Style on the Cheap: What I’ve Learned On Men’s Business Attire That Won’t Break the Bank

I’m by no means a fashion superstar.  Less than 6 months ago I researched business attire over multiple weeks and purchased a wardrobe accordingly. Prior to this, I mainly just purchased whatever was on the rack that sort of fit me at Burlington Coat Factory or Marshalls. Here are some things I learned that hopefully will give you a starting point without breaking the bank. My main priorities, in order, were:

  1. Comfort
  2. Maintenance Ease
  3. Affordability
  4. Style

Here are some of my specs:

  • WEIGHT: 160
  • HEIGHT: 5′ 10.5″
  • PANTS WAIST: 33
  • PANTS LENGTH: 30
  • SHIRT COLLAR: 16
  • SHIRT LENGTH: 32-33
  • SUIT SIZE: 40R
  • GEOGRAPHY: Orange County, CA
  • DRESS CODE: Business Casual
 

 
Underwear
 

I’m going to do you a favor by bringing this up first. This is one essential luxury for the everyday man. Say no to “sticky and sweaty balls!” Here’s my ExOffico Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer review.

 

 
Cotton Versus Polyester
 

I’m a big proponent for natural fibers, such as cotton.  I used to wear polyester blends, and when I switched to cotton, I was amazed by how much cooler I’d feel. Cotton breathes a lot easier than polyester. Even though it’s more expensive, it’s a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make for the comfort.

 

 
Cuff Links
 

  • Not critical to a wardrobe
  • Will determine whether you get button cuffs or “french cuffs” for your dress shirts
  • Can easily add your own flare and personality to the wardrobe
  • Less than $10/pair if you buy from Ebay

Because I was going pretty conservative with my wardrobe, I normally don’t wear a sports jacket, and because I sometimes make my own cuff links, I decided on going the cuff link route. This is a purely personal decision and I don’t think there’s any strict protocol.

Just be careful with cuff links, as they can cut you if you’re not aware. I cut myself while doing a very aggressive “hand-over-hand” in a work van and I wasn’t thinking how sharp my square cuff links were. But I don’t think that’ll happen again, as you have to be doing some unusual maneuvering to have that happen.

The vintage watch movement cuff links were some that I made that can be seen here.

This Amazon Link is one I bought that’s unique and relatively inexpensive.

 

 
Dress Shirts
 
  • Get it tailored (have them put in darts), or get an extra slim fit to minimize “bagginess”
  • Whites, and light blues, are the standard colors
  • You’ll want 100% cotton for breath-ability
  • Pinpoint Collar is standard
  • Removable collar stiffeners are preferable to maintain the point

I ended up purchasing a bunch of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts when they were on sale that I found through SlickDeals.net. I generally stuck with more conservative colors like White and Blues. I do have some with checkered designs, but even those designs are relatively conservative. Most of my dress shirts don’t have a “pocket” on the front, but that’s more preference for me as I feel it gives me more of a streamlined look and was cheaper for me to order them without a pocket

The picture above is my dress shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt that was an “Extra Slim Fit” and I didn’t need to tailor them. The shirts that I got tailored are a little tighter.

I do not wear an undershirt for my darker shirts (and I’m actually not wearing one for the light blue). I don’t sweat that much and my nipples can’t be seen through. I’ll pass on an undershirt no matter the color if I’m going to be wearing a sports jacket for most of the day.

NOTE ON DARTS: The picture below shows what darts look like on the shirt. They create the woman’s “blouse” effect, but really all that means is that it forms to your body a lot better and adds “European chic.” They’re two extra folds on your backside that help remove excess fabric from the curve of your back.

 

 
Neckties (Ties)
 
  • A “four-in-hand knot” is good enough for GQ, and good enough for me!
  • The bottom of the tie should reach the middle of your belt buckle
  • I personally prefer 2.5″ for the widest point on the tie
  • 100% Silk is preferable to minimize the heat around the neck (though I haven’t really tried polyester ties to confirm how noticeable it is)
  • Solid colors, pin dots, or ties with minor striping are the easiest to match with shirts.
  • I generally tried to stay away from multicolored or extreme ties because I don’t know which ones will go in and out of fashion.

I pretty much bought most of my ties from Burlington Coat Factory, Ross, and Marshall’s for about $10 each. Some of the solid colors, like red, were really hard to find in the width I wanted, so I bought those for like $20 from JCPenney or Macy’s.

