Looking good, on a budget

Looking good, on a budget

Q. I like to dress well, but I am on a significantly limited budget. The things I see in GQ cost way more than is logical for me to spend and make me somewhat give up hope. How can I look my “professional best” while still affording my rent?

A. I appreciate your asking about finding good affordable clothes. Successful clothes shopping generally involves both money and time, so when your budget is limited and you want to look great, you need to devote more time to accomplish your goal. It’s also good that you realize there are examples beyond fashion magazines; they are aimed at the smallest percentage of the “top one percent” of the population, and certainly do not represent the rest of the world. Not only that, but I have found that magazines often feature expensive clothes that are in such questionable taste that no well-dressed man would ever wear them. Note: Just because an item is expensive (even wildly expensive) does not make it in good taste.

When money is not an object, a man can just walk into the finest men’s shop in town, find a knowledgeable salesperson, and choose whatever he wants. Without deep pockets, you must become familiar with brand and designer names, discover which items look good on you, and learn where to find them. Even then, you must choose carefully.

My first tip is to know the three categories where it is wise to spend more: Dark clothes, fall/winter clothes, and classic styles. You can economize when buying light-colored clothes, summer items, and trendy styles.

To get the most for your money, shop strategically at one or more of these:

  • Seasonal sales in better stores (Key, right now!)
  • Discount stores and online
  • Tag sales, garage sales, “gently-used” thrift shops
  • In your own, or your Dad’s/brother’s/etc. closet.

Seasonal sales in better stores – The retailers’ calendar is different from reality, so stores begin to receive their new merchandise very early: in August for fall/winter clothing. The selection is fullest at that time, and so are the prices. But stores still have many unsold items on hand from the previous season, and they would rather mark them down drastically than be stuck with them. Significant savings and big bargains become available. A lot of these can work in any season. Shopping in top-notch stores includes an important perk: informed advice from knowledgeable salespeople.

Discount stores and online shopping – These offer great prices and convenience, but little in the way of helpful input. You’re pretty much on your own. Still, it’s a misconception to believe there must be something wrong with an item that is sold for half-price. When people say, “You only get what you pay for,” I say, “That’s not always true.” If you have reliable taste and are willing to spend time selecting wisely, your savings could well justify the effort. If you know exactly what you are looking for, you often can find the same piece of clothing online through quality searches cheaper, or much cheaper if slightly used (such as on eBay); more on used clothing below.

Tag sales, garage sales, and “gently-used” thrift shops – Keep in mind that a. everything is “used” after its first wearing, and b. suits, shirts, and shoes need to be your correct/exact size. You could get lucky and find your size among their many items. You can also find accessories that are not sized and will fit anyone (such as ties, scarves, cuff links) as well as other items that are marked small, medium, large, and X-large (such as sweaters and outerwear jackets) that may well fit you.

I’ve discovered a Burberry raincoat for $30, Paul Stuart blazers for $15, Brooks Brothers shirts for $3, Gap sweaters for $5, Hermès and Ferragamo ties for $4. Of course, you do need to have “an eye,” recognize top-quality brand names on the label, and be willing to spend time digging. Hunting for treasures can be fun . . . especially when you are successful.

Basically, it is smart to spend money on any items you like that are in good condition, are close to your size (many alterations are affordable), and are not out of style and unfixable (such as too big in the shoulders or too-wide lapels).

In your own (or others’) closet – Often, some new garment you find is perfect to mix, or layer, with something you already own. Our preferences don’t change much over the years; styles and colors you’ve liked in the past are likely to work well with many of the new items you find. Just as I always recommend having all necessary alterations made when you shop in retail stores, the same is true when bargain shopping. If you discover a beautiful Gucci tie for $4 that would sell for $210 in a fine men’s shop, but it’s only problem is that it is too wide for the current style, it pays to have TieCrafters (212-629-5800) do a professional job of making it narrower for $31. The total cost of $35 is still a good investment for what looks like a new tie.

Good luck in your hunting.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

Categories: Male Call