Many men are reluctant to improve the way they dress because of some prevalent myths regarding men’s style. Two of these myths are that in order to be stylish and well-dressed, you have to spend a lot of money buying expensive clothes and you have to buy a lot of clothes. These two ideas couldn’t be further from the truth. In this article, I will show you 6 must-follow principles on how to properly build your wardrobe so that improving your style and looking sharp won’t break the bank.
1. Create a lean wardrobe
A lean wardrobe means rather than having owning a ton of clothes, own fewer but ensure each piece is interchangeable with multiple pieces. This way, you can create more outfits with fewer items. When you’re thinking about buying a new piece of clothing, never look at it as an individual item; instead, you should be thinking: “What in my wardrobe will I be able to wear this with?” If the item you are considering can be worn with multiple different pieces in your wardrobe and can create multiple outfits, only then should you consider buying it. If the item only really looks good with just one or two other things, then forget it.
An example of a versatile, interchangeable item is the white dress shirt. You can wear it with many different colours and many different pants: jeans, chinos, slacks and dress pants all look great with a white dress shirt. It can be worn on its own, under a sweater as a layering piece or under a blazer or suit jacket. As you can see, a versatile item like the white dress shirt can be used to create many different outfits which results in you spending less to get more. This way, you keep your wardrobe lean, spend less money, and are able to have more different looking outfits to wear for less money.
2. Never pay full retail
Paying full retail is for suckers and you don’t want to be a sucker. When buying clothes from retail stores -whether in-store or online- always wait for a sale. Most retail stores have sales all the time. For example, J. Crew and Banana Republic seem to have a 20-30% off sale at least every few months if not more. A store like J. Crew constantly has new items coming in so an item you want might be in the clearance section a month later. Being patient and keeping a watchful eye for items being moved to clearance will save you a bunch of money.
If you want some higher end items, a store like Nordstrom’s has two main sales each year where they slash their prices on many men’s items by ~30%. These sales occur in mid July and December. I was able to pick up a pair of Allen Edmond’s Strands for 30% last year during their sale in July and saved myself $100 in the process.
Also, try to shop during end of season sales. If you’re buying items based on style and not fashion, they will stand the test of time so you can wear them when they are in-season.
If there’s a store you particularly like, it would be wise to sign up for their email updates to be notified of when sales occur.
Now the caveat: If you see an item that you KNOW is essential for your wardrobe and you’ll be wearing it many times for a long time, and you fear that if you don’t buy it immediately you’ll lose the chance to buy it in the future, then go ahead and buy it. Use your common sense.
3. Choose style over fashion
Men’s style consists of principles and looks that have stood the test of time. Fashion on the other hand is fleeting and changes from one year to the next. Trying to follow the latest fashion trends will leave you broke in no time. Before you buy an item, ask yourself if you would wear it 4-5 years from now. If so, consider buying it. If not, don’t waste your money. If you are wondering what these timeless menswear items are, don’t worry, we’ll teach you.
4. Don’t be a brand whore
Buying something because of its brand doesn’t mean that it’s a stylish item. There are many expensive, popular items that look terrible. One such item is the graphic T-Shirt. We’re in full support of T-Shirts but many of them nowadays are hideous and ridiculously over-priced.
Also, when two items are of similar quality, always choose the less expensive item. Case in point: Levi’s jeans vs. designer jeans. A pair of Levi’s will run you around $50 whereas many designer jeans will cost you $200 – $500 if not more. They look the same aside from the label, feel the same, and will wear out the same. Even if Levi’s wear out faster, there’s no way a pair of designer jeans will last 10x as long.
5. Buy quality
This point does not contradict point #4 where I said if two items are of similar quality, purchase the cheaper version. With that said, with certain items, there is a large jump in quality between different price points (up to a point) that makes buying the more expensive item a better idea. It makes more financial sense to spend a little more to have something that lasts longer and looks much better than its cheaper alternative.
Here’s an example of this from my own personal experience. I purchased a V-neck merino wool sweater from JCrew for around $40 during a sale and at around the same time, purchased a V-neck merino wool sweater from H&M for around $25. After a few months and similar wear, the H&M sweater -made from inferior materials- has become un-wearable due to its unsightly fraying. The J. Crew sweater on the other hand is still looking good. Let’s presume the J.Crew sweater lasts me 2 years but the H&M sweater lasts me just 6 months. That means after two years time, I would have spent $100 on H&M sweaters compared to the $40 over 2 years that I would have spent for the 1 J. Crew.
Some items where quality/looks jump greatly between price points include:
- Dress Shoes
A pair of $300 dress shoes will be significantly better in terms of quality and looks compared to a pair of $100 dress shoes from Aldo. A $1000 suit will be significantly better in terms of quality and looks compared to a $200 suit. However, there are very rapid diminishing returns when it comes to the relationship between quality and price points. For example, a $350 pair of Allen Edmonds is significantly better than a $100 pair of Aldos; however, the difference in quality and looks between a $500 pair of Alden dress shoes a $350 pair Allen Edmonds won’t nearly be as large. If you were to jump to the next price point after that, you would be looking to spend around $1200 for a pair of Edward Green shoes. These shoes are completely hand crafted by master cobblers in England using the finest leathers and materials, and while they’re better, the difference in quality and looks will be much smaller.
Remember, you do not need to come anywhere close to buying the top of the line clothes to have stylish, quality items. It is important to learn how to distinguish between quality (we will help you do that) and to use common sense when it comes to weighing the costs and benefits of jumping to the next price point in apparel.
6. Delay gratification
To prevent yourself from spending frivolously, before you buy something, wait a week to see if you still want that item. If you’re buying online, put the item in the checkout bin but don’t finalize the purchase until a few days later. Delaying gratification will allow you to prevent impulse buys and will give you time to assess if the item is actually worth buying with your hard earned money.
7. Go thrifting
If you’re willing to sift through a ton of crap to find a gem, then thifting/buying used clothing is an option for you. I have seen many people on style forums find impeccable gems consisting of gorgeous suits, ties, blazers and the like rummaging through thrift shops and second hand dealers. The only problem is that you have to spend a lot of time going through all the junk before you can find something amazing.
Another option is buying gently worn items off of ebay. I would be cautious with buying a used suit online simply because you don’t know how it will fit you. A poorly fitting suit is as good as garbage. With that said, there are people who sell lightly worn, highly quality dress shoes for a large discount. You can easily find a pair of Allen Edmonds for around $100.
One warning though: I would be weary of bedbugs and moths when it comes to buying used clothes. Always dry clean, freeze or steam them before wearing.
When building a wardrobe and improving your style, the goal isn’t to buy a ton clothes or expensive items. Instead, the goal is to create a lean wardrobe with each item having a lot versatility. By creating a lean wardrobe, you spend your hard earned money wisely and get the most bang for your buck. By adhering to the 6 principles outlined in this article, not only will you be well on your way to looking sharp, but your wallet will thank you for it too.