Budget Minded Shopping

Question from a reader:

I stumbled across your blog almost 6 months ago and am consistently impressed with the style, wit and humbleness you display. It is also quite refreshing to get a cultural view that’s not always displayed. Keep up the good work.
My problem is my budget. I live in Detroit, Michigan and am the proud father of 8 kids. Do you have any advice for someone who loves fine quality over horrible quantity?

Thanks,

Kevin W.

Firstly, thank you Kevin. I can’t begin to appreciate what it takes to raise 8 children, so I commend you.

Secondly, and this applies to many men, looking good does not need to be costly. Though I stress buying the best products and garments you can afford, I fully recognize the very real decisions that many family men have. There are a multitude of choices regarding shopping on a budget.

In order to keep the focus on quality I suggest coming up with a checklist of pieces you need or, more accurately, would like to have. This will streamline the shopping process and keep you away from flashy clearance signs.

Buy fewer pieces and purchase infrequently. If your clothing budget is small, it’s more beneficial to spend the bulk of your budget on pieces that you will get the most mileage from. For instance, purchase one navy jacket or a  good pair of shoes, rather than several items of lesser quality. I know from personal experience, $200 goes a long way at H&M but, most of the pieces aren’t designed for longevity. Sure, you may feel a temporary sense of euphoria walking around the mall with massive bags full of new gear but, that high fades after half your purchase shrinks in the dryer. The quality is less than desirable. It’s actually quite shitty, to be blunt. Do that and you’ll have wasted your money within a year’s time. The same $200 can be spent on a decent jacket at a better department store, which has been marked down several times.

This has been repeated but, it’s worth it to mention again: eBay and your local consignment stores have many good finds, often buried. Incredible deals can be found but, it does take work. I’ve sold several pieces of mine on eBay, all of which were well taken care of. I only hope the new owners are as kind to the garments as I. Ebay is good for suits and jackets from well respected names the same goes for shoes, from companies like Alden and Allen Edmonds. Research the companies and the seller’s reputation. Know your size and ask questions.

Still yet, for brand new pieces, patience is a must. Department stores will gradually mark down items from the previous season to make room for new merchandise, we all know this game. The salesman warns you that this is the last piece, since his paycheck depends on such deceit. You don’t owe him anything, wait for the markdown. This is the most opportune time to snag a good basic. Last season’s grey suit will look just as good next season, provided it’s appropriately tailored. Again, the idea is to perhaps only get one or two pieces, so as to not sacrifice quality. Perhaps you may only be able to get yourself one piece a few times a year. Perhaps it’s just once a year. The quality pieces add up though. Only got one great jacket? Wear the hell out of it, get your Barack I-just-killed-bin laden-strut on and own it.

There are some avenues to cut corners though. For dress shirts, companies like Charles Tyrwhitt and T.M. Lewin produce well-fitting, very reasonably priced dress shirts, for at low at $30. This is often a better deal and of better quality than any department store will have.

A white French cuff shirt  is a necessity.

A white French cuff shirt is a necessity.

Listen, I own $35 shirts from T.M. Lewin and $600 Brioni shirts, no one knows the difference. To be fair, one may feel better, but they both get the same wear. Same the money here.

For ties and accessories, the Tie Bar is hands down the best route at $15 each.

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If you’re on a budget, save the money for jackets and shoes. There’s no need for $100+ neckties and pocket squares.

Ultimately, looking good makes us feel good. Money should not be an impediment, though many men use it an excuse. But it needn’t be so. Having a clear idea of what you want, knowing when and where to shop and how to cut corners are the components of dressing well on a budget. Ultimately, it ain’t about how much it cost. How the garment fits and how you carry yourself determines how good it looks. And, more importantly, how good you feel.

Three Piece On Hold

The days for the three piece suit are waning. This birdseye, in charcoal grey, is a favorite of mine. A three-piece suit has its place and, when tailored correctly, looks incredibly natty. For perhaps the final time this season though, I’ve pulled this one out, in all its aggressive-lapel glory.
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Suit by AM Bespoke, shirt by Kamakura, tie by Gianfranco Ferre, pocket square by Kent Wang, socks by Pantherella, shoes by Carmina

Certainly, the clothing-obsessed may see fit to wear them in fresco, linen or other warm-weather fabrics for the next few months. That’s pure lunacy. There is no need for another layer during the humid days of summer. Furthermore, the entire idea of a waistcoat is to provided added warmth. For that reason alone, I cannot support one in lighter fabrics.
Location: Fine & Dandy

Fleur de lis lapel pin by By Elias. Location: Fine & Dandy

With that, I can officially hang up the waistcoats for a few months.

Final Run for Winter

Despite the calendar’s indication of its arrival, true spring weather has yet to make an appearance here in NYC. Mild days make a coat unnecessary, yet a thin worsted fabric isn’t enough to combat the elements. Herein comes the final go around for the flannel suits, tweed jackets and trousers.

