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As Ned Stark said: brace yourselves, back-to-school shopping is coming. Every fall, students are pressured to buy the trendiest, fashion-forward outfits in order to both fit in and stand out (at the same time, effortlessly). This is particularly overwhelming for university students. We are encountering more new people and ideas than ever before, and that is often expressed through changes in personal style. Clothes allow you to experiment with different identities until you find the one that fits you.

While it can be freeing to reinvent yourself through clothes, it can also be financially taxing to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year. But fear not! Here are some tips and tricks for navigating back-to-school shopping that will save your wallet and your sanity.

Make a statement

If you know and love Queer Eye as much as I do, you’ll know that Tan France, the fashion expert, recommends finding a ‘hero piece’, a statement item to build an outfit around. This hero piece might already be in your closet. When the first week of school comes and you are stumped for outfit ideas, a hero piece can form the foundation of an outfit that you feel comfortable and confident in. Just one item of clothing can transform your whole outfit. 

Swap it out

Change up your closet with clothing swaps! Threadwork (a sustainable fashion club on campus) usually has a swap in the McMaster University Student Centre each semester. It’s a quick and easy way to refresh your wardrobe while cleaning out some of the items that you no longer wear for free. There are also clothing swaps in the community; The Pale Blue Dot (240 James Street North) frequently has them, as does the Hearty Hooligan (292 Ottawa Street North).

Get thrifty

Thrift stores are your friend. Places like Out of the Past (308 Ottawa Street North), The Giving Closet (1162 Barton Street East) or Hawk and Sparrow (126 James Street North) will frequently have pieces that are more affordable and of higher quality than what you might find at the mall. If you don’t have the time to go in person, there are even online thrift stores, like thredUP. If you’re looking to free up some space in your closet, try donating your old clothes to avoid throwing them away. If you take them to Plato’s Closet (505 Rymal Road East) or Style Encore (989 Fennell Avenue East), then they will even pay you to donate them. This is a real thing! Check it out! 

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Rescue your beloved old clothes by taking them to a tailor or cobbler. My life changed when I realized I could get my worn out pants repaired for $20 rather than having to face the horrors of trying on too-small jeans in a dimly-lit dressing room. Not to mention, repairing old shoes means that you don’t have to go through the time and effort of breaking in a new pair. Your ankles will thank you. Thankles?

Not only do these four tips help you save money and live better, they also help to minimize your contributions to ‘fast fashion’ (buying clothes that won’t last and then throwing them away). The fashion industry puts out a huge amount of pollution every year. Clothes that fall apart after a few months are not only damaging to the planet, but they are also a strain on your wallet over time as you keep having to replace them with increasingly expensive options. Buying good quality pieces or repairing the pieces that you have helps to keep clothes out of landfills. 

You shouldn’t feel guilty for buying new clothes or following fashion trends if that brings you joy, just keep these sustainable options in mind. Remember, by November we’ll all be wearing sweatpants anyways, so wear whatever makes you happy and comfortable!

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