Greetings, gentlemen. 

I've been reading articles and forum posts here for a while and I've gotten enough information to ask a few questions as I try to build my adult wardrobe. I think you''ll be able to answer my questions better if you know a little about my situation. 

I'm 35 years old and I work as a medical professional in a local hospital. I'm required to wear scrubs to work, and i RARELY go to any sort of meeting or company function. I only work two days a week, so the rest of the week I can dress however I want.  I technically have a 5-day weekend every week.

I live in Texas where we have mild winters and long, hot summers.  

I attend church on Sunday mornings. The pastor and gentlemen who lead the music and such dress very well, but not formally. The most I see is dress shirts, slacks and sweaters, occasional sport coats among the other attendees and a rare suit. 

Once or twice a year I may attend a wedding or other event that would call for a suit. 

I come from a poor/blue collar background and no longer have contact with my father. I never learned the rules of how to dress well. 

My goal is simply to piece together a wardrobe of well-coordinated items that will make me look more "put together" and dispel the stereotype that men don't know how to dress. 

Nobody I know has a clue how to dress. I do not work with, or associate with executives or bankers who would be able to spot the difference between a Men's Wearhouse suit and a Brooks Brothers suit. In my career, wearing a suit even to a job interview is awkwardly over-dressed. Scrub attire is the norm. 

What I currently own:

A three-button navy wool suit from Men's Wearhouse that I purchased 8 years ago for my graduation and have only worn once because I'm not sure of the versatility of a three-button suit. It still has the plastic buttons on the jacket which I learned I'll soon need to replace. 

A brown corduroy sport jacket, a black blazer, a textured dark tan blazer, and a synthetic "linen look" suit. All purchased from JC Penny. 

Assorted dress shirts, cotton khaki pants, solid grey slacks, navy and tan synthetic slacks (Hagar) 

A few ties. (Rarely worn) 

Black, brown, and cordovan dress shoes with matching leather belts.  

What I understand I'll need:

A navy two-button blazer  

A medium grey wool suit. 

Better quality dress shirts and slacks. 

One or two odd sport jackets to coordinate with above. 

Some light-weight v-neck sweaters. 

My questions:

How much of what I have just needs to be thrown out? 

What is wrong with synthetic material? I understand wool looks better on a person, but wool pants are itchy and too warm for 80-degree weather and warmer. It's just not practical. 

High quality synthetic pants will last longer, right? 

Do I need to purchase another navy suit? One with two buttons instead of three? 

Can I use the jacket from the suit I have as a blazer with odd pants? 

Are my cheap synthetic sport coats worth tailoring? 

How do I decide what colors and patterns are good to wear together? Navy pants with a brown jacket? Black jacket with navy pants? Navy jacket with black pants? 

What are the rules that I MUST NOT break?

I see all the conversations about BB 1818 suits being the quintessential entry-level suit and I totally understand why. But spending a grand on a suit I'm only going to wear once or twice a year is not justifiable to me at this point. Is there REALLY anything WRONG with getting a JAB Signature Gold suit on sale and treating/storing it well so it lasts a few years? 

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and answer my questions. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 

Garrett

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I don't have much time to give you an in-depth reply, but I'll try and help a little. It sounds like you're already doing better than a lot of people.

1) It's hard to tell how much of what you own needs to be thrown out (actually, you should consider giving it to goodwill instead of tossing it) without actually seeing it. In my opinion, if an article of clothing looks good, then there's no reason to get rid of it, regardless of its brandname or whatever rules you think you're breaking by having it. I know it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not a given piece of clothing is flattering... it's just something you can train your eye to tell, over time. 

2) I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with synthetic material. Again, if it looks good, it looks good. 

3) High quality anything will last. 

4) Two buttons is the more fashionable option these days, but there are still plenty of three button suits around. Again, it all depends on how you look in it. It is possible to look good in a three button suit. 

5) It depends on the jacket and the pants. Some suit jackets just don't look right when paired with anything other than their own pants, if that makes sense. Some jackets will look fine. Again, it's impossible for me to tell without pictures. 

6) I'm going to say it's probably not worth altering those cheap jackets.

7) Patterns/colours shouldn't be too close together. It can be tough to pull off navy and black together, for instance. Some colours like grey and black are very versatile. How colours go with each other is something that your eye will learn to distinguish as you start paying more attention to your clothing. If you want, you can look up pictures of men's fashions and see which colours are often paired. You could even look up colours themselves, such as on a colour wheel. And you want to avoid too much going on with patterns: if a tie has a pattern, avoid a patterned shirt, and vice versa. It can just get too busy. 

8) There are no often cited rules that you must not break, really. The only rule is to look good... the other rules are guidelines to reaching this goal.

9) There's nothing wrong with not getting a BB suit. You don't need to drop that kind of bread to look good. Yes, cheap suits look cheap, but there are ways around it. Sales, tailoring, thrift shopping...

