Men’s Fall Fashion Survival Guide
Oh, you manly thing you, kudos for searching for ways to dress well on a budget! I get it – you hate to shop, but you’re either out of clothes that work for you, or you’re looking to make an effort, and you don’t want to break the bank to do it. While I’m not a runway expert on men’s fashion, I DO know what looks great on a guy, and importantly, I know how to find quality items on the cheap.
I’d hit a thrift store for all of the things here before I set foot in the mall. With an action plan, you can walk away with an entire wardrobe for what you’d pay for ONE sportcoat in retail, so it’s totally worth it.
For this article, I’ve culled information from GQ, Esquire, Men’s Health, and several catalogues and I’ve condensed them down to a few common basics. Of course there are as many styles as there are people, but this will get you off to a great start.
For starters, you don’t have to look like a hairless, perfect “V” of a runway model to look great. Confidence is everything (though grooming and a little effort go a long way)! Look at the fashion sense of men who you admire and who share a similar body type to your own. From George Clooney and Denzel Washington to Graham Greene and Alec Baldwin, it’s helpful to have an image in mind. Look at what they’re wearing, and try to incorporate their style into your wardrobe.
From there, think about occasions that you might need to dress for. The most common ones are Office/Interview, Dates/Fancy Places, Weekend.
Finally, start by checking your closet – do you have a dark pair of jeans that fit you well? Do you own a tailored wool suit, a crisp, cotton button down shirt, and a simple silk tie? If so, you’ve got most of the basics! If not, I’ll tell you how to shop for them in your local thrift store.
Note: If you have a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit anymore, throw it in a bag and donate it when you go – you’ll get a nice tax receipt, and a genuine smile from the people who work there. Donating is SEXY.
The bottom line is this – if you have a few items in your wardrobe that can multipurpose to suit any occasion, you won’t ever be left feeling insecure about what you’re wearing. Keep it simple and classic, and use accessories, layering and surprising combinations to express your individual style.
I’m going to go in-depth below with tips and tricks and fit advice…BUT, if this is too much information for you, here are a few looks that capture what I’m talking about – figure out what they’re wearing and how they’re wearing it. Here’s a great little tip from my Mom – actually say out loud what the guys in magazines and catalogues are wearing and find like items to put together in a similar way. You don’t need the exact item – find its second hand approximation! So what are you waiting for? Get your manly butt down to your local thrift store and dress to impress!
For those of you with longer attention spans, scroll past these hotties (sorry, but yah) and read on!
These guys are all models, sure, but I’ve tried to vary looks and styles so that you can find one that speaks to you. Rugged type? Throw on a denim shirt over a henly with a pair of jeans and boots. More trend-forward? A fitted vest over a striped shirt with a bright tie and dark pants. You get the idea. So now, here’s how to shop for specific items that will fill out the basics of your Fall wardrobe.
BREAKING NEWS! The Salvation Army and Men’s Warehouse are teaming up for the National Suit Drive. Check it out!
Nothing in your wardrobe will be more versatile or useful than a charcoal or black suit in an all-season wool. If it’s a casual interview, the suit jacket over a starched shirt with no tie and khakis could be great. For weeknds or date nights, the jacket can be used over a well-fitting black or white t-shirt with jeans or khakis. Conversely, the pants look great with a t-shirt or sweater, and combined, grrr. I love a man in a suit.
Timeless Tips for Shopping for a Suit
If you don’t have a good wool suit, this should be pretty high up on your list. Wherever you shop, you don’t have to spend a fortune, but keep in mind that good fabrics and the proper fit are always going to look better – remember the phrase “all over him like a cheap suit?” You don’t want that. What you do want is a good, lightweight wool with a tight weave. Wool breathes, is long-lasting and it travels well. For a first buy, go with wool, preferably “worsted wool,” which are long wool fibers twisted into tight yarns. They’re usually good for wear in all seasons unless you live in a very hot climate.
TIP! Go into a high end department store and just feel the fabrics of expensive suits. This will sensitize your manly fingers to be able to recognize the good stuff when you hit the thrift store!
Though I’m a big proponent of 100% worsted wool, if you find a wool/polyester blend and it fits all of the criteria below, give it some consideration. It can still look pretty great.