I generally wear different colors depending on the “emotion” I want to convey:

  • DARK BLUE: You can trust me.
  • RED: I’m decisive and confident.
  • MAROON: I’m relaxed and let’s chat by the fireside.
  • PURPLE: I’m a guru (but usually, it just matches well with my navy shirts).
  • BLACK: Reserved for funerals.
  • OTHER BRIGHT COLORS: I don’t usually feel happy enough to wear these colors, but sometimes a little variety is fun to throw in to contrast with some of my darker shirt colors.

The tie rack I use is one I got for like $8 through Amazon.com.

 

 
Sports Jacket
 
  • Get it tailored
  • The trend now is for the “in-cut” for the suit jacket as popularized by GQ rather than the “boxy” look
  • Don’t get black, unless you’re okay with wearing it only with black pants
  • A dark blue seems to function well with multiple colors
  • Stay away from black, unless you want to wear it basically ONLY with black pants
  • Go for 100% wool so it breathes easier
  • Make sure to size the pants tight enough so you don’t need a belt to hold your pants up

Get yourself a “Kent Brushes” Double Sided Clothes Brush to keep your Sports Jacket in its prime. I bought mine off of Ebay for about $30.00.

 

 
Pants
 

  • Length it so that when you’re standing it rests a couple inches on the top of your shoe, but there’s still a lot of grace. You just don’t want it super baggy, and you don’t want your socks showing while standing.
  • Prefer cotton over wool in order to machine wash rather than take it to the dry cleaner’s every time
  • Stick with permanent crease and no wrinkles to have less ironing headache
  • Too tight of pants around legs and it’ll squeeze your balls when you sit
  • Too much fabric around the legs, and it’ll make you look boxier and less GQ
  • Gray and dark blue will match with the most dress shirts. Black is okay, but is harder to match.
  • I personally prefer it without pleats since it forms better to my legs

For about $30 a pair during a Spring Amazon Sale, I was only able to find the Dockers D2 Straight Fit Pants to fit all my criteria. Plus, free return shipping is a SUPER plus.

 

 
Shoes
 

  • You’ll want at least two pairs to let one air out from the sweat while you wear the other pair
  • Black shoes with black socks keeps my wardrobe simpler
  • Use a cedar shoe horn to help absorb the sweat when not wearing and keep its shape
  • Make sure to polish it some to maintain the outward shine

I personally use the “fisherman sandal” type with black socks. It maintains breath-ability, and with black socks, they’re comfortable, yet dressier looking in a casual office environment. I bought a pair for like $20 at Burlington Coat Factory.

For days in which I’m behind the desk and not trying to impress anyone, I prefer the Crocs Unisex Specialist Clog. I cut out, using a razor blade, the sides of the shoe where you can see the indents to provide more airflow, otherwise the shoes are extremely hot.

 

 
Belts
 
  • Get at least two so that you can let one hang while you wear the other one to minimize warping
  • Keep the design simple
  • Go with black for the color to match your black shoes
  • Make sure the length of the of the belt goes barely further than the first belt loop
  • I personally prefer silver, or darker metal buckles over the bronze look
  • Ross, Marshalls, and Burlington Coat Factory should have belts for under $10
 

 
Tie Clip
 
  • Wear it somewhere between the 4th and 3rd button from the top of your dress shirt
  • Entirely optional
  • Make sure the clip doesn’t go over the entire girth of the tie you’re wearing

You can often buy the tie clip packaged with a tie at Ross, Marshalls, or Burlington Coat Factory for like $6.99. It’s way cheaper this way than buying the clip by itself. I usually don’t wear a suit jacket, so the clip helps keep the tie in place.

 

 
Tailoring
 

I’d like to reiterate that tailoring is absolutely critical for you to take your style to a stand out level. You’ll also feel more confident knowing you literally “tailored” your look, and it’ll show whether others are consciously aware of it or not. Tailoring also makes you look slimmer because all that excess fabric will sharpen your body shape.

When trying to find a tailor, you’ll have to be careful. Even tailors that are great at doing wedding dresses and hemming women’s jeans may not be totally supportive of the GQ trend towards tighter fitting clothes on men. I found out the hard way, and ended up getting some of my clothing redone with a tailor that was more supportive of the GQ look.

My philosophy on tailoring is why spend the money to do it unless it’s easily noticeable? If anything, I’d prefer erring on the tighter side. In the end style is a subjective concept, and tailors will put their own spin on the cut, unless you’re very specific with them, or have a tailor that is on the trendier side of fashion.