Q You wrote about finding quality clothing affordably at a thrift shop, and I’m wondering about a few shirts I picked up. They had three white shirts in my size by Hugo Boss and Eton in a cotton-poly blend, and I jumped on them for $5 each. My wife said that none of them are all cotton as you recently wrote about, but wouldn’t they be fine with a tie and jacket?
A You probably already know the answer to your question is “No.” Not only will they not appear to be top quality (because shirts with a lot of polyester in the blend are not), but you may lack confidence when wearing them. The more polyester the more this is a concern, and the shirt you bought may have a very high cotton content. Still, nothing beats an all-cotton dress shirt.
Feeling inappropriately dressed can be a demoralizing experience. Bargain-basement thinking is one of the common mistakes men make; among the others are ill-fitting clothes, and failing to recognize style change. In fact, since these shirts are used and likely from a few years back, this purchase may have been a combination of all three mistakes.
To explain, there are three reasons I dislike shirts with polyester: they’re uncomfortable in hot/humid weather because the fabric does not breathe, they “pill” easily at the collar and cuffs, and when the fabric gets soiled, it will not return to a pure white no matter how much bleach you use.
I do recognize that you are making an effort to focus on looking good, buying appropriate clothing, and not going bankrupt along the way. With a little forethought and effort, you can avoid embarrassing mistakes that make you want to go home, get in bed and pull the covers over your head.
MISTAKE 1: BARGAIN-BASEMENT THINKING
Purchases such as you made or buying new clothing that is not well made is false economy. Often men think that buying fine quality clothes is an unnecessary extravagance; this is what prompts them to spend too little for their clothes. Most people recognize quality clothes on other people. Men who wear them are thought of as winners. Your clothes in a business setting should emphasize your successfulness.
Another way to justify investing in quality clothes is the concept of “cost per wearing.” If you were to buy an upscale navy blazer or a fine gray suit for, say, $700, you could quite conceivably wear such a classic item once a week for seven years. The cost per wearing would come to $2. And each time you would wear it, you’d feel like a million bucks.
If, on the other hand, you noticed a green polyester jacket for $80 in a store window and bought it, your experience could be quite different. You would wear it and never hear a compliment; you might notice your reflection in a mirror and not be pleased; and you might wisely decide after the seventh or eighth wearing to retire it and put it in the Goodwill bag. Eighty dollars divided by eight wearings is $10 per wearing. That’s expensive.
But how can you do this if you are on a limited budget? Be on the lookout for sales in fine stores and pay attention to online shopping. The prices are amazingly different from the stores’ everyday prices. There is nothing wrong with getting an $800 blazer for $200. And, if you feel sure of your “eye” and your taste, you can often find terrific bargains in those “gently-used” shops. Even so, be sure it is in style, fits you well and is something you’re likely to wear. The old adage is still true: “It isn’t a bargain if you don’t wear it.”
MISTAKE 2: ILL-FITTING CLOTHES
Even the finest clothes you can buy won’t make you look good if they don’t fit well. Fit is 90% of the game. Be sure your clothes are not too short or too tight.
Learn to take a critical look at yourself in the mirror and see what can be done to minimize your imperfections and maximize your strong points. Any man who is rude to the tailor is making a big mistake. Tip him, flatter him, ask his opinion, cajole — do whatever it takes to get him on your side. He may be able to perform near miracles by giving a $400 suit an $800 look.
MISTAKE 3: IGNORING FASHION CHANGE
Although men’s clothes do not change as often or as radically as women’s, they do change. Men should pay heed. The pendulum of change for men’s styles swings slowly; it usually takes about seven years from one cycle to the next. Men who refuse to make adjustments risk looking dated and “old.” While I just said not to buy anything too tight, if those shirts are billowy (can be pulled more than a few inches from your side) then they are out-of-date.
If you think changes in men’s fashion have no logic, you are mistaken. Since balance and proportion are essential to designers, when one part changes, others follow. When wider suit lapels were in style, less of the tie showed; so ties needed to become wider. Then when suit lapels narrowed, slimmer ties could stand on their own — all in proportion.
So, there are reasons why certain clothing and styles help you look your best.
Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL: