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noun [countable]

a person who is able to dress in a fashionable way even though they do not have a lot of money to spend on clothes

'Modern takes on glamour are about deceiving the eye while preserving the purse, demanding all the imaginative skills of today's artful recessionistas. In short, getting the high-fashion look at a low-down price …'

Irish Times29th September 2008

It's a real problem. You want to look glamorous for an office do, but every bit of party gear in your wardrobe has been seen by your colleagues at least once before. Unfortunately, a trip to your favourite boutique doesn't seem a realistic option either, because the credit crunch is nibbling away at your festive budget. The solution? – join the ranks of the recessionistas.

recessionista is a popular new term for a person who manages to dress stylishly on a tight budget

Recessionista is a popular new term for a person who manages to dress stylishly on a tight budget, and it gained currency rapidly in the pre-Christmas weeks of 2008, when people's disposable income was seriously curtailed by the knock-on effects of an ailing economy. 'Shoppers' guilt' is worse than ever in the current financial climate – with people losing their jobs left, right and centre, there seems to be no way of justifying frivolities such as clothes, shoes and handbags. So, instead of satisfying her fashion needs with a trip to the local shopping mall, the recessionista adopts a different strategy to replenishing her wardrobe. Typical activities include swapping clothes with friends, hiring rather than buying, or trawling the charity shops to find designer garments at a fraction of the high street price.

Though the stereotypical recessionista is female, the term does not apply exclusively to women – a male, budget-conscious, style maven can also be described as a recessionista. Nor is current usage restricted to clothes purchases, recessionistas might also track down the most budget-friendly ways to doing hair and make-up, adding stylish décor and furnishings to their homes, purchasing gifts, dining out and entertaining. If you'd like some tips on how to be an effective recessionista, check out this dedicated blog of the same name.

Background – from fashionista to recessionista

Recessionista is a clever blend of recession and the noun fashionista, which was coined in the early nineties to describe a person who wears fashionable clothing or works in the fashion industry. The suffix -ista, taken over from Spanish, has entered productive usage in English in recent years to describe a follower or devotee of someone or something. It regularly pops up in political commentary for example Blairista, Bushista, Palinista.

A related neologism in this context is the expression recession chic, coined in the early nineties to refer to the concept of style and elegance within the constraints of a tight budget. The recessionista then, is the personification of recession chic, emerging some years later against a backdrop of economic downturn in 2008.

Also at the interplay of fashion and finance, though with an ecological twist, is the related expression slow fashion. Taking inspiration from the concept of slow food, advocates of slow fashion invest in pieces of clothing which will last a long time, and are often made from locally-sourced or fairly-traded materials.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 16th February 2009.

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