How to suit up without going broke?
September 15, 2010 7:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm changing jobs and going from a very casual environment to jacket and tie land. At the moment the only suit I've got that fits is the one I interviewed in, so I'm going to need a week and a half's worth of clothing and I don't want to go broke buying it. I'm looking for recommendations for menswear places in Minneapolis / St. Paul and the southern suburbs, and any tips from folks well accustomed to suiting up on a regular basis.
posted by roue to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't live in Minneapolis, but I like to buy that kind of thing at Brooks Brothers. The quality is pretty good and the prices are reasonable (the suits regularly go on sale). I find that their stuff looks better and lasts longer than the cheaper options. If you really want something inexpensive, I've had ok results from Jos. A Bank, but the quality is noticeably lower and you'll almost surely end up having to replace the items sooner. IMHO, Mens Warehouse and the like are to be avoided. They're ok if you need a suit to wear once every year or two, but if it's something you will be wearing to work every day, I don't think it's a good idea. That's the key thing here -- most cheap suits look acceptable for a short period of time. People who wear suits every day generally need better quality.

Also, don't dry clean too often. Get a clothes brush (Kent makes good ones) and brush your suits. Dry cleaning dramatically shortens the life of clothes.
posted by sharding at 8:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shop used! Thrift stores are usually great for suits and jackets, since they're often cast off in nearly new condition by people who just didn't have enough use for them; pants and shirts by themselves tend to be more worn, but you can sometimes get lucky. Once you have your sizes figured out, eBay is also a surprisingly great, and cheap, place to look for used suits, dress clothes, and ties (you can search for "lot" listings of items like neckties to get a batch in one purchase).
posted by RogerB at 8:07 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, I forgot, if you have Nordstrom Rack, that's another option. It's hit and miss, but they sometimes have really nice stuff for very good prices. Worth checking.

The Ask Andy Forums are a good place to ask about this kind of thing (but be aware that the people there are really into this stuff, so their standards are probably higher than yours will be. But their advice is usually sound.
posted by sharding at 8:09 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I've bought several suits from JC Penny and they have all been great. You can probably also find some deals at Men's Warehouse.

You can probably stretch your wardrobe out by getting a black suit and a dark grey suit and then adding a bunch of different colored shirts and ties. You can probably get by on those two suits alone if you have some good looking dress shirts and well co-ordinated ties. This is especially true if you'll be taking off your jacket once you start doing work.

I usually buy my shirts at Kohls and buy ties that go with them then.

Once you get past this initial crisis, I have heard that it is a good idea to buy two pairs of pants (and alternate pants) for every jacket as your pants will wear faster.
posted by VTX at 8:10 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: First question: suits every day, or jacket and tie? I'm defining a suit here as matching jacket and pants, and jacket and tie to mean you are mixing and matching your jackets, ties, and pants every day. Assuming the latter -- that most days you just need a jacket and tie -- you could do fine at big box men's clothes stores like Jos. A. Banks or Macy's. While I'm a fan of Brooks Brothers, they have moved to the higher end of the market in recent years and aren't as affordable as they once were -- I have a Brooks Brothers outlet in my area and look for bargains there rather than shopping at the retail Brooks Brother's stores.

You could walk into any of these stores, explain what you are doing ("I need a wardrobe and I'm about to buy X") and you'll have the full undivided attention of one of the sales associates who will happily invest an hour or two to get you squared away. If you have an eye for color and patterns, you can certainly pick yourself, or venture into buying used as roger b suggested above. Otherwise, you can just let them help you out, if you want it to be more grranimals style, where you know that everything matches everything else. They do this every day for customers and most of them seem to be competent. There is a little bit of an education here as well -- learning the arcana of men's clothing: the differences between a blucher style shoe and an oxford, or the different collar styles of men's shirts. Getting someone to help you will jump start that process.

The idea here would be to build a foundational wardrobe of something like two sports jackets, a half dozen shirts, a couple of ties, a couple of belts, maybe three pairs of slacks, and a couple of pairs of shoes. To give one example, a very classic look is a navy blue blazer, a white or blue button down shirt, a regimental tie (diagonal stripes), gray slacks, a pair of loafers. From there you can build a lot of variations by changing just one thing. That approach could get you by for a year and would be a starting point to then make some individual purchases as you go and get a better feel for your environment and your own tastes in formal clothing.

