How I Stayed Fashionable in NYC without a Paycheck

Keeping up with the ever-changing trends of fashion is expensive, right? Wrong. Yes, things may change from season to season, but despite this misnomer, I can tell you firsthand that you don’t have to offer up your first born to stay fashionable.

You see, before I managed to pay off my credit cards, I was an actress and model with with over $13,000 in debt. And like most women, I wanted to look more chic and sharp, well beyond my means. Want to know how I gave my closet an overhaul on the cheap? Keep reading.


To stay on top of fashion trends, I first became a student of life around me. Whether I was on the subway or people watching from a bench in Central Park, I was took note of individual people’s style and asked myself what I liked about someone’s outfit. I’d then take mental inventory of my own closet to see what I possessed that was similar, so that I could later replicate the ensemble in my own way.

(You can download lookbook apps like Netrobe to your tablet, so you always have your wardrobe with you.)

Another thing I did was spring for a really affordable subscription to some of my favorite magazines like Instyle, Lucky, and All You, which you can get for $10-20 a year, In addition to starting my own blog about affordable fashion, I studied the sites of other fashionable ladies who inspired me, like Atlantic-Pacific and Wendyslookbook.

By doing all of this I was able to further repurpose the clothes I already had in ways I hadn’t even thought of, and eventually develop a style that was on trend and within my “zero” budget.

Now, on the occasion when someone had something that I just absolutely fell in love with but didn’t have anything like it, I had to get creative on how to obtain it. Here are four tried and true methods of updating your wardrobe with little to no money:

Host a Clothes-Swapping Party With Your Friends

Clothes Swapping

Not just any friends. Think of your girlfriend who has the cutest jackets, or that other one who seems to have cornered the market on accessories — invite them over. Just one evening of hanging out over some snacks and swapping clothes with these ladies can almost guarantee everyone will leave with at least one swoon-worthy new addition to their closet.

One of my all-time favorite blazers — one from FREE PEOPLE that I get compliments on every time I wear it — came from swapping clothes with classmates from my acting conservatory.

Hop on the Thrift-Shopping Bandwagon

Thrift Shop

Thrift shopping is by far the number one way I completely revamped my wardrobe. Until I became just stuffed to the gills with clothes, I was a regular fixture at the Housing Works Buy the Bag sale. It was here that I could snag an entire bag of clothes (my record was 55/items in one bag), for just $30 ($25 for the bag, and an optional $5 to get in an extra hour early).

Some of my biggest scores: a Louis Vuitton Sac Plat bag, an Oscar de la Renta blazer, and an animal print coat from Saks that is the perfect accent for a night out.

Even if you don’t live in a fashion capital like New York City, you can still find some awesome clothes from local thrift shops. With a few styles in mind, like these looks for college freshmen, you can put together a new wardrobe with little more than a $50 and some creativity.

Learn How to Sew Your Own Clothes

Frugalnomics sewing

I know, I know…I can hear the echoing balks at the mere suggestion of trying your hand at creating your own duds from scratch. After all, you have to be really good to pull something like that off, right? No, not so!

Some of my favorite pieces were from my first venture into sewing. This one shoulder neoprene dress, and these tribal print tapered trousers were total wins, and I’m no master seamstress.

Still hesitant? Pick up a few cheap items from your local charity shop, like jeans and  large white t shirts, and make tweaks to them. You can add studs to bling out a pair of plain jeans, and revamp  big shirts with scissors and fabric dye. Use Pinterest to find some amazing ideas to repurpose your wardrobe.

Use eBay Like a Clothes Store

Ebay Fashion

To me, this site is like an extension of thrift shopping, except you aren’t crossing your fingers and hoping you find something you like, but rather you are tailoring your search to exactly what it is that you want. Yes, you do run the risk of an item not being delivered (though eBay protects you and will refund your money) or it not being exactly as pictured.

However, I’ve been happy with my purchases way more often than I have been disappointed. I’ve often found things that I loved, but didn’t have the money to splurge on it when it was in the stores. One of my favorite items was this leather-like Zara peplum top that I got for $26.10. If you’re still a little weary, my advice is to go over the provided pics with a fine-tooth comb, and ask the seller a question if there is something you’d like clarified.

Being broke in a big city is no joke, and more often than not, what’s in your closet doesn’t matter. But as an aspiring actress and model, fashion was a priority, and keeping up appearances was important for getting a paycheck. I hope my tips help you revamp your wardrobe on the cheap!

How do you keep your wardrobe fashion-forward when money’s tight? Let us know in the comments!

A Wilhelmina Model for over a decade, Brandhyze Stanley is a huge thrifter and a lover of all good deals, follow her blog Frugal-Nomics for more fashion tips.