In the first part of this series, I discussed why you should always dress well in the hopes that it will help boost your professional life. You can find that article here. Now it’s time that we discuss the how of dressing well. Today I’m going to be talking about men, and how they can dress well when on a budget.
There is a major misconception out there that only people who are very wealthy can afford to dress well. I am here to tell you that is definitely not the case. With some smart shopping, you can easily dress well on a budget almost no different from what a “casual” clothing budget would be.
Depending on your job and lifestyle, the standard for “professional dress” is very different. Assuming that because you are looking to dress on a budget you aren’t in a large, professional company that everyone wears suits in, I’m going to focus on upgrades for someone who usually dresses casually in this article.
The number one rule to remember, in my opinion, is that swag is for boys, and class is for men. (<– Tweet that) Pop culture is full of all kinds of famous people who like to low ride pre-faded/ripped jeans and wear wife beaters (why on earth would you wear something with that name anyway???). These pop culture hits may win the hearts of every 15-year-old, but they won’t do you any favors in the real world.
Get Rid of the Brand
The first thing that you want to do when you are getting new attire for professional wear is to make sure that you are promoting yourself, not someone else. What I mean by that is don’t buy clothing that has a brand or a basically any kind of writing/images on it if you are going to wear it to work. Sure, that Simpsons T-shirt may be hilarious, but are you selling yourself to your boss, or a TV show? This is one of the most important things to remember, and if you get one thing and one thing only from this post, remember to not buy branded clothing for work.
T-Shirt to Polo or Button Down
This is the first, and most important upgrade for a man’s wardrobe that works in a casual environment. No matter where you work, always wear a collar. You look substantially more professional, and the truth is that a polo rarely costs much more than a t-shirt. Button down shirts are even better, and for a small amount more money, make you come across much sharper. And you can wear a tie with them if the occasion calls for it. When someone first sees you, one of the first things they’ll notice is what your shirt is. If you’re wearing a T-shirt from a rock concert you went to, and the guy next to you has a button down shirt on, he’ll make a far better first impression.
Jackets and Sweatshirts to Sweater or Blazer
Most of us keep several jackets and sweatshirts that we wear almost daily when the weather calls for it. But let’s face facts, your college sweatshirt isn’t helping you get a promotion. Upgrading to an unbranded sweater will boost your image, probably cost less than that fancy “athletic wear” sweatshirt, and it’ll keep you just as warm. There are all kinds of different styles of professional looking sweaters out there. I recommend you get several, including at least one that will show a tie if you need to look more formal. If you want to take it a step further, get a blazer. A blazer, despite what people seem to think, is always appropriate to wear, and makes you look very classy. If you equip your wardrobe with several sweaters and at least one blazer, you’ll be well on your way to having an excellent professional look.
Everybody loves jeans. Some people love them so much that they wear them until they are faded and full of holes. And then there are those people who think that it is hip and cool to buy jeans with holes already in them. I won’t give that subject the grace of even discussing it. If you are going to wear jeans to work (and yes you can, as long as everyone else, including your boss, does) wear jeans that are free of holes and are dark blue in color. The only way jeans look even remotely professional is if those two things hold true. Better yet, upgrade to khakis or slacks.
Shorts are a very debatable subject when it comes to men’s fashion. They are very comfortable yes, but do you really need to show off your hairy calves? Every man has his own opinion with shorts (and what to wear alongside them), so I’ll keep this section short. Athletic shorts belong in the gym, running shorts are for running, and the less pockets you have on your shorts the more professional they’ll look.
Shoes are often the most overlooked part of a man’s wardrobe, and yet to many it’s how they determine their first impression of someone. In general, wearing a good leather shoe will look better than sneakers in almost any occasion. If you would wear that pair of shoes out on a walk around the neighborhood with your dog or to the gym, you shouldn’t wear them to work. A multi colored leather boat shoe will do fine with business casual attire, and you can always step up to a real dress shoe if you want to look even classier. Oh, and flip-flops to work is only cool if you work at a surf shop.
