How to Look Like a Million Bucks For Under $200

by Antonio on March 12, 2009 · 23 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

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Whether a man has made his fortune or not, he desires others to see him as confident, trustworthy, and professional. We live in a world of perception, and although our outward appearance is not nearly as important as our inner character, men are best served when they dress sharply. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost a fortune to look great. If you pay attention to the details and are willing to spend a bit more time putting your wardrobe together, you can build an outfit that makes you look like a million for less than $200.

But before getting started, let me warn you what not to do. Do not purchase clothing simply because it is on sale. You have not saved 70% on a $500 suit when it doesn’t fit, will go out of fashion in a year, or is made from poor fabric. No, you have wasted $150 that could have been invested in an outfit of timeless class that may be harder to build but will be well worth the effort. Smart men cannot afford to waste money on cheap items; put your dollars to smart use by buying quality items that will last.


Looking beyond the sales and promotions at major retailers, here are some tips that you’ll want to consider when assembling your wardrobe on a budget.

Thrift Stores & Garage Sales (suits, shoes, ties $5 & up)

thrift-store

Second-hand clothing has long been a source of inexpensive outfits, with many of us being the third recipient of worn out hand-me-downs. But with so many of us on a strict budget in this recession, it pays to revisit the option of pre-owned clothing. If you haven’t been to a Goodwill store, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality – much of this clothing is more appropriately described as gently or once used, and some of it you’ll find with the original tags intact. In visiting thrift stores, I’ve personally seen numerous high quality garments from makers such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry, and Oxxford.

The downside of secondhand stores is that it takes some work to find the gems among the vast aisles of 1970′s leisure suits and ugly t-shirts. You’ll have to travel to several shops, oftentimes the customer service at the store is non-existent, and the only way to find deals is to dive in and search. Items are usually sold as-is and cannot be returned. Yet the trade-off can be quite worthwhile; the satisfaction you get from pulling a quality suit from the rack and paying a quarter of the original price is deeply satisfying.

Key Tip – Thrift stores in smaller cities are gold mines for great deals. While a second hand store in Chicago will be picked to the bone, a thrift store in Omaha or Sheboygan is likely to contain numerous high quality items going for pennies on the dollar. Maybe you do have a reason to head home this weekend.

Smart eBay Bidding (suits, shoes, ties $10 & up)

Everyone knows about eBay, but not everyone knows how to shop smart when using this online auction. In a perfect open-market system, an item will sell for the highest price all bidders are willing to pay. Good for the seller, bad for the buyer. The key to shopping on eBay is to find quality items that are not being marketed properly and therefore are not receiving all the bids they could be. This type of shopping takes discipline. It’s very easy to fall into a bidding war and overpay for something. When shopping on eBay, search for items that are mislabeled, have no photograph/a poor photograph, and that are being sold by a new eBay seller. The key as a seller to getting a great price for your item is marketing; when a seller neglects this, you can bet that their item won’t receive the attention it may deserve and thus go for a below market value price.

Friends and Family (suit, shoes, ties most likely free!)

An often underused resource is perhaps the easiest and least costly of all. Simply ask friends and family if they have any menswear that they would be willing to pass on to you. In particular, target the best dressed and older gentlemen in your family or circle of friends. Even if the sizes are off on the clothing you receive, this free but good quality clothing can be used as currency when visiting vintage clothing and thrift stores. And for some items, like ties and pocket squares, one size works for most.

80% Off the Finest Quality Shoes You’ll Ever Own (re-soling $40, re-crafting $95+)

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A quality pair of shoes from Alden or Allen Edmonds is well worth the investment; however, when it comes to forking over $350 to $500, most of us are a little hesitant to take the plunge. But how would you like to get a pair of these shoes for $95?


