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How an Actual Teen Shops

“Things that used to embarrass me don’t anymore.”

An illustration of a coin being dropped into a piggy bank.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email

This week, we spoke with Ali, a 19-year-old sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis.

How do you tend to shop and what do you live on when you’re at school?

I’m not a huge shopper. I’m from St. Louis and I go to school in St. Louis, so if I ever need anything, I usually will go home and go shopping with my mom at stores by my house.

But for the most part, I stay on campus all the time. I don’t see my family super often. So mostly I shop during my spring, fall, and winter breaks.

I’m very small, so I have a lot of clothes that I’ve had since eighth grade, literally. I’m a very plain kind of dresser. So if there’s a skirt in five colors, I’ll get the black one or I’ll get the denim one. And that’s both a matter of personal taste and also that it all goes together.

And as far as food goes, I’m on a meal points system on campus, and if I need something, we have this thing called Bear Bucks. It’s kind of all figured out for me, pretty much, which is nice. It’s just a very contained, quaint campus, and they really think of everything, so there’s convenience stores and whatever. So yeah, it’s mostly Bear Bucks and meal points at this point. I’m not a real adult.

Do you have a campus job?

My parents’ belief is that I am a full-time student and I am really working hard at my studies. I am involved in a lot of things on campus, I have an internship this summer, but during the school year, I’m mostly focusing on my studies. Wash U’s a very tough place. A lot of my friends have on-campus jobs, like in the library and stuff like that. It’s definitely something I’ll consider once I’m an upperclassman and I’ve figured out my workload more, but since I’m still so early on, it’s just been about figuring out the coursework.

What are your go-to places when it comes to shopping?

I try to shop nice, but not a lot. So I’d rather have one really nice dress that I can wear five times and style five different ways than something that I’m just going to wear once and it’s going to fall apart.

Topshop has a really good petites line, so sometimes I get nice things from there. I have a collection of two T-shirt dresses from there that I wear all the time. And if I could just shop in one place infinitely, with no finances involved, just get whatever I wanted, it would be Madewell.

And then I shop if I find a good sale or something at Nordstrom or Free People, occasionally Urban Outfitters. I also like to go into this store called Mod Boutique, which is a local thing. They have amazing sales, and also their social media marketing is insane. They just run all these promotions and stuff. They blow things way out of proportion. Like, you’ll you go in and just be like, “This is your massive tent sale? It looks so different online.” So it’s really impressive, what they do.

How has your style changed since coming to college? How do you feel like it compares to your classmates?

I actually had a friend visit me and was like, “Oh, wow, everyone dresses so nice here.” People really do wear [things like] off-the-shoulder tops or nice lace tank tops.

I was like that in high school, too, where I really liked to put myself together, which for me a lot of times is just wearing dark jeans and a white T-shirt. I also have a lot of sorority apparel. I’m definitely not a typical sorority girl. It was not something that I was intending to do, but it’s a very welcoming and inclusive community here. But you do see people a lot walking around with, as they call them, your letters. People will be walking around with their letters on, and I do the same at times, but I don’t like feeling like a billboard for anything.

I’m very proud of every club and organization and everything that I’m involved in. I have a lot of apparel for all the different things I do, but I also don’t want to only wear that stuff, if that makes sense?

I guess one thing that has definitely changed since coming to college is that it’s a lot more walking! In high school I would just go, park my car, and walk, like, 10 steps, and then in college it’s like, you have to think about weather and your feet hurting, and just all different kinds of stuff. I wear my white high-top Converse all the time. They’re not like super white anymore. And then my mom was just very insistent, because she has a lot of foot problems, that I stop wearing my really flat, cheap Madewell sandals from four years ago and start wearing Birkenstocks.

Where do you get your ideas for how to dress?

I’m not a recreational shopper. I think of things where I’m like, “Oh, I really wish I had a black pencil skirt because I could wear it with these five tops,” and then I'll go out and search for it. But in terms of actual style advice... I wrote a paper about body image in high school, and I feel like it’s the same thing. I feel like the influence of the media on me is not direct. It’s more indirect, in that I’m looking at what my peers are wearing, what my friends are wearing, what people in my sorority are wearing, people at parties are wearing — all of that is more impactful to me than some random person on social media.

That’s not to say that the people who I’m friends with, who I shop with, are not looking at social media — it could be influencing their decisions, which influence mine!

And to that end, do you feel pressured to dress a certain way?

No, I’m content. I love the clothes I wear. I don’t know that I’m the most hip or whatever; I get a lot of compliments on what I wear, but I do like to wear things that are very plain colors. I don’t like bright patterns. I don’t like a lot of different materials. Right now I’m wearing a very typical outfit for me, which is my high-waisted denim skirt and just a plain black tank top. I like all the stuff that I wear and I get excited when I get new things, because I don’t shop very often. So a new pair of jeans or whatever that actually fits me is exciting, and I don't really feel pressured to dress a certain way or anything like that.

I feel like I have more of a sense of identity [as I’ve gotten older]. In high school I would sometimes feel very self-conscious about what I was wearing; like, on certain days, I would really regret what I had on or whatever, and I feel like that was just because I didn't even know what I was doing with anything at that point. And now I just have such a great, established group of friends, and I kind of know what I’m majoring in. I kind of know more who I am. So I just don’t really get self-conscious about a lot of things in general anymore. Things that used to embarrass me don’t. I think it’s definitely a good age, an interesting time, for sure.

This interview has been edited and condensed.