10 Ways to Dress Well in College on a Shoestring Budget

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Getting “dressed to kill” doesn’t have to tank your budget!

College students are bombarded daily by time constraints, expensive books and stress. And on a fixed budget, that can seem a lot harder than a physics exam.


Sacrificing when it comes to clothing is NOT required.

Use these 10 tips to help you dress well in college on a shoestring budget.


1. Think Classy

A classic trench coat, crisp white shirt and sleek black trousers never goes out of style – no matter the season. The “little black dress” is a well known item for a reason, and it’s definitely worth investing in.

Classic speaks elegance and simplicity.


It’s also possible to wear ageless apparel items to parties or to a casual mall outing, without looking out of place.

2. Invest in Versatile Clothing

You know that plain, white cami hiding in your closet?

You could dress that up into 20 different outfits (good for any season or event).

Nothing to wear to a formal event?

Grab a dark jean and a white cami, before borrowing your roommate’s colorful sweater, cardigan or jacket.

Neutrals are best, because they can be easily paired with other colors. Master your pairing skills and you’ll be able to come up with endless “new” outfits!

3. Follow THIS Formula

During those days when you have less than a minute to look at the closet, it can be nice to have a catch-all formula to follow.

Even those who aren’t naturally trendy can create a perfect look when there is a guide to follow.

Jodie Noted came up with this easy to follow Fashion Formula:

1 basic (dark jeans, pencil skirt, basic top) + 1 interest piece (color, pattern, texture, shine) + 1 completer piece (jacket, cardigan, belt) + accessories (bag, jewelry, clutch , shoes)

4. Get Creative

To dress well in college when you’re a broke student, you need to get a little creative.

If you think that DIY projects aren’t as easy as they look on Pinterest, don’t worry! This is not (always) the case!

There are lots of simple upgrades you can add to the clothes you already have.

Instead of creating a graphic tee out of a gray shirt (which isn’t a bad idea), you could upscale old clothing by changing plain white buttons to faux gold ones.

Buttons are super cheap, but they can give your shirts a completely new feel without having to do or spend a lot. Here’s a nice guide on how to swap buttons out.

You can also try converting oversized shirts into muscle tees that you can wear to the campus gym – eliminating the need to buy new workout outfits.

My personal motto for choosing what to wear to the gym is, “I’m not here to look cute, I’m here to work out!”

If you need to stretch your dollar when it comes to your clothing budget, skipping a trendy gym wear purchase will really help keep costs down.

5. Accessorize (The Right Way)

Accessories can take the dull edge out of any outfit.

Wearing scarves can add a more sophisticated flair to your look, as well as add warmth and comfort. Scarfs can even be worn over a simple button-down, which is a fashionable look for college ladies and guys.


Indulging in small accessories is a lot less expensive than buying a new top or pair of pants.

Keep in mind that while layering is easy on the eyes, too much layering will have the opposite effect. Keep it simple or it can overwhelm your whole look.

6. Be a Smart Shopper

Being a SMART, or frugal, shopper is an important part of dressing well in college when you’re on a budget.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to….

Always bring your college student ID when heading to the mall!

LOTS of stores offer discounts specifically for students, such as Ralph Lauren and Topshop. If you’re not sure if the store offers a students discount, it never hurts to ask.

Another smart shopper tip:

Plan your shopping around the seasonal sales.

Buy new winter jackets when they are on sale for 50% to 70% discounts in the springtime. Pick up shorts and tanks for the next summer when fall begins.

Watch for new stores opening or ones that are going out of business to take advantage of great sales, too.

7. Practice Self Control

Ok, this next tip on how to dress well in college IS obvious – but needs to be said.

Practice self control and avoid clearing out your bank account for a shopping spree.

Is it really worth having to borrow money to be able to feed yourself, just for a few bags of new clothes? It’s certainly tempting, but in the long run it’s NOT worth it.

Calm down, take a deep breath, and shop only when necessary. Limit yourself to one to two pieces a month, IF you can afford it.

Better yet:

Start a savings fund and wait for a few months. At the end of a quarter you could have a nice pile of cash that you can use to splurge.

Shop only when you really need something new and avoid putting it on a credit card!

Sure, it sounds too good to be true that you can get what you want NOW and not have to pay for it until LATER.


You will end up paying for it later, PLUS interest!

A $50 top can really end up costing you DOUBLE that if you wait too long to pay it back. Don’t fall into the trap of making endless minimum payments.

9. There’s No Need to Sacrifice Comfort for Style

Living within a college budget doesn’t equate to having to look cheap and outdated.

Just because a piece is comfortable, doesn’t mean it isn’t stylish.

Laid back and relaxed are clothing styles, too. Leggings with a a boyfriend cardigan, boots and a scarf is always a cute look and certainly comfortable.

9. Thrift Shops Are Your Best Friend

Thrift shops are going to be your new best friend if you want to dress well in college without going over budget.

Thrift shops are beset with timeless pieces and clothes for every occasion and all at reasonably low prices.


…there is a lot of searching and patience required.

From low-cut denim shorts good for a trip to the beach to unique dresses that were never mass-produced, there is SO much that thrift shops have to offer to cash-strapped students.

It’s even possible to find designer clothes for half the price in thrift shops.

Plan a shopping day around all the local second-hand stores in your area and make it fun with your friends.

10. Don’t Give In To Pressure

No, expensive new trends are not must-haves. There ARE more bags that could match that dress other than that Vintage ‘90s Gianni Versace Couture leather bag with the Medusa logo.

Resist the urge to buy newly released clothes – because if you wait long enough they will eventually end up on the clearance rack.

This will give you plenty of time to decide if its something you’ll REALLY wear that often or not.

If being bombarded by your favorite stylists constant social media posts is wearing thin on your self control, unfollow them. Your wallet will thank you!


Show independence and character in yourself.

Some people might like to brag about how much they paid for something, but I like to brag about how little I spent!

Saving money doesn’t have to be a chore, you just have to get a little more creative.


How do you dress well in college on a budget? I’d love to hear about your favorite thrift store finds, drop me a comment below!

This post was all about how to dress in college.


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