I’m going to walk you through the basics of how to build a wardrobe on a budget (without holding anyone up). Below are my 5 steps to creating a solid, versatile wardrobe on a budget.
- Have a plan
- Know your budget
- Quality over quantity
- Color, patterns and textures
- Wardrobe content
Have a Plan
The first step is to create a plan. When you see outfits or styles you like online bookmark the page or save the image in a Pinterest account. Keep a spreadsheet with brands you like and any other useful information.
Shop smart by researching what brands offer great products at good prices. The best place to start this research is on a menswear forum like Styleforum. Many of the questions you have will have already been answered.
Know the brands and colors that you want. Choose colors you feel good in and are confident wearing. Choose brands that fit you well and require little tailoring.
Know Your Budget
Step two, the most important step, is knowing your budget and sticking to it. Have a set budget and stay within it. Wait for sales and add to your wardrobe over time. Check out secondhand sites like Styleforum for items others are selling. And if you have a good bidding strategy, eBay can be your best friend.
Look for solid advice such as this found on Styleforum, “Chipp Neckwear uses the same Italian fabric for their grenadine ties that many other companies use. The difference is that Chipp sells them for nearly half the price.” You can see Chipp’s grenadine necktie collection here.
Quality Over Quantity
The third step is to find brands that offer you the quality you’re looking for at the price you want to pay. You are much better off having a few classic, good quality items that will last for years than a bunch of clothing sitting in your closet that quickly became out of style. This is why I’m against ultra-skinny ties. They don’t look bad, but in a couple of years they will sit in the back of your closet. After all, it’s been 50 years since skinny ties were in fashion and personally I don’t have that much time to wait until my clothes become “cool again.”
I want to reiterate, you don’t need the most expensive brands, only well-made clothes. There are quite a few brands that sell good quality items at a steep discount compared to their competitors. Look for brands that sell mostly online. They will not have the “brick and mortar costs” associated with maintaining traditional storefronts.
Colors, Patterns & Textures
Step four is to decide on the colors, patterns and textures you want in your wardrobe. Choose colors that go well with most pieces in your wardrobe. Blues, browns, oranges, and pinks all go well with either your grey or blue suit. For ties I suggest staying away from too many bold patterns unless they work well with at least three of your shirts.
You just need to purchase clothes that can work well the most other items in your wardrobe. A great way to keep the pattern simple and add interest to any outfit is with texture. That’s why I advise getting at least one grenadine tie.
All right, step five, now we get to the good stuff. What you need in your wardrobe covered category-by-category and piece-by-piece.
Blue, white, gingham, check and striped. One of each of these in your rotation and you’re set. If you’re a slim guy, get a slim fit shirt (not too tight though). For larger guys get a shirt that fits comfortably. Remember, your jackets will be tailored to fit your body so you don’t want a load of bulky cloth underneath. Believe it or not, custom dress shirts can be found at good prices. And you can always take a shirt to a tailor to have the fit adjusted as well.
One grey and one blue will do you just fine. Try to get one in a 3-piece. Don’t go too dark with the grey suit. Staying in a medium shade of grey will provide you with the most options when combing various pieces to create unique outfits. If you have the extra budget purchase one in a natural color such as khaki or British tan for use in the summer months.
Suits are often the most expensive pieces in your wardrobe. Take good care of them, protect them from moths and clean them when needed. Leave room in your budget to have your suits and sport coats tailored to fit you.
Choose a patterned sport coat that goes well with jeans and a pair of brown shoes. You will want to wear medium-dark to dark jeans with most sport coats. If you live where it gets really hot in the summer consider a linen or cotton blazer for warmer months.
If you live in a colder area of the country you may want a nice pair of flannel trousers for the fall and winter months. Other than this, a pair of nice-fitting cotton trousers will be quite versatile. Choose a color other than khaki. If you want a pair of pants that will help you stand out consider a Nantucket red.
A repp stripe tie, knit tie, solid grenadine and a dot or other patterned tie is all that you really need. When choosing colors take into account your wardrobe plan and choose colors that work well with most everything in your closet.
Here’s where you can have some fun experimenting with patterns and color. One of my favorite tips is to look for pocket squares with one color/design on front and another on back. It’s like getting a two-for-one deal! A pocket square is a low-cost way to alter the look of any outfit.
Don’t go broke on a watch. I get just as many, if not more, complements on my $100 watch than I do on my $1200 watch. I suggest going for a watch with either a white or black face as it will look good with anything and can be dressed up or dressed down depending on the strap you use with it.
Straps are your friends. Depending on what type of strap your watch comes with purchase a nice leather strap or a fun NATO strap to increase the versatility of your watch. By the way, my go-to-watch is a $35 Timex Weekender.
Belts should typically be darker than the suit you are wearing. Don’t worry about matching shoes and belt. As long as the two don’t clash, you’re good to go. A black belt with brown shoes is a no-no.
Spend your money on a nice pair of brown shoes. A pair of brown dress shoes is far more versatile than a pair of black dress shoes will ever be. Brown shoes can go with everything except a black suit. Black shoes only go well with white, grey or black.
Find a pair that can be re-soled. Most decent quality dress shoe manufacturers will do repairs. Take care of your investment using a leather conditioner and shoetrees. Clean your shoes when needed.
Own a nice polo shirt in a neutral or earth tone. I’m not talking about a pique Lacoste polo shirt either. Find one you can wear with a pair of slacks as well as a pair of jeans. Kent Wang polo shirts are a fantastic value.
For t-shirts, find a brand that is soft and comfortable and that flatters your body type. Banana Republic t-shirts work well for me. Steve McQueen always knew how to look good in just a t-shirt and jeans.
You already have a nice pair of cotton trousers from above that will work well with both a light blazer and a white t-shirt. Get a medium-blue pair of jeans and don’t get sucked into the hype about designer jeans. Just find a pair that fit well.
Vans and Converse are inexpensive and are a versatile option for sneakers. White is always a good color to have, although not necessary. If you like to stay active (and you should) a decent pair of cross-trainers should be in your closet. To bridge the gap between dressed up and dressed down, chukka boots can’t be overvalued.
By creating a plan and sticking to it, you are much more likely to stay within your budget and to build a more versatile wardrobe that will last for many years.
Stay true to yourself. Be kind to others. Define your own style.