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Holiday Chic On A Student Budget

Looking stylish in the holiday season can be challenging for students who want to look good and feel confident but can’t necessarily afford high-end outfits.

So just what is a girl to do who has a lot of parties to go to, but not a lot of money to spend?

Josh Burden, visual merchandiser for H&M and an Academy of Art University alum, shares his advice on how to shut down the party without breaking the bank, tips on affordable bargains and the importance of being true to your own sense of personal style:

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of Josh Burden

FASHION SCHOOL DAILY: How did you get your position at H&M?

JOSH BURDEN: I started at City College for fashion design and was there for a few years.  Then I realized it wasn’t for me; it was just too much work to create a garment.  I fell into the styling role and ended up working here at H&M while I was going to the Academy.

There was a visual merchandiser named Sindry Galvin who did this runway with mannequins where he put wire in their clothing; it was blowing in the wind.  He attached pillows on their head like they were levitating. They all had these different accessories on them and I just thought it was so amazing! I ended up asking what that was.  And they were like, “Oh, they’re visuals!” And I thought, “Well, whatever that is, I want to do that.”

I ended up going to school, and when I saw that Academy of Art University had a Visual Merchandising major, I ended up doing that.  I’ve kind of had a love for it for a while.

FSD: What are the top fashion trends you’re most excited about this holiday season?

JB: Oversized clothes such as oversized hoodies and oversized mom-pants.  I’m into Balenciaga‘s look when they did the men’s runway collection because of the oversized trousers and the boxy blazers.  I felt like that was really cool and a little bit innovative.  The man-silhouette hasn’t changed in years, so it felt like they wanted to make it something really funky by sticking to the same idea of the men’s plastic silhouette but changing the shoulder pads and making the waist super small like a woman’s.  It is almost androgynous, like a woman’s business suit.  I thought it was really cool.  Those are trends that I am really looking forward to seeing people on the street actually trying to attempt.

Balenciaga Men Spring Summer 17: Explore the collection on #balenciaga #look6

A photo posted by Balenciaga (@balenciaga) on

FSD: Was there an item that was expected to be a big seller, but didn’t do so well?  And if so, why not?

I saw a lot of leather pants and skirts and I felt like it ended up transferring over into spring.  We had all this leftover leather and I just don’t think people were really into it, even though leather is a signature garment.  With pants or jackets, I think you can always play with the styles but I just don’t feel like people were that interested in it.  

FSD: Any idea why not?

JB: It’s the styling.  It is creating the right trend with it and not trying to mix soft and hard styles, or making the style super hard.  Last year, all the different companies’ windows that I saw were trying to mix soft and hard, but I’m more for a romantic soft.  Not floral prints, but they had glitter and soft argyle sweaters…and it’s like “No, don’t mix that with leather.”  So I think that’s why a lot of that was left over.

FSD: What can you tell us about this year’s holiday collection?  What styles are expected to be popular in the San Francisco market? 

JB: For this year’s holiday collection, since we’re collaborating with Kenzo, I think a lot of it has to do with ethnic prints and very heavy knitwear.  There will be leather mixed into this year, too. I think they’re trying to go for that urban look, like that girl who is stomping on the streets in SoHo.  

FSD: How does that compare to H&M stores on the East Coast?

JB: H&M tries to make sure that it’s all connected.  We don’t make it any different. Since the company has grown, they are trying to make sure that it is all the same look.

FSD: So how do you tailor to the San Francisco market specifically?

JB: I use my experience working with fashion and style.  My taste level as far as what I think looks well when it comes to a silhouette or what I think might sell as far as what’s visually pleasing.

FSD: When do you start preparing for the holiday season?

JB: Now.  As soon as possible.  Now.

FSD: How do you get ready for the holidays?

JB: I like to read a lot of fashion blogs and am constantly looking at different magazines.  I’m really into magazines like Wonderland and V and I look at Nylon.  I’m into the funky side of fashion.  I think that Vogue definitely offers that but I feel like it is a higher end side of fashion and I love street fashion.  I even go to this store in Japantown because they have street fashion magazines. I read a lot of those, just because I’m really, really into street fashion.  The store name isn’t in English, not all magazines in English, and I have to search through and find the ones that are in English.  They sell different international Vogue’s; they have the Italian Vogue, the Japanese Vogue, but not the American or English. 

FSD: What materials do you like to bring in?

JB: H&M provides all the materials.  We just bring in our hands and our eyes.

FSD: What are some of the challenges of this position?   

JB: Just keeping an open mind and being open to the different style aspects that they bring to you.  Sometimes you might see something and think, “I don’t really understand that” or “I can’t grasp it,” but it might be something that is a little more innovative than the way that you think, so you just have to be open minded to what they’re trying to show you.

FSD: What looks can you recommend for students on a budget?

JB: Oh my God – that’s hard!  Going to school at the Academy, there were all these people who had Fendi and Prada accessories.  I was in class with this girl who wore this $5,000 fur jacket and it was like 90 degrees outside.  You automatically think that to be fashionable you have to spend all this money on particular garments.  But my idea of fashion has always been to just express yourself in the way you can and what you can afford.

Like right now, I’m pretty sure my outfit looks trendy, but my flannel is Walmart.  I spent $7 on it.  My shirt is Goodwill – I spent $3 on it. The idea {is to be} inspired by those things but put your own flair into it.  Doing what you can afford.

Image Source: Josh Burden
Image courtesy of Josh Burden

My biggest quote when it comes to fashion is: “Their pretty doesn’t make your pretty any less pretty.” It is just the idea that yeah, they have all that going on, but what you have going on may be better because you actually put your heart and soul into it.  You didn’t just swipe your card to get it.

FSD: Are there a couple of pieces you can suggest from the holiday collection?

JB: There is a crop top hoodie upstairs that is $14.99 and super cute and oversized. ­ I’m going back to that mom thing because that’s something I think is really fashion-forward.  I’ve seen Rihanna in it, I’ve seen Kim Kardashian in it, I’ve seen Kanye West in it, and the silhouette is the same.

I also think the oversized pea coat is super cool, and that’s always something that’s fashionable.  Throughout our store, there are a lot of heavy knit pieces that are oversized – that’s always a trend and something people should look into.  

Get ready for winter with the new seson’s soft colors and warm coats. #HM

A photo posted by H&M (@hm) on

FSD: Anything special that you can suggest for a holiday party?

JB: I’m always about sequins.  Even for guys – being the guy with that sequined blazer on, shutting the party down because he’s not afraid to push the envelope a little.  I always feel sequins are fun and quirky.  And I feel like that’s what the holiday season is – fun, bright and shimmery.

FSD: Can you recommend three looks for different types of students? Maybe preppy, artsy, casual?

JB: For the artsy student, please give me the funky Christmas oversized sweater. For the preppy student, please give me a structured pant with a structured top. And for the casual student, give me that heavy knit.

FSD: What’s the best day for students to shop? 

JB: When I go shopping, I go on Mondays around 11 a.m., when the store first opens.  You’re alone in the store and they have all these staff members in the store walking around. You can get all the help you need and ask all the questions you want.

FSD: When does the store get shipments in?

JB: Every day.

A photo posted by H&M (@hm) on

FSD: Any final tips for Academy fashion students?

JB: Express yourself.  Do not be afraid to express yourself.  College students are finding themselves and can feel so lost in the world, but I think finding yourself is getting lost.  Don’t be afraid to get lost when it comes to your school work and when it comes to fashion.

Text by Jennifer Lucero, MFA Web and New Media. This piece was written for Cynthia Durcanin’s  FSH 617 Introduction to Fashion Journalism class.