Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reader Questions: Slim Budgets and Easy Starts


I have received several emails from young men "just starting out" either in business or in dressing. One individual is in high school, and wanted to have a few proper starters for heading off to college. This young man is unique, and his last line was "What I could be spending on [video] games would probably be better spent on clothes". Considering the fact that investing in proper clothing is something that will achieve the exact opposite of that which video games provide, he is well on his way to profiting from the detailed observations that his eye provides him. I look forward to hearing about his acquisitions. Several of these emails state the same issue: limited budget for clothing. Where does one begin? Is it possible to put together a respectable wardrobe with very little. The answer is mixed. If you are short on time, the task will be difficult. If you have a few years, it will be far easier. If funds are VERY tight, go immediately to a second-hand or thrift store. You are going to buy a jacket. The critical measurement is in the shoulders and sleeve. 3 button is better, but two button will do just fine. At all effort, find wool. Try them on, and take the time to really dig through the racks.

If your budget is small, if you already have a suit or a jacket, the first thing to do is to tune them up. The jacket should fit the same in the middle as it does all over. Most people can stand to get their jackets taken in a bit in the middle. If you are heavy, this may not be an issue, but proper fit is still as important. Take that suit that father bought you for your cousin's wedding, or that old suit grandfather gave you, and head down to the tailor. If it fits well in the shoulders, it will cost less than $20. The two best things one can do for one's [jacket] style is to take in your jacket, and always wear a pocket square (white will do). Dig around the thrift store for an old-but-nice smaller silk scarf (yes... even a lady's silk scarf), and put it in your breast pocket (more on the folding technique in a different post). You can even use a plain white cotton handkerchief. For young men with a few suits that you wear to work, this is also the case. The financial districts in most major cities are full of young men who have overpaid for suits, and have underpaid for alterations. A stroll past the young lawyers chatting outside our government offices demonstrate the unfortunate effect that "politician style" has had on our young lads. The suits are all decent, but they simply swim at the lower torso and waist. Nobody will be offended by a simple white pocket square and a well tapered (by alteration) jacket.

Again, even if you are not slender, there is still most likely room to take in your jacket. Most tailors can also add a third button and steam-repress the lapels with little effort, so consider this if you are a slender man. I think that you will be surprised with the results, and they are subtle... you will still be able to maintain your dear corporate conformity, and few people will realize that, no, it's not the jacket... it's the tailoring.




Our man in New Haven writes:

This is perhaps too obvious to state, but I will do it anyway: a budget-minded man can do well in the thrift store, but he should be sure to hold out until he uncovers a jacket that absolutely suits him, meaning that at the minimum it should fit correctly about the neck and shoulders and that the sleeves are sufficiently long. Our man should then visit the tailor for a tune up, as you describe.

I find, because my size is (usually) a hard-to-find 38L, that I need to search in many shops before having any luck. It took me two years to find an appropriate tweed jacket, despite diligently searching through dozens of consignment, thrift and vintage shops from North Carolina to Vermont.

What I am getting at is this: when I was first learning how to dress, I was often tempted by the nearly-right jacket. You know the one: it's just a bit too ample about the shoulders. But you want to purchase it anyway because it's the right price and of dashing material. And maybe those buttons are a little daring without being vulgar. And you've spent so much time looking without uncovering anything decent. And the fit really is nearly there. Don't you think so, mirror?

Wrong. I bought two such jackets before I finally learned to walk away from the damn things. I even took one to a tailor to see if he could bring the shoulders closer together. It was a costly operation ($70) and the results were bad.

-New Haven

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