Category Archives: Sartorial Advice

Men’s fashion advice.

How to look nice on the cheap (Breaking into Men’s Fashion)

There are times when I’m in my favorite pair of Levi’s and a nerdy / geeky themed t-shirt (right now is one of those times), but other times I feel the situation requires a bit of effort.  Then it’s time to don a suit or spend a few minutes looking at sport coats and trousers.  One of the biggest arguments I get from most men is that they don’t have the money to spend on “nice” clothes.  Poppycock!  Right now I am wearing a pair of Levi’s I purchased new retail with an official Blizzard Hearthstone T-shirt and a pair of New Balance suede walking/jogging shoes.  This outfit cost me about $140.  I can go to my closet right now and put on a pair of slacks, sport coat, tie, tailored shirt, and loafers or oxford shoes that cost me the same or less.  A lot of men loose their mental footing when such a comparison is laid before them.  It’s not impossible or very hard, unless you are a larger sized man.  But I am a larger sized man (48L – 50L coat) and I can assure anybody out there that it is not impossible.  Yes, it can be a little more hard work and if you wait until you have to have a sport coat, you will be forced to pay more, but I’ll come to that in greater detail later.

Getting Started

So, you’re just getting started… Forget everything that your girlfriend has ever pointed out to you at the mall, forget everything every men’s fashion magazine has told you, and forget about price tags.  Ok, your mind is clear now right?  Great.  If you are really interested in saving the most money, also forget about having a complete dapper outfit for under $150 all at once.  It could happen, but you would be lucky.  It’s worth noting right now, that I will not include the price of socks in the budget wardrobe here.  I’m not buying second hand socks and most retail socks at good discount online with shipping are going to be about normal price anyways.  Here’s a very big tip: Do your research.  Research good brands.  No, not current popular brands.  Research older vintage brands.  This is essential when hitting the second hand stores, or estate sales.  Also, research your area for good tailors and cobblers (shoe makers/repairers).  You may find a tailor that’s really good at hemming pants at $5 a pair, but rubbish at anything else.  Take them your pants!  You may find a really good tailor that can slim down a sport coat to a more modern fit for you.  I’ve heard these can be easily found in military towns.  Look far and wide for a good cobbler.  Nice vintage shoes in poor repair could turn into your finest pair of shoes for $10.  You never know.

Second Hand Stores

Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other local sources can be HUGE treasure hunts.  For example, I pulled a $1,200 sport coat made in England for a friend, $5.00.  For myself I picked up a $250 shirt for $4.00.  Individual results may vary.  There are many sites and videos that can teach you how to tell a quality jacket from garbage.  I’m not going into that here.  Just understand that these things are layers all sandwiched together and the more layers or quality of these layers, the better the garment.  Just because the label says Made in USA, doesn’t mean it’s high quality either.  In my town, in my experience, what I’ve seen the most of are size 36R to 44L and everything in between for sport coats.  Suits are a little trickier to get at the chain stores like Goodwill.  This is because the trousers and jackets get separated when they are taken in and may not be displayed together.  Which means that one of them may be purchased separately.  It’s unfortunate.  So, you can sometimes see me reuniting these pieces, even if they aren’t remotely my size.  I just hope that the next guy appreciates it.  Ties are a definite hunt in the second hand stores, as most are polyester.  Don’t even think about picking them up… unless you’re 10 years old.  Later on I’ll have suggestions for getting a great tie.  Pants, trousers, slacks, whatever you call them, second hand stores are my go-to for them.  The most complimented pair of gray slacks I own came from Goodwill and cost me a whopping $7 because I didn’t wait for that particular sale day.  They didn’t even have to be hemmed!  Keep your eyes open and go with a spending limit.  Also, have a second hand buddy in another town.  Have each other’s measurements and what you’re looking for and be a good friend and pick something up for them if you happen across it.  This can definitely expedite the process as now you’re searching through two town or city’s shops.  Be on the lookout for quality shirts, and also see if you have a local tailor that can tailor a shirt to you.  If the shirt is just a little loose, this can be a relatively easy fix.  I mention it because I have seen so many great shirts second hand in great condition.  I’ve even picked up one or two.  Shoes can be tricky.  People must do research on shoes before donating them.  I’ve never personally seen shoes worth $1.00 second hand.  I do wear a larger shoe (12 – 13), but I always look at the general selection.  I’ve heard rumors of great shoe finds though, so it’s always a consideration.  I almost forgot to add belts!  Belts can be a great find here.  They’re usually pretty cheap, but you have to look for that diamond in the rough.  Do some forum searches on how to spot a quality leather belt.  The advantage in store over eBay here is that you can try the belt on.  Most eBay sellers have NO IDEA how to properly measure a belt.  Speaking of eBay…