Many high quality men’s shoe manufactures offer re-crafting and re-soling. This business caters to men who have owned a pair of the manufacturer’s shoes for years; it’s a service designed to retain customers and keep them happy, not make money off them. So it’s very reasonably priced. But you may be saying, “I don’t own a pair, how does this apply to me?” True, but by carefully keeping your eye out you may find that a friend, family member, or thrift store is carrying a pair and willing to part with them at a reasonable price. If you are satisfied with the style and general color, and assuming it fits you properly, you can ship these shoes back to the manufacturer where they will (depending on the service you choose) remove the old soles, heels, welting, cork footbeds, and laces and replace them all with brand-new materials. You can also pay for them to strip and refinish the upper leather and hand polish it before shipping. Oh, and many of these companies cover the shipping both ways. The end product is a new pair of $350+ shoes for a fraction of the cost. The blogger Sleevehead just wrote a great article about this process with pictures.

Cut a Deal (savings varies widely)

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When purchasing items in Hong Kong, my favorite part of the experience is the haggling. An art form that isn’t seen to the same degree in the West, it’s now making a bit of headway due to the recession. Retailers realize that it’s better to make a little profit on an item than to lose money when it doesn’t sell and sits in inventory. Numerous national chain stores have quietly authorized their salespeople to bend on the price. But they aren’t going to just give these saving to you. You have to ask.


When closing a deal, always ask, “Is this the best you can do?” Furthermore, bring in an advertisement, even if it’s from the web, showing that the same item is being offered for less elsewhere. And if you’re really aggressive, don’t settle until you speak with a person who is authorized to make the decision. Often the sales clerk doesn’t have the authority to give a discount, so always ask to speak with a manager. But please remember your manners – always be polite and friendly, even when the final answer is no – people want to help, but there are limits to what they can offer.

Bartering

To barter is to exchange one’s services or products for another’s service or products. It’s the oldest form of commerce and worked for a long time until it was replaced by the tangible units of value we have today, money. But sometimes bartering is more effective than using money in a transaction, and you’d be surprised how many people are open to it. If you have a skill or excess inventory, think about how you could trade this for a service or product you need. Good with computers? Think of how many barbers, tailors, and small menswear stores need help with a website and getting their name out on the web.

The problem with bartering is that it’s harder for two parties to come to terms vs. when they are exchanging currency. Also, there needs to be an equal need on both sides for the transaction to take place; a dire need on one side does not constitute an emergency for the other participant. Finally, be aware that the IRS views barter exchanges as taxable income and has requirements for filing.

Choose Potential over Reputation (save 50% on tailoring & clothing costs)

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All other factors being equal, the vast majority of us will choose a tailor based off their experience and past work. But all factors are rarely equal, and experienced artisans with a strong reputation often command much higher pay than their counterparts without the name recognition. With this in mind, consider choosing potential over reputation when selecting a tailor or company to purchase your clothing from.


The advantage of choosing potential is that the price point is lower; they haven’t established their brand and must compete on price while building clientele. These professionals and young companies are also often more open to deal making and bartering, and if you are willing to spend the time clearly explaining what you want and carefully inspecting the finished product, you may find that you’ve discovered a diamond in the rough.


The disadvantage with choosing potential over reputation is that you are taking a bit more risk. Dealing with a lesser known brand in a sense opens you up to the chance of lower quality and disagreements on what constitutes a successful completion of work. However, much of this can be minimized by doing your homework and interviewing the business or artisan extensively before committing to a project.

Similar Articles

There are some big box retailers with great deals, many of whom carry product lines with good quality at very low prices. I was just talking with the Houndstooth Kid, a blogger who covers vintage menswear from the 1930s-50s, and he put together an article covering this very topic. Check out his blog for how to find the hidden gems at Wal-Mart, Target, the Gap and others.

Conclusion

Many of us have lost our jobs only to find ourselves searching for work in an environment more competitive than anything in recent memory. If you still have questions, or need any more help putting together a wardrobe for less, please feel free to email me through A Tailored Suit’s website or ask a question in the comment section below. I can’t give away clothing, but I can give you guidance on how to look your best with what you have.

