Thank you all for the discussion and advice. I deeply appreciate it.
Originally Posted by eightfoldpath
Where are you currently located?
Good luck and stay safe.
Central Oregon, and thank you. Before I'm off to training in DC (and beyond) in early 2013, I will probably spend several weeks visiting family in the San Francisco and New York areas.
Originally Posted by globetrotter
I work with state department people all the time. if you are looking for something that will be good for you proffetionally, by that I mean you aren't really that interested in have a great suit, you want to look good for your work, then:
get yourself 4-5 brooks brothers (or jos. bank) suits - single breasted, 10-12 ounce, 3 button. I'd say, solid navy, solid gray, striped navy, striped gray, prince of wales.
10 brooks brothers (or lands end) button down shirts. in a mix of light blue, white, blue striped, maybe a maroon or a gray striped.
5-10 ties - honestly, if you really want to fit in, I'd get bb stripes, but I find it hard to recomend those, so I'd try for some pin dots and some solids, also dark blue, maybe maroon, maybe yellow
light colored trench coat - sierra tradding has a good sale on ralf lauren trench coat right now.
2 pairs black shoes, maybe aldens, maybe something a little down the food chain (sorry I am not that familiar with american shoe manufacturers) cap toe and wing tip.
20 pair boxers, 20 pair socks (10 blue, 10 gray)
3 pair lands end chinos, 5 polo shirts, 3 sweaters.
the above will get you through 90% of potential first postings.
in many of your potential first postings, you will encounter tailors, shirtmakers and shoemakers who can make you better stuff at reasonable prices, over time you might replace, if you feel so inclined.
oh, and a reasonable timex watch.
Thank you. I appreciate the specifics, and your thoughtful "off duty" list as well. I just won a pair of BR flat front chinos on eBay for $10 shipped.
As to the timepiece, I've dabbled in the "guy gadget" hobbies long enough to have an Orient Mako, a surprisingly nice Momentum quartz, and my grandfather's old Bulova.
Originally Posted by comrade
I am ex-Foreign Service. Are you an FSO?
Or are you Foreign Service Staff? I ask this question
because in my day- decades ago, there was a sartorial
distinction between these two groups. For FSOs dress was
quite conservative- but then those who were recruited already
dressed conservatively. Within this category style ranged from
bland/boring to elegant. Stay away from TJ Maxx and Big Box stores.
Same goes for Joseph A Bank, etc. Their clothing looks cheap and
is more suited to a car rental agency employee ( Sorry Alamo) than
the Dept of State. I would stick with Brooks Brothers or its equivalent.
I have no idea about Ruffini or de la renta. Unless things have changed
drastically, the State Dept- Foreign service, looks like they shop at
Paul Stuart or similar stores- trad-derived but contemporary. A note
of caution. Don't buy too much until you get your assignment. My first
post was "hardship" and I wore a suit every day (never a blazer)
The local government officials with whom I dealt dressed in a very
conservative formal style even though the country was predominantly
illiterate at the time. Also, where you are posted, may offer excellent
opportunities to acquire very decent bespoke at Marshall's prices. Feel free to PM
me if you wish.
I just read Globetrotter's comments. They are essentially correct. However,
I disagree about Joseph A Bank.
This is an excellent perspective, thanks! I did not make the cut for FSO but I am delighted they picked me up as an Office Management Specialist (OMS). At work, I tend to excel so I'm sure opportunities will arise with time. Given the focus of much of my federal job search, I am hoping for an OMS posting in a Diplomatic Security section. I appreciate your invitation and will PM you before too long, once I get a little more reading done.
Originally Posted by ballmouse
While I don't necessarily disagree with the above posters about what to buy, I do wonder if it is practical to purchase a large amount of new formal clothing when you are used to casual attire.
For your build (40 chest, 30 waist), I can't imagine getting a good fit cheaply, so I would think you would purchase your suits/shirts slowly so you know how you would like your jackets, shirts, and pants to fit before you rush to buy a lot of potentially ill-fitting clothing. This would seem especially true if you do not wear formal clothing now.
Several posters have echoed this advice, and I understand. However, I am anxious about graduating training and being shipped off to Harare, Dushanbe, or Vientiane without enough work clothing. I am fascinated by this discussion of local shopping but in my travels, have not seen many shopping opportunities for fine menswear in many such locales. Notable exceptions such as Bangkok abound, but my hesitation remains.
Originally Posted by Longmorn
LOL, especially at the Bose reference.
Although largely accurate, I'd add a couple of caveats to what's been stated above. First, most junior DOS employees dress very conservatively, and stick to the most basic colors and patterns. I was surprised by the PoW suggestion, for example - I've certainly seen patterns other than pinstripes on Ambassadors, and Dep Assistant Secretaries up through Under Secretaries, but rarely if ever on more junior folks. And even then, sartorial flair (with varying degrees of success) tends to be primarily found among Ambassadors.
I'm also a little surprised at the suggestion of Brooks Brothers given that you seem to be looking to spend a total of $1500-$1700 for all 5 suits + 10 shirts. Not sure what you could find at a BB sale, but a quick look on their website suggests $500/suit as a minimum (and that's only for the 'Essential Suits' line).
I'm not endorsing JAB for quality, but other than eBay it may be the only way to get the number of suits you want at that budget. And in reality, JAB is ubiquitous throughout DOS.
To avoid JAB, you may want to spend some time wandering around Georgetown trying stuff on to nail down brands/models/sizes and then go hunting on eBay. It's also probably worth your time to go speak with the guys at William A. Fox at 15th and G, whose client base includes plenty of DOS.
Last thought - don't get too hung up on the 'hardship' label of a posting. DOS seems to categorize almost anything that isn't a Western European country as hardship of some sort.
Thanks for the DOS-specific observations - I have had limited contact with State compared to other agencies so this is very valuable.
Oh, I didn't mean to sound skittish about "hardship" posts. At considerable professional opportunity cost, I have taken the time to travel extensively in such places backpacker style, "middle class" style, and via long bike tours. Aside from serving my country, working and living in "hardship" locations is the main appeal of this gig. Indeed, I was disappointed to learn that Baghdad, Islamabad, and Kabul are not available as first postings.
Originally Posted by Longmorn
^ Good advice here on reducing your target number of suits. Not sure about getting by on 2, but even cut down to 3 will give you lots more flexibility.
Another thing to consider is what you need these suits to do for you. If most of the time you simply need to look like you belong/simply not stick out, then cheaper suits are not only fine, they're the standard. If, on the other hand, there are time when you need/want to stick out - say, when you're briefing or you're the most senior U.S.G. rep at a meeting - then it's worth investing in at least one higher quality suit in navy or charcoal.
Not necessarily - there are plenty of capitals where the elites all decamp to Paris, London, Milan or NYC on a regular basis to have their suits and shirts made. The benefits of kleptocracy and all that. In those cases, the locally available tailoring might not suit the OP's purpose (here I'm thinking of Kin, Brazzaville, Tashkent, Almaty, etc.)
We recently attended a 2-day intensive escape-and-evasion class. The instructor really emphasized your same point - he called it "baselining". At the end of the field exercise day, I was able to evade a "hunter" at arm's length by improvising an outfit that made me look like landscaping staff, instead of the clothing the hunter last observed me wearing.
At class, we have an opportunity to rank the destinations list that they give us, and your list is strongly representative of my top picks. Thus, I do want to show up there with enough specialized work clothing.
Again, thanks very much for the advice and specifics. Keep 'em coming!