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New Life, New Wardrobe - Advice Needed

Mar 13, 2011
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I've browsing Style Forum for years now, and it's always been an excellent source of insight. I've finally registered and decided to post a thread today because I'm facing an overwhelming change in circumstances. I really need your help.

I've always taken pride in my appearance and an interest in style; however, I currently live in San Diego and have spent the past five years in the military. Those two factors have led to a general stagnancy in my current wardrobe. I've pretty much stuck to the overpriced mall chains - Express, H&M, Banana Republic, and so forth. I'm only now realizing that there are better options out there.

I'm preparing to get out of the military, and as a part of that process I've been working on this 'dressing like a grown-up' thing (I'm 23). I've been doing a lot of research, but the specifics are still murky. I've only got Esquire's Handbook of Style at the moment, but Flusser and Roetzel are on the way. I've also read the in-depth 'Building Your Wardrobe' articles on the Art of Manliness blog.

I'm going to be a college student, but I refuse to relegate myself to t-shirts with jeans and the odd button-up shirt. To further complicate matters, I'm going to be attending a fairly eminent university located in southern France, right on the Mediterranean Coast and Italian border, near Monaco. The student body is mostly French and Italian with a fairly strong Arab and Persian presence. In short, I'll be around a lot of stylish people for whom dressing well and with class has been a much greater part of life than it has been for me, a middle-class American who has spent the better part of the past five years wearing a uniform. All the pictures I've seen from the school have shown students wearing formal wear, though perhaps a bit on the 'country' side of things (mixed jackets and trousers, sweaters in lieu of jackets, brogued shoes, and so on). Because the campus is on the Mediterranean, light-colored and lightweight does seem to be the way to go.

To throw a final spanner in my situation, I'm a thin guy and finding properly-fitting clothes has always been a challenge. I'm 6'0" and 160 lbs or so; I typically wear a 38R jacket and ideally 30x33 trousers. Constant deployments with the military have prevented me from getting into the sort of shape I'd like to be in; however, I'm hoping to start hitting the gym and gain some weight now that I finally have the opportunity. This makes me feel like there's no point in trying to upgrade my wardrobe at all, as what I buy now my very well fit poorly by the fall.

That's about the sum of it: I feel altogether overwhelmed with no real idea where to start. The good news is that I do have money to play with - I'd like to keep my budget to $5,000 dollars or so, but I can go a little higher if necessary. Because I have money now, but I'm about to be a poor college student, I'd like to purchase as much quality clothing as possible now so I won't have to worry about it so much in the coming years. All that said, I'd still like to be as cost-effective with my purchases as possible.

I think I'm fairly set on footwear for the moment...I've got some Clark's Desert Boots in chocolate beeswax, Red Wing Gentleman Travelers in Dark Cherry, Cole Haan nutmeg loafers and dirty buck bluchers, and a pair of Sperry Topsiders. As for formal footwear, I'm probably about the pull the trigger on the AE Park Avenues and either the Strands or the McAllisters. Looking at getting a pair of Soludos espadrilles as well.

As for suiting, I have a couple of cheap suits I bought from Zara a few years back as 'first suits.' I like the cut, but they're synthetic blends and I have no real intention to keep them. Right now I think I'd do well to get a navy, a light gray, and a tan or brown of some sort. Might I need more? I may pick up a tuxedo, as the school hosts a decent number of black-tie events with regional diplomats and politicians. I've been looking at Thick as Thieves because they're located so close to me and I generally dig their style, but also considering Indochino (despite mixed reviews). I'll also be picking up a few odd blazers as well...probably a charcoal wool, a grey or tan tweed or bird's eye pattern, and possibly a linen or seersucker.

