Dress the 28-year-old grad student.
March 1, 2009 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Where should I be shopping for clothes? 28-year-old straight guy. Long, thin torso; long arms; wide shoulders; ~5'11''; ~165 lbs; USA; East coast/access to NY; athletic and muscled but borderline thin; and a graduate student budget.

Clothing has been the bane of my existence for a very long time. I'll spare you the back story. In any case, I spend most of my time slouched in front of a computer, and I can get away with being an unshaven, sweat-shirted mess. That's both because of the culture here and because I'm relatively good looking.

But, for work, campus, and nightlife, I'd like to look a little bit nicer, even a lot nicer (because I think I could pull it off if I tried), but without looking too stiff, and without looking like I'm trying too hard. I feel like it would make me more comfortable and the people around me more comfortable. I think everything hangs funny on me because of my body shape, but that's probably my problem. (Many people have commented that I look like a sculpture when I'm naked, and that it's totally unapparent with my clothing on. See top again for body description.) Also, most of the people around me are a few years younger, and I don't want to dress too old in order to keep up the rapport. (That being said, I try to date people my age or a little older.)

I hate hipsters, cynicism, sarcasm, angst, and drinking the kool-aid. But irony, post-postmodern [sic] and "meta" anything is welcome in small doses. I want to project a friendly, approachable, effortless, laid-back competence, with a bit of an edgy edge, and I really, really don't want to look like I'm trying too hard or trying to be stylish.

I shave once or twice a week, and I'm hoping I can put stuff together that can handle that look. Can any of the above work a little bit rumpled? When I don't shave, I look edgy or gross, depending on unknown factors. When I do shave I look super-clean-cut and even baby-faced, though with a strong jaw.

(I tend to shop at express men's and banana republic, just to give a sense of where I'm going right now. I pretty much own only t-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans. I'm on a budget, but I'm willing to spend good money on durable clothing that won't go out of style.)

What should I wear? Where should I look for ideas? (What are some good first steps because, clearly, I'm trying too hard and I have an unapproachable ideal in my head--and that's why I default to t-shirts and jeans.)
posted by zeek321 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can get stylish and cheap at H&M (one on Walnut and one on Chestnut, both just east of Rittenhouse) but don't expect it to last for a long time.

Having been in your position (28 y/o, grad student in Philadelphia, looking to up the style quotient), a few things I've noticed:

1. Shoes matter. You could be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but some Campers/etc or stylish boots rather than sneakers will drastically alter your appearance.

2. Fit and style matter. Jeans and t-shirts can project "style maven" rather than "broke-ass grad student", if they're the right kind. Think more American Apparel tailored/slim-fit t's rather than Hanes Beefy T's, and slimmer straight-leg or boot-cut dark-wash jeans rather than your typical relaxed-fit lighter jeans. Fitted t-shirts with cool, stylish designs, rather than ironic slogans, help in the same regard too. You're a slim guy; wear things that fit you rather than things are too baggy (also avoid too tight... there's a time and place for that, and that time and place is when a) you're racing a bicycle or b) you're a go-go dancer in a cage).

3. Outerwear and layers matter. The right piece from Banana Republic or Express or even Gap (I just saw the coolest light jacket there, of all places) will change your entire look. Swap sweatshirts for sweaters, or get sweat-shirty pieces that don't look like like your standard hoodie/track jacket/"COLLEGE" wear.
posted by The Michael The at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: First, where to shop, in order of importance:
1) H&M for everything (jeans, pants, shirts, sweaters). Please note that all H&Ms are NOT created equal. The bigger the store, the better, but even then they vary. For example, the one on 5th Ave in the 40s (Manhattan) has tons of men's suiting, while the one at Herald Sq has tons of casual stuff.
2) Urban Outfitter (often has good sales) especially for pants and jeans, accessories.
3) Old Navy for casual clothes, but not for pants. Their men's jeans and pants are waaaay to loose. Get jeans at H&M.
4) Gap for basic t-shirts, nice-ish pants to go out in.
5) Zara for some nicer clothes, occasionally pricey and is hit or miss.
6) Express for nicer pants, sometimes shirts or sweaters. (In general, Express can be dangerous for the uninitiated as many of their clothes trend toward club-y. A good rule of thumb is to avoid synthetic fabrics, especially their button up shirts that have stretch to them. They look cheesy.)

