We all want to look better. The problem is just how to go about doing so. After all, unless you’re willing to undergo expensive, painful surgery, you’re going to have to work with the facial features you’re born with.
However, there’s is a very quick and easy way to change how you look – change how you dress. Dressing well and developing your personal style lets you take advantage of what’s known as the Halo Effect. The effort you put into your self-presentation actually affects how people see you and makes you look better.
The problem, of course, is that this also costs money. But that’s where I come in. If you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to completely change your look without busting your budget in the process.
Simple Is Your Friend
When you’re trying to look better, but you’re budget conscious, it can be hard to know where to start. After all, you’re going to be facing an array of stores, fashions and looks. It can get overwhelming incredibly quickly. Stripes? Patterns? French cuffs? Peaked lapels? Break, no break? Will this look good for longer than six weeks? Are you going to look back and regret buying that stupid Salvage shirt because you thought that it gave you an edge over everybody else who was wearing Affliction and Ed Hardy and…
Sorry, kind of lost the plot there.
When you want to look better on a budget, then the best thing you can do is aim for versatility, rather than having specific outfits for specific occasions. The key is simplicity – solid colors, minimal prints and classic cuts. Simplicity is elegant. Simplicity is versatile. Simplicity never goes out of style.
Simplicity means that everything goes well with everything else. That, in turn, means that you can expand your options for relatively little money up front. By keeping your clothes fairly simple, you give yourself the ability to maximize your outfits with a minimum of investment. In fact, by focusing on versatility, you can put together dozens of outfits with relatively few individual pieces. This idea – known as a capsule wardrobe – not only helps you look better but cuts down on issues like choice fatigue, freeing up mental resources that would be otherwise occupied.
Plain tees, solid color button downs, dark jeans, one pair of slacks, a decent pair of casual shoes (not running shoes) a good pair of dress shoes and a basic blazer will get you through 99% of your style needs, because they can dress up or dress down as needed. A blazer, slacks, v-neck tee and dress shoes makes for an elegant date night outfit. Change out the shoes and the pants for dark jeans and you’ve got an outfit that can fit at work or for drinks with your friends later.
Simplicity works well for accessories, too. A simple watch like the Skagen Ancher is fairly cheap, yet works as well with suits as it does with a t-shirt and jeans. Even a $50 watch can look elegant and dressy; a simple white face and a leather strap means it can go from the office to dinner, to a weekend out with friends.
The next step to looking better is to know what to prioritize when you’re shopping.
Fit Counts Above All Else
There are four things that matter when it comes to clothing: fit, material, quality and price. But when price is an object, the best thing you can focus on is fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing head to toe Armani or Brioni if it looks like you’re a six year old playing dress-up in his dad’s closet. Similarly, that Tom Ford shirt you’re wearing isn’t going to look good if you look like you’re about to Hulk right out of it or pop a button into somebody’s eye.
Most men don’t wear clothes that actually fit them. Nine times out of ten, they’ve opted to go a size too large. Their pants are too wide, their shirts are sliding off their shoulders and they’re getting lost in their coats. It’s an ugly look because it makes you look sloppy, carrying the message that you don’t care about how you look. You can get away with that when you’re Mark Zuckerberg. You are not Mark Zuckerberg. So here’s how your clothes should fit:
- The shoulder seams of a shirt should fall where your clavicle meets your shoulder.
- A long-sleeved shirt’s cuff should end at the bones of your wrist.
- A short-sleeved shirt’s sleeves should stop mid-bicep.
- A collared shirt should fit comfortably around your neck, allowing for two fingers to slide between collar and neck with ease.
- Any shirt, casual or formal, should fit close to your torso without too much material on the sides. You should be able to pinch a little material on each side. If you have creases or gapping around the buttons across your torso, it’s too tight. If it balloons out from your waist when tucked into your pants, it’s too big.
- Pants should sit at your natural waist – three fingers-width below your navel – without sliding down over your hips. They should be snug in the seat without feeling as though they’re going to split if you bend over.
- The seat of your pants should start at the the top of your buttocks and end at the crease. The back pockets make for a good measure; if your back pockets start half-way down your ass, the pants aren’t cut for you.
- Pant legs should be slim, not too wide or too tight. They’re meant to follow the shape of your legs, not make you look like a Saturn 5 rocket.
- The cuff should come down to the top of your shoes, forming a natural crease called a “break”. The size of the break – the depth of the crease and how far the pants drape down the back of your shoe – varies depending on style and type of pant. You never want more than one break; it’s a sign that your pants are too long.
Remember: fit will change the perception of your outfit. 99% of people won’t care that you got your suit at Express or Zara, because it’ll look sharp on you.
