Riding intercity trains, dressed in European grey.
October 7, 2012 6:39 PM   Subscribe

How and where can I shop for neat and tasteful men's clothing while staying within a responsible budget?

Me: male, late 20s, 5′8″, 165 lbs, short skinny torso, longish arms, big head. Most of my weight is in the lower half of my body.

I dress pretty mundanely in cold weather: long-sleeve shirts, knitted vests, sweaters and zip-ups, dark-wash jeans, peacoat and wool scarf in winter. However, I wouldn't mind being just a bit more grown-up, dressier, and more creative with my clothing choices. I also value versatility and work in a very casual environment.

I end up shopping for clothes almost exclusively at the Gap and Banana Republic stores: their sweaters (etc.) come in small and are affordably priced. The downside is that their clothes lose their shape quickly, and their woollen items are very prone to pilling. Also, I end up looking like everyone else who's wearing this year's argyle sweater.

For years, Nordstrom Rack was my secret weapon, but in the last few years they've turned into a more expensive Marshall's. I went this weekend and couldn't find any warm clothes in small, tended to "swim" in whatever clothes I tried on. Pretty much everything was in silly plaid and polka dot patterns or just general teenage fashions (printed tees, waffle thermals, and so on).

Occasional visits to stores selling second-hand clothes reveal piles of jeans and golf shirts, but not much else. I live near a big state school in a not particularly wealthy area, so the selection is naturally limited.

I've looked at discount online retailers like the Sierra Trading Post, but apart from basics like tees, everything seems very expensive. For instance, browsing for men's sweaters, the majority of items are between $175 and $300 in price. I know that MeFi users often recommend paying for quality, but if I bought everything in my wardrobe at $175 an item, I'd go broke. Also, my specific build means that shopping for clothes online has a distinct element of trial and error.

It doesn't help that men's clothing selection at most stores is very limited and does not tend to get discounted as readily or as deeply as women's clothing.
  1. How do I get away from the two stores where I always seem to shop? Which brick-and-mortar retailers, besides Gap brands, should I explore?
  2. What general tips can you offer for shopping for men's clothes with character on a relatively basic budget?
  3. What tips can you offer for clothes shopping in my specific area (northeast DC suburbs and areas reachable by car, including Annapolis and Baltimore)?
  4. Which blogs/sites should I be reading on the topic of "timeless" men's styles for budget-conscious shoppers?
Many thanks.
posted by Nomyte to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: L.L.Bean? They cost a little more, but you get several years use out of them. And their classic style isn't a fad that falls out of favor, so you don't have to discard them when they become un-cool. (My wife would say that they *start* un-cool, but I don't care.)

They should have free shipping, so order several of an item and return the ones that don't fit. Some people who have to pay for shipping will hoard returns until they have a "reason" to return something (damage, flaw, etc.), and then use that pre-pid label on a huge container. But not me: I get free shipping both ways.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jos. A. Bank. They're pretty much the standard for classically tailored men's business and business/casual wear. Quality is about as good as you're likely to get without going bespoke, and they make clothes that actual people can actually wear, i.e., a 5'8" 140lbs guy and a 5'8" 200lbs guy will both be able to buy almost anything they like in a size that fits.

Make no mistake: you will definitely look like a lawyer/banker/golfer if you shop there. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your profession and/or personal taste and style. We're talking attire fit for court, the country club, or a four-star restaurant, but nothing you'd probably want to go clubbing in. If it's conservatively tailored men's clothing you're looking for, they can totally hook you up. If it's the latest fashions... not so much.

About the price: if you just go in there and pay the rack rate you'll go broke pretty quickly. Their suits, for instance, start at $350 and go up to about $1,200, but most are in the $500-850 range, ish. Which isn't actually all that bad for clothing that has the potential to last longer than you fit into it, but it's still a lot of money. The catch is that they're almost always running some ridiculous sale of one kind or another. They tend to run in two varieties. One is a "buy a suit and get two shirts, two pants, and two ties" deal, the other is a "buy one get two free" deal. Equal or lesser value, obviously, and there are exceptions--shoes being the most common one--but if you're going to shop at the store, that's really the only way to do it.

