How to Shop for Menswear on a Student Budget

October 4th, 2012

Sure, we sometimes feature expensive clothing on Articles of Style. That doesn’t mean, however, that good style has to be expensive.

Meet Tampa native Cory Sylvester. Part time writer, actor and comedian. Full-time style enthusiast and budget shopper extraordinaire.

After studying and performing sketch comedy at the legendary Second City Theater in Chicago, Cory moved to NYC in search of opportunity and experience. Admittedly, this lead to many nights waiting tables and performing odd jobs between gigs. Throughout the process of chasing his dream, however, Cory has learned many important life lessons, including how to look presentable and stylish on a tight budget.

Here he shares years of experience finding steals and deals, and proves that you don’t need a lot of cheddar to have good style.

1. Military Surplus

“When I moved to NYC I put everything I could fit into this bag and left the rest of my life in behind me. Everyone should know the feeling of a one-way flight to New York City…no return.”

Budget Shopping Tip: Army/Navy Surplus

If you’re shopping on a tight budget, check out your local army/navy surplus store. You’ll be surprised how many wearable basics you can find: cargo pants, canvas bags, aviator sunglasses, lace-up boots, canvas belts, yellow rain slickers, fatigue jackets, wool peacoats, etc.

Everything in there will be inexpensive and built to last. Just make sure you size down (most army/navy stuff is cut generously) and remember you’ll probably have to take some pieces to the tailor.

Crunch the Numbers

Sunglasses: $18 Cole Hann from Nordstrom Rack
Watch: $49 Timex from eBay
Donegal Sweater: $19 from Old Navy
Camo Pants: $12 from Crossroads Army/Navy Supply
Wingtips: $3 Florsheim from Salvation Army Chicago
Belt: $49 from JCrew
Canvas Duffel Bag: $22 from Army/Navy Surplus Chicago

Total Outfit: $172

  • Gold aviator shades by Cole Haan ·
  • Grey donegal wool sweater by Old Navy ·
  • Camo cargo pants Vintage ·
  • Gold watch by Timex ·
  • Black leather plaque belt by JCrew ·
  • Canvas duffle bag from Army/Navy Surplus ·
  • Black Vintage wingtips by Florsheim

2. Tailors Turn Trash to Treasure

Budget Shopping Tip: Save at the store, Splurge at the tailor

Sometimes you’re better off buying cheaper lower-quality clothing and having it tailored to fit properly rather than spending everything you have at the store and skipping the alterations. Quality is important, but fit is essential.

A tailor can also re-engineer old pieces you already own. I love finding old things in the back of my closet (or my father’s closet) that haven’t been worn in years, having them re-shaped and adding them back to my wardrobe.

Build a rapport with your tailor. He should know your name, how you like your clothes to fit and how much you want to spend with him.

At the end of the end, regardless of how much you spent on your outfit, confidence is the number one thing people will notice about your image.

There’s no shame in wearing something you paid a couple dollars for. If it fits well and you rock it with ease and confidence, people will assume you paid much, much more for it.

Crunch the Numbers

Double-Breasted Jacket: Free from lost and found at Second City Theater Chicago, alterations $60
Button Down Oxford: $30 from Land’s End (on sale)
Pocket Square: $15 from TheTieBar
Black Jeans: $42 Levis 511 from Macy’s
Watch: $49 Timex from eBay
Chelsea Boots: $109 Grenson from Urban Daddy online deal

Total Outfit: $305

White USA Oxford Shirt
  • Grey double breasted jacket Vintage ·
  • White cotton pocket square ·
  • Black jeans by Levis 511 ·
  • Gold watch by Timex ·
  • Black chelsea boots by Grenson

3. Not Used, Broken-In

Budget Shopping Tip: Buy Used Clothing!

I don’t know many stylish dudes that don’t own vintage duds.

As a budget shopper you should be frequenting your local vintage, second-hand, thrift, consignment and salvation army shops. Get to know the owners of these stores and find out what day of the week the new merchandise arrives. If you’re looking for something particular, let them know, maybe on their next buying trip they’ll think of you.

Crunch the Numbers

Blazer: $12 Vintage from Ragstock in Chicago
Denim Shirt: $10 Faded Glory from Wal-Mart
Trousers: $16 Original Penguin from Buffalo Exchange (consignment shop)
Scarf: $22 from JCrew
Boots: $187 Red Wings from Gilt.com
Watch: $42 Kenneth Cole from Ross

Outfit Total: $289

  • Denim shirt by Faded Glory (Wal-mart) ·
  • Grey tweed herringbone blazer (vintage) ·
  • Red plaid scarf by JCrew ·
  • Green trousers by Original Penguin ·
  • “Iron Ranger” Brown leather boots by Red Wing ·
  • Watch by Kenneth Cole

4. Going Once, Going Twice

Budget Shopping Tip: Online Auctions

As a budget shopper, sites like eBay and Etsy are your best friend.

Learn how to navigate these sites efficiently. For example, you can save a search for a specific item, in a specific size, color, etc. You can have the new search results emailed to you weekly, rather than wasting time continually searching. If you’re looking for something, eventually you will find it.

Lastly, always have a list of items you need to ad to your wardrobe. Have a plan and try not to purchase instinctually.

Crunch the Numbers

Sunglasses: $18 Cole Hann from Nordstrom Rack
Polo: $54 Fred Perry from Gilt.com
Jeans: $42 Levis 511 from Macy’s
Jacket: $9 Member’s Only from thrift store in the West Village NYC
Loafers: $10 Bass Weejuns from eBay
Watch: $103 Guess from Macy’s
Watch Strap: $12 from CheapestNatoStraps.com

Total: Outfit: $248

  • Tortoise shades by Cole Hann ·
  • Black polo shirt by Fred Perry ·
  • Vintage jacket by Member’s Only ·
  • Black jeans by Levis 511 ·
  • Black leather penny loafers by Bass Weejun

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Photography by Alex Crawford.