Men's Summer Wardrobe
April 28, 2006 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me develop my summer wardrobe

I have no summer wardrobe to speak of and am clueless as to how to go about buying one.

Here's the specifics:
-I work in a casual business environment. Most of my coworkers, including management, wear golf shirts and kahkis for summer wear. Nobody wears ties or suits at my work. I'd go with the kahki and golf shirt myself except I hate that look, to be honest.
-I'm a slim 6'2" 180lbs, young (25yo) male.
-I don't care for blousy american cut shirts (slim fit stuff tends to fit reasonably well, however).
-I like reasonably slick looks, my generic winter look is a flat-front black trousers and snazzy shirt (collared; not button down).
-I work in IT so it has to tolerate the occaisional under-desk-crawl.
-My clothing is typically in the $20-40 per item range, I would consider going over that, but would like to keep the price down.

I'm open to just about any suggestions: what items to buy, where to buy them, sources for more info, materials, rules of thumb, etc.

I only know the very basics of fashion (flat front pants, eschew button downs, shoes match belt, etc.) but not much more. I tend to play it safe in my look a bit, I'm far from a fashionista and am not looking for a haute-coutre look, just a solid wardrobe I can mix and match that's reasonably comfortable and won't make me look doofy.

I like european-style looks like Zara, but there isn't one anywhere near here, and am very wary about shopping for cloths online (want to try on before I buy). I'm willing to visit stores anywhere in the general chicagoland area.

One caveat, please don't suggest thrift stores, I already check them periodically but seldom find anything.

Thanks in advance for everyone's input.
posted by 1024x768 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the very basics of fashion (flat front pants, eschew button downs, shoes match belt, etc.)

These may be the basics to a certain male demographic at this point in time, but I assure you they aren't universal.

Look, it's casual. Don't worry about matching a look you hate, just wear what you want, and develop your own personal style (like Zera, whatever that is).
posted by Rash at 9:53 AM on April 28, 2006

Something like this came up earlier this week. Repeating a bit about what I wrote there: Don't necessarily turn off on "polo shirt and chinos" because your coworkers wear ugly golf shirts with cheap pleated chinos. It's not about the kinds of pieces, because there isn't a whole lot of variety -- it's about the pieces themselves. This guy and this guy are both wearing a polo shirt and chinos but the resulting looks don't have very much in common.

I'll also repeat my recommendation for this cheesy book and I'll self-link to my blog post about business-casual philosophy again too for good measure.
posted by mendel at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2006

Thank goodness you're wearing flat front pants! But what's wrong with button downs? Button downs are big these days and while yes, there are very dressy ones, there's also casual ones that look very slick (I'm glad someone besides me still uses that word).

Polo shirts are the antithesis of dressy and nice looking in my opinion.

If you're allowed, try a light weight dark wash denim jean. Boot cut, not relaxed or tapered.

Look for some summer weight sweaters in colors you like. These are often very form fitting and look good on the right person.

Also try a nice t-shirt under a jacket/blazer. You run the risk of looking 'alternative' but if that's your style, go for it. I think it often looks pretty cool.

As for colors, well, white is in this season, but it might not stand up to rummaging around under desks. Go for earthy tones with bold accent colors.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:22 AM on April 28, 2006

I'm not sure what you have in mind by contrasting button-down with collared. Do you mean a button-downed collar vs. the regular (point) collar that accommodates a tie?

In any case, for pants fabric I'd suggest linen. Linen pants are especially comfortable in the summer, much more so than standard cotton. For shirts mostly anything that doesn't use polyester will probably be fine. I like a nice cotton/linen blend when I can find it.

unfortunately, linen is a tad less durable than cotton (this is purely anecdotal) so a lot of hands and knees activity will not be healthy for the clothing. The activity isn't a deal breaker, you'll just have to be a bit more careful than you are when you're wearing Dockers slacks.

As for shopping, your price range is fairly restrictive but you might fine success at a Perry Ellis outlet or at the sale racks of any Macy's.

Button-down collars aren't bad per se, just avoid them with a tie, and remember socks can match the color of your shirt, they can match the color of your tie, they can compliment (but not match) the color of your pants, but for the love of God, they should never match your shoes. When your socks match your shoes, you look like your wearing footy pajamas.
posted by oddman at 10:33 AM on April 28, 2006

the very basics of fashion (flat front pants, eschew button downs, shoes match belt, etc.)

I personally don't follow all of these rules, but this is you we're talking about here, so wear whatever you feel comfortable with in your work environment. I agree that button downs don't look quite as sharp as points.

Try looking at some online catalogs that show men in complete outfits to get an idea what's currently in fashion and what looks good together.

