Survival in the Garret, Part 3

The Frugal Student's Bohemian Wardrobe


The long, international tradition of starving artisthood has already brought you a list of general tips for surviving on a shoestring as well as advice on how to eat well and decorate your learning (and living) space. Today we tell you how to look like a member of the counterculture. Which counterculture, you ask? Any counterculture you choose. (And by the way, this list is meant for hep cats and hep kittens alike.)

Why are we pushing bohemian chic? Of all the styles of dress it’s the best suited to living on a shoestring while creating a personal style. (We’re referring to traditional bohemian style, not to the more recent “boho”—a commercial version of sixties flower child garb. The flower children had a wonderful style, but they didn’t develop it by shopping at Winners.)

The time is now, while you’re still a student! Unless upon graduating you plan to join Cirque du Soleil or busk in subways for a living, your clothing choices will likely soon be dictated by someone who values respectability and decorum over creative personal expression. Until then, here are some tips to help you embrace your inner Amedeo Modigliani:

  1. Go thrifting It’s already a given that you’re going to be haunting thrift stores for timeless, high quality garments that you can wear forever and accessorize any which way. Also be willing to open your arms to hand-me-downs from friends and family. If Aunt Millicent ever asks you if you found a use for the lovely maroon polyester pantsuit she’s outgrown, say “yes,” but don’t tell her you made it into couch cushions.
  2. Go for natural materials. If you believe animals shouldn’t be sacrificed to provide you with a second skin, you can skip the fur and leather and go for wool, cotton, and linen. Natural materials breathe, repel dirt, last, are biodegradable, and look classy. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Collect scarves. A scarf is an incredibly useful fashion staple. Collect a wide variety of colours, shapes, and patterns and learn how to arrange them in flattering ways so you’ll always be ready to make a statement.
    You’ll notice that changes in the fashion world nearly always include new looks in scarves, so it’s a cheap way to make your look de rigueur.
    They’re also practical—besides keeping you warm, scarves can double as headgear, handbags, bandages, towels, diapers, beach blankets, hankies, and even, unless you’re in Quebec, face coverings.
  4. Forget haircuts. Unless you know someone who’ll give you a bob and keep it trimmed for nothing, just grow your hair out and put it in a ponytail if gets in your way. Use the time and money saved from barbershop and salon visits to hang out at literary cafés. With your shaggy mane you’ll fit right in.
  5. Experiment with makeup. Black eyeliner for one is a cheap way to add an artsy mystique, but only if you’ve developed some skill and have an eye for what looks alluring but not bourgeois. Bright red lipstick is another way to make a statement.
  6. Let things get old. This not only saves you money on new clothes but also gives you the appropriate shabby-genteel look. If anyone asks you why you’re still wearing that withered old silk jacket say that it’s because it’s wabi sabi. If they know what that means, they’ll probably agree. If they assume you’re talking about some great new designer, even better. If they ask what wabi sabi means, look shocked, spew out a contemptuous operatic laugh, and walk away.
  7. Scent? There are few commercial perfumes that create the right ambience, so a lot of bohemians reject them altogether. But essential oils work well, patchouli oil the one that best creates that “eau de hippy” mystique. Essential oil is expensive, so if you do decide to invest use it sparingly, on clothing items you don’t wash as often as you wash yourself.
  8. Choose your baubles well. Vintage jewelry is about as bohemian as it gets, and it’s also relatively cheap. You can also get it for nothing if you rifle through family jewelry boxes and talk about how wearing certain items would help remind you of your family’s history.
  9. Better too big than too small. Loose, comfortable clothes are so much more typically bohemian than tight or tailored ones, with the exception of tight black cigarette jeans, a wardrobe staple for skinny-legged art students everywhere.
  10. Collect the right accessories. A few bohemian classics are berets, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and army surplus anything. Start collecting now, and never throw anything away because this stuff never goes out of style. Your children will thank you later.
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