Basically my advice just comes to paying more attention to your clothing and to researching men's style until your eyes have enough training to pick out what looks good on you and what doesn't. I've learned basically everything I know from the internet - men's sites like this, style blogs (the Sartorialist)... a lot of what you'll see will be way out there and too crazy to actually wear, but it still trains your eye. You don't need to spend a ton of money and there are no unbreakable rules. I've seen people try and follow the rules and fail, and people forget the rules and look great. 

A lot of it is about confidence. 

It helps if you have a few style "icons": people (celebrities, probably) who dress well. Start paying attention to what they wear in their movies or on the red carpet. 

Let me put it this way: If you were my husband, I'd be suggesting you dump the synthetics, or at least never wear them when you're going to be seen by people who will see you again (so, OK for errands, not OK for church, dinner with my parents, etc.) I don't know why synthetics are no OK on men. I consider it one of those stupid but clear fashion rules, like how women need to wear strapless/sleeveless formal dresses (and freeze) while men need to wear wool tuxes (and bake).

To deal with the heat, there are cotton slacks that can be paired with blazers/sport coats. In Texas, you can get away with seersucker, too.

No, you can't use the suit coat as a sport coat without changing the buttons. There's an article on the main site about this.

No navy + black. Navy + all shades of brown is usually good.

To learn to match colors/patterns, look at the ads for classic menswear lines and imitate them. LandsEnd, Brooks Brothers, JCrew are good places to start. I find ads are better than fashion spreads. Ads have to appeal to a broad market, and generally you want to look middle-of-the-road. Fashion is trying to be edgy. You can also ask a sales associate for advice. Write down the advice if necessary.

On cost: Years ago, when I was looking for my first lawyer job, I wandered into a Ralph Lauren store. I was in an optimistic mood, and it was a real possibility I'd be able to afford those clothes very soon. But, I realized, even if I could afford them, I could never bring myself to pay 10x what I was used to paying. I don't like Jos. A. Banks in particular, but I have no problem with that price point for clothes. My husband, OTOH, insists he can tell the difference between a $300 suit and a $800 suit.

Now, a lot of this is because I'm in California. I didn't get a job that would allow me to shop at Ralph Lauren, but I'm interviewing again for such jobs, and the managers are in Hawaiian shirts.

You could also look up the writings of John Molloy. They're out of date in a lot of respects, but the stuff about color and pattern doesn't really change.

Where in Texas? There is a huge difference for us down in Houston as compared to someone in Amarillo, which will be different than Dallas, which is different than Austin. Not only does each city have its own weather climate, but each city has its own style/culture.

After that, I have two rules
1) Buy quality, buy what fits you best

2) Buy based on who you are, not as much as what you think you should be based on someone elses idea. If you like and prefer Tommy Bahama style shirts(short sleeved, button up, high quality) and a nice pair of slacks, stick to that. If you are more at home in jeans, stay with high quality yet basic jeans. Don't force yourself to go get more suits at high prices because you think you should have them, when you never do anything that would have you wearing them.

I'll address your specific questions and throw in a few general comments.

How much of what I have just needs to be thrown out? 

I don't know.  If it looks good and is reasonably comfortable, keep it.  If not, give it away (if it's in good condition), turn it into rags, or throw it away. 

What is wrong with synthetic material? I understand wool looks better on a person, but wool pants are itchy and too warm for 80-degree weather and warmer. It's just not practical. 

First, as you noted, it doesn't look as good.  Secondly, it isn't necessarily cooler wearing.  Plenty of polyester suits will roast you in the Texas summer heat just as much as a wool suit will.

High quality synthetic pants will last longer, right? 

Maybe.  It depends, though.  Sometimes higher quality means that something is less durable, though it might be softer and look better.

Do I need to purchase another navy suit? One with two buttons instead of three? 

No.  It is not a big deal.

Can I use the jacket from the suit I have as a blazer with odd pants? 

Maybe.  Some suit jackets look fine like that, some don't.  If I had to guess, I would suspect that a 3 button navy blue jacket would probably look orphaned without the matching pants, but that's just a guess.

Are my cheap synthetic sport coats worth tailoring? 

Not unless you can do it yourself or get someone else to do it dirt cheap.  If the total cost is more than, say, $20 you're probably better saving the money for a replacement of better quality.

How do I decide what colors and patterns are good to wear together? Navy pants with a brown jacket? Black jacket with navy pants? Navy jacket with black pants?

Practice, and reading about/looking at what other people match.  Navy and black cloth often pair badly, though navy cloth and black leather (shoes, belts, jackets) often go well.

What are the rules that I MUST NOT break?

There aren't any.  For every rule, there is someone, somewhere, who has broken it and looked good in the process.  They're guidelines.  Most of the time you should follow them, but sometimes you can break them, if you know what you're doing.

