In recent articles we have made the case as to why the modern gentleman should “buy less but buy better”, as in better quality. Let’s face it, higher quality items are often times much more expensive than similarly styled items sold by the fast-fashion chains and big box stores. The modern gentleman should always live within his means, and so we realize that not every man can afford the very best when it comes to their wardrobe (myself included).
This article will focus on providing advice to the modern gentleman living on a budget. It’s definitely possible to establish a versatile and stylish wardrobe, without breaking the bank. We will look at what items are worth investing more money in up front, which items may not be worth the initial investment if you are on a budget, and overall pieces of advice on developing a stylish wardrobe. In future articles, we will touch on specific recommendations on items to fill out different areas of your wardrobe.
A Stylish Wardrobe – Key Points to Remember
One key point to keep in mind when setting out to establish a stylish wardrobe is that “style” is timeless and enduring. Stylish items may be slightly influenced by trends (think skinny vs. wide lapels, classic vs. slim fit trousers, etc.), however they endure and remain appropriate over time. A good example is a two-button single breasted suit in navy blue. Regardless of trouser fit, lapel width, etc., you could get away with wearing this in just about any decade and look well put together.
On the other hand, there are items that are clearly “trendy”, and these would be described as “fashionable” items. One example is the current “jogger” (trousers with bunched elastic cuffs). While you can go into most popular menswear stores today and buy a pair of joggers, they are clearly only a fad and will likely look out of place in the not too distant future.
The point I want to make is to make wise decisions when purchasing items. Do your best to purchase items that are classically “stylish”, not currently “fashionable”. Most affordable menswear stores today offer both classic and trendy items. It’s not difficult to establish an inexpensive classic wardrobe (suits, sportcoats, trousers, shirts, etc.) by purchasing these items from affordable menswear stores.
Another key point to remember is that the way your clothes fit will truly set you apart from others. Most men who do not put a lot of thought into what they wear, will simply buy a piece of clothing “off the rack” and often at least one size too large. While they may look fine, paying extra attention to how your clothes fit can truly set you apart from the masses. This may be as simple as buying a shirt in a “slim fit” vs. a “classic fit”. The best option however is to find a dependable and affordable tailor that can alter “off the rack” clothing to provide you a custom fitting garment. This is especially effective if you purchase items on sale… you can spend a few bucks to have the garment tailored, and still come out better than an ill-fitting garment at retail cost. An inexpensive “off the rack” garment can truly look fantastic if tailored to fit like a bespoke or made-to-measure garment.
The third key point that I want to make is to start out buying items that are versatile, and can be worn in a number of outfits. A perfect example of this is a light blue oxford cloth button down (OCBD) shirt. The blue OCBD shirt can be worn dressed down with a pair of jeans, dressed up a bit under a wool sweater with tie, or dressed up even further with a sportcoat and wool trousers. See the following images for proof:
Start out purchasing items that you can foresee wearing with a number of different combinations of outfits. Stay away from items that can only be worn in very specific situations, or can only be paired with specific items to look appropriate. Your puchases will go much further this way.
Spend vs. “Skimp”
Something else to consider when building a classic wardrobe on a budget, is what items are worth splurging on vs. “skimping” on. In general, the modern gentleman can build a pretty sharp and versatile wardrobe with inexpensive items. At a quick glance, most people will not be able to tell the difference between an inexpensive button up shirt from an expensive, high quality one. There are a few items that are worth splurging a bit on, and I will focus on those here:
Suit/Sportcoat: If you are smart about your purchases, you can purchase a suit or two and a sportcoat that can be worn in almost any situation (a navy and a charcoal suit, and a navy blazer). Suit jackets and sportcoats are items that can vary greatly in quality, and are worth spending a bit more on. Higher quality jackets will likely be constructed with a canvas interlining that provides structure to the jacket, conforms to the wearer, and allows the jacket to move well with the body. Cheaper jackets are “fused” which means that a paper like interlining is glued (or fused) to the jacket to provide structure. These fused jackets do not form to the shape of the wearer (the fit will never be as good as a canvassed jacket), and it will not move as well when worn.
Calfskin Shoes: Shoes that are constructed with a full grain calfskin upper are worth spending a bit more on when compared with a shoe made from a corrected-grain leather upper. Without going into detail on the difference between types of leather, corrected grain leather does not last nearly as long as full-grain calfskin leather. Corrected grain shoes typically develop creases much more quickly, do not hold a shine as well, and do not develop the beautiful patina that full-grain leather shoes do. Cheap suede is also much more difficult to tell apart from high quality suede, so if you are going to skimp on footwear, do so on suede shoes.
Fabric: I’m including this here because I encourage you to spend a bit more on natural fiber vs. synthetic or man-made fiber when purchasing clothes. What I mean is, when looking at two comparable items, spend a bit more on a version that is made from a natural fiber (such as wool, cotton, linen, etc.) versus something containing polyester. A garment made from a natural fabric will often drape better, look nicer, and will be much more comfortable (think breathable) to wear.
In conclusion, with a little bit of effort, the modern gentleman can establish a very classically stylish wardrobe without spending a ton of money. This is the approach I have taken myself. I have splurged up front very carefully and only on certain items. On others, I have purchased inexpensive items and had them tailored to look custom. Other inexpensive garments have worked well “off the rack”. I look forward to maintaining this wardrobe, which I believe will continue to look sharp for many years to come. Once you have established a nice basic wardrobe, you can look at adding items that you like and are more “fashionable”, or save up to replace items in your wardrobe with higher quality items on your wish-list.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any additional wisdom to share on this topic, please do so by sharing in the comments!