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Models strut down the boardwalk during a recent showing of Chanel's cruisewear collection on the Lido in Venice. The Italian city was a favourite haunt of Coco Chanel, who went there in 1919 to get over the death of a lover.


Last week marked the launch of Toronto's Frugal Fashion Week, an event designed to celebrate fashion on a recession budget.

To me, fashion conjures images of Vogue covers, Christian Louboutin stilettos, and the designer floor of Holt Renfrew. But fashion has always been influenced by finance.

Hemlines, so the theory goes, rise and fall with the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In 1930, at the start of the Great Depression, a copy line from the fall Sears Catalogue read: "Thrift is the spirit of the day. Reckless spending is a thing of the past."

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Once again, fashion is following the economy down the path to thrift.

Gillian Downes, founder of Frugal Fashion Week, launched the event to give a boost to local fashion retailers suffering from the recession. She was inspired to act when she saw the deep discounts - as much as 80 per cent - that stores were offering in December. "Some of those stores are out of business now," she says.

A self-pronounced frugal fashionista, Downes believes that fashion on a budget is about doing your own thing. She does a lot of her shopping at Forever 21 ("Nothing costs more than $33.80") and Urban Planet. These are stores where "you can be frugal and spend less and create your own look."

For Downes, frugal fashion is about getting more creative with your clothing allowance. "Overall, it's about taking care of your money," says Downes. "Go shopping, but be wiser about it. You need to explore your options, explore vintage."

At the Frugal Fashion Week launch party, Downes was rocking a pair of skinny jeans from Forever 21 that cost $25, with a royal blue shirt and grey sparkly shrug. It was a convincing argument that frugal can still be fashionable.

It's clear, though, that to do fashion on a budget, you need to start with a sense of personal style.

Amanda Stines, a recent college graduate and fashion blogger, stays on top of the latest looks, but isn't a slave to trends. She believes that fashion is about "knowing your style". She shops at Joe Fresh, H&M, Zara and Value Village, which are "all great places to get fashion at lower prices." She also suggests searching relatives' closets for finds, such as the black Chanel-inspired handbag she scored from a fashionable aunt.

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Carlie Smith, founder of the outdoor fashion markets Portobello West in Vancouver Calgary and Portobello East in Toronto, has a different take on frugal fashion. For her, it's about making selective choices and investing in a wardrobe.

"I would prefer to spend more on one piece that is unique and quality, and just buy less," she says. While she acknowledges that everyone needs to adapt to the economy, buying the basics at Joe Fresh will allow you to afford a few signature pieces a season.

I'm a fan of the new Joe Fresh discount makeup line and find it convenient to buy a basic t-shirt with my groceries, but I'm in the "quality over quantity" fashion camp. As much as I want to support my local retailers, eBay is my top destination for fashion finds. I bought my favourite shoes for the office - a pair of black patent high-heeled Tod's loafers - on eBay for only $130. One of my most thrilling retail moments was spotting a black taffeta BCBG dress on eBay for $100 when it was still selling in the store for $450.

While hemlines may rise when the economy rebounds, I think that the thrifty approach to style will last long beyond the recession. It sounds like an oxymoron, but frugal fashion is here to stay.

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