I see all the conversations about BB 1818 suits being the quintessential entry-level suit and I totally understand why. But spending a grand on a suit I'm only going to wear once or twice a year is not justifiable to me at this point. Is there REALLY anything WRONG with getting a JAB Signature Gold suit on sale and treating/storing it well so it lasts a few years?

No, there is not.  Alternatively, you could look into the second hand market (eBay) or watch for 1818 suits on the clearance section.  Normal clearance will cut the price in half, and sometimes they'll be lowered more than that.  You'll have to be the right size looking at the right time for the right suit, but they can go as low as $200-300.

More generally, I strongly suggest looking at suit and sport coat fabrics other than wool.  Cotton, linen, cotton/linen blends, poplin (a lightweight blend of cotton and polyester that Brooks Brothers does well) are all good options in hot climates.  They are also usually a good deal cheaper than wool.  Instead of a grey wool suit, perhaps you could get a lighter grey in cotton or poplin.  Instead of the navy wool blazer, get a navy sport coat in a linen/cotton blend.  Seersucker can be a lot of fun to wear.  If wool is uncomfortable most of the year, get other fabrics, keeping just enough wool to cover your attendance at a Christmas wedding and other winter formalities. 

Thank you for your input! 

Thanks for the advice so far. 

On Synthetics - I read an article (here, I think) that said for the man on a budget, synthetic blends are okay as long as they are not more than 50% synthetic. I believe that individual may have been speaking strictly of pants. I have no problem with 100% wool jackets, but I am still turned off by the scratchy-ness of partially-lined wool pants.  Also, if I'm going to buy a medium grey suit - something that will be a staple of my wardrobe for years, I'll be sure that it's the best quality material an construction that I can afford at the time. 

As far as telling the difference between a $300 suit and an $800 one, I would think that men who can do that are few and far between. (At least in my daily life).  

To address L.Shields' question, I live in Fort Worth. The prevailing in dress is that of the cattle rancher. Very fitted, dark Levi's jeans, western boots and shirts, felt cowboy hats and large belt buckles.  This is a look that I've never particularly cared for. I never go line dancing and I've been to the Fort Worth Stockyards twice so I'm not going to spend a lot of money on those types of clothes. 

I guess my main concern is that I don't end up looking like I'm trying to dress well, but failing. As I'm starting to care more about my appearance, I'm noticing that some of my pants don't fit properly, that I have a pair of shoes that are an awkward style and that I don't have the right kinds of socks to go with the pants I already own.  I've also noticed that the sleeves on some of my dress shirts are a little bit shorter than the sleeves on my sport coat. (Keep in mind most of my dress shirts are <$20 store-brand shirts. 

Anyway, thanks for the advice so far! 

a $300 that's tailored to you is WAY better than a $800 suit, find a good tailor, trust him and let him do his job! :)

If I were to purchase a suit at JAB or even Macy's, should I allow them to tailor it, or should I take it to a third party tailor? 

I would let them do it, unless you know an especially good local tailor. 

Conventional wisdom is to have tailoring done where you purchase the clothes, because:

1. It's cheaper.

2. The tailors are extra-familiar with the brands and can do a better job than non-experts.

what Rebekah said. :)

Already some pretty solid advice given by the other members.

Perhaps to add some general "rules" (although I too prefer guidelines as a better nominator):

  1. Match belt with the shoes. Black belt together with black shoes, etc. Does not necessarily need to be a 100% match, but get as close as you can. But you already seem to be doing that, so keep it up!
  2. Match sock color with the pants. This will create a continues line from waist to feet, making you appear taller. Too much separation in your outfit "breaks" your body, making you appear larger than you might be.
  3. Get socks which wear way higher than your ankle. It's sad to see a seated, well dressed man in a suit showing off the skin of his legs. Especially the case for black tie wear.
  4. High quality generally lasts longer IF properly maintained. Higher quality is more expensive, but because it lasts longer, you will save money on the long run. Your value-per-use will be lower compared to the low quality item you will have replace after a year.
  5. Never button the bottom button of your suit jacket.
  6. In the summer and/or warm environments, go for seersucker suits. Lighter and cooler than wool; much better than synthetic fabrics.
  7. Nothing wrong with a three-button navy suit. Get it properly fitted by a tailor and indeed replace the buttons.
  8. Visit some men style websites or catalogue pages of quality retailers. There you will get impressions on what color combinations look good together. Apart from that, feel free to experiment! You will soon get the feel of what looks good and what doesn't. Remain conservative at first, though. Don't forget: the classic colors and combinations are considered that, not only because they are old, but because they will always look good and never go out of style.
  9. Label your clothing or use the reverse-clothing hanger method to identify which clothing pieces you haven't worn for 6 months to a year. Donate the items you haven't worn after that period of time to charity. Excellent way to clean up your wardrobe and to start over!

These are some of my 0.2 cents. Hope it helps!

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