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Advice for a student trying to expand his wardrobe

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
As a university student who now's only beginning to find my own preferences in style I sometimes wonder how it is that people can tell differences in quality that don't seem apparent to me. For the most part, I've only been looking at the way the fabric feels to my skin when I wear it (esp in terms of pants). My friends offer no help in these regards and can't seem to understand why I might even want a $350 pair of cotton Zegna (don't know which line) pants that felt like silk when I put them on. Granted, I didn't know they cost $350 at the time, and obviously couldn't afford them. I especially get confused when people talk about color labels and different quality lines of a designer. Any special ordering I should know about or pay special attention to, especially in my situation, which isn't in possession of vast amounts of money. I'm 6'1 1/2" and 140 lbs (tall and very very skinny) which also makes it hard for me to shop at places like Mexx or Banana Republic (places my friends always go to).
post #2 of 13
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As a university student who now's only beginning to find my own preferences in style I sometimes wonder how it is that people can tell differences in quality that don't seem apparent to me.
In order to truly appreciated fine things, be it wine, horses, cigars, cars, or in this case, clothes, some degree of study is necessary. The more subtle the thing, the richer it's rewards, but the harder it is to attain them. For example, a non-drinker is unlikely to be able to tell different grape varietals apart, much less distinguish and appreciate the nuances of different regions. Similarly, someone who doesn't care about clothing is not going to be able to tell the difference between a Brooks Brothers suit and an Attolini masterpiece. If the difference is significantly large (as it is in this case) he may know vaguely that one is better than the other, but mostly, the effect will be lost on him, and he'll keep on wearing his sack suit and wondering why he doesn't look like Brioni wearing Pierce Brosnan (hey, we're both wearing navy suits, right?) I'm not a big Alan Flusser fan, but here is a case when you might want to read one of his books. Just remember that his opinion is not the only opinion, nor necessarily the most authoritative. Don't listen to friends who scoff. I always think a little less of those who discount things they don't understand. These people are nearly as ignorant as the idiots who buy Brioni/Gucci/Yamamoto because they think that it'll attract women. Why do you think that some (not all - Outkast is a noteworthy exception - rappers are fixated on women and bling bling? They're trash. Rich trash. But still trash. Same with mobsters. You can't buy class or the understanding that fine things should be appreciated for their own worth. I have never been very tall and very thin, so I'm afraid I can't help you there.
post #3 of 13
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wondering why he doesn't look like Brioni wearing Pierce Brosnan
Did you mean to say this or is it just a very interesting Freudian slip?
post #4 of 13
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wondering why he doesn't look like Brioni wearing Pierce Brosnan
Did you mean to say this or is it just a very interesting Freudian slip?
It's just missing a hyphen: "Brioni-wearing Pierce Brosnan"...although I do think the slip is equally accurate.
post #5 of 13
To expand slightly on LAG's point, and to use something you may be familiar with, take your program of study at university. As a child or even a high schooler I'm sure you found a doctor's/stock broker's/teacher's/etc. job overly simplistic, i.e. "oh, he gave me a shot and now I won't get the chicken pox." Now that you're in university, you may be learning of the chemical interactions of that particular vaccine, how the individual molecules bond to certain receptor sites, etc. So you have a deeper, more complex appreciation for something that is seemingly simple. With clothes, the fabric has a lot to do with the price, but the cut and construction of the garment also adds sophistication (and $). Take your example of the $350 slacks. It may start with a higher quality cotton that feels nicer against your skin, but consider that there are many different types of cotton - pima cotton, sea island cotton, etc. - and those types of cotton can be processed in different ways to yield a certain feel. Now the fact that a certain type of cotton is used affects the physical feel of the garment, but it also affects the visual appeal of the garment, or how the material hangs on the body. A thinner material may hang (drape) differently than a thicker material. When you move or walk around, the material may move fluidly with your motions, or it may impede your movement, flapping around like a sail. The cut of a garment probably has the greatest effect on its visual appeal. To use the slacks example again, if you're wearing some pants that have a too-large waist (say, by more than an inch) you'll need to use a belt. Yet when you use a belt, the material around your waist buckles and folds over (because you're "closing" it too much with the belt) which makes the material around your hips come out too much. Or maybe you're wearing pants that have a really wide leg, so when you move you get the sail flapping effect (opposite also applies: tight pants for the '80s rocker look.) Those are two extreme examples, but for something more subtle, think of a suit jacket. It can be cut slim, or close to the body, which looks different from a "sack" suit (one that is cut generously - think of the wide leg pants.) Both may be a size 40, but on a given body type they'll look different. In your situation, I would not be overly concerned about color labels and designer's different lines, as long as you can gauge quality. In the mall world, think of Old Navy, The Gap, and Banana Republic. All three owned by the same company, but vastly different clientele and price points. Compare a plain white button down shirt from each store: the BR version may have higher quality buttons than the ON version, with a finer cotton, better stitching, a more fashionable cut, etc. In the designer world, a brand name doesn't necessarily mean higher quality, a better cut, or better anything - i.e. Armani Exchange, which is why it's usually better to know quality when you see it, rather than going by a designer's name. I'll let others chime in with the nuances of mother of pearl buttons and single needle stitching, but to start you off: consider the previous example, a suit. What makes a cheap suit cheap? Not only the quality of the fabric, but mostly the construction. An inexpensive suit will have fused fronts and fused seams, which means the labels are glued together, as are the seams (that's right, the different pieces of fabric are glued together, not sewn.)