eBay is where I find most shoes and ties.  Unfortunately this drives up their price.  Those eBay sellers attempt to do a little research.  That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of buying a banged up pair of shoes and have a cobbler repair, refresh, and fumigate them for you.  Good starting brands for shoes are Allen Edmonds, vintage L.L. Bean (for more casual wear), and vintage Johnston & Murphy.  Johnston & Murphy shoes used to be made in one of three countries (America, Italy, and England) and had outstanding quality.  Not so much anymore.  The old styles are so classic.  Don’t be afraid of a vintage J&M shoe.  I also have an Italian made loafer that needed a little love, but wears great.  On to ties.  If you are taller or have a thicker neck, or both, then you should be seeking an extra long tie.  Around 61 to 63 inches long.  One of the most reliable and recognizable brands for longer ties is Brooks Brothers.  There’s no reason you should ever spend more than $20 on a tie.  You can always find Brooks Brothers ties on eBay for under $20, even if you require extra long.  If you’re having trouble finding the right tie, the next section is for you.  Before heading to the specialty stores, I will also admit that I have snagged some pretty great shirts from eBay over the years.  When it comes to eBay hunting for me it’s usually brand hunting Brooks Brothers.  I got a great subtle design that they have currently discontinued.  Be sure the seller has listed the measurements of the garment lying flat so you can do some personal research.

Online Specialty Stores

ModernTailor is a website offering custom tailor shirts.  New customers can take advantage of a classic blue shirt for $19.95.  $19.95 for a tailored shirt!  Great deal!  You can get a department store “one size fits all” for twice that when it’s on sale.  This one is a no brainer if you’re breaking into dressing better.  I have yet to meet a man that those standard size shirts are made for.  I also endorse these guys, I own a few and they look magnificent!

That’s really all I’ve got for online specialty stores for the guys just getting into all this.  There are more and they offer great prices for some of the highest quality, but it starts getting a little more expensive.  We’re trying to keep things under $150 right now and most of the intermediate items start at that.  Don’t let that be scary though.  We’re talking shirts and pants and suits and sport coats that are crafted from the finest materials by the finest people.  They would go toe to toe with the thousand dollar garments at the department stores and knock them out!

Sales!  Seasonal, Annual, Whatnot!

A lot of the big names in fashion, men’s and women’s, have big sales once or twice a year.  Find out when these are, sign up for their emails, and check them out.  You might find that missing piece your looking for.  Brooks Brothers has a traditional Boxing Day (the 26th of December) sale.  It’s pretty decent.  50% off till January with an extra 15% the first two days.  This year I grabbed a pair of lavender Italian socks, an American made belt, and a madras pocket square.  This also marks my first venture into pocket square territory.  (It’s dangerous territory.  If you can’t wear it with confidence, don’t even try.  Oh, and never perfectly match your pocket square to your tie, unless you’re going to Jr. Prom in a rented Tuxedo.  Just don’t.)  Ralph Lauren is also having a pretty decent after-Christmas sale.  There’s a pair of burgundy socks with an embroidered hound I may be ordering, but for a single pair of socks shipping is going to bring the order to $20.  Still a little steep… but embroidered hounds!  Like I said, sign up for their emails and give them a look.  You never know.