I'd like to get any general advice you guys can offer on my situation, although I do have a few specific questions:

-Can anyone confirm that European universities have a more formal dress code than American universities (where apparently dirty sweatpants are completely acceptable)?
-Should I put off buying new clothes until I (potentially) gain some weight, or go ahead and do it now because I honestly might not end up putting that weight on?
-Would I do well to get MTM suits, rather than off the rack? What about shirts and stand-alone trousers?
-Is there a possibility of getting well-made clothing at a cheaper price once I'm in Europe? Shoes in particular; I've been holding off on the Allen Edmonds because I can't help but imagine I might be able to get equally-well made shoes for cheaper in France or Italy.
-I'm completely lost pants-wise. I've got a pair of Nudies that I love and some J. Crew chinos that aren't bad, but I've always felt like there's something about trousers that I'm not getting. What can I wear casually (outside of a suit) other than denim and chinos? Can wool be used in that role?
-Speaking of wool, how exactly does one go about mixing and matching odd blazers and trousers? I imagine there are rules to this, but perhaps it's a bit over my head at this point?
-I'm a thin guy, and I typically 'modern' or 'slim' fitting clothes; however, I've had a hell of a time finding brands that mixes such cuts with quality construction and natural cloth. Can anyone recommend reliable brands, particularly in the pants arena?
-I've heard mixed things about double-breasted suits on thin men - some people say it adds to a thin frame, some say it overpowers. Would I do well to get one of the suits double-breasted, or should I stick to the basics for now?
-Are there any essential, versatile clothing staples which I might be overlooking?

Thank you for reading this short novel of a post, and I sincerely appreciate whatever insight, advice, or expertise you can offer to me.



Senior Member
Jan 10, 2010
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I'm not sure about the clothing choices of French or Italian college students. However, I think there is a huge advantage to being so close to Thick as Thieves.

If you take a look at the reviews, many of the issues people have are with the people who have to send in measurements. Considering you are quite thin and it can be tough finding a nice fit for a decent price, it may not be a bad idea to get measured up by them in person.

Regardless of how people dress at your future school, I still think you should get some basics: solid navy blue suit, solid charcoal grey suit, a light grey suit, and maybe they can even make a traditional peak lapel tux. Throw in a couple dress slacks and a navy blazer. Those 6 things would be a very useful no matter where you are.

As for the weight gain... I assume you are starting in the fall, so you have 6 months or so? Hit the gym now and see how much weight you put on by mid-June. If you are happy where you're at, MTM with Thick as Thieves would be fine. Plus, since it's MTM you can ask to have extra cloth left in the seams to let out if you gain more weight. However, you do have to gain a significant amount of size to really need to size up.

Congrats and good luck. I have a close friend in the Navy who just got transferred from San Diego up to Seattle, so you reminded me of him.


Active Member
Jun 5, 2010
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Good luck, sir. Sounds like you are in for a hell of an interesting switch! What are you studying?

I would recommend trying on some brands, getting familiar with what's out there and then scouring styleforum for deals.

Since you'll be a student, I'm thinking summer weight wool pants will be a ***** to keep pressed and/or dry cleaned for everyday wear. I would go with pants you can wash and hang to dry. We're about the same size, and I am a big fan of wings & horns chinos. Great construction and quality, nice slim fit. They can be easily dressed up or down.

The best advice is to buy good quality pieces, new or second hand, that you can easily mix and match. Don't spend all your clothing budget now because your style will evolve as you grow in your new environment.

I lived with a girlfriend in Grenoble for a few months a few years back, while she was studying there. I don't recall seeing students rocking blazers and double breasted suits, but perhaps your future institution is more elite.

good luck!


Distinguished Member
Dec 23, 2010
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Originally Posted by upwards416
I lived with a girlfriend in Grenoble for a few months a few years back, while she was studying there. I don't recall seeing students rocking blazers and double breasted suits, but perhaps your future institution is more elite.

good luck!

I doubt too many of those university promo pictures were really students on their way to class. People probably dress a notch below that. In any case, it sounds like you know most of the basics already. I'd stick with others' advice to buy slowly. I just started dressing better a year ago and bought a lot of stupid crap early that I regret now.

Being a bit thicker, I wonder if thin is really a problem off the rack? Can't you just have the waist taken in a bit? I wouldn't totally abandon the old suits though. Cheap suits dress down nicely with jeans for occasions when a little dirt or grime is a possibility. You don't wanna be the dork who has to abstain from backyard football because you're wearing $200 trousers.

noob in 89

Stylish Dinosaur
Dec 28, 2010
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I just wonder why you don't consider cultivating your own, well thought out, American style, rather than trying to ape whatever it is you imagine these Italians will be wearing. I mean, from my own college experience, it was European-looking Europeans the women found interesting. The guys trying to fit in, not so much.

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