Ideally, these pieces should not see the outside of a closet for another several months. However, right now, they’re suitable and provide just enough warmth. The seasonal weights are the same pieces with which to begin winter, on those same cool autumn days.

The substantial fabrics provide enough of a shield against a cool, not cold, but cool day. This Harris Tweed jacket is damn near bulletproof. It’s beefy and thick, enough to stand up to both a little wind and calm 50-60 degree days, but not actual bullets.

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Hat by Fine & Dandy, Harris Tweed jacket by Bloomingdale’s private label, shirt by Kamakura, tie by Ike Behar, trousers by Uniqlo

All the other pieces-flannel trousers, cashmere tie, wool cap-keep the textures consistent throughout. The button down collar shirt is also a more casual option, befitting such a sporty jacket.

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For a day full of meetings, I paired the same cashmere tie with a flannel, chalkstripe double breasted suit. Again, the fabric was heavy enough for a cool day, rendering a coat superfluous.

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Flannel, chalk-stripe double breasted suit by Burberry, shirt by Piatelli, same tie as above, black monk straps by Salvatore Ferragamo

Of course, my hope is that I can finally ditch the heavier pieces and transition into actual spring. By I, I mean we, collectively. I’m certain everyone yearns for the real spring. The kind the fashion magazines drone on about with gingham check shirts as the ‘It’ piece. The sort where the colored chinos, linen jackets and untanned ankles see daylight after a dreary few months. Pardon my puzzled look below, I’m merely reminiscing about the Miami spring.

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Scissor pin by By Elias, unbranded pocket square

Until the temperatures reach a consistent high above 65 (which is, somehow, refreshingly warm), I’ll grudgingly give one more final lap to the winter weight pieces.

Pocket Square in the Overcoat?

An outfit awash in grey or navy can become dull. On the dreary days, when a topcoat  or overcoat is needed in either aforementioned shades, even more so. A little pop of color in the overcoat/topcoat breast pocket does wonders in bringing a dark fit to life, often complimenting one’s scarf and hat. I’ve come to appreciate a little lift over the past month. Everyday, there’s a little something occupying my pocket, to punch things up a bit. Ideally, I should add wintery pocket squares or those of like texture. I’ve tried colorful squares, but white is the most unobtrusive.

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Cap by Fine & Dandy, coat and scarf by J.Crew, pocket square by Ikire Jones, pants by Faconnable, gloves by Brioni, shoes by Howard Yount.

 The topic is met with harsh critique by the proponents of the clean breast pocket. They call the addition of a square affected. These are often the same gentlemen who devote hours upon hours debating the merits of grenadine versus satin neckties for evening functions on a number of forums. I find nothing affected about the five extra seconds it takes to add a pocket square into my topcoat breast pocket. Since no actual style police exist, I’ll continue experimenting.
Hat by Weatherproof, topcoat by J.Crew, vintage scarf (from my grandmother), trousers by Uniqlo, Wholecuts by Santoni, Gloves by Brioni, briefcase by British Belt Company, Umbrella by Kent Wang.

Hat by Weatherproof, topcoat by J.Crew, vintage scarf (from my grandmother), trousers by Uniqlo, Wholecuts by Santoni, Gloves by Brioni, briefcase by British Belt Company, Umbrella by Kent Wang.

In the winter, any reason to lighten up the mood in a good one. In my experimenting, I’ve found white works the best, just as with jackets. White doesn’t clash with one’s choice of scarf, but still breaks up the darkness a bit.
Cap by Fine & Dandy, coat by J.crew, suit by Burberry, shirt by Piatelli, tie by Ike Behar

Cap by Fine & Dandy, coat by J.crew, suit by Burberry, shirt by Piatelli, tie by Ike Behar.

For the skeptical, start with something simple. You just may end up appreciating the pop of color.

The Armoury NYC

In the face of mounting competition from large department stores, and fashion brands with big advertising budgets, the local tailor and menswear haberdashery has undoubtedly lost valuable real estate, though not its cachet. The recent expansion of one Hong Kong outpost, The Armoury, into New York City is a welcome  reprieve, given the trend.

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As a new New Yorker, I’ve continued my adventures exploring menswear shops around the city. I’d previously only read of this shop. The first U.S. outpost opened a few months ago in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City. Revered among menswear enthusiasts for offering handmade clothing, Goodyear welted shoes (Saint Crispin’s, Carmina) and accessories from smaller brands (Fox Umbrellas, Drake’s ties and scarves), The Armoury is one of the few shops that gets it right. It is a quietly masculine shop that prides itself on the quality of its garments.

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Understated yet inviting, the approach is decidedly classic; both in the exterior representation and interior inventory. Here the emphasis is on the superior construction and fit. A well-informed, unobtrusive, yet passionate staff, makes a visit to The Armoury a necessity.

