Hello manly men,
I am trying to build a wardrobe from almost scratch. I have recently been hired as an intern with a department of my state. I'll have this job for the next year and a half (unless I hate it or they hate me) until I graduate with my bachelor's in Civil Engineering. At that point my goal is to be offered a full-time position in the department as an engineer, or at least come out of it with a really good reference.
When I had my interview the dress at the office seemed to be business casual or maybe even casual business. However I think that they were impressed with the fact that I wore a suit and I think that if I want to be an engineer I should dress like some of the PEs I know. Also I think that it's easier to "dress down" than it is to "dress up" so I should acquire a nice wardrobe now.
I was wondering if you knowledgeable folks might help me with my "shopping list" and offer some advice?
Basically, what I have right now is one black suit, two pair each dress socks in blue black and brown, one dress shirt and two or three good ties. For shoes I have a pair of shiny cheap cap-toe dress shoes and a pair of black Doc Martens shoes. My dad said he is going to send me two sports coats, that should fit me well, so I should have the jacket covered unless they are like super-1970's funky.
I'm hoping to hit the town Sunday and flesh out my wardrobe. Here's what I'm shooting for:
- A wool pea coat/trench coat (it's Alaska and it'll be winter for another 3 months)
- A scarf
- Two or three cool ties
- Tie bar
- Three or four more dress shirts
- Three pairs of pants (black, blue and khaki)
Is there anything I'm missing? Any suggestions on where to get this stuff on a student budget? Should I pick up another pair of shoes? Am I on the right track or is this too dressy?
As an engineer, I expect you've heard the line "fast, cheap, good: pick two." It applies to clothing as well. Thus, I think hitting the town on a student budget is unlikely to produce quality results because you'll be at the mercy of whatever prices the stores are offering this weekend. I suggest getting only the minimum you need right away and being more deliberate about the rest. Wait till there's a good end-of-season clearance sale, or (if you don't mind buying used) check out thrift shops or eBay. Outlet stores can also be great, especially if you know to look for the main-line items (many brands have a specific line for their outlet stores that is lower quality, but also sell main-line items that are on clearance at the outlets). I don't know what is available in your area, but planning ahead and taking advantage of sales can stretch your student budget a long way (e.g. buy next winter's coat this spring when it's 70% off).
I agree with you in general. I did not rank these in any order of priority. Some of them I would consider the minimum; for example, I really think I need the shirts because I can't see myself getting through a week on one or two shirts. Others I'm definitely waiting for the price to be right on. I probably don't really need the coat, but if I see one on a good clearance sale (since it's already spring in Florida the national retailers all have their winter stuff on clearance in Alaska, go figure) I'll pull the trigger. By hitting the town I mean spending an afternoon shopping around to weasel out the best deals.
So yeah, I think we're on the same page for sure, but I wanted to post the whole shebang so I could also get some feedback on whether I'm going for a look that's appropriate.
I'm also trying to hit the deals online. I start on Thursday so if I can clothe myself for two days I'll have plenty of time to wait for the mail.
So, a little update on this in case anyone (probably not) is wondering what I came up with.
I bought 4 dress shirts, 3 ties (two of the ties will go with more than one shirt), two pairs of Dockers stain defender pants. The real score of the haul, though, was a black wool top coat, regularly $100, that I pulled off the clearance rack for $13. I'll get a few more months of snowy weather out of it up here so that's a steal. To reward myself for being a sale shark I bought a $20 tie clip, and I returned a blazer that I had ordered and didn't really like so I have $50 in store credit to work with.
I definitely think I will have plenty to keep me un-naked for a work week (which will probably only be four days as my schedule falls out). From here I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for sales/clearance deals on shirts, ties, pants, and maybe a pair of brown wingtips because they're awesome.
Ask your grandfather, if he is still alive, if he has any tie bars. My grandfather and great-grandfather, both passed away, had together about 10 tie clips/pins as well as matching cuff links for some of them. If they are passes, ask a relative if they kept a jewelry box with all that stuff in it. My grandfather had a awesome jewelry box that I found most of the stuff in as well as a Case Knife from the 1940s. I am also current'y using the box for myself. And plus the things that you might find could have a historical history, like one of my tie clips was given to my great-grandfather when he became a doctor in the US Army during WWII. It has seen every country around the Mediterranean. And about the shoes, try some Chelsey Boots. They are casual, but not too casual. Just make sure they fit well because they don't have laces so they can't be tightened to loosened up.
I also found the first watch that my grandfather ever owned. It was given to him when he graduated high school from his dad.
I was in a similar situation a couple of months ago. I looked around at Banana Republic, Macy's and even Target for shirts. Target actually has some great tailored fit chinos that will fit any budget. It's easy to find stuff on sale at Macy's, from shirts to ties. I've got a couple awesome wool/cotton ties from Macy's for under $20.
Remember also the tools to keeping your kit going.
Iron, Shoe Trees, and if you have wool slacks or a wool suit, a steamer.
The iron will save you money and let you have a crisp look that I would want to see in Engineers. It shows you are a paying attention to the details.
The Shoe Trees will extend the life of your shoes. In time you will need to get more shoes to cycle between but all of them need shoe trees. Also buy the polish to match the shoe when you get the shoe if it is not black.
The steamer lets you take the wrinkles out of the suit and pants without ironing, if it is not cotton.
Get the steamer after you get the job.
I like Brooks Brother's non-iron shirts. Just pull them straight from the dryer and hang. One thing I didn't see on your list was a briefcase. I consider a briefcase part of my wardrobe, and an essential tool. Get the best one you can afford. Saddleback makes the best briefcase known to man, and it'll last you into retirement.
As far as the "is it too dressy" question goes, I subscribe to the philosophy of "dress for the job you want, not the one you have." However, there is one caveat: if you do choose to dress up a bit there will be some who see this as a threat and a "brown noser" move, so, be sure to maintain a humble and manly attitude.
If you're going to get a pea coat don't get department store crap (I wouldn't buy department store anything). For the real deal see Schott at www.schottnyc.com for old school wool pea coats. Talk to them on the phone, they're great at getting the right fit. American made and they last forever, priced not much more than department stores.
Or you could get the real coat by going to a navy surplus store and by a Pea Coat.
In the early 80's the navy changed the specs on the pea coat to make them cheaper. Schott still makes them old school and they are much better quality and warmer. The old style surplus peas are long gone as far as I know.
Thanks for the information.! I was a bit snarky in my reply and I am clearly in the wrong on what I said. Thank you for letting us know why we should go with them over surplus.