If there’s one advantage to the lingering conservatism of male clothing, especially mens’ clothing for work, it’s that it’s still possible to look extremely well-dressed for a relatively small amount of money. What’s more, that small amount of money is spread over a long period, because this is the kind of clothing that lasts. But what should you look for? Where are the bargains to be had? Where should you never economize? This brief guide is intended to take you through the major choices and lay out your best options.
The Suit. The suit is at the heart of your work wardrobe. If you can afford it, and you probably can’t, get your suits made for you. Failing that, get an off-the-peg suit from Marks and Spencer. It doesn’t have to be new, but it has to be either blue, dark grey or grey, and it must have four buttons on the coat sleeve. Avoid a double-breasted cut. Ebay is a happy hunting ground for good quality used M&S suits.
Shirts. Shirts are one of the great male shopping bargains. Buy online, and go for offers from Charles Tyrwhitt or T.M. Lewin: four shirts for £100 is typical at the moment. These will last through 4-5 years of heavy wear with aplomb. White, blue, checked or bengal striped shirts are the ones to look for: avoid black, purple, yellow, green or red for the time being. Get double cuffs, and wear them with a set of brass oval chain cufflinks or silk knot cufflinks of an appropriate colour. For off-duty, pair with jeans or look out for Boden shirts on Ebay: Cotton Traders rugby shirts are also a good bet, assuming you haven’t hung onto your rugby shirts from school.
Ties. Ties are one item you should never compromise with or look for bargains. Cheap ties don’t last: a good silk one from Thomas Pink should, with care, last for five years. The main thing with a tie is not to use it as a personal statement: avoid anything witty or humorous. Stick to solid reds, and striped ties in which blue and red predominate. Avoid tiepins. If wearing a tie is uncomfortable, you’ve either been buying your shirts at too small a collar size, or you are knotting your tie too tightly.
Shoes. Shoes are another area where you should be spending as much money as you can manage. At any rate, start with Clarks shoes and work your way up to the great Northampton shoemakers like Grenson and Church. There is a healthy market in high quality second hand shoes, and enough proper shoe repair outlets to justify their use. Get a hardwearing artificial sole added to the leather sole of your shoe at Timpsons and you will stretch the time between resolings. Remember that the Prince of Wales has been seen wearing shoes carrying a patch on the leather: well-cared for shoes with visible repairs add a touch of class in the most unexpected way. Stick to plain and brogue Oxfords in the main: boat shoes are fine for the weekend.
Underwear. Marks and Spencer cotton boxer shorts last forever and come in packs of three for a very reasonable price. You can save money on socks – bulk-buy cotton rich socks in fives and tens. If you always buy black, you need not worry about matching socks from the wash.
Coats. A Barbour Cumberland jacket can go with a suit, and is also good for country walks and bad weather. If you can afford the button-in fake fur lining, get that too. Otherwise, take coat styles from the Boden catalogue and source them via Ebay.