I (like countless others) am a financially-challenged student, and seem to live off a diet mainly consisting of cheap on-offer Tesco booze and Iceland reduced meat. I also (like countless others) care about what clothes I put on my back, and try my best to look good. This can prove most difficult at a time when even Robinsons cordial is switched for a supermarket non-descript brand, and a late-night trip to McDonalds is followed by all-consuming fiscal guilt. The news doesn’t need to constantly inform me of this crippling recession – my daily trip to the cash machine cheerfully does this for me, reminding me of the fact that I’ve been overdrawn by at least a grand for the best part of three years.
Hitting current trends and embracing high end limited pieces may seem impossible for those who share my monetary woes – but having a good sense of style within a limited budget isn’t such a pipe-dream after all. It’s all about intelligent purchasing. Where should your cash be spent? And how? What is really worth the huge price tag when the term ‘disposable income’ is a mere sound coming from a nearby economics lecture or another suit-wearing salary man by Liverpool St? I can’t say I have all the answers, or a quick-fire solution to saving hundreds of pounds, but a little guidance in putting your pennies in the right places is always going to be helpful.
Budget Fashion Shoppping
First of all, I’m going to state the obvious. You’ll have heard it so many times before, but honestly, it really is a great place to start. Two words: Charity shops. It’s no longer the realm of shopping bag wielding fust-smelling pensioners, and half the things in there aren’t as naff as you would think. Of course, there’s a sea of dodgy tracksuit bottoms and strange items labelled ‘bric-a-brac’ (I still have no idea what that actually means), but you can get good quality items for ridiculously cheap prices.
Charity shops are goldmines for genuine leather belts, quality woollen jumpers and flannel shirts – things that will never really go out of fashion. Those who are more into their vintage gear will be well acquainted with a regular visit to their local Help The Aged or British Heart Foundation, and there’s no shame in digging into the second hand clobber. It’ll be noticeably more affordable than popular vintage boutiques and retailers, many of which sell pieces in a terrible condition at extortionate prices. If you’re very lucky (and often in a very affluent area) you’ll find that hidden relic that most of us never unearth – a designer piece for pittance of the original price. It’s rare but not impossible, and you’d be surprised at what people can find.
A lot of people have cottoned onto this in recent years though, so try to avoid charity shops in and around ‘trendy’ areas – all the decent pieces will be snapped up instantly, leaving nothing but some terrible odd trainers and 1970s grandma-wear for you to browse. Stay local or venture to the suburbs, and you’re sure to find something that is a welcome addition to your wardrobe. Best of all, it can be your token good deed for the day, solving global problems and injustices one quid at a time!
The High Street
As we all know, the high street is the most convenient (and consequently, the more desirable) place to look for new pieces. Retail giants such as H&M, Topman and Zara constantly rotate stock, release new products frequently and make our whole shopping experience that much easier in comparison to charity shop trawling.
Essential staples such as plain tees, simple jumpers and underwear can easily be found at very reasonable prices, and are usually on offer when bought in twos or threes. Always purchase these in bulk. They’re a wardrobe necessity, and have saved many a style conundrum when indecisive about what to wear, or when in the unpleasant company of an overloaded laundry basket.
Bulk buying offers:
The less basic purchases are where things can get tricky. It’s always important to stay on-trend, but try and predict their longevity; a ‘quick-witted’ novelty slogan t-shirt may seem a good idea at the time, but is it really worth the double digit price tag? Are they really suitable for most occasions? (Judging by the typical ’I’m not a gynaecologist, but I’ll still take a look’, I’d presume otherwise). And are drop-crotch trousers, carrot jeans and similar trends really going to be around for that much longer?
When you’re rolling in the pounds sterling, that’s when we can invest in short-term trends, but try and think economically; a pair of decent Cheap Monday or Levis jeans will last for an indefinite amount of time, and a well-crafted, quality shirt will never fall out of fashion. It is always better to invest in a few classic pieces for a few extra pounds rather than purchase a load of cheap clothing that will only get a couple of wears before tedium creeps in. Quality clothing will last for years, which cannot be said for overpriced, badly made high street wear. Stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel offer that extra level of craft on pieces that will outlast most Topman-embraced trend, so always take this into account.
