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Save Money and Shop Smart: Know the Style Pyramid

Let’s just be honest: style, for men, is a hard thing to grasp. It’s especially hard when buying new clothes. We always forget our sizes, we don’t know how things are supposed to fit, and we can never figure out what matches or looks good. Sometimes what we buy ends up sitting in the closet because we don’t like the way it fits or looks when we wear it. In short, shopping for clothes can feel like a confusing or frustrating process. But it doesn’t have to be. What if I told you there was a way to simplify style? If you can focus on the easy-to-remember tips in this article, you’ll be able to walk into any store with a clear idea of what to buy, and you’ll walk out and into the world with confidence in how you look.

My favorite tool for selecting clothes that look good on you is the Style Pyramid.

It’s a simple three-step rubric: Fit, Fabric, and Style.

Fit - Fabric - Style - The Style Pyramid

Fit, Fabric, & Style – The Style Pyramid

A piece of clothing that doesn’t meet all three criteria is a piece of clothing you’re better off not wearing.

Work your way through the pyramid in this order when you’re thinking about buying clothes. If something doesn’t fit, stop there. If it fits, but it seems cheaply made, skip it. And if it fits and is of good quality, but doesn’t feel right for your style, wait for something more suited to your tastes.

When all three intersect — then it’s time to buy.

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Fit

Fit is at the top of the pyramid for a reason.

The way your clothes sit on your body affect the way they look to others more than anything else about them.

Most men wear a suit 2 sizes too large.  Fit matters - a lot.

Most men wear a suit that is two sizes too large. Fit matters – a lot.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can look sharp-dressed in totally inappropriate clothes just because they fit well. A custom-tailored banana suit is still a banana suit. But it does mean that the best suit in the world can look awful on someone it’s not fitted for.

Think of it as the ultimate fashion triage: does the item in question fit your body? If not, skip it. It’s not worth wearing, no matter what its other merits might be.

The most general guideline for a good fit is that it should sit close to your skin without pinching or constricting. You shouldn’t feel the cloth tugging when you move around, but you also shouldn’t have any loose billowing or sagging.

In general, you should always be able to slip one or two fingers between the clothing and your body. But, every piece of clothing is a little different, so we’ll take a look at how to get the perfect fit for each item separately.

Notice no billowing around the waist - beware the muffin top!

Notice there is no billowing around the waist – beware the muffin top!

Shirt Fit

We’ll assume a collared shirt [2] here so that we cover all the bases, but these guidelines work fine for T-shirts and other non-collared shirts as well. The only real difference is that a shirt you’ll be wearing untucked can be a little looser around the stomach and waist without it being noticeable.

Very tall or very short men also need to keep an eye on proportion. It’s easy for a breast pocket to wind up too far up or down your chest, or for a collar to be too short for your neck, especially when you’re having things adjusted. Keep an eye on the details and make sure none of them are “floating” too far from where other men are wearing theirs.

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Jacket Fit

A jacket gets a little more space off the body than a shirt, but not much. You’re still trying to avoid gaping open spaces, billowing or hanging cloth, and anything tight enough to pinch or pull.

Your big warning signs with a jacket are flapping around the lower part, gaps between the jacket and your chest, and of course, any tugging or tightening when you move. Tightness in the arms or sides can also show up as wrinkles where the fabric is pinching.

Notice the crotch doesn't extend down to the middle of the thighs - and the material near the cuff isn't overly bunched.

Notice the crotch doesn’t extend down to the middle of the thighs – and the material near the cuff isn’t overly bunched.

Trouser Fit

It’s good to have your shirt and your jacket flat against your skin at most places, but your pants — for obvious reasons — need a touch more room than that. The problem is that most guys go too far and get more room than they need, going from “comfortable” to “saggy.”

Trouser styles can vary pretty widely, so take these as broad guidelines. Heavier-set men are going to want a little more looseness in the seat than skinny dudes. Just be sure you’re avoiding anything that’s uncomfortably tight or so big you can make the extra fabric sway by swinging your hips around.

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Fabric

Judging the quality of fabric at a glance (or a touch) can be challenging.

Product information can sometimes help you here, but it’s just as often misleading — things like “thread count” can be measured in different ways, and some merchants are more honest about it than others.

Inspecting Fabric

In general, if all you have to go on is the actual garment itself, look for the following key qualities:

Inspect & look for the details in clothing - if they are there you can bet the manufacturer did right in places you can't see.

Inspect and look for the details (such as a boutonniere latch on a jacket) – if they are there you can bet the manufacturer did right in places you can’t see.

Inspecting Construction

We say “fabric” because it’s convenient and easy to remember, but it’s worth taking a look at the rest of the construction as well. It’s less common for manufacturers to make shoddy clothing out of good cloth, but it’s not unheard of. Jeans are particularly common offenders; beware of “all USA” denim that’s then made into jeans in the Philippines or Malaysia or somewhere known for lower-quality goods.

Take a look at the details of the construction, whether it’s a fabric item or something as basic as a leather belt:

Buying Online

Most of the above tips are only useful when you can hold the garment in your hand. How do you check the fabric (and construction) quality when you’re buying based on nothing but a picture and a written description?

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Style

Style is the hardest of these three to define. Does the item say what you want it to? If the answer is yes, then it suits your style.

Wardrobe Interchangeability

Try to think about it in terms of your existing wardrobe. Look at the purchase you’re considering and imagine pairing it with the clothes you already own. If you can come up with a half-dozen different outfits, it’s a safe bet that it goes with your current style.

If you can’t think of any pairings, that’s not grounds for automatic rejection, but it does mean you should think hard about how you’d use the item.

It’s alright to break new ground — in a way, it’s ideal. We should all update our style from time to time. But do it realistically. If you’re going to leave it hanging in your closet for 360 days out of the year, it’s probably not a good investment.

Keep in mind, too, that some new styles may require you to purchase several items at once. Not a problem if you’re willing to do it — just be honest with yourself. Only commit to new looks that you’re pretty sure you’re going to wear regularly and confidently.

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Style Upgrades

A good final question to ask yourself is, “Does this improve my look?”

Some of the best purchases are small, simple things that take your existing wardrobe and make it a little nicer-looking.

A new suit is great. But day to day it’s probably not going to make as much difference as, say, trading your Chuck Taylors for a pair of suede saddle shoes.

Not all style considerations are going to be major. They could be as basic as looking for a new buckle to put on an ordinary brown leather belt. Those little changes are often the biggest bang for your buck in terms of improving your look. Put enough of them together and suddenly you’ve got a “personal style [1]” — without having to buy a whole new wardrobe for hundreds of dollars.

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Conclusion

The three-step style pyramid is deliberately simple.

You’re going to have more choices, more questions, and more decisions to make than this overview gives you. But it’s a good starting point — and, more importantly, it’s a good stopping point.

If something fails one of these three basic tests, you probably don’t want it in your wardrobe. So always ask yourself:

If you’ve got a “no” in there anywhere, skip it. There’ll be better clothes some other day.

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Written By Antonio Centeno
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