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Pretty Little Liars’s Troian Bellisario Prefers Her Mom’s Hand-Me-Downs to Fancy Clothes

“I wish I could shop designer, but those price tags make me want to throw up.”

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Troian Bellisario Photo: Rituals

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For the better part of a decade, Troian Bellisario has played overachiever Spencer Hastings on Pretty Little Liars, now in its seventh (and final) season. And while the actress’s personal style couldn’t be more different from her small-screen alter ego’s — Bellisario’s look leans bohemian, while Spencer’s is buttoned-up — the two have plenty in common, particularly their easy eloquence and pragmatism.

That sensible approach informs the way Bellisario shops — and saves. A careful spender by nature, she admires the craftsmanship of designer clothes but prefers buying them secondhand (despite the fact that she could easily call in favors from luxury labels) or raiding her mom’s closet for vintage treasures. She’s equally practical when it comes to her beauty routine, sticking to a reliable multi-step skincare regimen. I caught up with Bellisario at Rituals’ Fifth Avenue store this week to talk about her shopping weakness, her most prized vintage possession, and the Pretty Little Liars costar she thinks is “on another level,” style-wise.

Bellisario in one of her signature boho looks: A sheer printed maxi skirt teamed with a comfy sweatshirt, both by Cynthia Rowley.
Bellisario in one of her signature looks: A sheer printed maxi skirt teamed with a comfy sweatshirt, both by Cynthia Rowley.
Photo: Ray Tamarra/GC Images

Talk to me about your typical shopping strategy.

So the thing is, I’m a horrible shopper — I’m terrible at it. I will wear clothes until they’re destroyed. I had this woven Nine West backpack that was gifted to me, and it got this huge stain on the back. Everywhere I went, people were like, “Excuse me, I think something’s leaking in your bag.” Finally, my husband took it away from me and threw it out. But I just didn’t want to go and find a new bag!

I feel like whenever I see something in a store and try it on, I’m always immediately like, “This doesn’t look like me.” That’s why I love borrowing clothes from my friends, or taking hand-me-downs from my mom — those are clothes that I’ve seen before, over and over. It’s very rare that I’ll be walking down the street, see something in a window, and be like, “I have to have that.”

I’ll often go into a store, try on a bunch of stuff, and talk myself out of everything. I’ll tell myself, If you really want this, you’ll come back for it. [That’s why] I like to put stuff on hold and come back for it in a day or two, so you have time to think it over. Because sometimes, you were just hungry and delirious and there’s no way you were ever going to actually wear that orange floral kimono, you know what I mean?

In general, I tend to go to my same favorite stores over and over, because I already know that they’re my vibe. Rag & Bone, AllSaints, Vince — I know I can always find something that feels like me. And I always go into RRL, even if I sometimes leave [empty-handed]. Like, maybe I’m not going to buy those 18th-century engineer pants, but I’ll definitely try them on!

How about when it comes to your beauty routine? Are you loyal to the same few brands?

I always tend to wash my face with Clarins products; I use their cleanser, exfoliant, and toner. It’s a nice little line. I also like Origins — and Rituals is a really cool line, too. The philosophy behind all their products is that they’re based on rituals from ancient cultures, so when you use them all together, you can recreate those same rituals at home.

Troian Bellisario as Spencer, Shay Mitchell as Emily, and Lucy Hale as Aria on season 6 of Pretty Little Liars.
Troian Bellisario as Spencer, Shay Mitchell as Emily, and Lucy Hale as Aria on season 6 of Pretty Little Liars.
Photo: Eric McCandless/Freeform via Getty Images

It’s a different approach from, say, throwing on a face mask and taking it off 10 minutes later — as much as I love doing masks, especially sheet masks! But it encourages you to take a little more time, whether you’re in the shower or at the sink. And I do think that with beauty and with skincare, investing a little extra time can make all the difference.

Are you into shopping online, ever?

I’ve never been good at buying online. I mean, my Free People cart is insane — I’ve got thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff in there — but it’s very rare that I’ll actually buy something. I’m always adding to it, though, and I like to use it as inspiration. That way, if something comes up — like a friend’s wedding, or a vacation — I can be like, “Oh, I know something that’d be perfect for that!”

Do you typically gravitate toward designer or high-street pieces?

I wish I could shop designer, but I can’t. When I look at some of those price tags, they make me want to throw up. I love designer clothes, but I couldn’t ever spend that kind of money; the bang for the buck just isn’t there.

