Dear Budget Fashionista: I am a cash-strapped undergrad who is very tired of seeing hordes of banal A&E, Hollister, and Abercrombie zombies wandering my campus. What style advice do you have for men looking to make a tasteful and rather classical appearance with a minimum amount of damage to my pathetic wallet?
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College campuses, once the seat of all things cool and hip, now look like something the Gap threw up after a wild night of partying at the local bar. No longer is college the place to experiment and try out new things. Campus fashion has become as boring and as tedious as an 8:00 am class.
1. The book on men’s style
The first stop on your way to dressing classically is to purchase the book “Dressing the Man” by Alan Flusser. This book is an excellent reference for any guy looking to develop his own classic style.
We suggest that you check if your bookstore will allow you to pass the book off as a “textbook” (tell them it for a class on reconstructing the current paradigm of the contemporary definition of masculinity through the use of apparel).
2. Shop used for men’s style on a budget
After getting the book, head to the nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill. “Sally” and “Goody” are the best places to score key finds like classic suit jackets, overcoats and more. Look for jackets that are fully lined, made of either 100% wool or cashmere. Leave the polyester alone. Tweed is always in for men, so pick up a few here.
These stores are also great places to land trench coats (think Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca) — a must for any classic male wardrobe. Take your thrift store finds to the nearest dry cleaners and have them tailored to fit you perfectly. In fact take all of your finds (whether they are from a thrift store or from Nordstrom) to a tailor. If you are daring enough, ask the tailor to throw on a couple of suede patches at the elbow for good measure.
3. The right pants for guys
As far as pants go, you can still shop at the same spots as your unfashionable brethren. Gap, Banana Republic, and Abercrombie are great places to purchase basic pants. Again, look for pants made of 100% wool, cotton, or other natural fabrics.
Pay attention to the rise (the distance between your crotch and waist). Your pants should hit you right at your waist. They should not be low risers, as is the current trend. The inseam (the length of the pants) is also very important. As a rule of thumb, the pant leg should “break” at the front of the shoe and approach the top of the heel at the back.
Cuffs add additional weight to help pants drape well. Make sure your tailor adds an additional 1/4-inch to the length. Pants, even when they are dry cleaned, tend to shrink a bit.
Now to complete the classic look, you need accessories. Wearing a tie is a classic option and is something that will definitely set you apart from your college mates. Learn how to tie a Windsor knot (the fat knots wore by bankers) and you might be able to score a free lunch or two from friends who want to learn how to make such a stylish knot. The tip of your tie should hit the top of your pants—no shorter, no longer.
If you can, adding end accessory from a major designer is a surefire way to up the ante on any outfit, especially if the accessory has a visible logo. Wearing a Gucci belt with your Dockers will instantly make the Dockers look more expensive. Or, adding a high-end watch with your Old Navy shirt will make the short look like it’s hot off the racks of your Saks Fifth Avenue.
Stay away from designers like D&G and DKNY, all of whom tend to be a little trendy with their menswear designs. Also, always wear a nice belt. You local Marshall’s or TJ Maxx is a great place to find these items.
For shoes get a pair of driving moccasins from http://www.minnetonkamoccasin.com. If you are brave enough, buy a pair of Dexter penny loafers and put a dime in the shoe. Or, a great pair of loafers work, too. Try shoes from designer brands like Kenneth Cole or Cole Haan, and keep them shined. Find these shoes on sale at your Nordstrom Rack or even TJ Maxx.
Clean, collegiate, and classic.
5. Fit is king
Focus on finding garments that fit your body, not just your budget. Avoid high water pants (guys—your pants should break/fold about mid-foot), shirt/jackets that swamp your body, and shirts with sleeves that are either too long or too short (below your wrist joint).
6. Bring a friend
A second eye can be a fashion lifesaver.
7. Know your designers
Head to The Budget Fashionista designer guide and browse the world’s top designers. You should recognize a designer brand when you see it. Additionally, “expensive” looking shirt tags may indicate that an item is a designer piece.
8. Easy men’s style hack: Dress in monochrome
Wearing one color like black from head to toe is an easy way to dress in style and it’s also very slimming.
9. Choose quality over price
Cheap clothes look cheap. Focus on finding quality garments for less. If a garment has patterns check to make sure they’re matched up through out the garment. Look for lining in slacks and jackets. Make sure the fabric feels good against your skin. And, look for natural fabrics like wool/gabardine, cotton.
9. Wear tech as an accessory
You spent good money on the Apple Watch. Use it to up the cool, cutting-edge factor of your outfit.
10. Go easy on the logos
Avoid clothing with the brand name advertised largely across your chest.
11. Always buy a complete outfit
Buying the complete outfit will save you both time and money. Go a step further and hang the complete outfit together in your closet.
12. Bet on black
If all else fails, bet on black. Black looks instantly more expensive than other colors like brown and light blue.