Shopping

Making Smart Menswear Purchases

In my last post, I talked about developing a capsule wardrobe. The concept behind a capsule wardrobe is that you have a small collection of stylish basics that all — or mostly all — work together. However, some of us aren’t driven by a need for simplicity. We don’t really need or want to wear a uniform, nor do we need the comfort that comes knowing that any combination of what’s in our closet will look good. Some of us just like clothes and want to look cool when we are seen by other people. This week, I’ll discuss building a versatile wardrobe by making smart menswear purchases – and more specifically, how to know whether to make those purchases.  

Popping tags is fun, and of course the fashion industry grinds on, which makes us want something a little fresh and new every once in a while. Usually, there’s a catch: most of us don’t understand the intricacies of clothing’s historical context, nor do we have the time to read it all for ourselves — nor do we have, most of us, the closet space to house all the things we would buy if time and money were no object. 

And so we make purchases based on what we like – often either what’s new or what’s on sale. “Ooh, an extra 40% off those sweet Wallace & Barnes selvedge chinos!” UPS delivers them a few days later, and you find that they don’t quite look as good with your only pair of nice shoes – museum calf double monk straps – as you thought they would.

The best way to avoid this is to use a framework for your decision-making, one that will ideally keep you from buying garments you don’t need or won’t wear. I’m going to use the metaphor of a picture frame to describe how I make these decisions: there are four sides to a frame, and each side represents a question you can ask yourself as you look through the frame at the item you’re sweating over with credit card in hand.


Question 1: how does the garment fit, formality-wise, within the context of what I wear?

I love me some military field jackets, but generally speaking, my favorite clothing is tailored. Those two don’t fit together very well, except under specific circumstances (i.e. your tailoring is very casual, or your M65 is more of a refined homage to the field jacket instead of a literal reproduction garment). Nine times out of 10, when I go to get dressed on an evening out, I’m reaching for tailoring, not “workwear” or “streetwear.” That’s okay. Other guys rock the M65 all the time, and I admire their style – but that’s just not me.

Similarly, if you only wear tees and broken-in selvedge denim, the midnight navy shawl lapel tuxedo jacket you have your eye on probably isn’t going to give you a lot of use.

For help in understanding how to answer this question from the perspective of someone who regularly wears a jacket and tie, browse the Internet archive version of Vox’s Coherent Combinations for Beginners thread. It was eye opening for me, and it may be for you too. It can help you place your different garments where they belong contextually.

Making smart menswear purchases styleforum

This M65 looked awesome, but I never wore it because none of the rest of my wardrobe at the time looked good with it. So I sold it at a loss.

Question 2: is my wardrobe seasonally balanced?

In building my wardrobe, I have tried to make sure I have good clothes to wear when it’s warm or when it’s cold. It’s hard to keep parity between the seasons because, in the world of tailoring, cold weather gear is immensely more interesting (tweeds, flannel, ancient madder, suede – you know the drill) than summer clothing. I’ve had to consciously ask myself whether what I’m looking to buy fills a more immediate need in one season or the other. You don’t want to be stylish only half the year, even if there’s never been a better deal on a cashmere crewneck than during a summer sale. Try your best to build a complete wardrobe, not one that’s full of nothing but beautiful winter coats.

Question 3: if I buy this now, will I regret it if something else on my wish list is available in a month and I can’t afford it because of this purchase?

One of the major driving forces of my life is opportunity cost. I’ve found time and again that when I get emotionally invested and buy something that isn’t a “need” so much as it is a “want,” shortly thereafter I regret the purchase because something I really do need comes available. 

Take stock of the holes in your wardrobe, and know what you need. That way, when something that makes your heart beat fast comes along, you’ll be able to honestly assess whether it’s something you need and would actually get wear out of, or if it’s just the thrill of popping tags you’re after.