post #6 of 13
As the other members stated earlier, there various nuances in expensive clothes, and cheap clothing. For example a high quality shirt would have mother of pearl buttons, single stiches, stiffer collars, and cuffs, and also usually a slimmer fit. In suits, there is the American sack suit which usually is a cheaper variation of men's formals. I.e. the parts will be fused, as afore mentioned, and the material is lower quality. There are of course the subtle differences like workable cuff buttons, double or center vents, linings, and various stiching details. In shoes, there are various welts, i.e. Goodwill, etc. The best brands such as Berluti, John Lobb will choose the best lskins for thier products, and these make a large amount of differences in the wearibility, sheen, and the life of the shoes. Belts usually have heavier buckles of brass, or in the higher ends, solid silver, gilt, or in some examples, solid gold. The leather should be in the same range of the shoes. For genuine cordovan, the belts will never be a full piece of leather. It will be linked together with some type of decorative accent. Ties are either seven fold or the regular type with a lining. Seven fold is in which the tie is made from a full piece of cloth thta is folded seven times without a lining. These are just some elements of high end men's clothing.
post #7 of 13
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wondering why he doesn't look like Brioni wearing Pierce Brosnan
Did you mean to say this or is it just a very interesting Freudian slip?
It's just missing a hyphen: "Brioni-wearing Pierce Brosnan"...although I do think the slip is equally accurate.  
PStoller is correct - just a missing hyphen. On re-reading my post, however, I prefer the original, uncorrected version. A Pierce Brosnan worn, quite stylishly, by Brioni, then. Personally, I would pay a lot of money to see that Brioni worn by Charlize Theron. Or have Charlize wearing me. But now I'm getting distracted.
post #8 of 13
As previously mentioned, you might want to seek advice from Alan Flusser - you don't necessarily have to agree with all his nitpicky rules, but these excerpts from his book 'Clothes and the Man' can give you a pretty decent grounding in terms of the rules of fit, fabric, construction and proportion for clothing. A less expensive suit, that fits properly and is well-accessorized, can look much better than an expensive, but poorly-fitting suit worn with a cheap shirt and tie. To echo the thoughts of the other gentlemen here, I'd say ignore the lure of designer labels for the moment. Price can be a factor in determining quality, but in quite a few cases, the label is simply an excuse to slap a huge markup on a substandard product. As you say, you don't have US$350 to spend on a pair of trousers - me neither. At the less expensive, 'lower levels' of the designer world - Armani Exchange comes immediately to mind - the products are trading primarily on brand name, not quality, and for the prices charged, are certainly not worth it. As for gauging quality, you're right in looking for comfort. If it looks good and feels comfortable (and sturdy), you have a quality item. You don't have to spend piles of money to get a quality product - at each price point, there are brand names that stand out. Just try on some pricey stuff, and then look around for similar, less expensive gear that feels about the same. Off the top of my head, Land's End is a mail-order place that offers a huge range of quality stuff. Nothing's particularly hip, but for basic pieces, they offer very good value. I've been extremely happy with everything I've bought there. They also have long rise trousers, for the tall people amongst us... Oh, and one final point. When it comes to basics (especially chinos), don't discount places like Target. In the past, I've dug up a white cotton spread-collar shirt I found to be the equal of shirts twice the price, and a few pairs of chinos that are amongst the most comfortable I own. Your mileage may vary in the US, of course. Good luck, Nick.