In short: you need to be prepared to drop $500-1,000 at a go, but you wind up with a heck of a lot of very nice clothes for that price, e.g., three suits, or a suit plus two entirely different outfits, etc. Scope it out over a period of a month or two, or sign up for their mailings, to get a feel for the place before you buy.
posted by valkyryn at 7:04 PM on October 7, 2012

Response by poster: Course adjustment: let's shoot below Jos. A. Bank in terms of dressiness. I have zero appropriate opportunities to wear the clothing they sell. IANAL.
posted by Nomyte at 7:23 PM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: I really like Dappered for keeping up to date on who's having a good sale on what.

I've had some OK things from Lands End Canvas, though you should probably wait until they're having sale (which is all the time). I think some of their stuff might even be in some Sears stores?

Word on the street is that Uniqlo is starting an e-commerce site this month; they specialize in slimmer fitting clothes than most normal manufacturers.

J Crew Factory has an online presence now as well.

This is going to sound strange, but there's been some buzz about the new stuff J C Penny has been putting out for men. For serious.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:04 PM on October 7, 2012

Brooks Brothers and also, in small bits, Pendleton. My dude is very into classic American quality items and those are my two main go-to stores.
posted by marylynn at 8:23 PM on October 7, 2012

Nthing Uniqlo. I am so sad it's not in Australia and every time I'm overseas I rejoice in buying their cheap, plain, well-fitting (for skinny dudes like myself) clothes.
posted by smoke at 8:41 PM on October 7, 2012

Response by poster: Until this mythical Uniqlo starts selling clothes by mail, they are only available in New York City.
posted by Nomyte at 9:12 PM on October 7, 2012

You can order clothes from Uniqlo outside NYC through proxy service Suddenlee. See here.
posted by joshuaconner at 11:24 PM on October 7, 2012

Best answer: eBay is also a place to find cheap-ish used clothing since your thrift stores aren't great. If you can figure out what measurements of clothes you need (see this guide to what can and can't be altered by a tailor*) you can often find super deals on really nice stuff on eBay if you're patient. Here is a collection of eBay searches for quality brands of things; filter by your size and then go for it when you find something awesome for a reasonable price***.

Keep it simple, make sure it fits really well and take care of it is pretty much my recipe.

* so, for example, if you're buying a shirt, you'd want to pay attention to the size of the chest and width of the shoulders, knowing everything else can be tailored to fit**
** this is the important part - don't not do this!
*** see also Put This On's eBay shopping guide

posted by joshuaconner at 11:44 PM on October 7, 2012

Response by poster: You can order clothes from Uniqlo outside NYC through proxy service Suddenlee.

I will keep this advice in mind, but shopping at an out-of-town retailer (like Uniqlo) using Suddenlee significantly complicates returns. Online clothes shopping for me has so far involved some trial and error.
posted by Nomyte at 10:21 AM on October 8, 2012

J Crew men's has really nice stuff.

Club Monaco is also stylish and is mostly geared towards slim proportions.

Are you still in the DC area? Definitely try Lost Boys and Commonwealth. They're both menswear boutiques with some nice brands.
posted by barnone at 10:57 AM on October 8, 2012

Have you tried actual Nordstrom stores? They can have some great options, and sometimes have a nice sale going on. At least mark their men's clothing annual sale on your calendar.

And...oddly, Zappos. They have free shipping both ways. Their photos are supremely helpful. They often have videos which are even better, and usually quite a few helpful reviews. They don't yet have a massive selection but so far I've had good luck. Buy a smartwool or ibex wool tshirt there. They're freaking amazing and last forever.
posted by barnone at 11:01 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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