The Politics of Thrift: Fashion is Expensive, Style Doesn’t Have to Be

The Politics of Thrift: Fashion is Expensive, Style Doesn’t Have to Be

Just because you have expensive tastes doesn’t mean you have to own expensive clothes.  Learn to look good for less and you’ll be saving in style.

By Omar Kholeif

When I graduated from college, I considered giving up my passion for writing in favor of pursuing a degree in corporate law. What pre-empted my decision you might ask? In this particular case, I was sitting with a recent copy of GQ’s style edition when I suddenly found myself inexplicably drawn to a $5,000+ Hermès suit. I pondered the expense of the outfit and how I would rework my life to get a hold of it.

Did my grandmother set up a trust fund for me when I was born, I wondered? Could I work two full time jobs simultaneously? Before long, my unwavering passion for expensive fashion had overcome my sense of logic. Within days, I had been in touch with every corporate law firm in close distance, begging them to sponsor my graduate education–ready to sell my soul for the green dollar sign.

When I transferred the news to two close gal pals, they both scoffed in my face before breaking down into hysterical laughter. Their reactions grew even more humiliating when the root of my motivation had become apparent. Soon, I realized that not only was I being absurd, but also that, *GASP*, two attractive females found the idea of a man in a chic designer suit a decidedly unsexy notion.

Why was this?

Here are a few things that I came to understand. A woman rarely likes it when a man is decked out in more expensive finery than her own. Even worse, would be a man who is so out of touch with traditional values that he thinks it is justifiable to spend as much money on an item of clothing as he does on his rent. Was I out of touch with the moral universe? Had my one summer of voluntary relief work in Africa been invalidated by my desire to shop on Bond Street?

After some desperate soul searching, I came to the decision that I was not to blame for my haphazard nature and insane sense of inadequacy; after all, I lived in a world where all of the media adopted a product-based approach. I was not at fault for wanting to be a part of the seemingly joyous crowd of highfliers was I?

Soon enough, I came around to the liberating idea of economical living and individual style. It makes little sense to me now to stretch my means for such a senseless material object. In the end, who wants to spend a night out fussing over whether someone has spilled beer over his $3,000 jacket? Not me.

And so instead, I present to you a series of rules and tricks to help you make the most out of your individual style, all the while, bearing in mind, the realistic constraints of your young adult budget.

Keep It Simple

When ubiquitously attractive and admired designer Tom Ford walks down a catwalk at the end of a show, one will notice that he is usually wearing the same ensemble: A crisp white shirt, a pair of smart (usually dark) denim jeans and a black blazer. Despite this simplicity, Tom always looks dapper and ready for action.

The lesson here is uncomplicated. Every man should invest in good, quality basics. White Tees and shirts, whether from GAP or Calvin Klein, are an absolute essential starting point for any wardrobe. Couple these with a smart dark jacket (Navy, Black, Gray) that you can mix with other outfits if need be. Invest in a couple of pairs of smart dark denim and a set of loafers and you are ready for anything, whether it is a last minute client meeting or dinner with friends.

Dress for All Occasions

When picking out wardrobe fundamentals, it is important that your clothing is multifunctional. When buying a new suit for instance, make sure that you can pull the pieces apart so that they still work with your casual weekend attire. Also, if on a budget, it is probably best to keep with traditional color staples, steer clear of white, beige and cream suits, as they will not survive the wear and tear of multipurpose usage.

Another acquisition worth strong deliberation is the all-important men’s jacket. Make sure to have two well-fitted warmers that can be paired with the majority of the clothes in your closet. Ideally, each man should have a casual mid-length piece for evenings and weekends and a slightly longer coat or Parka to go over the traditional suit, which can also be worn on those sparkly, fancy evenings out.

Go Sale Shopping

Most of the men I know usually argue that they have no time to go sale shopping, only to complain about how they cannot afford to buy the clothes that they like. Quite frankly, I find this ridiculous. It is a well known fact that nearly ever single item (that does not sell out in a store) will at some point in its lifespan go at a discounted rate. Why then are we all so anxious to purchase the same clothes at the same time?

Sale shopping should not be frowned upon. If anything, one should get a pat on the shoulder for nabbing that cream sweater for a third of the price that the other sucker had the misfortune of paying full price for.

As well, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on any expensive items that you like and to check back on their stock levels regularly. Sometimes if you’re nice, the sales assistant might even share with you the date of their next store sale. However, if you simply cannot wait for your prized possession to drop in price, then move on. In these frugal times, there is bound to be a store somewhere looking to clear its stock at bargain rates.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Thrift Store

Although this can be time consuming, thrift/vintage store shopping can also be one of the most rewarding experiences. The best way to search these outlets is to already have an idea of what you want before you set out–a designer suit or a retro coat for instance? Be patient and check local and regional stores consistently with a defined budget in mind (sometimes you will be able to bargain with the owners of these shops). Finally, when you do stumble across that hidden treasure, be sure to check for tears and discoloration on the garment, as more often than not, these purchases are non-refundable.

Think About the Future

When acquiring a new wardrobe, it is always worth considering if the things you are acquiring will stand the test of time. Ruffled Shirts, velvet trousers and floral Kaftans may very well be out of fashion in a year’s time. But it is safe to say that simple checked shirts, skinny ties and solid colored Tees will be around for a considerable while longer.

A handy tip here is to look at the designer fashion trends for the year ahead. Are the clothes that you are buying still evident in next season’s collection? Remember, high fashion does trickle down to the retail chains. Keep your eyes peeled, even if you do not intend to spend your hard-earned dollars on those absurdly overpriced pieces.

Be an Individual — Accessorize

Remember that we are all unique in our sense of personal style. Feel free to stray from the norm and to mix in a bit of color into your palette. For example, yellows, limes and pink tones can sometimes add the necessary zest to boost a lifeless collection.

Another way to put an original stamp on things is to accessorize thoughtfully. Invest in ties, watches, cufflinks, or jewelery that will be unique to you and your personality. If you are armed with the right trimmings, then you can rest assured that you will always stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Omar is a writer and freelance journalist. He has also been involved with a range of TV production companies and currently has a number of film and theatre projects in development. Born in Cairo, Egypt, he has lived in the U.S.A and Saudi Arabia and currently resides in the United Kingdom.

  • http://justinyourmind.com Justin

    Would have to agree – when I first graduated college, I did the same thing.

    And yes – all the advice here is sound. Being able to buy staple items that are more easily mixed and matched is crucial. And yes, instead of going for trendy, seasonal looks, I stick toward a more standard, all year-long, kind of look similar to what Tom Ford does.

    Simplicity is key. There are times to splurge for fun events and to really let some accessories shine. And as much as I wanted a white suit for the effect, I never bought it because I knew within days I’d either spill food on it or it would be ruined and what a waste that would have been.

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