As for where to shop, there are chains that specialize in designer names at steeply slashed prices. I see that Filene's Basement has stores in your area, you can find some fantastic bargains at their stores (at least in the Boston area you can).
posted by justkevin at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2006

For business casual, I think polos (I think you call them golf shirts) and long-sleeve buttoned shirts are about the best you can do. There are nice polos out there that don't look like you got them for free at a company picnic. I've heard Ralph Lauren polos have good, slim fits.

You should be aware that your spring/summer long sleeve button-ups can (and probably should) be different from your fall/winter ones in terms of material and color/pattern. Look for shirts made from thinner, more breathable materials and with lighter, more summery colors like white, blue, green, yellow, violet, and, yes, even pink.

As far as stores, (I'm also a big fan of Zara and wish there were more of them in the US) there's:
- H&M: think of a hip, European Old Navy; because of the styling and lower-quality materials though, their pieces will look dated after a year or two
- Express: decent stuff; it always goes on sale so don't buy anything there full price; 'The Looks' section should give you lots of outfit ideas)
- Sisley (slightly NSFW): there's one in Skokie; great stuff, but about twice your price range
posted by driveler at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2006

(Note: I am not a guy, but I am consulted quite regularly on what a young guy should purchase to wear to work.)

I think that a different but hip look is the use of a sweater or a cardigan over a button-down or a nice crew-neck tee (if you're not restricted to collared shirts). It's also pretty functional, as I find that most office buildings set the A/C in the summer too cold.

A good place to try that isn't as cost-restrictive as Banana Republic, J Crew, etc. might be H&M, if you haven't tried that yet. I know they have a store in Woodfield Mall, as well as one in Geneva Commons (on Randall, the new-ish outdoor mall). There are, of course, a few in Chicago: that I know of, one on Michigan near Water Tower, and one on State across the street from Marshall Fields. There are probably more. The one on State will be worthless to you, as their guys' department is all but nonexistent. Actually, they may have done away with it entirely at this point. H&M has slim fit button-down collared shirts that my boyfriend (who is a few inches taller but about the same build as you) really likes (hint: go for what they call two-ply, as the others are of a pretty crappy quality).
posted by penchant at 10:41 AM on April 28, 2006

I stumbled across this internet-window-shopping and I think every guy needs it for the summer. It's clean, versatile, well fitted and mercerized cotton feels great.
posted by like_neon at 11:00 AM on April 28, 2006

Quick response to a few comments

1) I meant a contrast between button down as opposed to 'point' collars
2) Can't get away with jeans
3) Am interested in linen pants, but literally cannot find any that are work appropriate. I've checked target, H&M, several department and clothing stores in woodfield malls (pretty big reasonably upscale mall for you non-chicagoland folk), et al.
4) For the H&M suggestions, it looks exactly like the kind of place for me, but when I actually try on their cloths I virtually never find may be because they usually have micro-sized men's departments, though.
5) I'm aware the few 'basics' I mentioned are arguable (except for pleated pants, pleated pants are a heresy!!!), they are merely some basic rules of thumb that I personally follow, not bold points of contention :)

Thanks for all your responses so far.
posted by 1024x768 at 11:03 AM on April 28, 2006

My husband hates polos (golf shirts, whatever), too, but has been marginally converted by buying nice khaki pants that fit -- fit being the optimal thing here, and that doesn't just mean the correct waist size and inseam. Fit means the style is appropriate to your frame. If you can be coaxed into a polo shirt, you can look for those that do not have the three-button look (I've seen these at the Gap before), as well as shirts in nice, bright colors or pastels. Old Navy polos don't look all blousy and fluttery on my husband, but he's a little shorter than you. I would still say to give those shirts a try though. They're not horrible, and sometimes it's just too hot to do anything else.

The sale racks at Macy's are usually spectacular. Also, the sales at Macy's are usually really good too. Really, if you don't mind spending time on it, combing the sale racks at mid-to-high-end department stores is a good idea, and if there are things like TJ Maxx or Ross, you can try there as well. Express pants are nice, and you can sometimes actually find nice not-dress, not-khaki mens' pants at the Gap.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:22 AM on April 28, 2006

I'll third (or whatever) the Lacoste recommendation.

Beyond that, you should look at Bill's Khakis for high-end khakis.

Also, look at Allen Edmonds for great (GREAT!) shoes. Hand-made, and last FOREVER — especially if you go to your cobbler and have the heal "tapped" with a dense rubber tap and put a dense rubber sole overlay on the bottoms.
posted by silusGROK at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2006

Since you liked the linen suggestion, almost all of my linen pants come from Perry Ellis outlets.

I suspect that the linen you've been looking at was something like capri pants. Or perhaps they had drawstrings and looked like they are beach wear? In any case, check it, some of the selections are described a drawstring so just skip over those, there are plenty of nice, light pants, with honest to god buttons, that one can wear to the office from his collections.

(Yes, fine, I have a hard-on for Perry. The guy just makes me look good, what can I say. I'm grateful.)
posted by oddman at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2006

Oh, I almost forgor while you are checking out that link take a look at his "sport shirts" tab. Some nice looking polos there.
posted by oddman at 12:36 PM on April 28, 2006

The H&M on Michigan Avenue is three stories. The first floor has a minor men's section, but the middle floor is about half men's, half kid's. That location will probably, therefore, have the widest selection.

Also, Banana Republic has carried some nice khakis and some really nice linen pants in the past.
posted by penchant at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2006

Ok, ok, maybe not all polos are horrid. Any other suggestions for semi-casual shirts I may not have thought of?
posted by 1024x768 at 1:22 PM on April 28, 2006

oddman - Yeah, I've only found drawstring or ridiculously overpocketed cargo-style linen pants. Nothing with clean lines and buttons.
posted by 1024x768 at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2006

H&M is crap, crap, crap. It's cheap, but it will fall apart. I don't find J Crew all that great any more since they seem to be raising their prices considerably for the same mediocre quality.

Go to Filene's. Go often. You'll find stuff worth wearing. I've gotten $200+ Varvatos jeans there for $30. I can easily get Earnest Sewn stuff for <$100.
posted by kcm at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2006

I really like Lands End pants. I find that you can get away with more basic pants, as opposed to shirts, where I think you can really see every dollar you spend. The Lands End dress chinos are really nice, very durable and not too expensive. But I get shirts at Banana Republic, as LE's are too... blah. Also, LL Bean dress chinos are good, basic pants. Buy black, find a snappy shirt somewhere else.
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on April 28, 2006

Oh - I like Kenneth Cole, but I'm about 2-3" taller than you and none of it fits me. But you should be able to get into a large there. If you want to save money, only buy from the sale rack. For shoes, it's Kenneth Cole all the way.
posted by GuyZero at 1:44 PM on April 28, 2006

If you're game, the clothes at Tommy Bahama may suit you.
posted by silusGROK at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2006


1) Snug, fitted button-down dress shirts are your base for building the "business" half of business casual. Get a few in white and light blue colors (with and without pale pinstripes). Every brand has a different shape so go to a department store and try on a bunch to find what works for you. In general, European brands are cut narrower for a better fit. Benetton fits me extremely well but YMMV.

2) Create contrast by layering "casual" items with the dress shirt. Over the dress shirt, you can layer thin sweaters (1 2 3), heavy sweaters (4), hoodies (5), or cardigans as penchant noted (6). Or put a t-shirt under it (7). Or keep it plain on top and layer with casual pants (8). You've already seen a few of these photos combine different "business" and "casual" elements; Outfit 1 had a business shirt under a casual crewneck sweater with brown pants and then the sleeves were rolled up. The presence of the button-down dress shirt alone instantly raises the otherwise casual look to business casual.

2b) Create contrast of texture, pattern, and colors but limit yourself to 1 "flash" item. That means if you've got say a bright lime green sweater, mute everything else: plain white dress shirt underneath the sweater and light khaki pants. Or if you're wearing black pinstripe pants, don't do any more stripes anywhere: wear a black sweater with a button-down shirt, collars exposed. Your outfit can only have one focal point, everything else should be complementary.

3) Rather than trying to limit every item to the $20-$40 range, splurge on a few high-quality expensive items and match it with cheap stuff. For example, get a $100-$120 pair of wool or cotton fitted grey and black pants. Anything you wear with it appreciates in value. That tired-loooking sweater worn with plain khaki pants looks cheap but when worn with wool pants looks incredible. Do the same with a nice suit jacket and some shoes.

4) Shop for the right things in a thrift store. You won't find the perfect button-down shirt or dress pants in there - people don't sell off nice clothes. This is your source for cheap a) "casual" items like sweaters, knit vests, and funky jackets and b) nice clothing with imperfections that can be hidden. In the latter category I come across great dress shirts that are passed over because of a food stain on the chest area. As long as the collars and cuffs are in good condition, I go for it because I'll be hiding everything else with a sweater. Even wrinkled collars are OK under a nice sweater. You already know what to do with the casual stuff.

The great aspect about this system is that when you need to look your best (say a meeting to discuss a raise), you can pull together all your nicest items and come up with an business outfit that looks like a million bucks. The key is building versatility.
posted by junesix at 7:39 PM on April 28, 2006 [4 favorites]

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