Final Breakdown

Okay, so here’s the final breakdown to put things into actual perspective using the retail price of casual clothes like I’m wearing now versus a very smart outfit I could wear out to any place not requiring a “suit”.  All prices rounded up to the next dollar.  Dress breakdown will include shipping per item since some were picked up second hand.  Dress breakdown will include where the items were sourced.


  • New Balance Suede Sneakers: $45
  • Levi’s 505 Rinse: $30
  • Blizzard Hearthstone T-Shirt: $24
  • Shipping Estimate: $30 (assuming I had to get each shipped separately)

Total: $129


  • Vintage J&M loafers: $24 eBay
  • Vintage unknown brand gray slacks: $7 Goodwill
  • Ermenegildo Zegna fitted dark salmon shirt: $4 Goodwill
  • Black XL Tie: $26 TheTieBar
  • Vintage Tweed Parkway Sportcoat: $25 eBay

Total: $86

Your argument about dressing nice being expensive is invalid.

What to Wear? – Green Tweed – Part 7

In the final installment of this series, where I ask the question: What to wear?, I’ll reveal the last few days of my wardrobe choices for February and share what I’ve learned along the way.

What to Wear? (part 7)

February 22nd – 24th

Spring cleaning reared it’s head and I found myself in work pants and t-shirts trapped in the house for a few days.

February 25th
what to wear
Black Sweater Vest with Striped Shirt
what to wear
Chinos with Black shoes

Monday night at the college.  I’m wearing a very planned out outfit here.  With the dramatic temperature changes we’ve been going through, I wanted to be ready for anything.  Not pictured: Scarf and Cap.  Layering is such a good thing.  It makes going from your warm cozy home to the freezing cold to an overheated campus manageable.

February 26th
what to wear
Green Tweed Sport Coat with Argyle Vest and Green Tie
what to wear
Light Brown Slacks with Brown Captoes
what to wear
Detail of the Green Tie

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of sunshine, so the color on the green tweed sport coat is not nearly as handsome as it really is.  Tweed, in my opinion, is one of the most wonderful fabrics a man can wear.  It’s certainly the most interesting.  I wore this particular outfit to a meeting with my Fraternity.

February 27th
what to wear
Navy Cardigan with Yellow Tie

Another night at college.  Let me add, another cold night at college.  This particular Navy Cardigan is 100% Wool and Made in the U.S.A.  Let me reiterate that it is hands down the warmest garment I own.  Pair it with a scarf and a hat and that’s all I need unless it’s raining.  This yellow tie is one of my favorites.  It has a very subtle striping to it in the same color.  It gives it texture and character.  One of the advanced tips for dressing well is to use texture to your advantage.  Texture, when used effectively, will mature your character and elevate your style.

February 28th
blue button-down
Heavy weight blue button-down
Dark Brown Cords
Dark Brown Cords

Nothing particular to write about.  I believe something came up and a Committee Meeting with my Fraternity was rescheduled so the family went out to dinner.

What I’ve learned this month:

I learned a lot this month.  Taking pictures of what you’re going out in (or even staying home in) definitely makes you think a little more about what to wear.  It’s one thing if five classmates are going to see how you dressed that day, but it’s an altogether different thing when it’s posted publicly to the internet and anyone with a connection can see you.