The absolute first thing is to wear clothes that fit. That means nothing to big, but also nothing too tight (I'm thinking mainly of ripped dudes wearing hair gel and way too tight button-up shirts). Close fitting t-shirts are okay, though. I get the impression you don't have to worry about wearing your clothes too tight and probably go in the other direction.

Specific suggestions:
(A) t-shirts with straight-leg (i.e. not relaxed fit) low-rise jeans (H&M, Urban), a blazer (Gap, H&M), and sneakers (not trainers, but more like Adidas, converse, vans, or something).
(B) slim fit button up shirts (H&M easily have the best selection) untucked with jeans, hoodie or blazer, loose tie optional, sneakers.
(C) For dates or going out, non-jeans– dress pants (H&M, Urban, Express), button up shirt untucked, loose tie optional, maybe some nicer dress shoes, but be careful, because this could backfire if they're not the right shoes.

General suggestions: • starting to dress differently can sometimes be a little uncomfortable, like you're not being yourself. You'll get over it as you develop your personal style. • when you're shopping, try on a lot of stuff, especially at first. A lot of guys hate trying on clothes, but the more you try on, the more you learn what you like and don't like. It helps you avoid getting too narrow of an idea of what you can wear and sometimes you'll find an absolute gem. • thin sweaters are an option anytime you're wearing a button up shirt, but definitely leave the shirt untucked whenever possible. • I like a little punch of color or visual interest. Shirts with paisley all over them aren't the way to go, but if you wear a plain shirt you could wear a sweet tie, or if you're wearing a hoodie or blazer, you could pair it with a bright/graphic tee. Sweaters, ties, and t-shirts are the best place to mix things up, while pants, blazers, shirts should stay basic (at least until you become more comfortable).

I feel like I was born to answer this question. You can convo me if you want more advice or info.
posted by monkeygenius at 8:47 AM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For some reason, H&M has never been in mental universe. (Marketing fail.) I will check them out. Thanks for all the other tips--things seem a little less mysterious, now.
posted by zeek321 at 8:57 AM on March 1, 2009

I hate hipsters, cynicism, sarcasm, angst, and drinking the kool-aid. But irony, post-postmodern [sic] and "meta" anything is welcome in small doses.

That said, my advice is to follow the above posts but also sneak in a vintage article of clothing now and then. For a small dose of hipster irony, wear a single color sweater (the Gap always has these) with a vintage plaid shirt underneath. Jeans and sneakers or dress shoes can finish it up.
posted by hpliferaft at 9:11 AM on March 1, 2009

If you can find it on sale, I've found Benetton to be a great place for skinny guys. European cuts. And this winter, at least in Chicago, they've had like 60% off type of sales.
posted by Sreiny at 9:33 AM on March 1, 2009

If you have access to New York, go to UNIQLO.
posted by limon at 10:03 AM on March 1, 2009

Just came in here to recommend UNIQLO, but limon beat me to it.
posted by saladin at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: Conveniently enough, I have a similar body type - probably less-broad shoulders than you, and a little thinner - and I'm also in Philly. I have no clue about NYC-anything, so I'll be limiting my comments to things I know from Philly or the immediate suburbs (note that I have a car, which gets me to malls you may not have easy access to if you don't.)

For comparison, Express Medium shirts usually fit me precisely, so I buy a lot of stuff from them. I do find their jeans to be usually too baggy (which is weird, given that all their other clothes are closer-fitting), and their dress pants would be great except the pockets go down forever, and give me huge bulges on the fronts of my legs when all I have is a phone in one pocket and a very-thin wallet in the other.