Style – Jackets
A basic single-breasted suit is a classic. The jacket buttons in front in a single row of buttons, ranging from 2-4 buttons, depending on the style.
TIP! Regardless of how many buttons there are, always leave the bottom button unbuttoned. I have no idea why, but it has been de rigeur for a long time. Also, if you find a jacket that fits beautifully but either has missing or horribly ugly buttons, those are easy (and cheap) things to replace.
There are a lot of styles of men’s jackets, mostly delineated into American, British and Euro. The American cut has a single vent in the back, no padding in the shoulders, and is pretty roomy under the arms. The British style has shoulder pads, double vents in the back, is tighter under the arms and slightly tapered at the waist. The Euro style has no vents, tight-fitting, padded shoulders and a slim cut. If you’re on the thin side, any of these options will work for you. If you’re a larger fella, or you have broad shoulders, my personal opinion is that the American cut will be more flattering. Some guys with larger butts look better in the British style – either way, you don’t want it to look like the fabric is straining from the back view!
A thrift store can be overwhelming with little mirror space or changing rooms. I suggest running your now-educated fingers along the racks to find fabrics that feel lovely and pulling several coats at a time. You’ll inspect them and try them on one after the other, saving time and learning by comparison what looks best on you.
Make sure that there are no rips or stains, that the lapels and shoulders aren’t puckered or buckled, and that the lining is in good shape. It’s a good idea to try them on over a good-fitting button down shirt so you can check the “gentlemen’s rules” for a good fit.
Any jacket should fit well with no puckering or extra fabric across your back and shoulders. Shoulder pads are there to balance out your frame and give you a slight “V” appearance. They are not there to make you look like a scene from Goodfellas! The jacket should cover your butt in the back, and you should be able to cross your arms in front of your chest without feeling like The Hulk. Same goes for putting your arms straight out in front of you. If it’s just too tight, move on!
Sleeves will ideally end right at the line between your hand and wrist, and show about a half inch of your shirt’s cuff. The same goes for the collar – you should be able to see about a half inch of your shirt’s collar above the collar of the jacket.
TIP! If everything else is amazing but the sleeves are too short by only a little, you can check the lining to see if there’s enough fabric for them to be let out. If they’re too long, they can be taken up. The tailor will be very happy for your business, and you’ll be able to turn a $12.99 item into a custom gem for very little money.
Though it can be a challenge at times to find a full suit in a thrift store that fits you well, many have great selections. If not, you’ll be looking for pants that match the fabric of your chosen jacket as closely as possible. Wool comes in a lot of finishes, and black comes in a lot of shades. Hold up several pairs next to your jacket in the sunlight to make sure that you’re not pairing a “yellow black” with a “blue black.” Get it as close as possible.
Pants – Styles
Pants are generally cut higher than jeans, which are worn at the hip – pants will hit below your navel. Make sure you can put two fingers between you and the pants, that the length is hits right at the top of your shoe, and that you can sit comfortably (Italian styles have a very low rise, meaning that the crotch area can be a little snug for what you’re most likely used to!) A ½ inch cuff can make the pants hang well; if they’re too long with cuffs, they can be taken up – if they’re too short with cuffs, unless they’ve been hemmed before, you’re out of luck!
TIP! Let’s say you find the perfect pair of pants in a worsted wool; they’re a little long and slightly too big in the waist. Take them to your tailor and have him make alterations. A little-known trick is to also ask the tailor to line the crotch area while he’s at it – a silky fabric prevents chafing and lets you walk in smooth comfort!
Thrift stores are fantastic places for men’s shirts – men gain and lose weight, retire or change professions, and they’re left with a motherlode of shirts that they donate.
Look for 100% cotton shirts that fit in the shoulders and that aren’t too long in the cuffs; also, when you button that dreaded top button, make sure there’s one finger’s worth of room between your neck and the collar.
Basic white is hard to beat, and there are a lot of great colors and patterns out there that you can make work for you.
TIP! PLEASE stay away from beige shirts. Every time I see a man in a beige shirt, I die a little inside. It makes almost everyone look pale and sickly.
