The only thing I don’t like about being in a big city is the small living space. And the thing I hate most about a small space is having to make painful decisions on my wardrobe. I’ve made Goodwill and my friends a lot more fashionable from the donations I’ve made to squeeze all my clothes into a 3 1/2-foot-wide closet.
(Oh, don’t even think about knocking the puffy shirts I gave up. My mother said I looked great in them.)
But economy has made me a lot wiser than in my suburban days. My wardrobe is leaner but meaner, and even with a small closet I’m still the one who gets teased by my friends and dates as a fancy boy. I thought I’d offer a little primer for guys who want to dress well but don’t have lots of cash or room. By picking quality over quantity, you need less of each.
Get the right equipment: My closet may be slim, but it is tall, so I took advantage of that with a couple of canvas drawers that hang from the rack. I’m able to store all my sweaters and ties there, along with some shirts and shoes. I also have two hooks for my multitude of hats — I wear one almost constantly during the day.
I don’t have one, but another great tool is a space bag to vacuum-seal your suits and sports jackets. It’ll save space and keep your stuff fresh.
Versatility is everything: I can not only mix and match most of my clothes, but also dress them up and down. This is essential for me because I have two distinct looks: Daytime Greg and Nighttime Greg. The second Greg is much dressier than the first.
Here’s an example of my typical outfit progression. The first picture is of me wearing a checked-pattern shirt I picked up from H&M for about $60. I’m wearing it with some casual jeans — OK, so Seven For All Mankind isn’t casual to many, but I got them on sale. This is something I’d typically wear during the day.
The second picture is of me in the same shirt, layered under a $50 sweater from H&M, and paired with a dressier pair of jeans from Rock & Republic. This is my typical lounging-with-drinks outfit. I could also wear just the sweater over a black T-shirt, and it would work just as well for the day.
But let’s say I want to up the ante and go for a fancy dinner with family. In the third picture, I’m wearing the same shirt and sweater, only with a Macy’s brand black tie and jacket — both look sharp and cost me a combined $175 — and some charcoal-grey Hugo Boss pants.
I have several shirt-sweater-tie combinations like that, and they’re suitable for jeans or dress pants. This way, if you have three shirts, three sweaters, a pair of jeans and a pair of dressier pants, you have enough looks to last you two weeks.
Stick to the basics: You don’t need George Clooney’s paycheck to dress like him. If you have the following items, the rest of your closet is just gravy:
- Two white dress shirts — I have one that’s more conservative, and one that’s trendier. Both fit me just right.
- Three casual long-sleeved shirts — Vintage or second-hand stores are great for this kind of stuff. Even if I’m dressing down, I don’t want to look like every other guy. I have two second-hand shirts I picked up at a Haight Street store six years ago, and people still ask me if they’re new.
- Three T-shirts/collared short sleeves — I’ve found some cool ones from my travels out of the country.
- Three dressy shirts — I say dressy, but they’re still fun enough to wear for partying and with jeans. A few of mine are from Ben Sherman and Hugo Boss, and they’ll last me for years.
- One pair of dressy jeans, one pair of casual jeans — If you’ll be wearing these a lot, as I do, it’s worth it to splurge on a higher-quality denim. Just wait for the right sale. Macy’s has ’em all the time.
- A navy-blue or black V-neck sweater — you’ll find lots of shirts and ties to wear under this.
- Three or four other sweaters — A turtleneck is a good one to include in this bunch. The rest should be good enough to wear day or night, and V necks or cardigans add versatility, and a thicker sweater can act as a jacket. I’ve been turning to Banana Republic for some vintage-looking, button-up sweaters lately.
- Charcoal-grey dress pants — I got some great ones from Hugo Boss (as always, look for sales).
- Brown or corduroy pants — So you’re not wearing jeans all the time.
- Khakis — I used to dismiss these as too conservative, but worn the right way they can really stand out in the summer.
- Three ties — Don’t know how to put one on yet? Learn. They’re an underutilized accessory out of the office, and I know I get more attention from girls than I want when I’m wearing one at night. Be sure to vary the colors and fabrics — I’ve got monochrome, knitted and striped. I save space in my closet by folding my ties once and rolling them.
- One suit — Make this suit navy blue, get it tailored and if you have to splurge for higher quality (Italian is the best), splurge. You’ll be wearing it 10 years for everything from job interviews to weddings to funerals, and you can wear the jacket as a blazer for the nightlife. A man dressed in a quality, fitted suit is a man who gets treated better. Don’t forget that.
- Black all-weather coat — There are some good ones out there than can handle bad weather but are dressy enough to wear at night.
- One bolder jacket — This could be leather. I have a checked black-and-white blazer from Ben Sherman that turns heads. (I wear so much Ben Sherman these days, they should be paying me.)
- One reversible belt.
As for shoes, the above video lays out what I have and I how I match them. But really, all you need are brown dress shoes, black dress shoes, a pair of loafers, some sneaker-type shoes you can wear every day, and maybe some boots. That’s it. I can stick one or two pairs of shoes inside those canvas shelves of mine to save space.
Basic doesn’t mean boring: I get my clothes in an array of basic colors and patterns with little redundancy, so I’m able to experiment a lot with a limited selection. I haven’t even had time to wear the outfit you see here, but I came up with it for this post. I’ve got a white shirt, a skinny tie my friend got for me in Hong Kong, brown checked pants and the jacket from my navy-blue suit. I especially like mixing blue and brown — it’s part of what my friend calls the “naughty prep school” style I have — and it’s a rarely seen combo.
As a guideline, I recommend wearing brown shoes over black. They just stand out more (wear black shoes with black pants, of course). And don’t underestimate the effect of some original socks. I wear everything from argyle to orange.
Of course you’ll need room for other things, like shorts, exercise clothes and out-of-season wear. Just buy some containers and stick those under your bed, as I have.
I hope that helps you, and if you live near me, I am willing to extend my coaching services to hooking you up with better clothes — it’s a subject that doesn’t get old for me, and I enjoy shopping for others more than I do for myself.
I think writing all this is lowering my testosterone level, so, I’ll leave you with, um, how about those Celtics?