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Mon, Mar 09, 2009
Urban, The Straits Times
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Style for a steal
by Imran Jalal

The task seemed a cinch: Assemble three stylish top-to-toe looks, each for under $150, that are trend- and recession-proof.

The catch: The clothes can only be from markets and heartland shops.

This should not be that hard, I thought.

After all, in Urban's Credit Crunch Special last August, my colleague Noelle Loh had breezed through the aisles of wet markets for looks on a third of my budget and ended up with some fab buys.

However, after visiting 10 places, I found that for guys, cheap and chic do not go hand-in-hand.

There were loads of wallet-friendly gear but minus the hip factor. Those that did score in the style stakes were beyond my budget.

Boy, did I rack up some mileage scouring the shops.

I shoved, pushed and bargained with the best of them at markets in Beach Road, Bugis Street, Bukit Batok East Avenue 3, Bukit Merah Central, Chinatown Complex, Clementi Avenue 3, People's Park Food Centre, Rochor Centre, Tiong Bahru and Toa Payoh Central.

Instead of prized purchases, I managed only to work up a sweat.

Even Peninsula Plaza - a haunt for teenagers for its affordable clothes - proved a dud for my sort of duds, except for a fabulous Nehru-collar jacket lurking among tacky slogan tees and brightly coloured jeans.

I can report that the much-touted army market in Beach Road has outlived its reputation as a hip fashion joint.

In the end, it was at low-budget stores such as Cotton On, Giordano and Factory Outlet Store where I found dollar-wise clothes.

If you are looking for some great steals, Urban saves you a bus trip and puts up three looks that will not hurt your pocket.


The look

  1. Cotton Nehru-collar jacket with epaulettes, $15 (discounted from $25), from Skinny Jeans Centre, B1-31 Peninsula Plaza
  2. Cotton pants, $29, from Factory Outlet Store, 02-52 IMM Building
  3. Vintage-style T-shirt, $24.95, from Cotton On, 01-48 Velocity@Novena Square
  4. Plimsoll shoes, $24.95, from Cotton On
  5. Leather cuffs, $9.95, from Cotton On
  6. Wayfarer sunglasses, $12.95, from Cotton On

Total: $116.80

My favourite buy from the entire bargain-hunt assignment is this camel Nehru-collar jacket from a basement shop in Peninsula Plaza, which is better known for its sports apparel and grungy rock duds.

The jacket caught my eye for its utilitarian style and clean design.

The place I bought it from is like the famous thrift store House Of Japan in Haji Lane, but with air-conditioning and minus the mustiness.

Sure, the store is a mishmash of vintage and the modern-day - chambray shirts from American denim label Lee and hoodies with zany pop prints. However, spending some time pawing through the racks that line its small aisles could be worth your while.

For example, I spotted a well-made midnight-blue blazer going for $40.

Another plus is that its jeans sizing covers a huge range - from XS to 10XL - and while the store sells garments for both sexes, there is a larger variety for guys.


The look

  1. Three-button blazer, $20 (discounted from $35), from Skinny Jeans Centre, B1-31 Peninsula Plaza
  2. Polyester shorts, $12 (discounted from $15), from Standard Tailor, 01-119, Block 4 Sago Lane
  3. Cotton-linen blend shirt, $49, from Giordano, B2-28 Ngee Ann City
  4. Slip-ons, $19.95, from Cotton On
  5. Belt, $29, from Giordano

Total: $129.95

The first floor of Chinatown Complex is not exactly home to the best haberdasheries in town, but browse through the alleys and the patient shopper may score some nifty buys.

While most shops cater to women's fashion, there are at least three shoe stalls that stock decent footwear ranging from comfortable plimsolls to preppy boat shoes.

The lace-ups in the photo below came from a small hole-in-the-wall outlet called S.B. (01-54) run by Ng Suay Bah and his wife. Though made of synthetic leather, the $29 shoes are good enough to complete a preppy look.

Standard Tailor, on the first floor of the block beside Chinatown Complex, sells custom-made jackets from $70 and has affordable sundries such as shorts and ties from $5 and polo tees selling at three for $10.


The look

  1. Cotton shirt, $24.90, from Factory Outlet Store, 02-52 IMM Building
  2. Cotton knit cardigan, $39.95, from Cotton On, 01-48 Velocity@Novena Square
  3. Khaki pleated pants, $24.90, from Factory Outlet Store
  4. Skinny tie, $7.95, from Cotton On
  5. Lace-ups, $29, from S.B., 01-54 Block 335 Chinatown Complex

Total: $126.70

For someone who has never shopped at no-frills shops such as Cotton On and Factory Outlet Store (F.O.S), I was pleasantly surprised with what I ended up buying at these stores.

At Australian retailer Cotton On, I picked up a knitted cardigan, a staple for any wardrobe. No longer meant just for teachers and grandpas, the cardigan was seen on the spring runways of design labels such as Gilded Age and Band Of Outsiders.

Pair it with another spring favourite, the khaki pants - which I got at F.O.S. - and the result is an instant winner. The look is casual enough for an evening date and not too sloppy for school either.

Once I was willing to overlook the fact that the material may not be of the best quality, I found that trendy and wallet-friendly togs abound. Cotton On also scores for its wide range of accessories such as scarves and sunnies priced from $9.95 to $12.95.

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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