From Fashionistas to Recessionistas at L.A. Private Schools

This is by Dolce and Gabbana. Price: $895.

Our recent post about fashion begged the question: hasn’t the recession impacted private school moms’ shopping habits? Of course it has. Sort of.


We are still knee-deep in a recession and its impact on some families at private schools in L.A. is still being felt. Hard. An article on CNN Money, “Making $300K and Getting Aid For A First Grader” was a national piece, but is relevant to schools in our city.


So what’s happing on the style front given this lagging economy that seems to show modest gains only to be followed by the release of new job numbers that indicate more bad news for workers?


At one posh Westside school, a friend told me she’s seen Prada-wearing moms showing up in Tory Burch, a definite downgrade in price. The “Hamptons-Chic” vibe is still the school uniform for these moms, but the recession has forced a designer swap.


This chic J. Crew satchel works for a busy mom. The price is right: $275

A school on Mulholland known for its  rich hippy, rock n’ roll vibe has seen moms spending more on inexpensive tee shirts and holding off on the pricy Rick Owens or Balenciaga leather jackets until “next season.” Or the season after that.


“I still shop at Barney’s,” said one of my friends at The Willows School. “But, now I’m only going to buy something if its on sale.”


Another Willows friend said she thinks moms at our school are cutting back in ways that won’t noticeably impact their status. “I think private school moms who need to cut back are shopping at less expensive grocery stores rather than dressing differently,” she told me.


My friend Pauline told me her daughter’s private elementary school in the Valley is one of the least fashion conscious places she knows. Both fashionista and recessionista, she’s cutting back on items that pre-recession she never thought she’d have to compromise on.


Says Pauline, “I just bought a t-shirt and sunglasses at Heavenly Couture on Larchmont, where everything is $15 and under. I think the fact that a store like this even exists on Larchmont Blvd. is evidence of a recession! I am a total brand snob and I’d never dreamed I’d go off-brand since I normally shop at Anthropologie or Polka Dots and Moonbeams. My t-shirt, kind of a Michael Stars rip-off, was $3.99 and my sunglasses were $6.99! After I lost my $100 Ralph Lauren glasses, I had to find a cheap replacement.”


Some private school moms are skipping trunk shows and designer events to avoid dropping $10,000 for a pile of stuff they don’t really need. But, will they fire their personal shoppers? Are they secretly heading to H&M for cool-girl fashion that won’t break the bank?


Luckily, The Gap has made a comeback after a few horrid years of dowdiness and Tween-inspired crap that would barely cover one of my arms. The Gap got its groove back just in time for moms like me who love their easy-to-wear, affordable items.


I’m not a fan of Forever 21 for adults over the age of…well, 21. I know moms who wear it, but it seems a bit too young, at least for me. That said, I bought these gorgeous earrings there for my daughter, but they were too big for her. I get more compliments on these $5 baubles than you can imagine.

Forever 21

Target is smart. Every time it introduces a high-end designer creating an affordable line for its stores, whether its Marni or Missoni, these low lines sell out immediately. Now Target will be making an entrance into Neiman Marcus. A reversal of fortune?


For moms at very traditional and parochial schools where skinny jeans, blow-outs and super-high heels get whispers and long, hard stares, the Ann Taylor mommy-shoppers simply shift to Ann Taylor Loft. Same style, just polyester instead of silk.


Those uber-popular white jeans seen all over the Westside schools? Will anybody really know if they are J Brand or J Crew? For everyone’s sake, lets hope not or the fur will fly.


Speaking of fur, which I detest with all my being, its never been a must-have item in L.A., although I know moms at a few schools who flaunt it. I would never wish hard financial times on anyone, unless it means they can no longer afford real fur.


Let’s hear it for faux fur, priced right and ethically right!

Dressed to Kill? No! Killed to Dress!




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Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of two kids who attended The Willows School in Culver City and Viewpoint School in Calabasas. My daughter is a graduate of Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism ('23) and my son is a sophomore at UPenn/Wharton ('26). I live in Coldwater Canyon with my husband, Barry, and our dogs. Contact me at

20 thoughts to “From Fashionistas to Recessionistas at L.A. Private Schools”

  1. This post is comical but right on. I hear moms everywhere discussing how they are cutting back on spending on everything from clothing to the cars they drive. I even heard from a friend that several moms at an elite LA private school took turns taking each others kids over the summer to save from paying for too many weeks of camp.

  2. great points! When I worked at a super chic westside school, I was told that my look is “eastside.”

  3. I love this post, Christina. I am a firm believer that style cannot be bought, and the majority of sky-high priced designer items will forever be unattainable to me. The fun of shopping/styling is mixing pieces in a seamless way: Forever 21 here, a sprinkle of J Crew there, a little Chanel on the side.