Written by
Antonio Centeno
President, www.ATailoredSuit.com
Quality Custom Clothing & Sound Style Advice
Join our Facebook Page for a chance to Win Custom Clothing

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott March 13, 2009 at 4:32 am

Thrift shops are amazing, but you definitely have to be patient. All of my suits have come from second-hand stores. It takes patience, and you can’t expect to get something every time you go in.

Other than just finding good quality suits that are sold presently in stores, you can also find some vintage stuff that can still look classy. I’m a big fan of the double-breasted suit coat, which isn’t readily available in most present-day stores, but I have been lucky enough to find a handful in thrift shops.

On a rare occassion you will find a suit that fits perfectly, and you’re golden. But if that isn’t the case… if you can get the pants on, and the jacket fits in the shoulders, you’re still good to go. The suit will be less then $10 and you can get it altered for around $50. $60 for a custom-fitted suit… not too shabby.

Like I said though… be patient. You won’t find something every time, but when you do it will be well worth it.

2 Paolo March 13, 2009 at 7:06 am

Good heavens, this was the very article I was waiting for on this site: how to look good without having to spend! I am going to have a bit of a problem finding these great suits at a great price though, simply because of my rather large (42″) girth and body structure.

And, on the haggling thing, it is very true: I have lived in the Far East and the West, and haggling is one of the more subtle and satisfying things one can do when buying clothes.

3 Jim Schmidt March 13, 2009 at 7:09 am

Barter is a fine way to handle certain things. Our neighbor runs a kennel and pet care service, and I set up their web site. In exchange for being oncall for technical support on the site or other computer problems, we get free boarding for our dog and look-ins on our bird when we’re out of town.

4 Stephen March 13, 2009 at 8:05 am

So I’ve never had experience getting anything tailored – how much larger/smaller can a garment be and still be tailored to a specific size? What makes a thrift store buy a good candidate for tailoring?

5 Justin March 13, 2009 at 8:55 am

Out of curiosity I went into a shirt shop in La Jolla and asked about their custom shirts. I was feeling saucy and was pretending I could afford it. I was shocked when they showed me a massive catalog of swatches and said that their minimum order was $150 which was usually three shirts! I have been buying shirts for $30-65 from department stores that never fit me right, and for the same price, I could have had a custom shirt!

Don’t forget Taylors as well. A $10 investment usually makes a nice piece really stand out just because of fit.

6 _ March 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Stephen,
The biggest thing for a suit is that the shoulders fit. They are almost impossible to tailor, and very expensive to adjust if its possible at all. Everything else should still fit relatively close, I’d say within a couple inches if you are taking something in (making it smaller). Otherwise proportions tend to start looking a little off. For example, pants tend to taper in, and if they are shortened too much the width of the legs begins to look funny. The same goes with jackets. If you want to let something out (make it bigger), there has to be extra fabric for it to work. Shirt sleeves are almost impossible to lengthen. Pants and jackets usually have a little extra fabric folded under at the cuff which can be unfolded, tailored, and re-pressed, but you can’t work with what’s not there. In a nutshell, you can adjust clothes, but don’t expect to change the size through tailoring. I hope this helps

7 Bob Iger March 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm

This is an excellent article, certainly in these financially harsh times. When I have time I will surely check out one of those thrift stores you talked about. Good job, Tony.

8 Greg Throne March 14, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Nice post on obtainig the big items, but what about those things formerly known as “men’s furnishings”? You know, brass collar stays, cufflinks, tie bars & tie tacks, watch fobs, etc. About all I’ve been able to find in the stores in my area are belts, ties (oddly missing some basic items such as solid colored knit ties), and wallets. Where does one fid those items any more?

9 David March 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I just bought a rocking suit for $5 at a thrift store because I read this article yesterday! Thanks!

