This website is full of a lot of helpful and amazingly detailed style advice. Simply browsing the forum a couple times a day has caused me to completely abandon any preconceived notions i had about men's dress and completely altered the way I dress on a daily basis. The tricky thing about my closets transformation however, is that Im a recent college grad with a fairly negligible amount of disposable income. I would love a pair of G&G's with a perfectly hemmed pair of incotex trousers resting upon their laces, the only problem is I'd have to dedicate one months salary to the shoes, and another month's to the pants, which isnt exactly feasible. I know I've seen a lot of threads and questions on the forum about people around my age trying to dress well and avoid the standard ill-fitting buy one, get 6 free suits most men shopping within our budget wear.
I am certainly not trying to state anything definitively here and certainly dont consider myself an expert on the matter, but as someone who has just outfitted himself with a working man's wardrobe I figured I'd get my thoughts down in writing so as to help anyone else in this position. Any and all feedback and recommendations are encouraged, because I certainly don't know everything on the matter and would love to create a more complete guide. The most important thing to remember while reading this is that fit and appearance are far more important than brand names on the tags. You will look 1000x better in a great fitting Tommy Hilfiger suit than you will in a Tom Ford suit thats 2 sizes too big. So anyway lets get started from the ground up:
Shoes are the anchor of your wardrobe, and also the one place where its worthwhile to splurge. Cheap dress shoes are a false bargain. With the why a nice pair of goodyear welted shoes can last for ages when taken care of properly, those $300 shoes your eyeing are probably a bargain compared to the less expensive shoes youre looking at. If a $250-$350 shoe is not in your budget, Id recommend saving up for them or asking for them as a present from someone who really loves you. The quality of the product is just light years passed lesser shoes, and these can last you a decade. Alas, $300 for a pair of shoes is still a lot of money, and if you cant afford them you still need to put something on your feet. If this is the case, go to a place like DSW, Nordstroms Rack, Century 21, or any other discount last sale store and find a nice pair of simple cap toe oxfords with a leather sole on the cheap. Avoid anything with an overly squared off toe or any shoes with elastic on it. You want your shoe to be sleak. I want you to spend a little as you can here, and certainly dont spend more than $100. These shoes are a sunk cost; no over part of your outfit will actively degrade the way a pair of shoes will and glued soles wont last forever.
Recommendations: Allen Edmonds, Alden, Meermin, or any other quality brand of shoes with a goodyear welted sole. If not, spend as little as you can and start saving. It really is worth it. Allen Edmonds also sells seconds shoes which sell for a decent discount, though these can be hit or miss with some quality control issues.
TROUSERS(Also Suit Pants):
Trousers are probably the second most versatile part of your wardrobe, second only to shoes. Pants really don't need to be dry cleaned all that often, and are a fairly inconspicuous piece of an outfit. This is fantastic news because it means you really dont need that many of them to lay the foundation of your new wardrobe. Id recommend sticking to lightweight worsted wool trousers in a few staple colors: varying shades of grey, navy, some tan or brown if you want. I typically dislike black trousers as they always feel funereal to me, and you can only wear them with black shoes. They're a limiting piece of clothing, and thats exactly what you want to avoid at this stage in the game. Depending on the amount youre looking to spend, you can start getting into plaids or patterns, but certainly dont buy a pair if youll need to wear them more than once a week. Avoid pants that are too high waisted or have pleats, as they lend themselves to a dated appearance when combined with conservative business dress/
Trouser fit is crucial and in my opinion, its one of the things that can really set you apart without having to spend any money. I like my trousers to be a nice slim fit, but without tugging or pulling anywhere. You dont want to feel like youll split a seem going through a standard range of motion, but you dont want them hanging off you either. If you feel them restricting you while walking or sitting, then theyre too tight. Important tip: if the pants are taut from the crotch out to the pocket, creating a shelf before the leg of the pants start, then the pants dont fit and you should consult with tailor before buying them. When it comes to length, you want the leg opening to caress the top of your shoes, not stack on them. I personally like very little break in my pants, but the rule of thumb that Im making up right now for a standard length: your pants should be just long enough to keep your socks hidden when standing straight.
Recommendations: Head to your nearest Century 21 or similar store and just start trying on everything in your size, youll know when you find a pair that really well. Avoid the really cheap brands, they probably wont fit well anyway, but dont feel the need to spend heaps of cash either. I've seen great brands like Zegna, Zanella, Hickey Freeman, and Canali trousers all in the $100 range at my local C21. Sierra Trading Post can also carry some great deals from time to time, but make sure to do your due diligence to make sure you know what youre getting.
