How men can dress well, affordably
by Brad Hines 6-2-16, 3:30 pm
I recently replaced almost my entire business casual dress and going out at night wardrobe, without a single sale or so much as stepping foot into a consignment/thrift shop, and I saved $377. Specifically, I bought 3 pairs of Bonobos Washed Chinos, 1 pair of Bonobs jeans, 2 Brooks Brothers dress shirts, a Zara blazer, 1 pair of oxford shoes, and 5 black tee shirts, all for $324 instead of the $701 it costs otherwise. At the time of this writing, that $377 savings is a round trip flight to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or Colombia. I achieved this through buying discounted clothing on eBay in need of return, repair, or simply worn once. Throughout this piece, I will highlight what I bought in the photos. On to looking good for little money:
This one is top of the list because knowing your sizes costs nothing, and conversely, having a $2000 suit in the wrong size is a free way to look like slob. Know your sizes and have a list of them. Better yet, know that different brands of clothing are not cosistently sized with one another, so know what brands of clothing fit you in their size respectively, and stick with it. I know I am a 15 1/2 extra slim fit men's Brooks Brother shirt, so I stick with that.
Pants: Bonobos Washed Chinos, $32 from e-Bay, normally $88; Shirt is Brooks Brothers, $20 from e-Bay + $10 for alterations, normally $92, Shoes, $60, Zappos
For basics like pants and shirts, it may make more sense to buy colors like black, white, grey, navy, and khaki. These colors can be combined well with others, and you can always jazz them up with an accessory like a tie or a pocket square. You could take the same basic men’s blazer for example, and evoke a different feel with each pocket square alone.
As you transition from day time business around the office, to a night out at the club, the same blazer can be switched from say, a white pocket square tucked and folded neatly and conservatively, to a red ruffled one saying “look at me”. These pocket squares, for $7 at Amazon are a great way to make it seem like you have a different blazer on when it’s the same one each time.
In general something like a good blazer, shoes, or a belt, should be considered versatile, and therefore something to consider spending more money on to invest in something great if it makes sense.
Wearing clothing properly, is also free
Similar to the tip of having clothes fit, but slightly different, is to wear them properly. Again, wearing expensive clothing in a sloppy manner does little to add to a polished look. The clothes in the photo below are not expensive, but the decent fit and neatness lends to looking good.
This Blazer off the rack from Zara, was $69, plus I paid $15 to a tailor to have the sleeves the proper length (learn about tailoring fit for items, or ask your tailor to help). The shirt is a Brooks Brother's slim fit shirt from eBay that was worn once, $20.05 + $10 for alterations (normally $92.00), and the pants, are Bonobos Men's Washed Chinos I bought on eBay "new with defective tag", (normally $88).
The $66 savings on the pants is because the front snap needed to be sewn back on. I indeed sewed it back on, and it took 15 minutes.
Some additonal neatness of appearance basics are good to know, like how long a tie should be after tying it, how to properly press pants & shirts, and more beyond the scope of this article. Your belt, shoes, and watch for example, should tend to be all matching colors, say black or all brown, read up on other work-with-what-you-have style rules and tips.
For men’s pants, there’s two modern day tips I like to recommend: either literally thin out your wallet, or get a money clip. As the modern men’s wallet has ballooned in thickness with things like rewards cards and membership cards, a nicely tailored pair of men’s pants, are spoiled with this asymmetric butt-bulge. I use a money clip, especially for "going out", with just some cash, license, a credit card, and business card.
Similarly, modern men’s pants are often getting ruined with the ever-ubiquitous smartphone bulge. For this reason, I like to leave the phone in the car–amongst other reasons, like focusing on people instead–or, I like to put it in the inner coat pocket of a sports coat, another reason to wear such an article.
Buy clothes with the most utility, both in style and physical longevity
A basic principle in the real value of clothing, is to take the cost of an item, and divide it by total times worn, to “amortize” the rate of its cost per ownership. A good illustration of this, is considering that a pair of $300 shoes that lasts through 2000 wears, was $0.15 a wear, and a better value than a $60 pair of shoes that only lasted 350 wears at costlier effective $0.17 a wear.
This point is taken further by considering the style of each pair of shoe, and whether or not it was out of fashion while worn. For this reason, a good way to dress well, affordably, is to stick to buying clothes with a more classic appearance rather than fadish items with little style staying power. Men are lucky in this sense, that our fashion choices from retailers are at least more fad-resistant than women’s to begin with.
