How to Rebuild Your Wardrobe on a Budget

·8 min read

Cleaning out your closet is more art than science. It’s also a massive headache. It’s time-consuming, it’s stressful, it’s weirdly emotional. That threadbare concert tee you picked up in ‘96? The mere thought of hauling it to Goodwill is going to make you teary, and the sooner you reckon with that reality the less it’ll sting. The scuzzy cardigan you thrifted from the vintage spot back home? You haven’t worn it in decades, and you’re still going to second-guess bequeathing it to your neighbor.

Remember your short-lived Americana phase? Your closet sure does—ditto the Chase representative who refused to believe that jeans, even if they’re Japanese, could run you $400. (“See, there are these old looms…”) What about your brief fling with Italian tailoring? You might’ve ditched the soft-shouldered suits faster than you can say “sprezzatura”, but the double-monks gathering dust in your closet lived to tell the tale.

If you managed to sit all those waves out, kudos: This is going to be way easier. But even for the zealously trend-agnostic, overhauling your closet and starting from scratch can be thorny. Trust us: We’ve been there before. Which makes us uniquely qualified to dispense some hard-earned wisdom on the topic, in the form of a quick and dirty guide to help you purge your wardrobe—and cobble together a new one—without going broke.

So buckle up, apologize to your bank, and maybe practice a few of those Kondo-like koans—you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. We promise this checklist will make it as smooth as possible.

Take Stock of What You Don’t Wear

The first step to fixing any problem is, well, admitting you have a problem. In this case, that means opening up your closet and taking a good, hard look at what’s in there. Go through every single garment in your closet one by one and separate them into two piles: a “Keep” pile and a “Sell/Donate” pile. The pieces you should keep are the ones that you wear regularly and frequently. (By regularly and frequently, we’re talking at least once a week.) Obviously, there’ll be some items that are highly seasonal or only for specific occasions, and don’t get play otherwise (e.g. swim trunks, tuxedos)—you’ll want to keep those if you think you’ll still be wearing them when context demands it. The clothes that haven’t gotten off the bench in more than a few months or so should go in the Sell/Donate pile. Be real with yourself, come to terms with letting go, and keep it moving. This is maybe the most difficult part of the entire process, but we believe in you!

Better basics for bigger fits.

Assess What You Can Salvage

The pile system is, we realize, very binary. The process of separating the two is more complicated. There will be pieces you’ll know immediately whether to keep or toss…and then a lot of in-betweeners that could go either way. The fate of items stuck in purgatory should mostly come down to fit and condition. Evaluate if a garment fits your body the way you want and whether you’re willing to have it tailored. If you’re on the fence about holding onto something because of its overall condition—if it’s stained, missing buttons, or riddled with holes—consider whether you’re able (and willing) to remedy those issues, and then pile it accordingly.

Sell the Stuff Worth Something

Now that you’ve come to terms with your past sartorial personas, it’s time to redeem the ones that didn’t stick. Take those pristine sneakers/expensive suits/designer tees to your local consignment store or list them on secondhand sites like eBay, Grailed, StockX—hell, even Facebook Marketplace.

Stores like Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet are often the quickest and easiest way to get rid of your clothes. Bring ‘em in and they’ll sort through the lot and either pay you upfront or offer you credit in exchange for whatever they take. Conveniently, some of them will even donate the clothes that they don’t decide to buy, so you don’t end up schlepping an Ikea bag of rejects back home. The biggest downside to selling at those stores is that they don’t really pay the big bucks—they gotta turn a profit somehow.

Sites like eBay and Grailed take a smaller cut, but you’ll have to deal with all of the nuisances that come with listing products yourself (taking photos, writing descriptions, fielding lowball offers from teenagers). And of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell anything. Each channel typically attracts a different type of customer, so think about where your stuff slots in best; your Supreme jacket will garner more interest on Grailed than Facebook Marketplace, but a near-new Isaia suit might fare better on eBay, or at your local consignment store.

"Weird Al" Yankovic, 1992
"Weird Al" Yankovic, 1992

It’s never been more fun—or more overwhelming—to shop secondhand. Here’s how to cut through the clutter.

Put the Cash Towards a Fresh Start

Congrats: You sifted the wheat from the chaff, donated those Cheetos-stained sweats, sold that new-with-tags bedazzled shirt, and are staring at a mercifully de-cluttered closet. Now comes the fun part—blowing a (very moderately-sized) bag on all the gear you’ll need to start over again. If you took our advice, you likely have a fair chunk of change jangling around in your pocket; it’s time to put it to good use. First, take stock of what you got rid of, and why. Chances are, a lot of the stuff you tearfully bid adieu to was pretty decent to begin with, even if it didn’t really ~spark joy~ in the way you hoped it would.

Keep a running tally of the items you need to replace—and the ones you’re happy to forget about entirely. If you really loved the look of that battered leather jacket but it never fit quite right, consider what you’re looking for from its replacement. Then do the same for the sundry coats, pants, and shoes you consciously uncoupled from, too.

The cheapest way to plug those gaps is to circle back to the secondhand market. Ebay can be a gold mine if you know how to navigate it (ditto niche resale sites like TheRealReal), but your best shot is heading to your local vintage shop and trying on some gently-worn duds IRL. Once you’re there, though, don’t panic-buy a whole bunch of clothes just for the dopamine hit. (That’s what got you here in the first place, right?) Building a rock-solid wardrobe takes time, and properly laying the foundations is the project of a lifetime.

Oh, and if you’re just looking to stock up on primo basics and can’t be bothered to sift through the racks, start here instead.


These are the folks making great menswear that won’t break the bank, from upstarts to established favorites.

Double-Check Your List

If the sheer glut of options is making you anxious, don’t panic: Our category-driven Best Stuffs are dedicated to making sense of them all, and we always include more than a few affordable favorites in the mix. The key here is to take it slow—like we said before, you shouldn’t expect to restock your closet overnight, and that’s totally okay.

It’s always savvy to think about your personal style, but don’t get too worked up chasing trends. Right now, your primary focus should be laying the groundwork for a wardrobe you can lean on for the long haul—you can hunt down the buzzy sneakers you suddenly need or the glitzy necklace you can’t live without once you’ve got the fundamentals sorted. Here’s where we’d begin.

Pitch-Perfect Tees

Spruced-Up Shirts

Capital-P Pants

Ready-for-Anything Outerwear

Classic Kicks

Suits (and the Stuff You’ll Wear ‘Em With)

  • 2 suits (one navy, one black); 2 dress shirts (one white, one pale blue); 1 solid-colored knit tie

And there you have it, folks: a not-quite-comprehensive list of most of the menswear you’ll need after blowing up your closet, condensed to 25 can’t-fail pieces. This guide isn’t exhaustive, of course—at some point, you might need to spring for a tux, or pony up the cash for some proper dress shoes—but it’s a hell of a place to start.

Originally Appeared on GQ

More Best Stuff Recommendations from GQ