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Wow. I didn't expect such a strong and quick response. After reading those excerpts from Alan Flusser's book, many of my feelings about how clothes should fit were reinforced, especially about the trousers. Thanks all for the helpful tips.
post #10 of 13
This isn't really on topic but this is why I love going to university in Canada. I have so much money left over it's sick (I work full-time even in school). School doesn't cost anything and I'm living at home this year so I've got no expenses I'm not saying to change schools, but it's a wonder more americans don't, at least for undergrad, come to Canada. If all you're gonna have is an undergrad degree than I'd agree that you should go to the most prestigious school you can afford. If however, you're gonna do post-grad, why not save your money? Once you have a post-grad degree from harvard or stanford or whatever, nobody is gonna care where you did undergrad. For the ~$40k per year it costs to go to a good US school, you could instead go somewhere like the University of Toronto, which whether you're aware of it or not is very well regarded by all schools in the states, and you'd save yourself $120k US (probably more). When it comes down to it, I really don't think you'd be hurting yourself, if post-grad is your goal that is. Obviously you'd do your post-grad in the states, but already you'll have WAY less debt when you're all done. Except for in a few rare circumstances (for ex. a friend of mine was roommates with a Rockerfeller at Princeton so he made an awesome connection that's already paid off), I really don't think an undergraduate education is worth $160k. I think more than anything, the benefit of going to a school like Harvard is the alumni network and the heavy recruiting done on campus. You also get a good education, but is it really worth the huge premium at an undergrad level? If you've got the cash in your bank account and don't have to burden yourself with huge debt than there's no reason not to go. But like I said, I really don't think the return on investment is there, unlike for MBA or Law school where it would be stupid not to go to a US school. Anyway, that's my opinion. Frankly I'd rather spend money on a nice car and nice clothes than an over-hyped degree that I finish with 100k in debts
post #11 of 13
Also, and this is just my opinion, I suggest spending the majority of your money on versatile items like suits. A nice suit can make even a cheap shirt look nice- where as a nice shirt won't always make a cheap suit look any better. Plus wearing suits makes matching clothes easier as the pants and jacket already match. Getting some nice ties can also bring new life into any shirt/suit combination and you can usually find a few on bluefly, ebay or at local clothing stores that are quite nice and very cheap. I got a ton of Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Versace, GFF, and Etro ties for $5 each at a local value city. Search for deals and make sure your initial pieces are things you can wear a lot in a lot of different ways- after you get a bunch of stuff that all goes together then you can get the weird anti-lapel margiela tux jackets and whatnot.
post #12 of 13
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I'm not saying to change schools, but it's a wonder more americans don't, at least for undergrad, come to Canada.
There was an article in my school newspaper last week about how the enrollment at Canadian universities by US citizens is up something like 15% this year. Your arguement kinda makes me feel foolish going to the most expensive undergrad university in the US. You do have a good point though about how the grad/law/b school matters more and then 40k a year is a rip-off, I totally agree.
post #13 of 13
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I'm not saying to change schools, but it's a wonder more americans don't, at least for undergrad, come to Canada.
There was an article in my school newspaper last week about how the enrollment at Canadian universities by US citizens is up something like 15% this year. Your arguement kinda makes me feel foolish going to the most expensive undergrad university in the US. You do have a good point though about how the grad/law/b school matters more and then 40k a year is a rip-off, I totally agree.
Just think of the exchange rate. 40k US is around 64k CDN. International students pay around 10-16k CDN per year, which is 6k-10k US. Nuts. Not to mention the cost of living is lower (but anything coming from the US is naturally the same price, or more expensive - I'm in Canada too. To keep things vaguely on topic, I strongly agree with Renwick's point about buying for longevity. I still have a cashmere cardigan I bought when I was a student, which cost an arm and a leg on my budget at the time. Amortized over the life of the garment, it's nothing compared to the flash shirt or shoes I might have worn once or twice (never go shopping with a girlfriend in a bad mood.)
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