Shirts are probably one of the trickiest things to initially size, but are incredibly simple to buy when you figure out you size. You might think youve found the perfect shirt until you try on another brand and realize you like the way that fits even more. At this stage, Id recommend finding that one shirt brand and fit you really like and buying a lot of them. You want the sleeve to reach down to your wrist, but not stack excessively or cover any part of your hand. The collar should feel tight but not constricting. You dont want heaps of excess fabric in the collar because it will result in one of two things: massive collar gap, which is sloppy and makes it look like youve borrowed the shirt from your dad, or collar bunching due to your tie, which is equally sloppy. The body of the shirt should be slimmer fitting, but not so much as to stretch in the just region or tug at the buttons. When tucked in to your pants, the shirt should not be billowing over the top of your trousers or bunching. A standard shirt used to do all of these things, and as such "Slim Fit" shirts are an apt fit for the average gentleman, and skinny folks such as myself should look for brands that offer a fit even slimmer than "Slim Fit".
As for coloring, stick to basic colors and avoid patterns early on(patterns are limiting). Blue should be the most prominent color in your closet, with a lot of varying shades. You shouldnt be afraid to own a few white shirts but dont make the mistake in thinking that you need 5-6 white shirts, 2-3 will suffice. I also like pink and lavender shirts as well. Subdued colors are your friends, bold and bright shirts never look good. There are a lot of good shirts brands online that will offer great deals on shirts as long as you buy bundles of them, which is what you want to do anyway. Charles Tyrwhitt offers some great shirts at 4 for $200. Brooks Brothers offers their bundle at a slightly higher price point but will occasionally offer sales for a similar price. Land's End also makes some nice Supima Cotton shirts however they do not offer extra slim fit. Im sure their are tons of brands that I havent heard of out there so let me know.
Recommendations: Find a shirt brand that fits you incredibly well and buy them in all the colors. Check out Charles Tyrwhitt, Land's End, or Brooks Brothers.
The way I see it, there are two ways to approach purchasing ties. The first being that ties are the only entirely visual part of an outfit. The softness of a tie or the higher quality of its wool makes no matter because it doesnt add any comfort. Therefore as long as it looks good, buy it. Expensive ties offer nothing over a visually identical cheap tie. Therefore completely ignore brands and just wander around looking at ties and find ones you like. That tie you thought was beautiful before realizing it was Pierre Cardin still looks exactly the same despite its $5 price tage. Buy it. The one thing with cheaper ties is that sometimes theyll tie smaller or flatter knots that arent very flattering. Id recommend tying the tie in store before purchasing just to make sure it ties a proper knot.
The other way to look at tie purchases is that a tie is forever. Youre size will never change and you can still wear what you buy today at age 60 so spend as much as you want. But if this is the way youre looking at it, you probably shouldnt even be heading this advice.
Recommendations: The Tie Bar, C21, Marshalls. Stick to simpler trad style ties at first as theyre much more versatile. Dots are fantastic when properly sized and spaced. Paisley works too.
Sport Coats(Also Suit Jackets)
There is far too much to contend with when trying to find a properly fitting sport coat that I'm only going to cover a few main fit points. The best advice is to find a good tailor and make sure you dont buy anything final sale. Avoid jackets with an overly structured shoulder; it should not jut out and meet the sleeve at a sharp corner. The transition to the sleeve should be rounded and more subtle. Sleeves should be just long enough to touch the the meat of your hand, if not just slightly shorter. Its normal to show about 1/4-1/2" of shirt cuff. If the lapels of the jacket do not sit flatly on your chest it means its too tight. The waist of the coat should fit comfortably but not too loose. When buttoned it should look tapered as opposed to boxy, but there should not be tugging on the button(s).
Recommendations: Find something that fits well for cheap. You're not going to get away from fused suits or sc on the lower end so just find stuff that fits in a discount store. For suits, both suit supply and indochino make some good suits that can be hit or miss when it comes to fit. I love my suit supply suit and this it fits amazingly well.
I hope that this guide helps, if not, let it slip into the abyss of the second page and beyond. I apologize if its a little all over the place as I wanted to fit as much information in there as i could. Please feel free to make tons of suggestions, this is far from perfect.
Hopefully this will help you look smart and sharp with limited options until you get that nice big promotion and start throwing out charvet shirts after 1 wear
Edited to include some others suggestions. Will keep updating as more tips roll in.
Edited by roomiller - 1/17/13 at 1:40pm