10 Tommy T. March 17, 2009 at 9:26 pm

My story first. I’m an actor and my mother is a seamstress and costumer. She taught me early how to check for quality and craftsmanship when thrift shopping. I always check out Salvation Army and second-hand shops for my costume clothes and personal wardrobe. My Jackpot came while searching for a suit for a cousin’s wedding. Five suits, exactly my size (pants needed to be let out), primo condition. Two Armani’s, Two Vestamente’s and an Ermenegeldo Zenga!!! I figure someone my size either died or his wife threw him out and gave away his wardrobe. Probably six thousand dollars worth of clothing for fifteen dollars each. The funny thing is, while I get many compliments when I wear them I cannot resist divulging where I got them. (Most people wouldn’t believe me if I told them I paid retail, anyway).

Of corse, now that you published this article it’s going to be tougher to find the good stuff, though I think enough people still get weird about used-clothes so I sort of hope most of your readers skip this one. For those who do go searching the thrifts, Make sure to inspect the article closely. Things to check are:
Wear and tear on the cuffs,
Seams and stitching- turn it inside out if necessary
Buttons in place/ zippers and hooks working
No rips in lining
No pit stains or ring around the collar

Also, check the yellow pages for consignment stores. Better quality, newer and usually quality labels. Those who bring their clothes in get a cut if a sale is made.

Love the website

11 Chico March 20, 2009 at 4:56 am

Direct link to the excellent houndstooth kid “Style on the Cheap” post:

http://mrlapel.blogspot.com/2009/02/style-on-cheap.html

12 Euro Tailors March 25, 2009 at 10:41 am

Just be yourself and influence the world in your style as you like!Euro Tailors

13 Casey March 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm

As the owner of a small shop, I have to disagree with the bit about haggling over prices. It may be a charming (and expected) practice in Hong Kong, but it’s insulting here. With internet retailers and wal-mart competing with basically everybody, no business can get away with over-charging. Plus, it is unmanly in my opinion, akin to groveling. But maybe that’s just my silly western upbringing.

14 Tony April 20, 2009 at 1:13 am

Excellent article. However there are not too many places that will let you haggle over the price of a good suit. Maybe they might through in an accessory or two.
http://www.PocketSquareZ.com

15 andrea April 21, 2009 at 10:03 am

shopping from thrift stores can be great, i think the best way to go is to buy a few basic good quality items and then accesorize from thrift stores

16 Joe April 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Check out http://www.Dappered.com It’s an all around affordable Men’s Style website, and they do three posts a day. Seriously, down to earth not too high-fashion stuff for cheap.

17 Sam June 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I have two suits (working on finding more), both of which were found at Goodwill. One is a two piece, gray woolen suit that was made in Taiwan but for some reason still looks like a high-quality outfit; the other is a three piece, black pinstriped suit that was custom made and fits me perfectly. I love thrift stores. I’ve gotten all of my ties either for free or for very cheap–some of them my dad gave to me, some are my now-deceased grandfather’s, and the rest were either found at thrift/consignment stores or bought new at a fraction of the price, thanks to my coupon-stacking mother.

18 Bill November 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Take a look at http://www.Broverstock.us for cheap men’s clothing, accessories, and footwear. It has cheap and stylish deals for college aged men.

19 Chris December 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I buy almost all my stuff from JackThreads. Name brands at a discount every day

Get an additional $5 off here
http://www.jackthreads.com/invite/wootwoot22

20 jeannette March 6, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Phil’s Closet in the Historic Savage Mill in Savage Maryland is a really classy upscale MEN’S resale shop. Everything is $5 and all the proceeds benefit Success In Style. Sister, Charity’s Closet, is next door for the ladies.

21 Alexander Connell March 15, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Having worked retail, I’m with Casey (March 2009) on the haggling front. If you had to spend the first 30 minutes every morning haggling with your boss to determine how much he was going to pay you for your work that day, I think you’d find it got old very quickly. Especially if he opened the bidding at 50% of your usual rate.

Retailers and retail workers are trying to make a living too. They aren’t rolling in cash any more than you are. If you can’t afford it, buy something cheaper. Leave the haggling to the countries where labor is but a small part of the overhead.

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