This yellow Brooks Brother's shirt show right was $17.00 from eBay, it was obvious from the excellent photos that it trully had not been worn. Savings = $75.
Buy clothes that excite you
On the other end of the affordability spectrum, is to purchase clothes that you actually enjoy wearing, and purchasing nothing just for price alone. So it is that these items are less likely to sit in your closet where you gain little value from them. Don't buy something really cheap, just because of the price.
...and get rid of what doesn’t.
Relatedly, there is a certain value in your wardrobe by minimizing it. After either treating stains or re-sizing old clothes to fit properly, take everything you don’t wear or that you know you never will, and donate or sell it. Think: worn out, irreparably stained, or otherwise just sitting there because you hate it, and get rid of it to make for an easier daily selection of what you do like and know you look good in. If there is a pair or pants or shirt you just love, it’s not foolish to buy 2-3 of them, which extends the life of the item effectively.
Extending clothes life even more:
Naturally, extending the life of clothes saves money on them in the long run. This can be done many ways. Men’s shirts for example are often beaten up as the collar or arm pits become yellow, aka “ring around the collar”.
Treat these directly organically if you like with vinegar, or separately with baking soda, and even lemon. Or there are countless “laundry soap” bars on the market and spray bottle spot cleaners that can be purchased, the point is, don’t throw away a good shirt just yet on account of it having some ywllowing until you try and treat it first.
Washing clothes less is another way to extend the life of them. Things like pants in particular don’t really need to be washed every time you wear them, machine washing is one of the quickest ways to start beating up the fibers of clothing. In that regard, try and follow an item’s cleaning instructions on the tag for just this reason, for example, turning a nice pair of denim jeans inside out before washing is one you may see.
When you do wash, the general rule of thumb is that colder water and less detergent = longer life of clothing.
More clothing life extension tips:
Don’t spend on what’s not seen or necessary
Things like designer T-shirts, underwear, and socks should be the last thing you spend money on to look sharp, if at all. In similar fashion, no pun intended, does anyone really notice that the jeans you are wearing only cost $15 dollars when everything else is on point? Which leads me to my next tip.
Get away from the mindset that expensive = stylish.
This simply isn’t true. Market forces are what drive prices, and for that, price is not perfectly correlated with quality by any means. When I researched for this article, the fashion experts from the clothing industry I spoke with frequently mentioned the same few stores for men that seemed to have the best blend of looking great to price ratio. These stores in no particular order were: Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, and Nordstrom. The blazer below was off the rack at Zara for $69 for example.
The more you have a total outfit looking classic, clean, and well fitting, the more people wrongly assume it costs more money anyway, and that’s their business. The point is to look good, not look like you spent money, which is the wrong reason to dress well to begin with. Rather, dress well to feel good, and show people an attention to detail and self-care that you have.
I never pay more than a dollar for sunglasses, because it doesn’t matter to me, I lose or break them too frequently to spend $200, and few people notice they are dollar ones to begin with.
Buy knockoffs for styles you must have that are otherwise costly.
I bought this pair of “Nike” running shoes, or “Fakies” as I call them. The knock off Nike running shoes came directly to my home from China for all of $17 and fit perfectly.
Understand how to utilize shopping at consignment vs. thrift stores
Charles Snider, Owner of Charles Snider Antiques, points out to me the difference between consignment and thrift stores. Consignment shops are curated clothing stores selling second hand goods with higher-end items. It’s up to you to decide what is a good deal here, and these types of places involve more of your time as an investment than anything, as finding what you like can take awhile.
Thrift stores on the other hand are places like the Goodwill, where anything and everything gets donated to be put for sale. I have visited these hundreds of times, and found the quality of the clothing particularly bad (worn out, ill-fitting, stained, fad-styles, and therefore not a great selection for business casual dress). It is a total crapshoot to find something in both your size, and that you like. For example, at my last outing of one looking for a blazer, out of 30 off the rack, only three looked decent to me, and of those 3, zero fit. Such an outing could be described as typical.
I like Goodwill for certain things like outdoor work clothes, like jackets, tees, and work boots; tacky Christmas sweaters, Halloween costumes and more. I got an otherwise $85 high visibility outdoor work jacket than for $7 as one example.
Sign up for e-mail lists to your favorite companies to know when they have a sale says Personal Shopper & Image Consultant Mona Sharaf.
Buy clothes in a timely manner. Buying clothes at the end of the season for next year is a great way to get a discount. Sometimes you will notice that what is leftover is not what was most popular however. Outlet store iterations of big name brands are another great way to receive such discounts.