Cost-cutting-couture: How to dress like you’re in ‘Vogue’ on a college kid budget

By Steffi Roche

Perhaps your favorite film is “The Devil Wears Prada.” Maybe you just binged “Sex and the City” and you are pining for Carrie Bradshaw’s collection of Fendi “Baguettes.”

Instead of studying for your philosophy exam, you like to read magazines like Vogue. You turn the pages of your magazine and spot the most gorgeous pair of shoes you’ve ever seen, only to learn the shoes cost double your monthly rent—a true tragedy.

I have loved fashion for as long as I can remember. But like many students, buying an authentic and brand-new Dior “Saddle Bag” is probably not within the budget.  If you’re like me and want to shop for designer brands, there are ways to do this without breaking the bank. One way is to buy vintage.

Finding reasonable vintage designer gems is truly like finding a needle in a haystack. You might get lucky at a vintage, thrift, or consignment store. However, I have found that luxury products sold at consignment and designer vintage shops can be nearly as expensive as purchasing something brand new. 

But I have been lucky before.

I visited a vintage store in Columbia, Missouri when I was a freshman. I browsed through the shoe section and saw mostly affordable, non-luxury, pre-owned shoes. However, I had good fortune by finding a pair of authenticated Stella McCartney platform sneakers. They had been sitting in the shop for over two years and no one had purchased them. The shoes were exactly my size and were being sold for $89. While that might not sound “cheap” on a college kid budget, I looked up what the shoes were selling for on Stella McCartney’s website—they are still carried in stores and sell for $1,045. 

I jumped at the opportunity, saved $956 and I was able to buy my first pair of luxury shoes. I’m not always this lucky when searching for designer goods in-person. I tend to have more luck with consignment or second-hand websites like The RealReal, where I have found items like Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses for half the price. 

The RealReal or Vestaire Collective offer authenticated pre-loved vintage designer items that range in price. Many of the designer items that go up in value will be just as or more expensive than a new item. For example, if you are expecting to find a deal on a pre-owned Hermès Birkin leather handbag in perfect condition, you will be disappointed.

But you can easily find items like Prada shoes that can cost less than a textbook. I am somewhat weary of “designer” items on websites like Poshmark or Depop, as they do not go through an authentication process and knock-off items abound. 

You can still be lucky when buying on these sites. I learned a tip in finding vintage designer bags for cheap prices after watching TikTok. The video was created by influencer Kristen Lang (TikTok handle is @lady_shopper99), and Lang offers her guidance for scoring great deals on Poshmark.

While on Poshmark’s website, the first step Lang suggests is to go to the search bar and type in exactly what type of bag you are looking for (the example she uses is a vintage Gucci “Jackie” bag).

The next tip is to go to the “Filters” tab, select “Type” and then she suggests unselecting boutiques to avoid going through hundreds of “vintage” labeled products that may not fit what you are seeking.

Lang’s next tip is to scroll, scroll and scroll.

While scrolling, “like” the items you are interested in so you can have favorites to choose from. Once you have your favorites, Lang says to go through each Poshmark seller’s page, and note that you are looking for a very specific type of seller. 

When looking for a deal, Lang says you are not looking for vintage resellers, as she claims you will not get the best bargain going through a reseller.

“We are looking for Becky. Becky is a 55-year-old woman who bought this bag like 20 years ago. She got great use out of it, but now, it’s just sitting in her closet collecting dust and taking up space. So, she wants to get rid of it,” Lang said. 

Lang goes on to say that a specific type of seller such as “Becky” will often have their item at the very bottom of a Poshmark feed, and therefore, it is not getting many clicks. “When Becky sees you making an offer— the first offer she’s gotten in a long time— she’s going to jump on it. And for Becky, she’s not really going to get upset if you give her a low-ball number,” Lang said. 

Lang’s point is that a seller like “Becky” is just looking to get rid of the items, and therefore, a seller like that could be more accommodating and you might be able to negotiate and buy a luxury bag for a bargain. 

Perhaps you do not feel the need to purchase a bag. However, you want to keep up with the latest fashion trends and you want to make your enemies jealous every month by having a gorgeous outfit or designer bag on your arm.

Renting designer pieces could be the right and affordable option for you in this scenario. There are various services for renting designer items, such as Rent the Runway or Switch. With these services, you could rent items like a Fendi bag for one month for roughly $40.

You’re then able to have an Instagram photoshoot with the bag, continue to make your enemies jealous and you are not out of thousands of dollars. It also can be a great way to try out different styles and different brands. So, perhaps later, if you want to purchase a new designer item, you know exactly what you are looking for.

This is not the most accessible or necessarily “cheap” way to purchase a designer bag, but it can save you money. I had the privilege of studying abroad in Europe my junior year. Before going to Europe, I planned to visit Paris for one weekend. 

I knew I wanted to buy my first “big girl” bag from a luxury brand while in Paris. It took year to save $3,000 for that specific purpose. I went to Paris as planned, still wanted to buy a designer purse, and visited various stores like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Prada to consider different bags.

I ultimately selected the Prada Re-Edition 2005 Saffiano leather bag, which currently retails for $2,550 in the United States. When I purchased the bag, it sold in France for about €1800, which is roughly $1,976. 

What I learned abroad is that luxury brands, particularly French and Italian brands, are often cheaper in Europe than in the US.

Typically, the lowest prices can be found in the country or region where the brand is located. When an item is shipped for sale overseas, it incurs import taxes and transportation costs. Extra costs like this are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

Therefore, luxury brands, like Prada, can sell their products at a lower price within Europe. Another reason I saved money by buying the bag in Paris is because of Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds. This refers to a consumption tax levied on goods purchased in Europe. In Europe, VAT is included in the market price of items. European countries allow non-EU travelers to claim a VAT refund on products over a certain amount.

I received over $200 (USD) in my VAT refund after I bought the Prada bag. Therefore, I saved quite a bit of money by buying the bag abroad. 

And side note— it also sounds cooler to say: “I bought this bag in Paris!”

While buying designer goods is not a necessity, for fashion lovers, there are ways to buy or wear luxury items without blowing through too much money. It’s important to think through purchases, save money, ensure you are getting a good deal, but also, make sure the item will truly bring you joy. 


Steffi Roche is a graduating senior at the University of Missouri, majoring in broadcast.

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