By Ellen Chandler • The Bulletin

College is a time to explore your personality, a time to indulge in introductions to new social experiences, engage in politics, be immersed in learning and, yes, figure out what you want to wear without parental influences and constraints.

When it comes to fashion, college students often focus on three main factors: easy, cheap and self-expressive.

“I have been recycling clothes since I was in middle school. My family is poor, so anytime that I wanted to look good, I went garage-saling. I hit a lot of thrift stores. Goodwill is a great place,” said Bend resident Elijah Hart, who recently graduated from Central Oregon Community College with an associate degree.

Hart’s passion for fashion grew after studying abroad in Spain during fall term.

“European fashion is completely different in that they just don’t care about exposing themselves in different ways than we do,” he said. “They are way more comfortable with more androgynous looks, and I fell in love with that.”

Wearing dress pants in casual settings, for example, is something he picked up while abroad. Staple pieces like dress pants, though, can be pricey.

Barbara Dolezal, co-owner of Style IQ, started the personal stylist company in Bend with her sister, Gwen Duke, 13 years ago. Dolezal said there are many ways to keep up with fashion while sticking to a budget. The sisters’ company provides a wide range of services from helping people determine their individual style to staging their homes.

“I can get you an incredible wardrobe if I take you shopping and I know what your budget is,” Dolezal said.

“I take people who have a $100 budget, and I can get them $500, $600 worth of clothing in this town with our consignment and thrift stores.”

The students said thrift shopping is key to having a decent wardrobe.

Jade Perkins, a COCC student, shared her secret for finding the best deals when thrift shopping: “Go right after Christmastime, because everyone is getting rid of old stuff since they just got it new.”

The 20-year-old business major also shops at T.J. Maxx and Macy’s discount rack to keep her “flowy,” “comfortable” and “colorful” wardrobe stocked.

Sofia Stranieri, another COCC student, had a similar approach.

“I always go shopping during each season so I have the right clothes to wear,” she said.

Stranieri’s self-proclaimed “boho-chic” (which she describes as classy and hippie put together) look is achieved by — other than her strategic thrifting — sticking mostly to T.J. Maxx. “It’s the kind of store that you have to dig, but I always think digging is worth it because then you find such a great deal on things,” Stranieri said.

Another trick? “I always go to the clearance rack first.”

Dolezal’s tip: Going to end-of-season sales and buying at least one to two really quality pieces.

“You might spend a tiny bit more for (them), but way less than they are when they’re full price, and they will serve you the next season plus,” she said.

What Dolezal emphasized the most, however, was that “for a college kid that’s on a budget — especially in this town — thrift stores are so amazing.” Thrifting is “so sustainable. By buying secondhand you’re really not contributing to the waste, and you’re reusing and recycling, and I love that.”

Marcy Hosket, manager of the Humane Society Thrift Store, said the number of student shoppers has “picked up for sure within the last couple of years. Kind of that 18- to 30-year-old range is one of our biggest customer demographics.”

As a result, Hosket has begun to market more frequently on social media.

“Facebook and Instagram: I know that some of those shoppers tend to use those avenues a little bit more than some of the older customers do, especially Instagram,” she said.

The media seems to play quite the role in college fashion. Students cited several platforms that inspire their style, including different apps, television series’ and social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.

Dolezal also believes the media can be helpful when adjusting personal style. Doing research and figuring out what you like, what fits you and how to wear different pieces can ease insecurities when it comes to the actual shopping. Which, by the way, doesn’t always happen in a store.

Hart, 20, said one of his favorite methods when it comes to buying on a budget is shopping online. “I feel like you can save a lot of money doing that,” Hart said, “especially if you get to know your sizes really well. I think a good hack would be to go to a tailor once in your life and figure out what your actual sizing is. That way you can shop online confidently.”

And isn’t that what fashion is all about? A method for displaying confidence.

“I think really anything goes at this age, and that’s what’s kind of fun,” Dolezal said. If she could give her younger self fashion advice, she would say, “Take more risks. Have more fun. Don’t be so self-conscious. Stop worrying about what other people are thinking. And be yourself; find that uniqueness about you.”

Hart, Perkins and Stranieri indulge in the concepts of self-love and independence.

Perkins said her style has become more nonchalant since being in college. “I’m more relaxed about my outfits. (I’m) just a go-with-the-flow kind of person now. I used to care a lot about what I wore in high school,” she said. “Comfy is necessary for college.”

Though Stranieri also aims for comfort, she wanted to set the record straight. “I feel like there’s a stereotype, because they always say you just roll out of bed with your sweats and your T-shirt, like whatever,” she said.

Stranieri, 19, hails from Springfield. She said her style has evolved since she’s been at school. “I love the Bend style,” she said. “I’ve branched out to different stores and thrifting. I think the Bend style is really boho-chic (bohemian and hippie influences), and I really love it.” I feel like, in my hometown, there is not that at all.”

For students trying to settle into college life and find themselves personally and stylistically, Dolezal offered this: “Go thrift, reuse, recycle, trade with your friends and just really have fun getting dressed. It speaks volumes about you when you walk in a room; your outfit tells a whole story. So have fun with that story, and make it a big one.”

— Reporter: echandler@bendbulletin.com, 541-383-0312

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