If you went the Jos. A. Banks route/Macy's route, the first thing I would tell you is that they always have sales going on, so you should never pay retail. Most of the deals are structured as two-for-one or second-for-half-off. The second thing would be for budgeting purposes to pay something like $100-$250 for a sports coat, $30-$60 for a shirt, $30-$50 for a tie, $30-$50 for a belt, $50-$100 for a pair of slacks, and $60-$150 for shoes. These are arbitrary price ranges, as it is a continuous spectrum from zero to infinity, but just to give you some kind of starting point if you went shopping tomorrow.

Good luck with the new job!
posted by kovacs at 8:34 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Another vote for taking a gander at Goodwill and Salvation Army. I've found some extremely nice coats and ties--top-quality brands in superb condition--at those places. It's interesting to get compliments on a cashmere blazer and Armani tie, think, "This stuff cost a total of $10."

Basic, decent shirts can be had for good prices at Ross and similar.
posted by ambient2 at 11:31 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Previously. The main caveat to that post is that Nate's closed almost two years ago, else I'd send you there. It was the best place to shop for a suit or two I'd found.

That said, I'd try Heimie's Haberdashery over in St. Paul. Real service, quality stuff, and you can treat yourself to a hot lather shave while you're there. I'd avoid them on Saturday mornings, as they're often doing wedding fittings then.

As Kovacs said, explain to them what you're after, and you'll get a couple hours of undivided attention from one of the sales people. You won't, in my experience, get that in a thrift shop or Penney's, so if you need help in making your selection, and it sounds like you do, I'd suggest starting at a dedicated menswear store and getting a "starter set" that will cover you for a week. Then once you've figured out what you want, hit the thrifts and expand your wardrobe with bargains.

As for breaking the bank, my experience is that if you explain your budget to the sales-person, they'll help you with tips like, "you'll also want this, but we're going to have it on sale next week, so get it when you come in to pick up your tailoring." That's another benefit of shopping higher-end.
posted by DaveP at 3:22 AM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: I will tell you that Mr. Micawber has two suits he has purchased at Target that he looks rather dashing in. He has also found lovely shirts and ties there. No, it's not Brooks Brothers, and it's not his custom-made suit, but when you have to wear this stuff every day not everything can be top of the line. It would at least give you and your budget breathing room.

Try different Targets, some are better for clothes than others.
posted by micawber at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: A slightly different take on the situation:

You are looking to purchase a week and a half's worth of clothes. Apparently you have set aside "x" budget to accomplish this. I might suggest the for that same budget, whatever it is, that you buy half the clothes you are considering, but buy the finest clothes you can manage. Unless you are in an environment where people will judge you for a lack of variety, my experience is that people respond to quality more than they do to quantity.

Truth is, as guys, we have the (perhaps unfair) advantage of nobody really giving a crap what we look like on a daily bases...especially after they get to know you. A few nice things will last much longer than many less-nice things. It will be cheaper in the long run. It will fit superbly and allow you to feel great about how you look. You will always make a great first impression, which in business, can be the most important one. After that, few end up even thinking about what clothes you have on.

Three quality, basic suits. Six nice shirts. Six flexible ties. And very nice shoes. You can add to this over time. But IMO you will be doing yourself a favor by buying less but buying better.
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:27 AM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: Do not, under any circumstances, buy a black suit or short-sleeved dress shirts unless you're a mortician or work at NASA on the Apollo program.

Having three suits on hand works well, and try to stick to navies and greys. Whatever you buy off the rack, take it to a tailor to get it fitted to you just right. It'll cost a bit of extra money but it will be the difference between looking like you belong in the suit and looking like you borrowed one from your dad.

Five or six shirts, try to get a little variety in there but nothing too flashy. Some whites, a blue, maybe a nice glen plaid or something. Throw in some sensible ties (four-in-hand knot is all you'll need to know how to tie) and you're good to go.

And if there's anything you want to spend a lot of money on I would advise you to splurge on shoes. This is what will separate the men from the boys. Crappy square-toed Kenneth Coles will cover your feet, but they're chump shoes. Spend a few hundred bucks on some real leather ones that will stand out and will last for 20 years. It's an investment.

Keep in mind that this is going to be a long process. One doesn't acquire a great wardrobe in one trip to the mall. There will be some trial and error but you'll figure it out.
posted by fso at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: I just saw a Jos. A. Bank ad on tv. The second suit you buy is 50% off, 3rd is 60% off, 4th is 70% off and 5th is 80% off.

I'm not a guy and don't know how their prices compare to other similar stores, but it sounded like a good deal to me if you're in the need for a number of suits.

Congrats on the new job, and good luck!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 6:53 PM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your help. I feel much more confident wading through the options now. Much appreciated.
posted by roue at 3:00 PM on September 27, 2010

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