Follow this time tested advice to build lasting professional wardrobe without breaking the bank.
After months of searching, customizing resumes, writing cover and thank you letters, and biting nails as you wait to hear back from hiring managers, you finally got the job offer. But as you spend your last weekend unemployed, you realize that your one interview suit isn’t going to cut it for a full week of business attire. Unless your new company is throwing in a clothing stipend, here are a few ways you can build your professional wardrobe without having to max out your credit cards.
- Don’t Fall for the J. A. Banks scheme – Joseph A. Banks and to a lesser extent the Men’s Warehouse (both now owned by the same parent company) have long been known for their too good to be true sales that seem to run 365 days a year: Buy 1 Suit, 1 Shirt, and 1 Tie and get 2 Suits, 2 Shirts, and 2 Ties FREE! How could any company give away 2/3rds of its inventory and still stay in business? Mark up their suit prices by 300%, that’s how. The price tag on that first suit you are buying is often in the neighborhood of $500-$600 for a suit that anywhere else would retail for $200. Same for the shirts and ties. And the quality shows, most $200 suits can get one year of wear out them if you are lucky before they start to fall apart. But “buy 3 $200 suits for $600” doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as “buy 1 $600 suit get 2 free.”
- Pay for quality – As I’ve mentioned before, spending more on the items you use everyday often saves money in the long haul. Suits are a perfect example. The $200 JA Banks suits will save you up front, but after a year you will find yourself heading back over to the store to replace or repair your worn out elbows and in seams. If, instead, you were to spend $400 to $600 now, you can get a much higher quality suit that will look better, fit better, and last many years, even after multiple alterations.
- Department stores – Many department stores run year-end sales, as they make room for the new season of styles. Macy’s and Nordstrom’s are two higher end retailers that provide deep $200 to $400 discounts on suits usually in the $600 to $1000 range. For additional savings, look for coupons at retail me not or in the newspaper for an additional 10 – 20% off.
- Combatant Gentlemen – As with many retail companies, online only, direct from the manufacturer sales are disrupting men’s apparel in the same way that Casper is disrupting mattress sales and Warby Parker is disrupting the sunglass market. Combatant Gentlemen is leading the way in men’s business apparel. For under $300 a suit, Combatant Gentlemen offers a wide variety of two and three-piece suits in both slim and modern fits with a wide variety of shirts, ties, and socks to complete your look. What you are saving in price you are not giving up in quality. I have purchased two suits from Combatent and have been blown away by the quality, which outshines suits I’ve paid three times as much for. (They’ve gotten so popular that currently they are offering a very limited selection of products while they work to fill back orders.)
- Find a good tailor – the key to buying any suit off the rack is having a good tailor who you trust with alterations. Not only does this ensure you look your best no matter where you make your purchase, but it eliminates any stress on the suit’s fabric and shape that can come from a poor fit.
- Pick staple colors – As much fun as a powder blue or of your down in the South, a seersucker suit might look, maximize the mileage out of your clothes by sticking with classic colors that can easily be mixed and matched. Charcoal, navy, and grey for the suits, while white and Oxford blue for the shirts. If you accessorize right, you may even be able to get a full weeks worth of outfits from just one suit
- Keep suits clean, pressed and hung on cedar suit hangers – As with a major purchase, you should view your new suits as an investment and should treat them in such a way that maximizes return. Yes, after a long day, it can be tempting to throw your jacket and pants over the back of a chair before jumping into your jeans, but if you take the extra time to hang your suits back up, on heavy cedar hangers to avoid the moths and maintain the shoulder shape, your suits will continue to look sharp for years to come.
- Avoid Dry Cleaning Unless it is a must – Not only are weekly trips to the dry cleaners expensive, but subjecting your delicate clothing to the harsh chemicals used in dry cleaning can drastically shorten their useful life. Only take suits to the cleaners when spot cleaning can’t remove a stain. As for shirts, a quick run through the washing machine on cold, followed by line drying and ironing can keep them looking fresh for a fraction of the cost.
While a may take a little more effort, following these tips will insure you get the most out of your money and set the ground work for a business wardrobe that will keep you looking sharp for years to come.