Ok, here we go, here’s a top ten list of what I learned about how I dressed in the month of February, in no particular order:

  1. Khaki Chinos are invaluable, own a couple pairs.
  2. Pair interesting (color or pattern) neckties with otherwise uninteresting combinations.
  3. Tweed is the most subtle way to add color to your ensemble.
  4. Cords (corduroy pants) are almost as invaluable as Chinos, own a couple pairs in different colors.
  5. Cool weather requires an extensive amount of sweaters, sweater vests, and cardigans.
  6. If the weather is cold, and you don’t own a winter-weight suit, then get yourself an overcoat.
  7. If you own a Navy Suit or Blazer or a Gray Suit or Sport Coat (any shade of gray), then you should own a Pink Tie.
  8. The lines between Business Casual and Informal Social are blurry, if they exist at all.
  9. It never hurts to dress a notch or two above what’s expected.
  10. Shoes can be as important as the shirt you’re wearing, so be mindful of both.

This article has brought this series to a close.  I hope I managed to help you answer the all important question: “What to wear?”




What to Wear? – Pink Tie – Part 6

What to Wear? (part 6)

February 19th
what to wear
Medium Gray Suit with Light Blue Button Down and Patterned Pink Necktie
what to wear
Medium Gray Suit with Burgundy Captoe Shoes

Tuesday marked a night with my Fraternity.  The weather turned very cold just before I left.  Which reminds me of a common complaint I hear regarding the wearing of a sport coat or jacket.  “It’s just too hot.”  I assure you, I was very cold.  Perfect weather for a topcoat.  Unfortunately, living in Tennessee doesn’t afford a lot of opportunity for wearing a topcoat.  However, a trench raincoat comes in quite handy.  At least I hope it does since I just purchased one.

Topcoat aside, if I had checked the weather I would have worn a tweed sport coat with a sweater or sweater vest underneath.  I would have changed, but did not want to be late.  These burgundy Captoe shoes are very comfortable and have stayed in great shape the year or so I’ve owned them.  Get your own pair here: Rockport Men’s Editorial Offices Cap Toe Oxford,Burgundy Brush Off,9 M US.

February 20th

Sorry, no pictures for this day.  Fret not, I was only wearing some navy work pants with a t-shirt.  I was quite under the weather Wednesday.

February 21st
what to wear
Blue Button Down with Creamy Tan Sweater Vest
what to wear
Tan Cords with Dark Brown Casual Shoes

Don’t let these sunny pictures deceive you.  It started raining buckets very shortly afterwards.  This marked a very special business meeting.  Since it was a very informal business meeting I didn’t wear a necktie, sport coat or jacket.  I knew it was going to be standard casual, not business casual, and did not want to intimidate anyone present.  That doesn’t mean you can’t look nice though.

(part 1) feat. a casual blue button-down

(part 2) feat. a Navy Cardigan and Power Tie

(part 3) feat. Tan Cords and Brown Casual Shoes

(part 4) feat. a Med. Gray Suit with Floral Tie

(part 5) feat. a Tweed Sport Coat with a Vest and Power Tie

(part 7) feat. a Green Tweed Sport Coat


What to Wear? – Part 5 – Tweed

What to Wear? (part 5)

February 12th
what to wear
Black Slacks with Black Wingtips
what to wear
White Spread Collar Shirt, Red & Black Tie, Black Sweater Vest, and Tweed Sport Coat.

My Fraternity hosted several out of state visitors that night, most of which were dressed in the standard Khaki/Gray Pants with Navy Blazer and conservative necktie.  I was glad to keep things conservative, but still stand out a bit.  This particular Tweed Sport Coat, which I will leave unnamed in this post, will be featured in an upcoming post all about thrifting.  If interested in the necktie, here’s a link to buy your own: 100% Silk Woven Red and Black Striped Tie.

