Paying $80 for a dress shirt?
September 7, 2009 11:40 AM   Subscribe

How little can someone get away with paying for good quality men's dress shirts and pants?

My partner (male) thinks I (female) am being unreasonable, and I'm wondering if I really am being unreasonable. He buys his clothes exclusively from Banana Republic and JCrew. The men's dress shirts (for work) there cost about $80 a piece and that seems ridiculously high to me. That's way out of our budget and I can't imagine that it's better than a $50 dress shirt. Are they really better than dress shirts that can be had for $40 at Loehmann's or elsewhere? I'm guessing BR has a huge markup in prices that they get away with because men aren't much into shopping or pricing around, and have a clothes "cost what they cost" mentality. Bonus points if anyone can say where we can shop for good quality clothes that aren't crazy expensive in the DC area.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Banana Republic clothes are actually quite poorly made, in general. He would be much better served in the money-for-quality sweepstakes by buying discounted clothes that originally sold for more money. Loehmann's is a good source, as are TJ Maxx, Marshall's, etc.

That said, do you guys really micromanage each other's clothing purchases like that? I think that setting a reasonable annual or seasonal clothing budget and then letting each grownup decide how they're going to spend their portion of it is a much saner approach. If your partner wants to buy 3 J. Crew t-shirts instead of 4 Helmut Lang t-shirts from the discount rack at Loehmann's, that should probably be his call.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on September 7, 2009

$80 per dress shirt doesn't seem that expensive to me.

The answer to your question is dependent upon the nature of the work your partner does and its culture. Is it a bank/law firm/consulting firm/lobbying firm? If so, spending $80 on nice dress shirts is not that unusual. You dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

On the other hand, if he works at a place with a more casual culture, then, yeah, perhaps $80 is too high and he should look at cheaper fabrics.
posted by dfriedman at 11:49 AM on September 7, 2009

If he's using his own money and he feels the clothes are worth that much, I don't think it's unreasonable.

However, if you are using money from a joint account then I think there should be some compromise, and an unwillingness to compromise sounds a bit unreasonable. (though compromise could always mean he gets to spend more money on shirts and you get to spend more money on something else)

In the end, if whoever is paying for the clothes feels the price is reasonable, then I'd say it is.
posted by johnstein at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2009

BTW, if you want custom-made shirts for only about $20 more, this company is great.

Disclosure: the founder is an acquaintance and I have bought shirts from him before.
posted by dfriedman at 12:00 PM on September 7, 2009

You're being unreasonable, to the extent that men's workplace wardrobes are smaller, and it makes sense to pay more for better quality, especially in a formal suit-and-tie environment. He's being unreasonable, to the extent that BR / J. Crew really aren't the best examples of getting better quality for the price they charge.

If he wants to spend $80, then Brooks Bros. or even Jos. A. Bank would probably give him more bang for the buck; if he wants bargains, Nordstrom's Rack or TJ Maxx. Or you can look to the "budget upmarket": Charles Tyrwhitt is sorta bargain basement Jermyn Street, $60 plus shipping. Since you're in the DC area, you'll also get roving tailors stopping by to take orders for custom or semi-custom shirts that are made in HK or just across on the Chinese mainland. Raja is ubiquitous, $60 a shirt, and in DC at the end of September.
posted by holgate at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nordstrom Rack has lots of very nice dress shirts for very reasonable prices. I found a shirt there there Nordstrom was selling for $150 for only $40.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2009

$80 for a dress shirt is reasonable. My ties cost more than that.
posted by Zambrano at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2009

$80 is totally on the low end for high-end dress shirts. However, BR shirts are pretty low end. JC makes pretty decent stuff, but as all the other posters say, you could do a lot better for less money. Cheap dress shirts aren't hardly worth your time. They fall apart, lose buttons, and won't take starch worth a damn.
posted by maniactown at 1:07 PM on September 7, 2009

If your husband likes J. Crew and Banana Republic, he should be shopping at their outlet stores. Big-name retailers don't like to sell their shirts too too cheap, so they have sales at the mall, which amount to 70% or 60% of original retail.