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During my visit,  staff members were discussing, of all things, which band they would all join, given the choice. Without hesitation, I was asked to name mine. To which I readily replied, “I’d jam with Thelonious Monk.” Given the opportunity, plus, of course, some form of musical ability. That was met with nodding approval, I might add. When the discussion moved toward clothing, the gentlemen were more than accommodating, enthusiastically answering my questions and showing me merchandise. It was clear, they were just as keen on educating me, more so than selling.

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The clothing simply speaks. For example: A pair of trousers from Ambrosi Napoli, run by Salvatore Ambrosi, caught my attention. At the mere mention, Jeff went upstairs, got a pair and proceeded to educate me about details like the hand finishing both inside and outside, as well as the various fabric options. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was interested in purchasing the trousers!

The inventory include jackets and suits by Orazio Luciano, Ring Jackets and Liverano & Liverano and spread collar dress shirts by Ascot Chang.

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Many of the vendors mentioned travel to the shop for trunk shows throughout the year, where they can meet clients and fit them for bespoke or made to order goods. I poked around the shoes area, with a pair of Carmina brown suede captoe oxfords and suede loafers the most memorable.

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The shop has risen in recognition, in part to social media. Founders, Mark Cho, Alan See and Ethan Newton reguarly are  seen photographed during Pitti Uomo. All three have extensive backgrounds in menswear. Additionally, the daily Tumblr and Instagram feeds of the founders, feature new products and genuinely brilliant pairings. All three have a distinct personal style, each just as inspiring as the other.

While there’s certainly no shortage of places to purchase men’s clothing in New York, finding a balance of merchandise made to the highest standards with a well educated staff isn’t so common. The Armoury strikes that balance nicely.

The Flannel Slim Cargo

When an extra trouser detail is desired, men have often reached for a pair of cargo pants. The side pockets make us feel a little more rugged. Not Bear Grylls level, but a little tougher than our 9-5 selves. A cargo pocket adds a little utility to a conventional pair of trousers. I don’t often (ever) carry a buck knife or emergency set of rubberbands and paperclip with which to whip up a MacGyver-esque contraption, but cargo pants make me feel a little more mountainous. That’s the beauty of the utilitarian aesthetic, the possibility to store some save-the-day hardware.

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When the cargo pocket is unobtrusive and the cut of the trouser is narrow, it can work well with a blazer for the more casual office days. What’s more, said trousers can dress up a weekend look quite nicely.

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Jacket by Hardy Amies, cargo trousers by Claiborne, shirt by A.M. Bespoke, monk straps by Howard Yount, cap by Weatherproof

Perhaps I won’t get far trekking the highlands in the snuff suede monk straps, but with a quick swap of shoes and jacket, I’m ready for the weekend.

The Suit Softened

I popped into a store recently near the alterations tailor I now use. Following a purchase, the young lady behind the counter asked if I was going somewhere, ostensibly because I was wearing a suit. I decided against the hardline response, “Oh, a brotha can’t just wear a suit!” The truth, that I was running errands on my lunch break, made for a much more smooth exchange.

That left me thinking that, despite strides made in menswear, the suit is still seen as an obligatory garment by most. One is attending to an event and he must wear a suit. Fair game if the tie is muted and the suit is dark. However, there are ways to soften the suit. The fabric choice is an immediate indicator of the formality. In very broad terms, a suit with some texture is also a little less formal than a solid. This blue cashmere nailhead is an example of a less formal fabric. Details like patch pockets solidify its position on the casual side of the fence. Though in menswear, nothing is ever set in stone.

Nailhead cashmere suit by Brioni, cashmere turleneck by Uniqlo, blue oxford by Gap, brown tweed cap by Weatherproof, navy suede chukka boots by J.Crew

Nailhead cashmere suit by Brioni, cashmere turleneck by Uniqlo, blue oxford by Gap, brown tweed cap by Weatherproof, navy suede chukka boots by J.Crew

The suit is softened when paired with unexpected navy chukkas and a teal turtleneck knit. Suede and knit are two easy solutions when stumped on how to take the formality out of a suit. Suede shoes and knit tops or neckties make it appear less stuffy, for me. If need be, I’m certain a pale blue dress shirt and a brown cashmere tie would dress this up just a bit. That wasn’t the goal that day, though.

Bee pin by By Elias, pocket square by Ikire Jones, frames by Tom Ford

Bee pin by By Elias, pocket square by Ikire Jones, frames by Tom Ford

Similarly, the accessories play a role is taking the suit out of the suit. The Ethiopian Bee pin and the New Lagos pocket square are more fun touches to echo the nonchalance of the suit. Fortunately, I’m in a creative field and can accessorize accordingly.

The goal is to advocate the versatility of the suit; to move beyond thinking of it a strictly formal piece, despite its inherent dressiness. It’s more so that there is room to add personal touches, to make it less stuffy.

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