Sales sort of make me panicky, but I do love finding a good deal on something. I’ve recently gotten really into consignment shopping — I’m obsessed. There’s one store in particular in Toronto, VSP, that I love. They’ve got Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen — all of these insanely beautiful clothes. You’ll find a sweater for $250 that would’ve been, let’s say, $800 to $1,000 retail. And it was only worn once!

I can justify buying a $250 cashmere sweater because I know I’ll wear it until it’s full of holes and falling off of me. But I really don’t feel comfortable paying full price. I feel like I should be spending my money in better ways. Plus, there’s such a thrill in getting something like a Burberry jacket for a ridiculously great price.

Stella McCartney Cardigan, $289
Stella McCartney Cardigan, $289

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten on something?

Actually, I once found a Burberry men’s trench coat from the ’70s for $40 at a flea market — it was an amazing find, and I’ve worn it to death.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Oh, this beautiful wrap sweater from Ralph Lauren that my husband bought me as a wedding gift. It’s my favorite thing in the world.

How about something you wish you’d bought, but didn’t?

So, I really wanted a pair of those Balenciaga moto boots that everyone was obsessed with — the black ones with the buckles. I knew I couldn’t possibly spend the money on them, especially since I own so many boots already. But I found a pair marked down to $600 in this one store — and, like, that’s a normal price for a really good boot! But there was only one pair left, and they weren’t my size. It was the worst.

Are boots your shopping weakness?

They’re my obsession, especially black boots. I own way too many of them. And I definitely own a lot of coats. But here’s the thing: I could put on the same jeans and T-shirt that I wear every single day underneath, but if I’ve got on a really cool coat that I love, nobody knows!

Balenciaga Cutout Buckle Boot, $1,275
Balenciaga Cutout Buckle Boot, $1,275

Earlier on, you mentioned that you love borrowing pieces from your mom. Any favorite hand-me-downs?

My mom’s closet has always been such an inspiration for me. I used to love watching her get dressed up, and would tell her, “Save that dress for me, because I’m going to wear it when I’m older!”

Anyway, when I was a teenager and everything from the ’60s and ’70s was in, she did this really funny thing: One day, she decided to throw out all of her ’60s stuff. She only kept things from the ’80s and ’90s. I was like, “The ’80s and ’90s are never coming back, what did you do?!” Of course, now I’m like, “I will borrow that Calvin Klein dress or Armani suit, thank you very much!”

But my favorite things from my mom are her old riding boots, which I love and wear all the time, and her maternity dresses, which have this sort of triangle silhouette. She has one in white, one in this sunburst orange, one in this striped pattern. They’re from the ’80s, but look very ’60s mod. They make me feel like Twiggy!

Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings on season 7 of Pretty Little Liars.
Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings in a Rag & Bone sweater on season 7 of Pretty Little Liars.
Photo: Eric McCandless/Freeform via Getty Images

You’ve been on Pretty Little Liars for seven years now. Have you noticed yourself dressing more like Spencer as time has gone on, or vice versa?

Definitely. Spencer was super preppy at the start of the show — the vests, the high socks — but as she started to grow up, we started to grow together. Our costume designer really started to let me make Spencer a bit more of a punk, to edge her up. Not to make her bohemian in any way, just looser and a little more undone.

And Spencer’s influenced my ability to dress up, too. I feel the most comfortable in ripped-up jeans and a ratty T-shirt, and she’s taught me that, you know, it’s okay to wear a pencil skirt every once in awhile!

If you could trade closets with any of your PLL costars, who would you pick?

It’s a toss-up between Ashley [Benson] and Lucy [Hale]. They both have really, really good style, and I’m always envious of the stuff they show up wearing, even when it’s just to hang out. Ashley always has really fun accent pieces; like, she’ll wear yoga pants and a white T-shirt, but with a really cool satin bomber jacket with a funny phrase on it.

It’s not that I don’t love the way Shay [Mitchell] dresses, it’s just that I could never pull off the stuff she wears. Shay is on another level, and I don’t ever want to go to that level, because I can’t! She needs to occupy that level without any sort of competition.

Okay, how about if you could trade closets with any PLL character?

I do love Spencer’s wardrobe, and I love some of Aria’s stuff — but I’d probably want to trade with Emily, because she always gets the coolest casual stuff. It’s all really comfortable, but of course Shay makes it look amazing, because she’s Shay.