Making smart menswear purchases styleforum

I spent an inordinate sum of money in alterations to try to make this vintage tweed eBay find fit. And those expenses meant a few weeks later when I stumbled on my literal dream Eidos jacket at deep discount, I had to pass for lack of funds. It was soul-crushing. Stupid tweed jacket.

Question 4: Do I already own a similar garment?

This is the one side of the frame that stands out from the rest, because it’s how you help yourself break out of your rut: how many navy polos do you have? Do you really need another one? If you got this one, would you really wear it? On the flip side, would you neglect another perfectly good navy polo that you already own?

Now, some people wear a white shirt to work every day and need multiples of things like that (and please, for all our sakes, I hope you have multiple pairs of socks and underwear). That said, when we’re talking clothes we like and are buying for pleasure, it’s important to make sure you aren’t stuck in your ways. It’s fun to grow. Our tastes and preferences in menswear, like everything else in this life, need growth to sustain our interest. Staying rooted in your style preferences doesn’t mean wearing only the basics day in and day out. Try out those combinations you see the cool blogger-types share. Sometimes you’ll look ridiculous and other times you won’t – you have to try to know for sure.

Use this frame of decision making to help you assess your purchases. If you’re anything like me, it won’t ensure you hit home runs on every purchase, but if you can keep your wits about you in the rush of sale season, you’ll be happier – and generally better dressed – in the long run.

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Mitchell Moss

Mitchell Moss

Mitchell Moss

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Categories: Shopping, Style

6 replies »

  1. Well said, and better not to settle, think I went through 3 navy sportscoat and each were just “good enough” at the time (or reality is they’re on discount), nothing wrong, they all fit, but I would have been better off just buy the one I want from the get go

  2. That field jacket looks dope indeed, I share your pain. I take it you would’ve kept it, had you found it now?

    I’ve got to say though that the tweed jacket looks good (albeit slightly short) in my book, based on that photo. What is/was the main issue with it, if I may ask?

    • Actually I probably wouldn’t hold onto the M65 today. I think I’d want something more streamlined in that fabric (maybe a shirt jacket or chore jacket), and if I went for a field jacket would do something a bit nicer (such as Eidos’ or Ring Jacket’s field jackets).
      As for the tweed, it never fit right. The shoulders were too narrow, it was tight and bound up in the armpits when I would reach forward, it was a sack jacket with less shape in the front than I really like, it was too full in the chest while fitting well in the blades, and it had a center vent. I had it slimmed, but tried a different tailor in town, who butchered it. “Does the vent gape?”, I asked. “No.”
      It did. And it still had all the other issues as well.
      I took it to my regular tailor, who, out of pride, undid their “abortion job” (his words) free of charge, and went several steps further to alleviate much of the fit issues (the tightness in the arm scyes, the fullness of the chest; he managed to give it shape without making the vent gape or ruining the sack cut). Major kudos to him on that (if you are in Cincinnati and need a tailor, Hyde Park Tailors is your place).
      But the overall style just wasn’t what I was after—I learned from this experience that I don’t like bellied lapels, center vents or two button jackets. The fabric was amazing. But that was all I liked about it.

  3. What was the Dream-Eidos Jacket that never happened?

    Also, to me, the Journey is the fun. I read all those things about regretting purchases, and “losing money” on the transaction of buying, wearing, not loving it and reselling, but you’re not losing money. Unless you buy something, hate it, then are not able to return it, you don’t really ever “lose” money. You pay for the ability to wear it for a bit, then you can pass it on to somebody else

  4. Another good read! I had a similar experience to your tweed “eBay” jacket. I bought a used jacket too big for me and ending up over-committing; spending more money in tailoring then the jacket cost. In the end, I probably should have skipped the purchase and held off funds for a similar jacket in my size. Lessons learned I suppose.

    Also “Question 4” made my lol, not that I have a ton of navy polos per se, but I surely have a lot of blue or blue striped dress shirts hanging in my closet. But “Question 2” is partially the reason for it… need linen/cotton-linen for summer, right? 🙂

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