Clothes can help get you where you want to be. Well-dressed men are more hireable, earn more money, and even perceive themselves in a more positive light.
Great, you may be thinking – so how do I get started with this men's budget wardrobe overhaul? I don't have that dream job or promotion yet. I'm still just getting by. I can't afford to drop a small fortune on restructuring my entire wardrobe.
You need to build a wardrobe on a cheap budget.
The cost of good clothing is one of the most common reasons men get stuck on the road to developing their style. But good news: a little strategy can save you thousands, and get your wardrobe up to speed.
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Gentlemen, we've got the complete guide to building a men's wardrobe on a budget. Let's get into it!
1. Find Your Message
Unfortunately, almost everyone judges the book by its cover – the way you dress influences how people think of you. Before you buy anything, decide what your personal brand will be so you can evaluate everything in your wardrobe based on whether it fits in.
Do you want to send a message that you're competent and trustworthy? Or maybe that you go against the grain and stand out from the crowd?
Choose your outfits with that message in mind. If you don't know where you're going, you wind up somewhere else – and sometimes with clothes you wind up there having blown a lot of your budget.
2. Less Is More
Building a men's wardrobe from scratch doesn't have to be expensive.
You might imagine that well-dressed men all have huge walk-in closets with a hundred suits, fifty pairs of shoes, and a thousand shirts. But the truth is that most men who dress exceptionally well have pretty modest wardrobes.
If you want to know how to dress well on a budget, let me point you to A J Biddle, one of the best-dressed men of the last hundred years. He owned only seven suits, twelve shirts, and four pairs of shoes when he died.
How did he do it on such a small wardrobe?
The answer is that everything he owned, he loved, wore often, and could pair with a wide range of the other pieces in his wardrobe.
A combination of intentionality and interchangeability can give a man the ability to look fantastic every day with a very small selection of clothes.
3. Give Yourself Time & Leverage Discounts
If you try to improve your wardrobe overnight, it's bound to be more expensive. Need a suit for an interview in three days? If you want one that's going to work long-term, you're going to be paying full price.
But say you give yourself three months… suddenly a whole new world opens up.
It's easy to look great on a budget. You can watch prices online and buy when the item you need is marked down.
When it comes to discounts, never be afraid to ask. Do they have a student discount? Do they have a cash discount? How about a veteran discount? You'll be surprised at what's available if you just check.
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4. Have A Clothing Budget
There are two key things you need to understand here. The first is that when you budget for something you're not gonna have to pay interest on it – but if you put that on a credit card with 20% interest that $200 suit you thought you got a great deal on is going to cost you three or four hundred dollars in the end.
The other thing to understand is that there's a psychological component to putting money away for your wardrobe. If you're socking away twenty-five dollars a week for a specific purpose, you can spend it with confidence, knowing that you worked for what you're buying and you can securely afford it.
5. Focus In On Interchangeability
You might remember when interchangeability was mentioned in #2 – or one of the dozens of other times it's been talked about on this site. It's worth coming back to because it's so important, especially when you're building your wardrobe on a budget.
Everything you buy – jackets, shirts, trousers, shoes – needs to work with everything you already own.
It's a system based on simple math. When you've got four pairs of trousers, four jackets, four shirts and four pairs of shoes that all easily mix and match with one another, you can multiply them – 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 – into 256 different outfits.
Use this tip to build and maintain a stylish wardrobe on a budget.
If you're able to do a lot more with a lot less, you'll save money overall because every penny you spend on style goes towards awesome clothes you can really leverage.
6. Avoid The Whimsical Winds of Fashion
Do everything you can to put together outfits that will still be in style two years from now, ten years from now, maybe even 20 years from now.
Avoid fashion trends and look at items that have been standard parts of men's wardrobes for decades.
Don't waste your money on fashion. What looks great this year will look dated next year.
If you've got extra money in your budget, feel free to go grab the latest trends and have fun wearing them. But understand that they may pass out of fashion in a couple seasons.
7. Understand the Style Theory of Value
The style theory of value is that the true value of a piece of clothing is equal to the number of wears times the way it makes you feel divided by the price.
Simply put, when you're looking at two similar items – a slightly pricier one that you love and would wear all the time, and one that's cheaper but which you won't wear nearly as often or feel nearly as great in – you want to go with the more expensive item.
Even though you spent more money, you'll get more value because you'll get more use out of it.
8. No Fit, No Buy – No Exceptions!
Whether we're talking about casual clothing or a suit, a dress shirt or a pair of shoes, it doesn't matter if they're ninety percent off – if they don't fit your body exceptionally well, they're not a deal.
9. Have A Roadmap
You want to have a step-by-step plan for building your wardrobe.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to look at where you want to go. Identify your broad goal – put together a few good outfits, create a weekly work wardrobe – and then start checking out magazines or sources online for inspiration. Don't choose specific products or make any final decisions yet – just think about the types of aesthetics, cuts, or colors you like.
Start building a few ideal outfits in your mind's eye (or on paper) and figure out what elements could be interchangeable.
Eventually you'll be able to say things like “I want three pairs of shoes in these styles”, or “I want two jackets in these colors.” Then when you shop, you'll have a direction – saving you money and time.
10. Try On Luxury Clothes and Accessories
Obviously, you're not gonna buy them right now. But you're developing your own taste and your knowledge of what quality feels like.
When you try on that top-of-the-line sports jacket and feel how it drapes off your body, you'll know that's what you're looking for. Next time you feel it from a garment that's a fraction of the price, you'll know you're getting a great deal.
When you know what true quality is, you'll understand the kind of pieces that are worth saving for.
All this ties in to building a personal style brand. A quality wardrobe shows discernment, commitment, and attention to detail – even if it's a budget wardrobe.
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