Finally, check to make sure that there are no visible initials that are not your own (you can get them monogrammed yourself!), that there is no fraying at the cuffs or collar, and that there are no ground in stains, especially at the collar and cuff. Also, yellowing under the arms is the natural by-product of the salt in our sweat, aluminum salts from deodorant, and high heat from dryers. All of the above are difficult to get out, but not impossible.
TIP! Get a box of Biz and pour a scoopful of it into a clean bucket of hot water, then soak your shirts in the bucket for a few hours before putting them in the regular wash. (Don’t soak more than overnight, however – the enzymes in Biz can get a funky smell to them after more than 8 hours!)
I know, I know. ECCCH. Very few people enjoy ironing, and I guess I’m just an exception. I love it. I really dig seeing a well pressed, starched shirt on a man. Grrr!
There are a lot of videos out there; here are links to a couple:
The second link is from a genius series of webisodes presented by Esquire called the Virtual Valet. Check them out!
Finally, collar stays can make a shirt look crisp and totally lovely. They’re little flat inserts made of plastic, steel, silver, shell, etc., that slip neatly into the tiny little pockets underneath the collars of most button down shirts. You can find them on eBay, or befriend a salesperson at your local department store and grab a couple of pairs. Genius.
Still with me? Great. Let’s hit ties while we’re at it, then we can move on!
A 100% silk tie knots the best. Make sure there are no set in stains (mustard can come out with a good cleaning), and, when it’s tied, check to make sure the point of the tie hits your waistband. A short tie is no one’s friend.
Here’s a handy diagram for classic knots.
A Note on Tailors
Seriously, guys – a tailor can do wonders for your clothing. From hemming pants that are too long to shortening sleeves, taking in a jacket at the waist or letting out the waist of your pants, these craftsmen (and women) do a damned fine job. They’re usually mom and pop organizations, and can really use your business. For just a little extra, you can take your thrift store finds into a good tailor and walk out with clothing custom fitted to you. Check your local listings and search for reviews. I guarantee that they’ll be one of your strongest allies!
I’m proud of you. You made it through the classic menswear information. And now for the things you live in.
Though you most likely own a pair of what I’ll call “lovingly worn in” jeans (which can be given new life by soaking in Biz (above) and worn with higher end items like a nice starched shirt), a good pair of dark jeans will do wonders for you on weekends or date nights. You don’t need the trendiest designers out there – guys are lucky that way. Just look for a simple pair with straight legs that fit at the waist and inseam. Avoid anything with strange stitching or fancy things like cinching. Plain, simple, classic. Thrift stores are great for these.
TIP! If you’re going out and you want to make an extra effort, press your jeans! Please don’t put creases in them – just get them in shape.
A leather belt in black or brown (or both! they make genius reversible belts!) with a simple silver buckle looks great with nearly everything. You can also find this at a thrift store. Please make sure it’s leather and that it doesn’t already have somebody else’s straining belt hole showing when you buckle it.
Sport coats come in a great lot of styles, fabrics and colors. Same fit rules apply here as for suit jackets. As a general rule, wool for autumn/winter and it’s hard to go wrong. My boyfriend has a snazzy, burnt orange cashmere jacket that has lasted him for years and looks as amazing over a t-shirt and jeans as it does with dress slacks and a button down shirt with a tie and cufflinks. A sport coat will be the thing that ties everything together for you during the couple of crisp months of autumn – so have fun and experiment; as long as the fit and fabric hit the mark, the sky’s really the limit, and you’ll find yourself feeling so great that you might (gasp) ditch your sweats for good!
Thrift stores can be an absolute goldmine for military jackets; search for things that look good on you, and mix them up with jeans and t-shirts.
Retail. But ONLY for the necessities
A three pack of spanking new, well-fitting t-shirts in black and white will take you far. These will be hard to find in thrift stores. Black boxer briefs look amazing, and you don’t want to shop for these in thrift stores. Interesting socks (seriously – play with color and patterns here!) – those are also mall-appropriate purchases.
But beyond that, everything I’ve mentioned here is something that, with a little ingenuity and your hunter mentality, you can find at your local thrift store. You’ll save a bundle, do good for your community, and have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re a damn fine shopper who can think outside of the box.
Thanks for coming with me, fellas.
Nicole & the TSC Team