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Formal wear: Dress smart at clever prices

Dressing up fancy on a student budget can be tough, particularly as formal wear tends to come with a scary price tag. But there are ways round this!

cheap smart clothes for students

Even though the word ‘student' conjures up images of sweat pants and scruffiness, there are activities throughout university life – such as balls, black-tie events and interviews – that will require you to look your best.

But is it possible to look a million dollars without spending that much? Of course! And it doesn't matter what kind of outfit you're going for, either – these money-saving tips work just as well for suits, dresses and anything else!

We've got loads more money-saving tips for end-of-year events in our podcast! Give it a listen for tips on how to save money on nights out, cheap cocktail recipes and weird drinking games

How to dress smart on a budget

  1. Borrow something from a friend

    borrow clothes save money

    Credit: Warner Bros

    This one is perfect for interviews, or other instances where it'll just be you who needs to dress up smart. Although, that said, there's nothing to stop you from borrowing an outfit from a mate when you're all going out, too!

    If you've got a friend or family member who's roughly the same size as you, ask them nicely if they'll let you borrow one of their smart items of clothing to wear. Your total spend will be exactly £0, and you'll hopefully get a great outfit for the day!

    Of course, this option isn't foolproof. You might not know anyone who's the same size as you, who owns something that suits you, or who's willing to lend you their clothes.

    What's more, you'll have to be extra careful not to damage the outfit – a ketchup stain is bad enough when it's on your own white shirt, but when it's on someone else's…

  2. Rent a suit or dress

    rent a suit or dress cheap

    Credit: Columbia Pictures

    Whether you're after a suit or a dress, there are plenty of retailers that rent out outfits for a fraction of the cost of buying them.

    Moss Bros is probably the number one place on the high street for suit hire, with some available for less than £50. Unlike a lot of suit hire shops, Moss Bros' selection includes all the latest trends, ensuring you don't end up with a suit that looks like (and probably is) something from the 1990s.

    Just note, however, that Moss Bros only offer student discount on suits that they're selling, not renting. If you're keen to get your student discount, Burton also do suit rental – and their 10% student discount can be used too.

    It's arguably less common to rent dresses, but it's very much still an option. Girl Meets Dress is a popular choice as it has a whole host of big designer names including Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and Dolce & Gabbana. Plus, they have student discount of 10% – ideal!

  3. Buy secondhand

    buy smart clothes second hand

    Credit: Warner Music Group

    ‘Secondhand smart clothing' might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but it needn't be. Charity shops are making a bit of a comeback with students, as they're often filled with vintage gems at bargain prices. If you struggle to find the treasure among the trash (don't worry, you're not alone), check out our guide to charity shopping.

    But charity shops aren't the only place to find some pre-loved clothing. We're big fans of Depop – an online marketplace where anyone and everyone can sell their secondhand clothes.

    The selection will obviously vary from day to day, but there are plenty of smart options on there at ridiculously low prices. To take just one example, we typed in ‘suit jacket' and found a Hugo Boss jacket that had only been worn once. It originally sold for £450, but was on Depop for just £75!

    One of our editors, Jess, is a bit of a Depop fiend, and she couldn't recommend it more:


    depop reviewIn my final year of uni I had quite a few black tie events to attend, and I saved so much money by getting my dresses second hand on Depop.

    Most of the stuff is still pretty new as well – if you see something you like in Topshop, just wait a couple of weeks and it's guaranteed to pop up on Depop for half the price.

    Everyone said there was literally no way of telling the clothes were secondhand. Plus, it's super easy to sell them once you've worn them so you can make your money back!

    Jess, Save the Student Editor


  4. Buy a new outfit – with a discount

    get discount on smart clothes

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Buying secondhand is all well and good, but what do you do if you're unable to find something that's your style, or that fits you? It's hard to look smart when you're wearing something that's so clearly too big for you.

    Formal wear – especially suits – can cost an absolute fortune, but if you know what you're doing, you could get yourself a huge discount.

    Your first port of call should be our Fashion deals section, which is always jam-packed with the latest and greatest clothing offers and sales.

    After that, check out some cashback sites. Quidco and TopCashback are the big names in this area, but it's worth taking a look at Boom25 too.

    Whereas traditional cashback sites will give you a guaranteed percentage of your spend back, Boom25 pays 100% cashback to every 25th purchase (sometimes more often, if there's an offer on) made through their service.

    Of course, this is a bit of a gamble, as you could end up getting no cashback whatsoever – in which case, the likes of Quidco and TopCashback would be far better alternatives.

    Finally, check to see if the brand you're interested in has a student discount. We've got a list of clothing stores offering student discount, so hopefully finding out shouldn't be too hard.

    Buying a new outfit is probably best done when you know you'll get a lot of use out of it – such as an interview for a job where you'll need to wear smart clothes to work. You can then think of the outfit as an investment, as you'll most likely end up wearing it to work anyway.

  5. Make do and accessorise

    accessorise smart clothing

    Just how useful this tip is will depend on what your outfit is (or, rather, what you'd like your outfit to be). Improvising a suit, for example, is pretty difficult – a suit jacket is a suit jacket, and it's hard to pass a jumper off as one.

    That said, if you do have a suit jacket or blazer, you're already half way there. If you've got a smart enough looking shirt, some smart black jeans and a nice pair of shoes, you could be all set!

    Just note that this approach isn't always an option, and some occasions (weddings, for example) will demand a full suit and nothing less.

    As for dresses, making do is a bit easier. Adding a blazer or jacket can make a dress suitable for a more formal occasion, although again, this won't always work – some events will require something more ‘conventional'.

Why not try selling your outfit online after you've used it to make some cash back? Our guide to selling clothes has everything you need to know.

Need your formal wear for an interview? Don't just dress to impress – check out these job interview tips, including common questions and how best to answer them!

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