Man Grooming Q&A: Affordable Suits

Jeff writes: “My personal concern is middle ground. A $1,300 suit, $300 shoes, and $150 shirt aren’t out of my league financially. I do, however, consider it something I will never do (for many reasons I’ll not get into). Surely there is a middle ground between bad JCPenney suits and $1,900. Do you have any advice there? I’ve got a good pair of black dress shoes as a start. Should I just be heading to Men’s Wearhouse? I’ve a wedding to go to in 26 days.”

Depending on where you live, you can usually find excellent bargains on good quality suits by visiting outlet stores or discount after-market department stores like Nordstrom Rack or Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet. Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren also have outlet stores for their lines, and let’s face it, suits don’t really go out of style unless your heart is set on seersucker or something with pink stripes on it.
The cost of a suit is rarely in its material, it has to do with the internal construction of the jacket. A well-made suit uses several layers of material to “build” the jacket so it retains its shape, hangs well without going weird on the shoulders or neck, and doesn’t easily wrinkle. I understand a hesitancy to overspend on something you may wear only rarely, but one consideration is the importance of those occasions. Looking good in wedding pictures, looking professional during interviews, things like that.
As far as a suit goes, set yourself a budget for how much you are willing to spend on it and then tell that to the saleman. Start at department stores to get an idea of the range of quality available and keep an eye out for sales. Department stores regularly increase their retail prices from 100% to 200% over “factory invoice,” so there’s lots of room for latitude. Men’s Wearhouse is a very popular place, but I have no direct experience dealing with them. However, if you find what you like there, and it’s in your budget, grab it.
As far as the shirt, don’t settle for some shrink-wrapped pre-folded thing on a shelf. Ask to try one on. If they don’t allow you to do that, leave. There’s no reason why they should deny you that, they can very easily re-wrap the thing, it’s not like they need trained monkeys to do it. You’ll probably note that the more expensive shirts don’t come like they belong in a vending machine, they are hanging from racks or folded neatly without pins and plastic inserts. Iron the shirt before you wear it, however it comes from the store. Neatness counts.
And shine your shoes today. You’ll probably forget to do that before the wedding approaches and nicely shined old shoes are better than dirty, beaten, dull ones.

July 29, 2005

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