At their outlets, I think that paying 40-50% is normal. Rarely, you'll see items at 35% of retail but they'll almost always be 2nds (didn't pass QC inspection), in out-of-the-norm sizes, or some putrid lime green or some crazy print that nobody wanted.

For staples like button downs or khakis, the outlets are a nice way to save some money. However, if you're on a budget, be careful because the cheap prices (and insane hoards of foreign tourists snapping things up) can mean that you spend the same money on more items instead of spending less money total.
posted by zpousman at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2009

The benefit of BR shirts is that they are much, much, much, much better fitting for skinny guys. Even the slim fit versions of shirts you get at Macy's, Loehmann's, TJMaxx, or Brooks Brothers can't compare.

I can't think of a store chain as readily accessible as BR to find "right fitting" shirts for skinny guys, even if the material quality is rather poor (which probably contributes to your fighting, as you have to replace them more often). If you go to Loehmann's, you may find some European cut shirts that fit, but sometimes you won't, which makes it hard to "count on" Loehmann's as a source for dress shirts. I can walk into a BR knowing the color and size I want in a dress shirt with the confidence that I'll walk out with something that fits.
posted by sachinag at 2:01 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

That does seem high considering you can get 3 Brooks Brothers dress shirts for $200. The quality (and style) of J.Crew has gone up tremendously in the past few years but still, I'd opt for a nice BB shirt. Is it the cut that he prefers? BB has got a slim line now.
posted by cazoo at 2:06 PM on September 7, 2009

You have to shop, but you can find Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Gap, J Crew, Eddie Bauer, Cabelas, LL Bean Jos. Bank and lots of other name brands at Goodwill and probably other thrift stores. Most of my husband's shirts are these brands (heavy on the Jos. Banks), for $4.99 per shirt or less. Yeah, it's maybe not mainstream, but it's cheap and there's usually a pretty good selection, even for someone who's 6'2" and skinny. (I buy most of my clothes there, too.) Even if it's not your main source for clothing, it's worth a look every few weeks.
posted by mmw at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2009

Another vote for BB, fitted shirts. The non-iron shirts are a mainstay of my wardrobe. You can get better quality shirts for less money at the more upscale department stores during sales.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2009

FWIW, you can do a mostly custom shirt online at Lands End for $50 or so. The oxford cloth ones are super durable in my experience. That's what I wear every day.

More money than that, and yeah, Brooks Brothers is definitely the way to go.
posted by paanta at 2:38 PM on September 7, 2009

$80 per dress shirt is outrageous when the shirts are coming from Banana Republic and JCrew. $80 per dress shirt is not outrageous when the shirts are coming from Brooks Brothers.

I was going to say almost the exact same thing, including the part about Brooks Brothers. Those are some nice shirts.
posted by dubitable at 3:28 PM on September 7, 2009

Find an outlet store in your area if he wants to keep wearing BR or JCrew. The 75% discounts are closer to the actual "quality" of the shirts. Plus, they might have a BB store, and double win.
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 PM on September 7, 2009

More to the point, there are some big outlets near Hagerstown, Maryland, that I remember having big men's clothing sections and not too big a drive from D.C.
posted by The Whelk at 3:45 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Menswear is regularly more expensive than what women pay. There is less selection and less competition for our dollar. As a data point, my wife never pays more than $50 for a pair of jeans while I've never seen a pair for less than $50. She can buy three outfits for $120 and I'll be lucky to get a pair of pants and a shirt.
posted by furtive at 3:46 PM on September 7, 2009

Ditto mmw's comment re: Goodwill. If you're willing to make an effort pushing through racks there every so often, you can greatly supplement your wardrobe that way for very cheap.
posted by limeonaire at 3:57 PM on September 7, 2009

follow-up from the OP
Thank you all for your great answers. I think I was particularly put off by the idea that BR or JCrew was actually worth $80. I know for women's clothes, I haven't been impressed by the style, fabric or fit (in the last five years at least) for the amount they expect you to pay, but, of course, menswear is different.

