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 oxford shirt by Land’s End
    • 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
    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
    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

    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. 

    • Cammy

      The best article I have ever come across on clothing. I am also one of those shoppers who love to save money as much as possible. Not very long time ago, I was very much careless while spending money on expensive clothing and accessories. But now after financial crisis I have learned to shop economically. found many great websites such as ezcouponsearch and retailmenot in last six months that helped me save a lot.

    • changingman

      I like Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth. I got a pair of Banana Republic slacks for $35 on sale from like $80 I think, and got them tailored for $25.

      • James Hemingway

        Love the look! Curious as to how the scarf was tied?

    • MrJBeee

      I love your posts on budget shopping. Flea markets and army/navy surpluses are the way to go. So many jewels are found. You guys are life savers for real. Keep up the good work!

    • TTG

      Nice post. I always love a good budget shopping tip. Nice one Cory.

    • Wes

      These outfits are still a little expensive… Haha, maybe I’m just speaking for myself though. I’m pretty much broke most of the time. Great article!

    • Jimi Brady

      H&M and Zara are great for buying cheap, well-fitting clothing on a budget. Being a former employee of H&M, I made full use of my discount. This article is a godsend for college students like myself. I need to visit thrift stores more often.

    • Sam

      Love the bleeding madras in look 3 (which is my favorite look). Great post!

    • Jonathan

      Something more affordable, for me especially being in college. I like the fact that this is someone I can relate too. Nice job TSB you never disappoint.

    • Desmond K

      I think that secondhand stores have been getting a lot of love lately in the menswear world. And it totally helps out guys who really cant drop a grand on a new burberry trench coat. But they can find a used one for $250. Great post. It also helps to open people’s eyes who pass judgement on well dressed people thinking that they spend thousands on their clothes all the time.

    • Elizabeth

      FINALLY! This is the kind of thing you guys should be doing!!! Great work. Really. Obviously not a man, but have to say this is definitely more accessible to the everyday, “real” man. Thanks for showing finances don’t have to dictate fashion. A plus.

    • Sergio Arteaga

      This is an awesome post! I personally am a budget shopper and love looking for deals anywhere and everywhere, so I can definitely relate to this post. Great style by Cory and on a budget!

    • TO

      You coulda hit me up for this one man! And I recently decided to extend my school career for a few more years, so this kind of shopping will continue to be a necessary habit for me haha. Cory did a good job though! Reminds me I still gotta get more familiar with Ebay…