Suits will be discussed in more detail in the next section of this series (when I’ll talk about more professional attire), but it is my firm belief that every man needs a good suit. Owning a simple two button suit in dark grey, black, brown, or blue will keep you prepared for any special occasions that may arise, and you should always wear one to an interview unless instructed to do otherwise by your interviewer. If you own one, you’ll always be prepared if your long lost cousin gets married, or your CEO invites you to a formal dinner randomly. Believe it or not, suits don’t have to be expensive, and with some shopping around you can find them very cheap. Get a suit in a simple color, like those mentioned above, and a style that is simple and won’t look weird a year from now. If you’re only going to own one suit, it needs to work for every occasion. That orange pinstripe zoot suit may get some laughs at your sister’s wedding, but it won’t win you any points at the last-minute dinner with the boss.
Do some more research on men’s fashion when you rebuild your wardrobe. There is literally millions and millions of words written on the subject of men’s fashion. Sorting through all of it can be tough, but if you apply the above saying (swag is for boys, class is for men) to anything you read, you can quickly determine if it is worth taking that advice.
One of my favorite sites for men’s style advice (and just favorite sites overall) is The Art of Manliness. This site will provide you with any information you need. Here are some of my favorite articles on the site that apply to this concept:
- http://artofmanliness.com/2010/04/16/how-to-build-a-manly-wardrobe-1/ (read the whole series, its great information)
How To Wear It
All the professional clothing in the world won’t help you look better if you don’t wear it properly. In other words, don’t low ride your pants, wear three layers of shirts with popped collars, and expect your boss to magically offer you a raise. Hike up the pants and learn a couple of different ways to properly tie a tie. Make sure your colors work well together, and put some effort into tying your shoes well enough to avoid sloppiness. It is well worth the time.
Save Money by Shopping Smart
Wearing the right clothing is only the half of it when it comes to dressing professionally on the cheap. While most of these clothes can be attained very cost effectively, they can also be expensive if you don’t play it right.
The biggest way to save money on rebuilding your wardrobe is to shop around. There is no reason to buy all of your clothes from one store. For instance, I got two pairs of shoes from Macy’s for a great deal. I then went in to look at polo’s and was disgusted to see that Polo’s were mostly over $30. I then took 20 minutes of my time and went to the outlet mall. I was able to get 3 polo’s for $9 each at the Van Heuson factory outlet store, and get an extra $5 off for signing up for their text message advertising program. That works out to an absurd savings of around $70 on three items of clothing. Buying things from one store may be convenient, but it is also almost always more expensive.
Thrift stores are another place to look for clothes. I know that for many of you, buying clothes at thrift stores doesn’t seem like the best idea, and I can agree with you in a lot of cases. Why buy a gross sweater at a thrift store that you’ll never wear when you could get a good looking one at JC Penny for not much more money? There are, however, cases where buying at thrift stores makes perfect sense. One of them is when buying a blazer or suit on a budget. I once spent $20 at a thrift store and walked away with a green herringbone double breasted Italian jacket and a dark charcoal three button jacket, the latter of which I especially wear fairly often. Thrift stores don’t normally charge more for suits of high quality, so you can oftentimes get them pretty cheap. I would recommend that you first dry clean them, but they can easily be great additions to your wardrobe for a miniscule amount of money.
There are also some places to buy clothing that you wouldn’t always think of that can save you big money. One great example is Costco. I’ve bought lots of different clothes there, and have always been more than satisfied, especially considering the price. High quality white button down shirts for $15? Yeah, I’ll take two. Look around, there are all kinds of stores that you’d never think of to buy clothes but actually have great items for cheap.
In general, rebuilding your wardrobe won’t be cheap. If you shop smart though, it doesn’t have to be absurdly expensive and painful. And the long term payoff you get from dressing classy will no doubt be worth the investment.
Do you have any tips for dressing more professionally or saving money on clothing? Share them with us in the comments below!