And how do you make sure that your clothes look their best? Well, I’m glad you asked, convenient rhetorical device…
A Tailor Is Your Best Friend
Ever wonder why movie stars always seem to look amazing, even when they’re rolling out of bed and into the nearest Starbucks? It’s because they get their clothes tailored. A good tailor can make your clothes look good; a great tailor can make them look amazing.
If you’re hard to fit or have a hard time finding clothes that fit your shape, a tailor is your best friend. A good tailor can adjust sleeve lengths, taper your shirts and pants (including your jeans), open up or bring in the waists of your pants, adjust the break on your slacks and more.
Even fairly minor alterations can make you look better without breaking the budget. If a shirt fits in the neck and shoulders but billows in the waist and back, then adding darts can slim it down. Nipping in the waist of your new blazer – as seen here – can take an off-the-rack sport coat and make it look made-to-measure.
Of course, tailoring costs money. How do you achieve that tailored look without spending? To start with: take advantage of freebies. Most department stores offer free tailoring services for fairly simple alterations. But if you want to get the most out of your your clothes for the as little as possible, factor the tailor’s fees into your budget. If, say, you have $300 set aside for a new suit, consider putting $100 aside for tailoring and alterations. Remember: a cheap but well-fitting outfit is going to make you look better than the most expensive, boxy suit and tie.
Want To Look Better? Invest Wisely
Now, having just been talking about how to look better on the cheap, let’s talk about where you do want to spend money. One of the keys to maximizing your wardrobe without going broke is understanding where you’re going to get the most for your investment.
Shirts and pants make poor investments when it comes to clothes and looking better, particularly if you’re focusing on basics. Instead, you want to put your money into items that will last – even appreciate over time – and where the investment will pay off.
So while you’re looking for bargains in your shirts and jeans, start putting your money aside for some shoes. And not just your trainers or running shoes: a great pair of leather dress shoes.
Unlike your jeans or your button-downs, shoes have the most direct cost/quality ratio. Most men tend to cheap out on shoes and it shows – cheap leather that wrinkles and fades, shoddy stitching, soles that fall apart if you look at them cross-eyed. Cheap shoes bring down an otherwise sharp outfit. A good pair, on the other hand, are an investment. First and foremost are their versatility. A good pair of dress shoes can go from a suit to jeans and still look amazing. In fact, the right pair of shoes can elevate an otherwise casual outfit. Your date night look may be a blazer and jeans, but those cap-toe Oxfords change it from looking cheap to stylish.
Then there’s simply a matter of longevity. Cheaper shoes tend to fall apart very quickly. With a little attention, a good pair of shoes can last decades.
Outerwear and accessories also make good investments. The point of a focus piece is to stand out and catch people’s attention; it’s the foundation that you build your outfit around. This is an area where spending a little more makes sense – the quality of that one piece enhances everything else. Watches, especially, make good investments. A pricey watch may have a sizable initial outlay, but a well cared-for watch can become something that you leave to your children; many also tend to appreciate in value over time.
So while you’re maximizing your budget’s buying power, be sure to put some money aside for those investment pieces.
Make Your Money Go Further
Of course, if you’re going to be making the most out of your shopping budget, you have to shop smart. Running out and spending your money right away is a bad idea, even if you have a specific list. Instead, you want to shop strategically. A little foresight and planning can save you a lot of money if you’re willing to be patient.
The most obvious tip for making your clothes budget work for you is to wait for the sales. Most stores have at least two major sales per year in order to clean out merchandise in order to make room for the new stock coming in. This makes for an excellent time to snatch up certain items, especially if you’re waiting for something that’s otherwise out of your reach. Yes, it means that you won’t be on the bleeding edge of fashion. That’s fine; you’re aiming for simple, remember?
In between major sales, the best time to shop for bargains is at the tail end of a season. Just as February 15th is Chocolate Half Off Day, shopping at the end of the season is a chance to catch bargains that stores are eager to unload. February, for example, is prime time for suits – just long enough after the post-Christmas rush that stores are looking to make more room. August and September, likewise, are prime times for swimwear as we move into the winter months, while October is best for jeans – you’ll have just missed the Back To School rush.
Keep in mind: you may find even better deals without setting foot in the stores. Surveys of prices and sales trends find that online retailers have the best deals on men’s clothing on Tuesdays. If you’re looking to spend, the best option may be to visit the store over the weekend, try on the clothes you want and then hit them up on Tuesday with your morning coffee.
Keep these rules in mind and with a little planning ahead, you’ll be looking better and turning heads… and not having to go broke in the process.