The ‘Alternative’ High Street
It’s always a good idea to try stores that don’t necessarily scream ‘cool’ at you. I accompanied a bargain-crazed female housemate of mine to our local Matalan, and whilst I will admit there was plenty of cheap-looking, average Dad apparel, I was taken aback by some pieces that weren’t classic Matalan. Try to throw all your style presumptions out the window. After dispelling my own fashion snobbery, I trotted out with a rather dapper brown leather satchel for a meagre £12 – even I was surprised at the discount gems you can dig out. (Alright, it was pleather, but who else has to know that?)
If you are wanting to achieve that individuality that we all desire, then you have to remember that hundreds (if not thousands) of others will probably own that t-shirt/jumper/jacket you have your eye on. In this scenario, pinpointing the less obvious choice of store is crucial; think Brantano, TK Maxx, McArthurGlen. Before any of you scoff, there’s no room for shame here guys – we’re shopping on a budget after all. On the other hand, if you are shopping on a budget and just want to add pieces to your wardrobe that will allow you to get creative and put together multiple outfit combinations – putting your own stamp on them in the process – then every shop is fair game and should be considered.
What you may have also failed to realise is that EVERYONE has been stepping up their game recently. This might be due to the economy and the shops fighting for sales, or just because men demand more from fashion retailers these days. Either way, whether you want to nail all the latest trends, or simply find classic pieces at a lower cost – these shops now offer it all. Take a look at some of the major budget shops below, where we are going to feature their current look books and some key pieces that will generally all come in under £30:
I have already mentioned how I am a convert to Matalan, but check out the styling of their current look book and some of the key pieces they are stocking for this season. In my eyes, they are both higher quality than some of the other high street stores you may already limit yourself too.
New Look are fast becoming a favourite of mine as they offer a great range of products that are always current and on trend. Generally coming in at a price just below the likes of Burton and Topman, it makes it even more appealing to those shopping on a budget.
Again, take a look at the quality of the looks books produced below, which are now so hard to tell the difference between the like of Zara (top end of the high street) to Primark (the very lower end). With Selfridges launching an edited selection of Primark menswear in a couple of their major stores, the lines are continuing to be blurred.
UNIQLO are one of those high street retailers that many still don’t know about – especially if you live outside the major fashion cities. However, UNIQLO tend to produce premium quality basics at lower than you would expect prices. The brand is not a slave to current trends – although you will find these pieces each season – so they are a great place to start if you are looking to build that timeless capsule wardrobe for a reasonable outlay.
Not only that, their collaborations with the likes of Jil Sander (+J range) have been essential in bringing high quality and fashion forward premium designer pieces to the high street for less. The last ever +J collection is available as we speak, but you will have to move fast if you want to pick up a piece.
The extra fine merino knitwear pieces below are on sale for a limited time at just a meagre £19.90. Known for brand quality and innovation, it’s these sorts of investments from respected stores that are a wardrobe backbone. With this in mind, their limited offer category is a great place visit regularly, as you can pick up some real bargains each and every week.
Bargains are not just limited to the realm of retail. Supermarket giant, Asda, have made a very impressive attempt at the popular desert boot for £30. An absolute steal for genuine leather suede. They also feature a full tuxedo for around £40, as well as some on trend Fair Isle and chunky knitwear that you would never tell cost below £30. Perhaps most impressive however are the black leather gloves for just a tenner!
All of this aside, there’s still room to aim for the big designer brands depending on your current funds. For the majority, anything above the realm of high-end high street is simply unachievable for the average student such as myself (unless you’re an absolute fiend with a maintenance loan, and choose McQueen over meals) but windows of opportunity do present themselves.
Once in a while, it’s acceptable to fork out for that everlasting piece of designer clothing; outlets and vintage shops often hold such treasures, and if you’re willing to compromise your finances for the following month then perhaps such bold investment is not so insane. Case in point, three years ago, I took the terrifying purchasing plunge of a £400 Ralph Lauren hold-all – of course, I was broke for the next few months, but what was the long-term cost? A quality, luxury brand bag that has accompanied me on every single train ride, weekend visit, car journey etc with very little wear and tear.
There’s a reason these pieces have the hefty price tag – because they’re worth every penny, both in terms of prestige and sheer quality. These buys are obviously fleeting and painfully sporadic, but weigh up your options – can you maybe negotiate your funds for that one-off piece?
It’s difficult times for everyone, and the purse strings are only going to tighten over Christmas – but there are ways to remain fashion forward at all times. Just remember, it’s all about intelligent purchasing and perseverance – look under every style stone and I can guarantee there are quality key pieces out there at seriously slashed prices. Good luck with the hunt.