I won't comment much about shoes, because I have somewhat unusually narrow feet that don't fit right into all brands; I tend to end up mostly wearing New Balance and Sketchers (my current go-to for sneakers that aren't 'exotic' but aren't Yet Another Pair of Adidas.)

H&M seems great at first, but in my experience, their clothing construction quality is all over the place, trending toward shitty. I've got a ~1-year-old button-down shirt from them that I don't even wear particularly often and the stitching at one of the sleeves is about to come apart. That said, their stuff is cheap enough that if you don't mind the idea of it not necessarily lasting forever, it's ok, and I've gotten some gems there. I never buy pants from them - not because I don't want to, but because I've never once found a pair my size (usually 32x34). I'll admit I haven't been to the much-larger Center City location much, and should probably stop in at some point.

For jeans, I tend to go with Levi's, for a combination of affordability and the ability to find the type that fits me, then go online and order a couple more pairs sight-unseen because i know what "model number" (514) I wear. There's probably a better jeans option out there in absolute terms, but I can also get Levi's for cheap, which is more than I can say for most good-looking jeans.

The Gap is always worth a check, but just a fast one. I only buy anything maybe 10% of the times I take a quick stroll through, but the few things I get are some of my favorites - I got a blazer there a couple of years ago that's become one of my mainstays. Gap stuff is also quite durable.

Benetton's a new one for me as an idea; there's one in the King of Prussia mall.

I once got a great shirt from Zara as a gift, but since then it's always been a bust. In theory it may work well, as a European thin-guys store.

Department stores often have useful stuff; Macy's house brand of dress shirts fits me pretty well, but they're way too long to wear untucked, so I just have a couple I wear for more "formal" work environments. I've found some other things - Calvin Klein zippered sweaters - that I like, but nothing I'd really call great buys on a limited budget.

Super-echoing the "Try stuff on," because I'm wearing a lot of things these days that I thought weren't quite right, until I made myself try it out and liked the result.

I still don't have a pair of non-jeans pants I'm 100% happy with, for what that's worth.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:34 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: Heh. My body's that type, just a bit scaled up (6', 180). If I buy a standard business shirt off the rack, it looks like I just put on a tent or there's four inches of wrist protruding from the sleeve.

What works for me is finding tall sizes in shirts by neck and sleeve measurement. Lands' End tall, trim-fit shirts fit me. Having a friend who can sew is a huge help on shirts you get other places that balloon out.

If you have an REI nearby they have trousers like Gramiccis and Pranas. Try them, but buy the bulk of your wardrobe at Sierra Trading Post. Pay attention to the name of the style that looks right on you. Some Gramiccis are wide-leg, relaxed (avoid) and others are trim-fitted which are good for me. Once you try either, you will probably stop buying denim jeans.

There is or was a brand at Macy's called Club Room. I have yet to buy anything made by Club Room that wears out, or that flaps at all. They make shirts like piqué polos and corduroy long-sleeved shirts. I have some of these in weekly rotation that are fifteen years old.
posted by jet_silver at 10:37 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: An outlet/store mall can be very helpful if you can find one. The discounts can be remarkable, and if you're just a bit off the most common sizes (i.e. long arms) you can do very well.

I like Polo outlets. If you avoid the more obviously bizzare stuff that tends to turn up at the outlets (unless it catches your fancy, heh) there's a pretty wide range of stuff. They bring Polo, University Club, Polo Sport, RRL and all the other lines under one roof. Outlet prices tend to range from a little below Banana Republic's retail price points to below their sale prices, and stuff on clearance gets super cheap--classic sport coats marked down from $350 + to $120 etc. The styles run the gamut. You can usually find more than you want as long as you avoid popular holidays/vacations etc.

(Ever get up to Woodbury? They've got a bunch of other brand outlets there as well. CK, Puma, Adidas, Banana Republic, Barneys, Saks, Gucci, blah blah blah. Works well for making a big seasonal trip if you like to do things that way.)

