How To Dress Well When You’re A Broke-Ass Student

How To Dress Well When You’re A Broke-Ass Student

At the beginning of student life, there’s something charming about just scraping by. You’re sleeping no more than 2 hours a night, skipping any class that happens before 11 am, and surviving on nothing but kebabs, coffee and Adderall stolen from your roommate. You can’t remember the last time you did laundry (in fact, you’re not even sure you remember how to do laundry). And although you may not have learned much about Proust or theoretical physics, you have learned a ton of new drinking games. It’s university life at its most romantic. As far as your student fashion sense goes, you have none.

But then the charm wears off. You’re not quite ready to be a real adult, but you know it’s time to introduce things like “vegetables” and “responsible bedtimes” into your life. And along with the newfound urges for kale and extra beauty sleep comes something else: the desire to dress like a man.

Out go the torn jeans and worn hoodies, and in come …crippling debts? Not if we have anything to say about it. Revamping your wardrobe doesn’t have to cost a fortune if you know what you’re doing. Taste and money are not the same things, and all you really need is the former. It’s not that you shouldn’t invest in your clothes – do it when you can, and you’ll be glad you did – but real men of style know when to splurge and when to save.

With that in mind, we present the A Student’s Guide To Dressing Well.

The Lowdown: Student Fashion Do’s & Don’ts

Let’s start with the basics. Before you ditch a study group in favour of an online shopping spree, brush up on the smart spending principles you need to know.

Shop Within Your Budget

The brand new credit card you got before starting school is burning a hole in your pocket, but don’t touch it. Spend what you can afford to spend and save the rest for all the dates you’ll be going on now that you’re so well-dressed. Look for sales at major stores, shop at outlets and get discounts with your student ID when possible. Remember this: it’s all in the fit. You’ll look 1000x better in a great-fitting budget brand than you will in a big-name designer that’s 2 sizes too big.

Easy To Match Colour Combos

You’re going for the colour version of quality over quantity. That salmon pink blazer may look appealing on the rack, but it will be useless for all but the rarest of occasions. You want to get the most wear possible out of everything you purchase, so stick with easy to match colour combos. If everything goes with everything, the effective size of your wardrobe is significantly amplified.

Dress Appropriately For The Occasion

Part of dressing well is the clothes themselves, but the second piece of the puzzle is the occasion. A suit won’t look good at a pool party, and your sister won’t appreciate you showing up to her wedding in swim shorts. If you have any doubts about what constitutes appropriate dress for an occasion, don’t just wing it. Ask the host and impress when you totally nail it.

Buy Wardrobe Essentials

If you don’t have a lot to spend, spend it on what you really need. One day you will own that bespoke tuxedo. Today is not that day. For now, build a solid foundation of essential pieces like dark denim, neutral t-shirts and button-downs, a blue blazer, a stylish winter coat and a few must-have pairs of shoes. And don’t forget the socks and underwear. Aim for things you can mix and match for maximum versatility.

Key Pieces To Own

Speaking of wardrobe-essentials… Here they are. These are musts for every man, whether a student, a high-flying business mogul or an ageing playboy.

Cheap Denim

Is there anything more foundational in a student’s wardrobe? Keep it dark and keep it slim. Dark denim is easiest to dress up (as ‘up’ as denim gets, anyway) or down. And note: we said ‘slim’ not ‘skinny.’ Avoid jeans that look like they were meant for Barbie (not even Ken – Barbie).


You’ll need some kind of outerwear to get you through the cooler months. Because you’re going for utility, you’ll want to stick with the classics. You can’t go wrong with traditional looks like a leather jacket, trench coat, peacoat or wool overcoat in a neutral shade.


The navy blazer appears on every single wardrobe basics list, ever. Invest in other basic colours if you have the cash and enough occasions to wear them. Steer clear of trends – you want a style that could get lost for the remainder of your university years and still look good when you graduate.


If you’re going to splurge at all, this would be the place. Quality footwear goes a long way, but you don’t have to spend hundreds if you don’t have them. You’ll need a few different pairs to get by, including a dress shoe (black Oxfords are the safest), sneakers for the gym, and nicer kicks for non-workout casual occasions.

Shirts / T-Shirts

There’s no such thing as too many t-shirts. Wear them on their own or under a blazer for a more upscale look. Because you can get tees for dirt-cheap prices, you’re free to experiment more with colours, prints and patterns. The acquisition of a few classic dress shirts – again in wearable, neutral colours – is also obligatory.

Where To Shop

Once upon a time, you either got stylish or affordable. The former would look great but cost a pretty penny. The latter were oversized, out-dated hand-me-downs from well-meaning friends and family (but hey – at least you could afford groceries that week!).

Nowadays, you aren’t faced with the Sophie’s Choice decision between fashion and funds. More stores than ever are both stylish and affordable. A few of our favourites are:

  • Everlane: Fast, friendly and good for the environment.
  • Frank & Oak: Just a fast men’s fashion without the big price tag.
  • Topman: The men’s only counterpart of Topshop. Good for hip, indie-rock-influenced casual clothing and slim-fit, contemporary suits.
  • ASOS: One of your best bets for basics. A go-to destination for the fundamentals like t-shirts and denim, plus of-the-moment trendy pieces for cheap. They have regular sales too.
  • Uniqlo: For all your sportswear and outerwear needs. A great selection of casual button-downs, basic pullovers, blazers, etc., that won’t break the bank.

The key to smart shopping is finding what each retailer does well for your tastes and body type. Once you’ve got something that works, stick with it.