Style secrets for the budget-minded man: Fight fashion elitism and win
After reading my CultureMap story highlighting a few Houston men’s boutiques, a friend of mine said, “I loved your article — but where can I shop if I can’t afford these places?”
His point is valid: Mortar, 310 Rosemont, and Hamilton Shirt Co. are great stores, but definitely on the pricey side. Gentlemen, I have some good news: You can dress well without spending a ton of money. Below are my top dressing and shopping tips for the budget-conscious:
Think of your clothes as investment
Clothes are like anything else: if you buy things that are made well, they will last a lifetime. A prime example: Alden shoes. $500 for a single pair of wingtips is a lot of money. But all of Alden’s products are handmade in New England.
If you take care of them, that $500 pair will last a lifetime. When the soles wear out, you can ship them up to the factory for restoration. Not to mention that a beautiful pair or brown wingtips will never go out of style. Have I convinced you yet? If not, add up how much money you have spent on brown dress shoes in your lifetime — I bet it’s a lot more than $500.
Don’t shop for trend
Remember when flashy jeans with contrast stitching by brands like True Religion and Rock & Republic were the big thing? In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t anymore.
I know people who paid $350 for blinged out TR’s. They're now regretting their purchase. Plain, no-frills, straight leg jeans have not — and never will — go out of style. Develop your own personal style, and don’t buy things just because they’re “in.”
Buy for quality, not quantity – and embrace a uniform
Along those same lines, it’s much better to have fewer high-quality items than more low-quality ones. Guys: leave the walk-in closets to your girlfriends. You don’t need 50 shirts and 20 pairs of shoes.
One of J. Crew’s washed favorite shirts costs around $75. A shirt by Steven Alan costs $168. But the Steven Alan is made of higher-quality fabrics and will undoubtedly fit much better than the J. Crew. So, instead of buying two J. Crew shirts, buy one Steven Alan. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
It’s also important to embrace the idea of uniform. Ninety nine percent of the time, I am wearing my Left Field, RRL, or Triple Works jeans and a button down by Steven Alan, Apolis, or Gant Rugger. When it’s cold, I throw on a sweater and my pea coat or Barbour.
If it’s summer, I wear my boat shoes or wingtips sockless; winter, Red Wings or desert boots. If I need to dress up, I throw on a tie and a blazer.
My wardrobe isn’t that huge, but I intentionally buy things that will complement what I already own, and thus I have many options. Do the math: if you buy 10 shirts and 10 ties that all work well together, you can have a different look every day for a 100 days.
The fit matters; the cost doesn’t
A lot of people have the misconception that designer clothes are expensive simply because of the brand name. The reality is that designer clothes fit better too — something that guys often overlook. With that said, just because an item is designer doesn’t mean that it will fit you well. A $100 suit from Target that is well tailored will look much better than an ill-fitting $3,000 suit from Saks.
Get your jackets and suits tailored, and find clothes, designer or not, that fit you well.
Mall stores aren’t evil
I spend a significant amount of time reading various fashion blogs and forums, and have subsequently encountered a great deal of what I call fashion elitism. There are a lot of guys out there who have money to blow and refuse to wear anything from a mall brand store (J. Crew, Gap, H&M, Uniqlo, Club Monaco, L.L. Bean, etc.). And most of the time, they aren’t dressed very well.
Wearing designer head-to-toe is not always effective. Plus, stores like J. Crew are packed with tons of legitimately cool stuff for guys — Frank Muytjens, the head of J. Crew men’s design, was nominated for the CFDA/GQ award this year — and his clothes are priced at a significantly lower price point that most of the other designers that were also nominated.
Dockers makes some great slim-fit khakis that are inexpensive, Club Monaco has some beautiful chunky sweaters, and Gap makes great scarves. GQ features pocket squares and tie clips from The Tie Bar in almost every issue. Expensive does not equal good and inexpensive does not equal bad.
Shop the sales
I don’t think I paid full price for anything designer that I own. The day after Christmas, I picked up two Gant Rugger shirts — regularly $125 — at Nordstrom for $75 each. At the Barney’s Co-Op closing sale, I found several Steven Alan shirts for 50 percent off.
Keep your eyes open, and get on the e-mail lists for your favorite stores. That way, you will be the first to know of any upcoming sales. In addition, think of your needs for next season. You can generally pick up great fall/winter items after Christmas when stores are desperate to make room for the spring/summer collections and vice versa.
But remember: Don’t buy sale items just because they are on sale: make sure you will actually wear them. In addition, many stores don’t allow returns or exchanges on sale items, so be sure the clothes fit before you purchase.
A lot of times, the sale sections at brick and mortar stores tend to be rather picked over. But most large chain stores have online sale sections as well. Find a great cashmere sweater on sale at Saks that isn’t your size? Check online. Keep in mind that, even for regular-priced merchandise, many stores have more available online than they do in store. Free shipping is the norm nowadays, and it’s easy to return and exchange items as well — most companies include return shipping labels.
In addition, check out online-only discount stores like Gilt. You have to be a member — but membership is free, and my membership request was awarded in less than 24 hours. Every day at noon, Gilt launches new sales from select designers for everything from suits to denim to underwear. Most of the time, the discounts are significant, and brands like Billy Reid, John Varvatos, and Shipley & Halmos are featured on a regular basis.
If you’re looking for great deals, head over to Buffalo Exchange or Salvation Army. There’s a lot of crap, but a lot of good stuff too. I have read stories online of guys getting Alden Indy Boots for $10 at a local resale shop. Last time I was at Buffalo Exchange, I nearly wrestled a guy for a Theory shirt that was $15. Many of the stuff at regular retail shops has been worn as much as almost anything at Buffalo Exchange.
Resale shops are also great ways to buy one-of-a-kind vintage items. The guys over at Street Etiquette put together some killer looks, and most of them include items find at thrift shops.
You can also find steals on used items online. Many people, including myself, sell old clothes on eBay. I have found several great pieces through the Buying & Selling section on Style Forum as well.
Shop the outlets
Head to Katy Mills for the Ralph Lauren Factory Store, the Banana Republic Factory Store, The Levi’s Outlet, Cole Haan, Last Call by Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth.
Head to Houston Premium Outlets in Cypress for Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Calvin Klein, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Theory, and Coach.
Be careful, though, because outlets can be deceptive: most labels have their own outlet-specific brands that are made with lower quality fabrics and fit much more poorly than their regular collections. For example, the J. Crew factory collection is very different than the regular J. Crew collection, and in my opinion, not worth spending money on.
However, items from the regular collections often make their way to the outlets. If you look carefully, you can find items from Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label and Black Label collections at the factory store for ridiculously low prices. Before you head out, do some research and learn how to identify clothing labels.
The outlets are definitely the place to go for accessories: They always fit. Don't feel like schlepping it to the 'burbs? Visit Nordstrom Rack, located in the Centre at Post Oak, across the street from the Galleria.
As you develop your wardrobe, remember that style is personal. You can spend little money and still look great, as long as you wear what you wear with confidence. Don’t try to copy looks from designers or mall stores — use them as inspiration and develop your own looks.
Fashion is art. Express yourself and have fun.