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Smart Style: Dress Your Best for Less

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We all want to look good, and considering the times, we’d rather not break the bank doing it.  Maximize the impact of your wardrobe with minimal harm to your wallet with these sure-fire ideas that will keep you looking modern for as cheap as possible.

By Emily Winter

ManTini, can we please refer to our current state of economic despair as… oh, I don’t know, a “snafu”? The situation is: I was commissioned to write about dressing on an extreme budget, but I can’t write if I’m constantly forced to refer to the “depression” or, for you glass-half-full fellas, the “recession.” Everybody’s so delicate these days, and my shrink simply won’t allow for such negative word splatter.

So, we’re in an economic, ahem, snafu. The kind that’ll have you digging through boxes of old high school clothes in your parents’ basement instead of spending like a king at Lord & Taylor. And if you’ve got any cash to spend at all, you’ll be headed to H&M, where a button up shirt costs less than a bottle of Yellow Tail shiraz. So let me tell you, ManFox, your main objective with inexpensive retailers is to cultivate a very discerning eye. Because the fact is, most of the stuff sold at cheaper stores looks, well, cheap. The art is recognizing that diamond in the rough: knowing precisely which items are foolers, and which will make you look foolish.

Allow me to address a few facets of clothing that can either make an item look more expensive than it is or let everyone know you’re broke and unemployed (so you don’t have to bother explaining).

Color

Perhaps the easiest of all budget shopping tricks is to opt for regality and timelessness over trendier hues. Rich, darker colors like burgundy, honey and brown are classic and classy. Deep greens and grays are also sure bets for sophisticated dressing. And if you prefer black, you’ll be in good company. Black is the new black (as it always is during an economic snafu), so you simply can’t go wrong going simple.

Conversely, stay away from the uber-trendy neons if you plan to hide the fact that your shopping budget was recently cut to quarters. Not only will they go out of style soon, but those “hot colors” revived from the late ‘80s are kind of childish. The last thing you need now is to look like a helpless kid.

Finally, we’ll all be maximizing the wears-before-wash this winter. As such, I’m going on a white diet to make sure my clothes go longer unlaundered. Let’s keep that one just between you and me and the ether, okay?

Buttons

Touting the power of buttons may sound silly, but that’s just because you’re ignorant, my ManHoney. Bad buttons are like, the No. 1 alarm that your shirt was $4.99 instead of $49.99. Here’s some tips:

  • The buttons on that shirt you’re eying will make it look more expensive than it actually is if the buttons are a different color than the material. For example, charcoal gray buttons on a mustard colored sweater will make the garment look more complex (hence, pricier) than a mustard sweater adorned with mustard-colored buttons.
  • If the buttons are the same color as the shirt and you want to buy the shirt anyway, make sure the buttons actually match the material. Nothing’s tackier than a bunch of slightly off-color plastic buttons.
  • A wooden button always looks masculine and fashionable. If you can find a cheap garment with wooden buttons, make it yours!

Fit and Fabric

When it comes to fit, you must first know that some cheaper retailers use oddly-shaped mannequins instead of living, breathing fit models, while others just make everything baggy so it will fit the entire spectrum of ManBods. What I’m trying to say is: for the good of all that is masculine and sexy, try everything, everything, everything on. Just because you wore a size medium at Banana Republic doesn’t mean you’ll be a size medium at Dirty Dusty’s Discount Den. Check to make sure the bottom of your sweaters fit semi-snuggly and aren’t grasping for missing love handles or wandering out into the universe like tulle on a ballerina’s tutu.

Also, out there in our cold, sad world, there exists a certain despicable blend of cotton, polyester and elastic that is soft, but unflattering, looks slightly shiny and above all, is extraordinarily cheap-looking. This material is my biggest red flag. So how will you know if that sweater you like is made out of this awful poly-something blend? Feel it. If you ever feel a sweater (or denim) that feels slightly slimy, (yeah, you read that right), run out, run away, and detox yourself at Nordstrom for an hour. You’ve touched the awful material to be wary of, but you’ll be alright. Just never, ever buy something that feels slimy like taut elastic or week-old sliced turkey.

Sweater

Other Details

And a few other miscellaneous tricks…

  • Brightly-colored thread makes jeans and shirts look more dynamic. Red thread on jeans can be especially cute in a throwback-preppy way, and when plain-colored buttons are sewn onto a shirt with colored thread, an additional dimension of nuanced detail springs from your aura. A little colored thread can make a plain outfit look complex!
  • Wear herringbone. Aside from being a totally classic fabric, herringbone made its way back into fashion this fall. From the runway to Forever 21 (yes, they have guys’ stuff now), herringbone went from nowhere to everywhere in 2 seconds flat, giving you ManHoneys the option to depart from boring solids without forcing you to dawn a recognizable pattern from one thrifty retailer.
  • Buy things with “secret” fabrics. If you pop a blue corduroy coat off its hanger to find a really cute plaid lining on the inside, buy the thing. If you fold up a red cuff to uncover an unexpected color or pattern on the other side, buy the thing. The most famous designers often say their clothes are made for the wearer, not the eyes of anyone else. To illustrate this, they’ll often add great fabrics to less-obvious places, and mid-to-low priced retailers are starting to mimic this trend. Make your outfit wildly dynamic by buying some pieces with surprises.
  • Oh boy, oh brother, do I love some epaulets. These extra flaps of material buttoned onto your shoulders are totally unnecessary, but they’re also vintage-y, adorable and cheap for retailers to produce. They’ll give a plain shirt character, and a wild jacket extra sass. Look for epaulets when shopping at thrift stores or the Macy’s sale rack to add some extra punch to your closet-on-a-budget.
 
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  • Girlygirl33

    That model is soooo sexy, what’s his name?

    xoxo

  • Mrs Robinson

    Epaulets are the new pink polo or popped collar, that only hot, gay men can get away with.

  • http://www.primermagazine Andrew

    Don’t tell any state troopers that!

  • Shiver

    I have a few suggestions on this topic.

    1. Herringbone is a pattern, not a fabric. Herringbone can come in tweed, wool, flannel or any number of additional fabrics.

    2. Jeans with red threading?? Seriously? If the idea here is to stretch your dollar while still staying stylish, wouldn’t it be better to find a great fitting pair of jeans, in a darker wash. Something that you could wear, and pair with just about anything? Red stitching on jeans is fashionable now, but two weeks from now it may not be.

    There are a number of other issues that I have with this article as a guide, simply because it seems like there wasn’t much research that went into it.

  • Donavan

    @ Shiver, I think the point wasn’t so much how to buy clothes that will last you awhile on a discount, but what to look for in cheaper clothes that make them look like their more expensive counterparts.

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