    I also believe that investing in elemental pieces of an outfit (an excellent, well-made pair of jeans, a light jacket for the fall, a perfect pair of pumps) makes all the difference. Private school mommies don’t need to break the bank. 🙂

  4. Recessionista fashion has been a way of life for me for years! I love a high/low look anyway, to keep things interesting. My costume jewelry from H&M, Jcrew and yes, forever 21 gets tons of compliments. But I won’t let go of my J Brands, ever. They make my Target t shirts so much cuter 😉

  5. You know, with the plethora of online outlet and discount sites like The Outnet and Gilt, it’s pretty possible to stick with those fancier brands while not breaking the bank. After shopping this way for a while, still buying my favorite brands, I realized there’s really no reason to pay full retail ever again. Then again, my kid goes to a school where fashion seems pretty unimportant. I think the biggest “status” outfit is to show up in scrubs. And you can’t pick scrubs up at Barney’s.

  6. Thankfully, my kid’s private school doesn’t have many of those fashionistas around. Not that I’d know b/c I don’t spend much time there. As a single parent, I have to focus on making money to live which leaves me very little to use for clothes. I used to be a huge clothes person but no so much anymore.

    However, when I do shop, it’s H&M for cotton tops, long sleeve or tank. I will spend good money on jeans b/c I wear them into the ground. Anthro is a place of the past for me. GAP, Target and Lord and Taylor when I’m in NYC or Free People brand on sale at Macy’s or Bloomingdales, gives me all that I need to feel good and still have money left over to eat.

    I have never been able to afford an expensive bag in my life. Coach, in my mind, is perfect and even then I still never buy there. I may treat myself next year for my birthday but for now, I buy what I can at the GAP or just take whatever my much wealthier mother tosses aside.

  7. I was wondering the same thing myself – how has the recession affected the fashion conscious culture of LA and, in your case, the LA private school? It sounds like it has hit everyone. It must have on some level – especially because so many people in this town work in the entertainment business. My hubby, who works for Paramount, says he feels bad because people call him all the time looking for jobs. We are thankful my husband has a job and for what we have. Although a lush vacation to Hawaii and a new Chanel bag wouldn’t be so bad either.

  8. Hi Christina:
    I’m usually a fan of your blog and posts but this post is silly and superficial. I think you should stick to meatier educational and topical issues. Don’t stoop to the lowest common denominator. You’ll lose fans like me. I’m not trying to be mean or unfair, just constructive!

    1. HI Beth, I appreciate your opinion, but with every post I write I risk losing readers. I can’t please everyone all the time! And, its summertime and things are a bit lighter right now because that’s how I’m feeling. Not to worry, back soon with a bunch of posts that are all work, no play:)- Christina

  9. Interesting post… I think it’s important for kids to know (rich or not) how the rest of the world is impacted by the economy. And parents need to be role models, not fashion models!

  10. Recession or not, I’m always a big fan of mixing high and low. And I LOVE and smile when I get the most compliments on my Forever 21 dress that everyone assumes is a Marc Jacobs. At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to the woman and how she rocks it! Plus, it’s fun to be resourceful and creative when it comes to fashion.

  11. Well, although I am a former fashion designer and film/music industry stylist and love fashion, I could never afford head to toe couture or top designer fashion. Personally, I think a person who can mix high and low shows real style and creativity. It’s sad to me that people would put such extraordinary value on their outside appearance and judge others on what they can or can’t afford.

    We start elementary school in a few weeks and I sure there will be moms at our new school who are dressed to the nines. I hope to find families to whom we can relate and who have similar parenting values as we do. Regardless of what they’re wearing. 🙂

    And for the record, I like your mix of lighthearted pieces & “hard” information! Keep it comin’!

  12. I liked this post and personally like hearing that I’m not alone in being effected by the economic downturn. Not that I could ever really afford prada except for the occasional splurge. Its all about the mix! A lighthearted piece like this is fun and relevant to the whole private school scene. That’s what life is any way, a mix of serious and heavy, and light and fun! Love your blog and enjoyed the post. xoxoxo

    1. Thanks for your comment! We try to give readers an idea of what life is really like at some of L.A.’s private elementary schools and fashion is a BIG part of that life for many moms (and dads). Who knew that our fashion posts would turn out to be some of our most popular pieces? – Christina

  13. I think a lot of people mix high and low fashion, but as some of the comments have alluded to, you cannot always tell because they carry it off well. People often assume I spend a lot on clothes, but the key is fit, the right clothing for your shape and size, and not trying to dress “on trend.” Instead I think you should incorporate a few trends from each season into your wardrobe. Why spend a lot on those when in a few months, they won’t even be cool anymore?

    But, my accessories these days are a stroller and a diaper bag, so what do I know?

  14. I love mixing high and low too, especially in the summer when my favorite shoe de jour is Havaianas. The Gap and JCrew have always been staples for me too, so I don’t feel as guilty splurging on big ticket items like bags and shoes. Btw, love the post. So fun when you give us the inside scoop on moms in private schools. All the things we want to know but were afraid to ask 😉

  15. I love the term “recessionista”! And I agree with Matt — style cannot be bought. You can be plenty stylish and creative shopping at H&M. Also, someday I have to get myself down to the garment district…I hear you get some real deals there.

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