If Brooks Brothers is worth the high price and they are quality shirts that will last, then Brooks Brothers it is. Thanks again!
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on September 7, 2009

The big thing about BR is the style and "european" fit. The demographic for BR (and J Crew) is for guys in their 20s-30s. BR dress shirts have more youthful cuts and fabric designs. I'm one of those slim guys who can buy a shirt at BR and have it fit exactly right almost every time. I've had a lot of trouble finding decent inexpensive (<>
There is a range in quality in the BR dress shirts from fairly shoddy to fairly good. You have to be careful about which ones you buy. The better ones are fairly well made - I haven't had any fall apart or lose buttons or pucker at the seams.

Brooks Brothers is for fat old men. The quality is DEFINITELY of a higher standard, but the style is also definitely for older guys. They even have line of shirts called "country club." You didn't indicate your partner's age, but avoid shopping there if he is under 40.

And frankly, I'd rather pay a little bit more for a slightly cheaper made shirt that fits very well, than an expensive shirt that is ill fitting or makes me look old.

The trick with BR is to NEVER buy clothes there at full price. They have very frequent 30% off sales and it's not unusual to find shirts and pants that cost $80-100 at full price for $20-$30 on the sale rack. If you use their card you'll get a lot of coupons and free (minor) tailoring.
posted by kenliu at 7:37 PM on September 7, 2009

$80 for dress shirts from Banana Republic is pretty silly. He should look into tailored shirts if he's going to spend that much. Much better quality and more appropriate for business.
posted by electroboy at 7:34 AM on September 8, 2009

Brooks Brothers is for fat old men.

No, you're wrong. I have a very nice Brooks Brother suit that I wear to fancy occasions and people are always telling me I look quite sharp. I'm pretty sure they are not just humoring me, you can tell, you know? I have had this suit since I was around 30 (I don't remember), so maybe that makes me old, but I'm definitely not fat--I'm relatively slender although muscular, but not fat. The fit is a bit closer than an American style suit, so I believe it's a semi-European cut, but it's still relatively conservative. The suit is also tailored to fit, which makes a huge difference as well.

The quality is very, very high. That goes a long way towards looking nice, however old you are. I have a few BB dress shirts I bought along with the suit, they were $75 on sale at the time, and they are very nice, and very sharp. Sounds like you've never really tried on BB clothes?
posted by dubitable at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2009

All right, I was being a little facetious with my "fat old men" comment; but the point is that BB is very traditionally and conservatively cut, more boxy and wide, and aimed at an older demographic. Conservative and stodgy rather than young and fresh.

I have shopped at BB many times and own a few items of clothing from there, but it's all really loose fitting on me, even with the "correct" size (i.e. correct length). I have tried some of their "slim fit" stuff, but it really is not as "slim" as they make it out to be; it's just more trim than the traditional shirts (I haven't tried the "extra slim", though). And I've never been able to find the slim fit items at a BB outlet. (FWIW, the last suit I bought was from Hugo Boss, which is REALLY slim fitting.)

There's no disputing the high quality at BB, they definitely make nice stuff, and BR does not compare with it. I was just trying to say that BR has a more youthful image, and decent shirts can be found there if you get them on sale (not for $80...way overpriced). Admittedly, BR stuff isn't good for a very formal "suit and tie" environment (lawyers, bankers, etc.), but fine IMO for business casual cubicle-dweller work.
posted by kenliu at 8:59 AM on September 8, 2009

It's not just a trimmer cut, it's color too.

My husband's coloring doesn't go well with traditional dress shirt colors, which is, of course, all you can find at Brooks Bros., despite their admittedly good quality. That's their deal. He's in a job - academia - where sartorial creativity (read: long hair and a lot of black) is fine. He is also skinny. Regular dress shirts look like parachutes on him and the colors make him look wan and washed-out.

So his wardrobe comes from places like Kenneth Cole and BR (even BR is too wide sometimes - Kenneth Cole always seems to nail it). It does mean that his clothes date faster than if he went with trad clothes (an issue I don't think anyone had raised here as yet), but I'd rather he look neat and trim in a black, interesting gray stripe, or (heaven forfend!) vivid jewel-toned button-up shirt than be swimming in a sea of pale blue oxford cloth.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:23 PM on September 8, 2009

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