Monday, 7 November 2011
Reader question: Building a wardrobe
First I would like to thank you for introducing me to a whole new world of fashion. At 36, I found myself feeling lost in time and unsure how to dress. I will confess I have never been the most fashionable or dapper person, but I always wanted to be presentable. I found myself still clinging to the fashion of my 20's, which was mainly trainers, jeans, some shoes, some funky T-shirts and all that. I realised that the people on the tube that I would look to for inspiration were getting younger and younger as I myself got older.
Then I watched American Gigolo and it hit me. This is what a man my age is meant to dress like. I started researching and was delighted when I came across your blog. I have started to build out my wardrobe slowly. But now to my question. I am not a wealthy man. I work in finance and do well enough for myself, but I can't regularly spend a month's rent on a suit. Are there any tricks of the trade, ways in which I can build out my wardrobe with as much quality as possible while still having enough left over to go out in the evenings?
I see your blog as an inspiration, but almost everything in it is out of my reach.
I think this is probably an experience shared by many readers, which is why I am writing a fuller post as a response. I’m pleased that the blog still serves as inspiration, by the way, as my search for the best in different aspects of menswear takes things out of some readers’ reach.
The short answer is there are no tricks. Building a wardrobe costs both money and patience. Sales shopping, for example, saves money but is very unpredictable and therefore unlikely to be an effective way of acquiring the classics.
But there are a few definite ways that you can go about this more effectively.
First, work out what your priorities are. For every few hundred pounds you save up, there will be a near infinite range of quality you could invest in. The higher the quality, the fewer the items, and so the longer the wardrobe will take to build. If you are starting a job or building a formal wardrobe from scratch, you will have to accept that quality and fit will have to be sacrificed in order to build a professional set of clothes for the working week.
If you are in need of nothing, however, as you seem to be, and this is more of a personal quest, then more can be spent. You just need patience. Get a great navy suit with the basics – floating canvas, good cloth, classic styling – and have it altered everywhere it needs to be. Then a decent pair of benchmade shoes that cost at least a third of that price. Start with black and dark brown lace-ups. Move on to a cashmere sports jacket, etc. Invest in shoes, jackets and ties. Shirts, trousers and socks can be more basic.
The key with this wardrobe building is to begin with very classic items that will be versatile enough to work in many different settings. That will make it easier to be patient. The rewards in a few years’ time will be worth the wait.
Of course, there is still a range of choices and priorities here. You may have to weigh up different suits that all cost the same but have different levels of style, quality and fit. A heavy cloth may last longer but not be, to you, as stylish. Some RTW suits are actually made better than the basic MTM or bespoke, which prioritise fit.
For me, fit is always the most important. It is one of the reasons I have always championed City tailors like Graham Browne, who cut by hand but don’t have the same level of make as Savile Row. This is how most men used to dress, in the days of the combination tailors like Burton’s. And they were a lot better for it.
I hope this is helpful, Youssef. The hardest thing for men to understand today is the patience required to build a good wardrobe. You may only buy one or two suits a year to begin with. They may not last long because they are worn intensively. But they will last long enough to overlap, allowing you to spend more or buy more next time and increasing that overlap.
Depending on your means, it will take three to five years to feel good about what hangs in your wardrobe. But you could have thrown away 20 T-shirts in that time.
[Picture: Andy Barnham]