Dear Simon,

I’ve been reading Permanent Style for many years now, but recently went scurrying back through older posts for advice. Having decided I should go straight to the source, I write to you today.

In the last few months I’ve found a new job and graduated from a 32” to a 36” waist: two pressing reasons to overhaul my entire wardrobe.

I don’t write to ask how I should build a basic wardrobe – you and other bloggers have written a great deal on that subject. I like to think I understand the basics and I’ve kept myself in style these past few years despite living on the minimum wage by rifling the charity and vintage stores.

My problem is a pleasant one: I now have money to spend – though not enough that I can afford to waste it, maybe around £250 a month for a while if I prioritise clothing above life savings – and I don’t really know how.

For example, I recently purchased a navy suit from A Suit that Fits, with whom you were not unimpressed back in 2009. I’m fairly pleased with it, but for around £400, wonder if I would have been better off buying off the peg and having the lovely Vietnamese lady on my road do basic alterations at £10 a pop.

In summary, I’m seeking your opinion on where I can acquire the basics of a new wardrobe at value-for-money given my budget, which I think may be similar to many of your other readers. Any and all advice is appreciated.



Hi Richard,
Lovely to hear you’re building out the wardrobe, slowly but surely.
To address your point about MTM versus RTW first, I think this is largely a question of how much you want to personalise your suit or jacket. While I liked the suit from ASTF, the quality wasn’t great. I could have had one in a better quality from most RTW retailers for the same price. Even though companies like ASTF make their clothes in the Far East, the cost of making one-off pieces means they can never put as much money into quality as Marks & Spencer making several thousand 40Rs.
The other problem with MTM is that the fitting is done by a salesman, not a tailor. So while the potential of MTM is quite large, the result often does not fulfil it. Unless you are an unusual size (eg tall with very long arms), a RTW suit altered by a good tailor will often fit as well as a MTM suit of the same price. And the quality of RTW will usually be better. The only remaining advantage of MTM is that you can pick your material, lining and style. For some, that is significant. For others, they realise Ralph Lauren or Jeremy Hackett are a lot better at designing suits than they are.
My other top tips on building the wardrobe:
Buy cheap shirts and have them altered. The value for money in a TM Lewin shirt, for example, is incredible. Get five for £100, make sure you have the right neck size and sleeve length, and then go to a good tailor and have them altered by putting darts in the back.
Buy decent English shoes and look after them. Brands like Crockett & Jones offer great value for money – but it’s pointless if you don’t look after them. Wear them every other day at most; use shoe trees; give them cream and polish when they look dry; and get them repaired by the manufacturer when they need it.
Buy good quality accessories. Cheap ties look cheap. It’s mostly the cheapness of the silk rather than the construction. Buy classic ties in navy, grey and burgundy/green, slowly but surely, and again look after them. Don’t leave them on the floor. Tuck them away when eating. Learn about stain removal. Given the difference a good tie can make to how you look, it’s pretty good value for money. The biggest problem is getting to the point where you have at least one a day. And you only need one, white linen handkerchief – if you wear one.
I hope that’s helpful Richard. I know it can be a frustratingly slow process to start with, but if you carry on putting a little money in, it will only get easier.
The key to start with may be spending on what people notice: no one will notice you only have two pairs of shoes, but they will if you only have two ties; there isn’t much to the quality of a shirt; and good fit can carry you a long way.

Photo: Luke Carby