If you're trying to define a style for yourself but don't have concrete ideas, I'd recommend scouring your favorite films and TV shows (or even your not favorites if you find them visually appealing. Mute the thing if you have to. TV series often have the added feature of listing brands/designers in the credits--some of which may actually be affordable. ) Find characters you'd like to look like--don't worry about the rest. And don't pick a character whose body/hair/color is too different from your own. Supposedly, this is what fashion magazines are for--but men's lifestyle magazines like GQ and Esquire aren't really fashion magazines and what men's fashion photography there is basically useless for real life in my opinion.

For example, you might take a look at Hugh Laurie's wardrobe on House. I think his frame is on the gangly side. The look is understated, but they do some interesting things with cut, color and graphics (matching t-shirts to suit jackets) to keep him looking 'hip' without being overtly 'hipster.' Although I'd recommend hanging up your suits rather than sleeping in them, and sneakers with trousers is strictly a doctors only thing (or other formal but on your feet professions, I suppose.)

If you do find someone who is a good match for you in body type/hair/face etc. it can also be helpful to follow what they wear IRL for ideas, if you can stand the mags/sites involved in doing so.

There's nothing magical about House, it just came to mind because Laurie's frame seemed similar, and its wardrobe would be a suitably understated and budget friendly model.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:50 AM on March 1, 2009

Response by poster: If I buy a standard business shirt off the rack, it looks like I just put on a tent or there's four inches of wrist protruding from the sleeve.

posted by zeek321 at 10:59 AM on March 1, 2009

daffy's can be worth checking out if you have more time than money
posted by kickback at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: I also think his look on the show goes for a reservedly 'meta' attitude and definitely accommodates the scruffy-faced thing, FWIW. And judging by the fandom around the character, twenty something women seem to find him appealing despite presence of lapels and the lack of Strokes logos or converse.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2009

If you have access to New York, go to UNIQLO.

I like Uniqlo for some stuff, but their sizes are weird and their t-shirts are extremely short. Every time my boyfriend (about your build) has bought a shirt there he's had to retire it after a couple of wears because it looks like a belly shirt. Be sure and try everything on.
posted by monkeygenius at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: Also, being in/near NYC you might seek local advice on made to measure dress shirts, to solve that particular problem--if you really can't find the right combination of collar size and sleeve length off the shelf.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:13 AM on March 1, 2009

Oh, my bad - there's a Benetton at 15th and Walnut too.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:36 AM on March 1, 2009

Oh, my bad - there's a Benetton at 15th and Walnut too.

Nah, that one closed something like a year ago, AFAIK. I was going to suggest Benetton too, but, while there was some great stuff there, there was never enough to justify a trip to, say, KoP.
posted by The Michael The at 1:17 PM on March 1, 2009

Uniqlo! Great Jeans for great price, if you like slim fit.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 4:35 PM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: Seconding shoes. I personally like Tretorn on Prince street.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 4:36 PM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: If you find Benetton fits you well, keep an eye out for Sisley stores. It's the same company with slightly more upscale items. I highly recommend blazers, suits, dress pants, and outerwear from Benetton and Sisley when they have their end-of-the-season 30-70% sales. With outerwear in particular, their Italian styling seems to be 1-2 seasons ahead of the US but still be classy and timeless (as opposed to say Armani which feels club-y trendy).
posted by junesix at 6:53 PM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: For t-shirts, I second the American Apparel suggestion. I haven't found any other manufacturer that understands that tall, thin guys want a shirt that not only tapers at the waist but is also longer than the generic template.
posted by RobinFiveWords at 7:51 PM on March 1, 2009

Does anything at The Buckle appeal to you? This sort of clothing is where I go on non-Express/Banana Republic days.

Along the same lines, try Karmaloop.

Macy's INC collection is pretty stylish.
posted by svolix at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2009

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