How to Be Fashionable on a Budget

"I might not have an ID card or any other documents, but fashion is my way of saying: 'I am Abdoullaye, this is who I am.'"

This article is part of our New Neighbours series, in which young refugees from across Europe guest edit VICE.com. Click here to read the introduction.

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Abdoullaye is 17 and originally from Ivory Coast. He currently lives in a refugee centre in Palermo, Sicily.

I change my outfit at least three times a day – every different part of the day requires its own outfit. I'll wear a mismatching, brightly coloured suit in the morning – like green pants under a white jacket, for example. In the afternoon I'll wear something with a playful twist, like a beret and a camouflage jacket. Then in the evenings, I always wear a matching suit. Hats and bow-ties are must-haves for me; I prefer bow-ties over ties.

Looking smart and well-groomed is the best way to introduce yourself to the world. In and around the Sicilian refugee centre where I live, people recognise me. When I leave my room and go downstairs to the common areas, I'll always get compliments. People call me "beddu", which means "handsome" in Sicilian.

Two guys who work at the centre noticed my passion for fashion, and one afternoon they asked me to pose for a shoot in my own clothes. It was nothing serious, but I had so much fun. That's when I realised I wanted to be a model.

Abdoullaye in a white jacket and green slacks. All photos by Francesco Faraci

I'm proud of my wardrobe. Given that I'm only 17 and on a very tight budget, I've done pretty well, I think. I buy most of my clothes here, in Ballarò [a very popular street market area in the centre of Palermo]. There's so much second-hand or vintage clothing sold there, that I always find great pieces and accessories for very little money. I once bought a lovely three-piece suit for five euros. That's how I've built my wardrobe from nothing.

If you want to look great but you are also on a very strict budget, there are a few guidelines to follow. The first is that you have to know where to look for cheap but well-made and stylish clothing. Secondly, you need to pace yourself and learn how to budget – never buy anything on the spur of the moment and always talk to the salesman and try to haggle. Don't be afraid to walk away from an item you think you want, check out what else is on offer and make sure that whatever you're spending your money on is worth it.

I fell in love with fashion watching my mother at work. She owns a tiny dyeing shop back in Ivory Coast, where I'm from. I used to love all the colours in her shop, and I still love wearing bright clothing. To me, mixing and matching bright colours is an art form. The more bright colours, shapes and styles in my wardrobe, the more and better art I can create with my clothes. So if you really want to be fashionable on a budget, the third rule is that you need to learn how to match pieces of clothing so your outfit becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I'm generally an attentive observer, but I don't draw my inspiration from one source in particular. I don't follow models or read fashion magazines or websites. I wouldn't really know which ones to follow – I haven't been in Europe long and we didn't have all that stuff in Ivory Coast. Fashion is more of an impulse for me, it seems to be in my nature.

But my passion isn't just a matter of aesthetics. People respect you more if you are well-dressed, if you look smart and fierce. It's not a matter of power – I'm not powerful or strong – strength belongs to God. It's a matter of looking distinguished, of giving respect and getting respect in return. Style and elegance aren't just about appearance – how you act is just as important as what you wear.

That's what I try to explain to my friends. They often ask me what to wear, what would go with these pants and under that blazer, whether to add a hat. I like helping them, so when people ask me if they can borrow some of my clothes, I'm fine with that. But they have to make sure to give them back; I care about my clothes and I can't afford to lose them. I guess that's the fourth rule of being fashionable on a budget – love and care for your clothes, otherwise you'll have to keep buying new things.

I would love to work as a model for a while – people here keep telling me I should. I like doing a bit of acting in front of the camera. When I organised the shoot for this article, I chose Ballarò as the location. I know everybody there, all the traders. They're all so nice. That's the first thing I learned about Sicily – people here are warm and friendly.

The day of the shoot was a great day. A lot of people asked me if they could take a picture with me – shop owners lifting the shutters, traders giving me clothes just to pose in, card players, painters working on the gate outside Palermo's cathedral. I had so much fun and I think the pictures turned out great. I hope to be able to move to Milan as soon as I get my papers. I've already looked up some modelling agencies there, and I hope one of them will sign me at some point.

When you're waiting for your documents, you have a lot of spare time. Or, rather, a lot of empty time. You can't really do anything, you are nobody. You just wait. It's dangerous to allow yourself to feel stuck though, because when you start thinking you're nobody, you'll also start thinking that it doesn't matter what you do – including bad or stupid things.

That's why I use clothes to reflect my personality. I might not have an ID or any papers, but my style is my way of saying, "I am Abdoullaye, this is who I am." I'd say that's the fifth rule of being fashionable on a budget – do it for yourself first.

Abdoullaye's Five Rules for Looking Lit on a Budget

1. Find the best spot for cheap but well-made clothes.
2. Don't buy the first thing you see, and make sure you haggle.
3. Learn how to match your clothes to make your outfit pop.
4. Love your clothes, look after them and respect them.
5. Express yourself through your style.

Scroll down for more photos from Abdoullaye's fashion shoot.

Sign the UNHCR petition urging governments to ensure a safe future for all refugees here.

Go here to donate to Asante, a charity helping unaccompanied refugee children in Sicily.

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