February 13th
Plaid shirt
Blue, Green, & Cream Plaid
Dark Brown Cords
Dark Brown Cords with Dark Brown Casual Shoes

Back to school in the middle of the week.  Nothing much to say here, except that my brown socks finally came in.  I’ve got some pretty long feet so I usually have to order my socks.  The particular pair I’m wearing here are: Gold Toe Men’s Microfiber Fashion 3 Pack,Khaki/Sahara/Brown,10-13 (with the exception that I’m actually wearing the 12-16 size)

February 14th
Flogging Molly at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN
Flogging Molly at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN
what to wear
Black Shirt
what to wear
Tan Cords with Black Square Toe Shoes

An awesome Valentine’s Day with my wife.  My best friend got us tickets to the Valentine’s Day Flogging Molly concert at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN.  We had a blast.  Normally I would be in clothing a little more beer spill resistant, but being Valentine’s Day we went to dinner before hitting the show.

February 15th – February 17th
what to wear
Works Pants and PJ Pants with a T-shirt

This might be a good time to mention that I broke one of my toes on the 11th.  So, Friday through Sunday I took the weekend to relax and catch up on homework.  Being who I am though, I was very ready to set the standards high in class on Monday.

February 18th
what to wear
Blue Shirt with Striped Tie, Cream Sweater, and Navy Cardigan
what to wear
Khaki Chinos with Dark Brown Casual Shoes

After a three day weekend of relaxed dressing, I was very ready to step things up a notch.  Monday has become the day I wear a necktie to college.  I’m hoping to continue the trend throughout the semester.  It was also a very cold and rainy night, so I was very appreciative of all the layers.

Stay with me for another 10 days as we wrap up the month of February.  If this is the first part you’ve read, go back and read them all!

(part 1) feat. a casual blue button-down

(part 2) feat. a Navy Cardigan and Power Tie

(part 3) feat. Tan Cords and Brown Casual Shoes

(part 4) feat. a Med. Gray Suit with Floral Tie

(part 6) feat. a Med. Gray Suit with Pink Tie

(part 7) feat. a Green Tweed Sport Coat

What to Wear? – Part 4 – Floral Tie

What to Wear? (part 4)

February 8th
what to wear
Medium Gray Suit with Floral Necktie
what to wear
Medium Gray Suit with Burgundy Captoe Shoes

Use the second picture of my leg as a proper indication of the jacket’s color.  I took these pictures after dark inside without the aid of natural light.  The particular occasion was a recognition dinner at my Fraternity.  The atmosphere called for a suit, but did not demand a sense of business.  Hence, I made some subtle changes to the standard wearing of a gray business suit to fit with a more social occasion.

  • Burgundy shoes (with matching belt) instead of black.
  • A white shirt instead of the usual blue or subtle pattern.
  • A floral tie instead of a more conservative stripe or solid pattern.

Understanding the impression that small differences can make such as a floral tie versus a conservative stripe will cause you to stand out in a very positive way.  The biggest impact you will see is in job interviews or work presentations.  Presenting yourself in a manner that is well put together can leave a lasting impression on the people you need to impress.

February 9th
What Am I Wearing
Khaki Chinos with Black Square Toe Shoes
What Am I Wearing
Yellow Button Down with Blue Stripes

Heading out to dinner with a friend.  For the casual environment, it really is hard to go wrong with Khaki Chinos.

February 10th
what to wear
Black Work Pants with Black Gym Shoes
what to wear
Green Plaid Shirt

A Sunday of studying and test taking with some good food and good television later that night.

February 11th
what to wear
Blue Shirt with Yellow Necktie and Brown Argyle Vest
what to wear
Light Brown Slacks with Dark Brown Casual Shoes.

Monday night classes.  However, the desired affect was attained.  Upon entering the college I made a great impression on the Director of IT.  For all I know I could be interviewing with him in just a few months time for a job at the college.  Keeping yourself dressed at a level above the rest can pay off unexpectedly.

(part 1) feat. a casual blue button-down

(part 2) feat. a Navy Cardigan and Power Tie

(part 3) feat. Tan Cords and Brown Casual Shoes

(part 5) feat. a Tweed Sport Coat with a Vest and Power Tie

(part 6) feat. a Med. Gray Suit with Pink Tie

(part 7) feat. a Green Tweed Sport Coat