane have great finds for under $100.
Jewelry and accessories: Forever 21 has the best selection of trendy jewelry, with most pieces under $10 each. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that everything silver I buy from that place turns a rather unpleasant shade of copper within a few weeks. Flea markets, thrift stores and eBay are fantastic places to find vintage jewelry — even real gold and silver — for low prices.
Bags: Every girl should have three essential bags: A tote or carryall, casual purse or shoulder bag and a clutch or small purse for parties. Out of those, I think the everyday purse is the most splurge-worthy. Finding the perfect bag can be time-consuming, but once you find something versatile, chic and suited to your personality, spending a little more cash somehow doesn’t seem like such a problem.
On the other hand, don’t spend much on party clutches or bags that you’ll haul to the beach or to class. Carryalls can get dirty or worn down rather easily while clutches and small bags, especially beaded bags, can be bought vintage.
Most importantly, never, ever buy fakes! I shouldn’t have to explain the obvious reasons (terrible quality, profits from sales often support organized crime and even terrorism, general tackiness, etc). If you’re looking for a designer bag at a discounted price, don’t even think about trying the shameless knockoffs on eBay — instead, try a consignment shop or wait until the end of each season to find them on sale at department stores and department store Web sites.
Shop wisely but don’t hesitate to invest in some quality pieces. Be confident enough to experiment with different styles, but don’t spend too much on something that will only last a season.