Mall á la Mode: thrifting

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Bernadette Pennell on campus. Photo by Elsa Feltl

It’s the year 2010, a notorious year of low-rise jeggings, infinity scarves, and clashing layers (see: Disney Channel). It’s a nostalgia-filled year for most college students and fans of “Hannah Montana,” but for Bernadette Pennell, this was the year she began to consciously style a sustainable and classic wardrobe.

Pennell, a junior psychology major, began thrift shopping in early high school. Her mother had warned her against current fashion, pushing her toward ageless clothing that would outlast the popular trends. 


This means looking instead for pieces that can be worn over and over again — pieces that work with every outfit and never become out-dated. 

“Junior year of high school, I started shopping for myself. I began picking out particular colors, styles and cuts. In high school I gravitated toward dresses. Now that I’m in college, I have classes, meetings and jobs, so I go more for pantsuits and easier shirts,” said Pennell.

Between her jobs at the Cap Bar and working at an after-school care with children, Pennell dresses for functionality as well as professionalism. Her main job, of course, is to be a student. She is often seen around campus wearing colored pantsuits, patterned blouses, and generally very cool vintage pieces.

Pennell describes her wardrobe as made up of solids and neutral pieces, mixed with louder and more colorful pieces that add vibrancy and brightness. She has cultivated a capsule wardrobe of classic items that off-set the more unique pieces.

As she thrifted more and more, it got easier to tell cheap material apart from the more high-quality pieces. 

“If I knew what I wanted to shop for, I would just go down the line [of clothes] and feel for linen, cotton, cashmere,” she said. 

“It’s also so fun shopping with friends because we don’t immediately go toward the same sections. My friend Morgan goes straight for the dresses and sweaters.”

“Shopping with different people draws your attention to different pieces and sections. I do end up sharing my clothes with my sister, she has a very similar style, and my roommates.”

Pennell’s advice to thrift shoppers would be to first assess your own closet before shopping.

“Go into your own wardrobe and look at the brands you like, check the sizing on your favorite clothes, and women, don’t be afraid to explore the men’s section!” 

Pennell also recommends researching classic brands, such as Ann Taylor and Calvin Klein, because those are often overlooked at thrift stores. The quality of pieces from brands such as those outlast clothing made by cheaper, trendier retailers.

The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing every year, according to a study cited by thriftworld.com. Thrifting helps reduce textile waste and keep billions of pounds of textiles out of landfills.

It’s also the best way for college students to shop on a budget!

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