The Recessionista Meets CNC Today: Recession Chic is Possible

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Pictured: The Author on CNC Today wearing her prized Chanel sweater and sharing tips for Recession Chic.

What a week this has been! The blog received a whole new audience this week as Reuters covered The Recessionista Blog. Following publication of the article, a whole new group of readers around the globe has discovered this blog. I’d like to take a minute to say welcome to all of you and thanks for reading. I hope the tips I offer are helpful to you. During these tough times, I truly believe that frugal living is the key, and that includes fashion. But I’m not talking about a complete “austerity” program. I believe that when you go into deprivation mode, it can only result in one thing , and that is a binge. For me the key is practicing savvy shopping and looking for the things you love, that flatter you, raise your spirits and are easy on your wallet. Remember, even in the midst of the Great Depression there was fashion and entertainment (the movies).

To better explain my “Recessionista manefisto”, I want to share my recent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Today show with Nancy Wilson. Not all of the interview answers were aired, but I wanted to share the full interview and my answers with my readers.

CNC: How would you define a Recessionista?
Recessionistas are those of us struggling to survive the recent global economic challenges while still enjoying some of life’s pleasures. We are still looking for great fashions and styles, but now we are looking at quality plus a great price. This is what I call “Recession Chic.”

CNC: Why was it important for you to put your ideas on a blog?
I wanted to share with others how I was feeling as I saw the economy slowing down. The blog is a way of reaching out and saying, it’s ok to be frugal now. There is no shame in it. I had always shared my shopping tips with friends and family, so the blog became a way of sharing with a larger audience and developing a community. To me, writing The Recessionista is empowering. (I’m developing a book to further share my tips and recession survival strategies).

CNC: What sort of reception have you been getting ever since you started?
The reception is truly amazing and it shows the tenure of the times. It has grown from a couple of hundred readers, to thousands from all over the world. Obviously, people are looking for this type of information.

CNC: Walk us through your transformation. What led you to stop free-spending and become more of a frugal shopper?
I saw the economy slowing down and I realized I needed to be saving more and spending less. I call it “The Courage to be Frugal.” I had to dig deep, but I found it. I realized that by taking some time and looking around for the things I wanted, I could still find a way to be fashionable and save money.

CNC: So if you want to spend tens, or a few hundreds, instead of many hundreds or thousands. What should you be looking at in terms of how you shop?

Here are a few basic tips:
Private shopping clubs: I have found many great bargains, including high end designers via the private shopping clubs. Those are all listed on the blog and readers should take advantage of them.
Consignment stores: I love to shop consignment stores. This is how I buy Chanel and other high-end designers for less. I have found many great items for much, much less, like the Chanel sweater I am wearing today.
Clipping coupons: Take the time to look around the Internet for a coupon code to use before you buy. And don’t forget coupons from the paper and local mailers. (check out the H&M coupons on the blog today)
eBay: I am big on eBay. I have found many great deals there on designers like Stella McCartney and Alice Temperely. I look for the designers with fashions that flatter me, and when they are there at the right price, I buy.

CNC: What about cheap chic clothing– like H&Ms designer collections… are the low prices worth it?
Absolutely, I go to the annual H&M designer collection sales every year. I love my Viktor & Rolf and Stella McCartney H&M pieces. I am still wearing those. I think it’s wonderful that these are now available. They make fashion more accessible and affordable to a larger audience. I wear my $20.00 Normal Kamalli dress from Walmart with my best pearls and it looks like a million. I think it’s great that designers are now offering low priced versions of their lines.

CNC: Handbags can be so expensive. It now looks like people are sometimes renting designer bags! Have you heard of that?
Yes, I have heard of the rental. Handbag buying maybe the area of my greatest reform! I am a big handbag lover and have bought many great designer bags. My take on the clubs is this, there are hidden costs there and many times the rentals are not cheap.Take a close look at them. I have seen Chanel and Dior bags for several hundred dollars for a rental. (note: there may be also be a wait list for those bags). To me, that’s not a “deal”. You must pay for shipping and insurance for that bag. You may also have to pay a club membership fee for some of the clubs. And all of that adds up. Some people also worry about returning the bag in perfect condition so as not to incur even higher fees or penalties For me, I would rather buy the Anya Hindmarch bag at Target for $49.99 or buy a designer bag on eBay, or a bag on sale at a retailer. If I buy a great designer bag, I can always eBay it later and recoup some of my investment. In contrast, the handbag rental fee is just for a one time use with no return.

CNC: I just love the term Recessionista. Do you think it’s just a trend that will go away once the economy rebounds?
Thanks, I like the word too ! 🙂 It has just that little touch of “bling” and again makes it sound like shopping cheap and cheerful is a very cool thing to be doing.
I don’t believe that living the “recessionista lifestyle ” will go away. I will continue to live this way even after the economy rebounds. To me, this is the challenge of our generation. We haven’t faced this type of economic issue before. We were used to buying what we wanted when we wanted. In contrast, my mother was a child of the Great Depression. She sold apples on the street corner with her parents when she was 3 and 4 years old. The Depression ended, but she has remained frugal her whole life. She learned a huge life lesson from that period, and now our generation is learning the same lesson.

Althought it wasn’t part of the interview, I want to add a little postscript here. I believe my mother, with the exception of Shirley Temple, may have been the best dressed child in the Depression. Her two aunts made most of her clothes using Vogue patterns and their own patterns. These were her two wonderful aunts Alice and Eunice. They were in their late teens during the Depression and they were avid fashion fans. Times were tough, but they would make the most beautiful clothes without spending much money using their sewing skills and whatever materials they could find. I remember Alice telling me how they would recycle old dresses, use burlap sacks and even reuse old sheets to make beautiful things. This type of thing is still possible today.
Remember when the fabulous Laura Bennett made that beautiful dress out of peanut sacks for Project Runway?

Pictured: Project Runway’s Laura Bennett picking dress materials from peanut sacks and transforming them into a beautiful dress.
Photos: Courtesy of Bravo TV’s Project Runway Blog

Just another great example of how a true fashionista can do more with less 🙂


Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.


  1. Target-Addict

    February 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Congrats on being on TV! A fantastic interview, with really valuable tips. In addition to my favorite store (Target) I am also a frequent consignment store shopper AND seller. I think that people forget that in addition to being a great resource for finding frugal fashions, consignment stores also allow you to sell off your castoffs to make extra $$.

  2. Muppet

    February 8, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Just wanted to say I totally dig this blog!

    I am so sick of the never-ending trend of having to spend an insane amount of money on clothes and accessories just to look good.

    It’s awesome what you’re doing!

  3. Target-Addict

    February 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the postscript to your original post. It reminds me that during the Depression, my grandma used to make lovely handmade clothes for my mom’s dolls. They were lucky enough to be OK financially during those hard times, although one luxury they had to cut out was extras like doll clothes. So instead, my mom and grandma made them from the things you suggested – old sheets, doilys, handkerchiefs, etc. I think my mom still has some of those dolls and outfits and I’m gonna call her to find out!