How I Found My Personal Style On A [Thrifted] Budget

This post was written by the champion of customer communications, Natalie Wink.

Very recently I made the uncomfortable realization that I peaked in high school. Well, my style peaked in high school—so, really only my outward manifestation of self is what peaked.

Allow me to explain:

I grew up with two loving, generous, and practical parents. The thing about loving, generous, and practical parents is that they tend to discontinue their loving generosity, at least in the monetary department, once you’re old enough to legally work. What that meant for fifteen-year-old me, a faithful Teen Vogue subscriber and self-proclaimed fashionista, was that when I wanted to go on a shopping spree, I was required to make the trek to Goodwill instead of having my mom accompany me to Delia*s (may it rest in peace) and foot the bill.

Before you begin to feel bad for my teenage self, let me tell it to you straight: it was during my thrift store years that I was my truest self when it came to style. I had no margin in my closet for wasted items; I didn’t have dollars to waste on items that I didn’t absolutely love. I wasn’t in the business of “hauling” and then throwing away, but instead was constantly on the hunt for quality pieces with a lifetime guarantee. It was because of my budget constraints that I was able to find my personal style. I only bought pieces that I truly loved and truly needed. There was no extra noise. It was pure bliss.

Natalie’s Thrift Store Steps To Success:

  1. Look at your closet. Do you have any items that you kind of like or think that you might wear one day? You won’t. Pile ‘em up and put them in your car.

  2. Make a list of the gaps in your closet. Is there a top that you would wear all the time if you had the right pair of jeans? Would a pair of white sandals complete your wardrobe? Write them all down.

  3. Head to the thrift store. Donate your old clothes (doesn’t that feel good?) and instead of turning around and heading right back home, head inside the store.

  4. Think about the gaps in your closet—pull out that list! Look for items that will fill that gap. Try absolutely everything on, every. time. No exceptions. You never know what will fit, and what won’t.

  5. Buy only what you ended up loving, and if that’s nothing, then leave with nothing. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

  6. Repeat.

As I’ve entered adulthood, I’ve enjoyed the luxury of a steady income and a small amount of living expenses. I’ve therefore been able to afford to shop—within reason, of course—for things in regular stores. Of course, it’s been nice to be able to shop in a regular store. It’s easier to find what I’m looking for, and less of a gamble when I need something in a pinch, like a dress for a wedding or a top for an interview. However, my access to the realm of retail has inadvertently squashed my style. I no longer need to be creative in order to look put together. I no longer need to make old things look new. I no longer feel like me when I get dressed, and I want to feel the opposite. I want to feel most like me when I get dressed.

And so, I’ve decided to return to my roots. I’m doing away with regular store shopping—at least, exclusive regular store shopping. I’m bringing back the thrift, and with it, I’m bringing back constraints, creativity, and closet curation. It’s not about what you have; it’s about what you do with what you have. Happy hunting!

Some of natalie's thrifted looks:

How amazing is this denim jacket? Killer find by Natalie at a local thrift shop in her hometown, Chicago. She paired it with another thrifty find—a simple black dress from Buffalo Exchange, drawing your eyes straight to her funky collar.  

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How else could you find such a skirt, covered in fruit and flowers? No other way than to thrift<3. This skirt was 6 bucks at Goodwill! Try it with a solid top & matching shoes like Natalie did, with a jean jacket & simple sneakers, or a monochromatic sweater to bring out one of the many accent colors in the skirt.

A cute, little denim mini found at Goodwill for 2 bucks (cut by Natalie herself!) When it's at minimal cost, you can confidently experiment. Play with scissors, throw a patch on it, or get creative with fabric paint!

This precious, off-the-shoulder dress was found at Buffalo Exchange. Wear it to the beach, on a date, to a picnic, or a fun weekend getaway with your lady babes. 

We hope you enjoyed Miss Natalie Wink's insight and eclectic get-ups. Share with us your thrifted & vintage finds by using the hashtag #CladwellThrifters, so we can all inspire each other. Because shopping responsibly and ethically will always look (and feel) good.