I used to think that Army Navy surplus stores were only for paranoids who only felt safe in military fatigues, even if they were just going for coffee. Not until one of my best friends back in San Francisco started working at Kaplan’s Surplus Store on the seedy stretch of Market Street did I find out that the non-surplus goods—Levi’s, Dickies, Vans and New Era hats—are often the best deals at these stores, along with an abundance of cheap outerwear. To take advantage of these bargains but avoid the trap of the “crazy veteran” look, I went shopping at Cato’s Army and Navy in Greenpoint with Brooklyn style blogger Dennis Cahlo.
Dennis has a men’s fashion blog called Made to Measure, which he started in response to magazines that only feature suits that cost $3,000 and up. A songwriter and lifelong fashion obsessive, Dennis uses his platform to show average guys how to achieve GQ-worthy outfits on modest budgets, usually from stores like H&M, The Gap and Uniqlo.
To see what he could find at a surplus store, I brought him to Cato’s, a Manhattan Avenue institution for 35 years. Unlike most Army Navy stores, the service is beyond friendly, and the selection of clothes goes far beyond Travis Bickle jackets. With all the cheap flannels, and deals on Levi’s 511s, you might think you were at a cut-rate Urban Outfitters, with a more tolerable soundtrack. Here, three urban winter looks Dennis came up with.
Look No. 1: Here, Dennis wears a standard issue pea coat ($99.95) over a Wrangler western shirt ($19.95) and a simple grey pull-over with wood buttons ($29.95), and Lee Straight Fit jeans ($24.95). That’s Ed, the shop’s friendly owner, in the background. Here, Dennis demonstrates tip number 1: pair drabs with one vibrant item—in this case, the flannel—to make the outfit “pop.” Also, avoid clothing with large logos and camouflage at all costs—it just doesn’t send the right message to strangers. (I can personally attest to getting falsely accused of shoplifting while wearing my old camo jacket. The one upside is that, if you are in the habit of drinking beer in public, army camo jackets are totally waterproof, inside and out; if your beer, let’s say, spills while you are hiding it inside your jacket pocket, it just stays there. Beerproof pockets kept this young man from getting kicked out of on-campus housing as a freshman, so I’m not going to let camouflage get badmouthed without comment.) Total cost: $174.80.
Look No. 2: Cato’s also carries some names—check out Dennis here in a Michael Kors coat ($129.95) over the same Wrangler western shirt ($19.95) and a Rothco olive commando-style sweater ($29.95) and Levi’s 511 skinny jeans ($39.95). Here he demonstrates another tip: “You have to really look for unique items that go against the norm a bit and mix and match to achieve a look. You don’t want to walk out of there looking like you are getting ready to go duck hunting. Unless of course you ARE going duck hunting.” Total cost: $219.80
Look No. 3: I even got in the mix, and picked out this Alpha Industries heavy winter coat ($119.95) with some Levi’s 511 skinny jeans ($39.95). The shoes were mine. This demonstrates another Made to Measure tip: “If you think you are a medium, try on a small. It will fit better.” This is me wearing the small, and I’m six feet tall when I manage to stand up straight. Who knew? Total cost: $159.90.
Finally, Dennis also points out that Army Navy stores are great for little things to add to outfits like pins, badges, bags and hats. For a somewhat twisted stocking stuffer, Cato’s carries novelty hand grenades for only $9.95. Ed can hardly keep them on the shelves, for some reason. Mention Brokelyn next time you shop at Cato’s and you’ll get 15% off your first purchase. That’s a cheap grenade.