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Free style, or nearly so

Sarah Pavia shows you how to look your best on a budget

It’s hardly news that fashion plays a large role in our culture and society—what we wear means a lot to people. Sometimes we even look past the price tag—as heavy as it may be—and look instead to the brand. Who are we wearing, and what does that mean to us as people? 

For Sarah Pavia, associate director for campus life at Rochester Institute of Technology, fashion isn’t about wearing the best brands or reaching deep into your pockets to afford them. She discovered that people can be put together and fashionable and still be on a budget. “My true love is thrifting,” Pavia says. “I like to call it the ‘Goodwill Tour,’ and I hit up my favorite Goodwill locations looking for items to up-cycle for my home, accessories, and clothing.”

As a young girl, Pavia discovered she had a passion for fashion. She would raid her mom’s stash of jewelry and shoes and keep her Barbie dolls in fashionable outfits—and that passion stuck with her. As she got older she worked at a hardware store—hardly a straight shoot into the fashion industry, but it gave her a paycheck to keep up with what she loves. “Every weekend I would take the paycheck and go to the newly opened H&M, which was a new store at that time, and spend my entire paycheck on fashion. Hot pink pants, trendy accessories—all things I would wear to school with a pair of heels feeling on top of the world or to my sixteenth party in those pink pants!”

Pavia kepat it by scouring fashion magazines and signing up for store catalogs to keep up with what was new. But one thing stuck out for her: those items that were $20 or less. People didn’t need to go broke looking good, and she knew that, and that was all part of the glamor of fashion. “I think looking back, the allure was the same then as it is now: fashion is everywhere, but style is subjective,” she says. “Style is an outward expression of your inward self, of who you are—and I have always used my styling as a way to show my personality. Who I am, how I’m feeling that day, what message I want to convey.”

But it’s not all about saving money, either. There’s a lot that fashion can do for us to influence us emotionally. “I saw these women in these magazines and ads and I loved how poised and confident they appeared—how a dress can transform a woman and make her appear inches taller just by the way her confidence builds and she carries herself as a result.”

So who is “fashion on a budget” for? The answer to that riddle is surprisingly simple: anyone, of course. “I currently showcase styles and outfits that I have for other women, everyday women, no matter what their bank account holds, who they are, where they live, what they do,” Pavia says. “But, regardless of the price point, my message is about seeing beyond the price tag and the label and drawing inspiration through your own personal styling. I took a chambray dress I found at Walmart for $3 that looks identical to one I saw at a high-end store for much more, and I styled it myself. That dress got me a lot of compliments…from a variety of women of all different backgrounds and financial [situations].”

Pavia recounted a story of when she volunteered at a women’s career clothing drive. She met a young woman who didn’t have the means to buy a suit for an upcoming interview, so she came to the clothing drive. “She was a size extra small, and all the clothing there was much too large for her. With some creativity we were able to find some pieces that worked well for her frame regardless—but the best part was the blouse she wore under her blazer. She found a red blouse at the drive that had more of a club and bling feel to the front of it—with gold gems. When she started crying that she might have nothing to wear, I took her aside and showed her how style is all about making the clothing work for you—we turned the shirt around, ripped out the tag in the back, and she wore the shirt backward under the blazer with a simple necklace over the top. She felt confident and ready for her interview—and the best part was that she got [the job].

“Again, fashion can be universal, but style, and creative styling, is unique, and it’s all about making it work for your needs.”

You can find Pavia on Instagram at
@sbpstyle, Facebook at SSFashion, Twitter at @sbgriffy, and on her website at Or, shoot her an email at [email protected].  



Chris Stocking is a photographer and freelance writer who lives in the Rochester area with his wife and two kids.

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