If I Could Speak To My Younger Self

January 28, 2013

In my time as a man interested in men’s clothing and style, I’ve made many mistakes, some of them very expensive. If I could speak to my younger self, I would give the following advice. Note, I don’t pretend these are universal truisms, but from my experience building a wardrobe, and seeing others go along the same path, I think these are more often true than not. So, if you’re just starting out, perhaps you will find these useful.

1. Always prioritize quality over quantity. It’s better to have one perfect navy sport coat than five sport jackets that aren’t quite right. Better to have five pairs of truly nice shoes than ten that are mediocre. In the end, many of us will acquire wardrobes that are much bigger than what we need, and only wear 10% of what we have. It’s better to trade quantity for quality.

2. Beware of accessories. Nice things such as sport coats and shoes are expensive, and it’s easy to stave off these purchases by picking up small accessories here and there. If you do, you’ll soon find that you have a hundred ties, but only three sport coats to wear them with. Beware of acquiring too many accessories. It’s better to save your money for things that will make a bigger impact.

3. Beware of sales. Clearance sales can often be false bargains. Psychology Today had a good post about why this is. If given the stark choice, it’s better to purchase things you truly love at full price, than to go for a sale that will only leave you wanting. (That said, shop smartly, as most things go on sale, but don’t buy something just because of the price).

4. Build a shopping list. Figure out your annual budget for clothes, make a list of what you truly need, and then decide how much you want to spend on each item. This will help you avoid the pitfalls #2 and #3 above, and make sure you’re building a wardrobe, not just a collection of clothes. It also helps discipline you to something I think is truly important: giving a purchase a few months worth of thought before actually pulling out the credit card.

5. Prioritize fit above everything else. By fit I don’t just mean whether something fits you well (shoulder seams end at the shoulders; collars stay on the neck; chest isn’t too big or tight; etc), but also whether the silhouette flatters you. Learn the difference between fit and silhouettes, and pay attention to both. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale, has some trendy stylistic detail, or is made with the finest hand stitching in the world. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, all that means nothing.

6. Pay attention, then ignore, what other men are wearing. One of the best ways to learn how to dress is by paying attention to well-dressed men. At the same time, know that just because something looks great on someone else doesn’t mean it will look great on you. You may not have the same body type or live the same lifestyle. Take inspiration from good places, but also be honest about how something looks on you.

7. Take time to find your sense of style. Feel free to experiment, but do it slowly. A little dabbling here and there is fine, but if you jump in with both feet too quickly, you may find yourself purging what you have in a year or two. Finding your own sense of style will take years of maturity (literally) and a lot of honesty. Give yourself time.

8. Don’t spend too much money in the beginning. “Buy less, buy better” is a good mantra to live by unless you’re just starting out. If you are, buying mid-quality things on sale can be a smart way to experiment here and there, as well as make sure your mistakes won’t be too costly. And yes, mistakes will be made.

9. Dress coherently and simply. There are some men who dress with great success by having thing clash and layering dozens of items on themselves. However, I’ve found less is more, and harmony is better than chaos. Have a message and stick to something simple.

10.  Be patient. If you can’t afford something today, learn how to scrimp, save, and shop slowly. You don’t need that big of a wardrobe anyway, and you certainly don’t need to acquire everything now. Patient, thoughtful wardrobe building will always win out over a hurried, excited shopping. Once you’ve gotten a good handle on your sense of style, imagine the wardrobe you want in five or seven years, and slowly work towards that.

11. Don’t go to grad school. Oh wait, that’s for a different blog. Nevermind. Still, this is a good thing to tell my younger self.