Cheap and chic: money can't buy class

A guy’s guide to dressing dapper on a limited budget.

Following a decade-long campaign of persistent nagging, my grandmother finally won our financial battle of wills and welcomed me into the frugal fold. Though I was resistant to change at first, discounting what I saw as old-timey concerns, her fine emotional blackmail techniques eventually got me over the line. She’d drop gems casually into conversation: “I just want to see you stable before I pass on,” she’d say, getting a little misty for maximum effect. The fact that she remains in fine health and will outlive us all didn’t reduce the impact.

All I can say is, thank god for Nan. A youth spent drinking my rent money and buying whatever I wanted, income be damned, had taken its toll – a sizeable sum that had somehow crept well into the five figures. I began the arduous task of paying off credit cards and debt collectors. And, once I’d managed to get the monkey off my back and finished basking in the freedom of not having creditors calling nightly, I got right to saving.

The first thing to go was clothes. I didn’t exactly have a wardrobe teaming with the latest and greatest but had enough key items and was certainly in no danger of freezing to death. Besides, 50-odd T-shirts is surely enough for any man. For a year I didn’t buy so much as a new pair of socks. It was a small price to pay for aiding fiscal solvency, but once I’d created a bank balance buffer I found it difficult to stop. My grandmother had built a fine little saver, but failed to install an off switch.

Unwilling to spend upwards of $250 on jeans that I would have purchased without a second thought before, and dealing with a slight, age-related size upgrade, I was left shoehorning myself into things that left me looking like a fleshy, aging emo. After a few months of this I was feeling a little less than fresh and knew something had to give.

But what did I do? Well, my fellow cheap-asses, I simply found a way to dress dapper that won’t break the bank. It doesn’t necessarily involve trawling second-hand shops for musty, ol’ duds – though if you can be bothered it’s worth a try – but rather seeking out all options available to you. So, follow these penny-pinching pointers and do your nanna proud!

Online affair

Forget spending your Saturdays lining up at Zara whenever they get a shipment in. They’ve got some decent stuff, but from my experience the fabric and overall quality leaves a lot to be desired. It’s best to go online for budget buys. The Holy Grail for guys being ASOS – who recently opened up their Australian online shop. Though TOPMAN is also a safe bet, ASOS can be great for simple pieces that have a slight edge.

Swap ’til you drop


It may sound a little crunchy, but the ol’ swap meet is back and they’ve raised the stakes. Usually found wherever you find farmer’s markets and the like – which is the Carriageworks here in Sydney – individuals and organisations like Oxfam are holding days where you can bring in your old threads and swap them with others. Important to note: there’s usually quality control at the door to make sure people aren’t swapping rags for riches.

Consider consignment

Though I was happy to spend hours at Glebe Markets in order to find an outfit for the princely sum of $20 as a young teen, as an adult I’d rather eat glass. As luck would have it, the kind people at decent op shops and consignment stores have done the sorting for lazy sods like myself. Find one you like, get to know the guy or gal behind the desk and often they’ll hold stuff they know you’ll be into.

Pop-up shopping

If you’re an inner-city denizen, pop-up shops are nothing new. And though many can be full of over-priced items from seriously delusional designers or stuff that’s been marked up from a good second-hand shop trawl, some of these places still stock great, quality pieces from up-and-comers at a fraction of the cost of established names. Worth a look.

Go global

Suggesting that you head overseas to save money might seem counterproductive, but it can be a penny saver if you’re not doing it on your own dime. For the business travellers among us, take advantage of the situation and clear a couple of hours the next time you head to Asia and search for a tailor who can make you five quality suits in a fabric of your choosing for the price of only one back home. Ask the office’s more seasoned travellers for recommendations.