What would I buy from Massimo Dutti?
When is it worth buying the best possible quality, and when can you economise?
This, of course, was part of the subject of my book The Finest Menswear in the World, which examined what constitutes ‘quality’ in various categories of clothing.
But what about when you’re not looking at the finest things? When it’s a choice between buying a £100 sweater from the high street, or saving for a £250 Scottish one?
Are you better saving money on underwear and other basics, or are those precisely the things you should be spending on, given you wear them every day?
In order to give concrete, if partial answers to these questions, I thought I’d conduct an experiment. I spent a happy couple of hours wandering around Massimo Dutti on Regent Street, and working out what I would and wouldn’t buy.
I picked Massimo Dutti because while definitely a high-street brand, they have a good classic-menswear aesthetic: brown-suede shoes and stone chinos, blue shirts and navy knitwear.
It’s somewhere I used to shop from when I was starting my career. When I could afford most things in there, but sought out deals on luxury brands whenever I could. I know that applies to a lot of readers today.
Not leather or shoes
Given the ‘Italian Smooth’ aesthetic at Massimo Dutti, it’s no surprise that there is a lot of leather and suede outerwear.
The current range includes black and brown quilted jackets, as well as a suede overshirt with a detachable vest, with prices £269-£299.
Having worked on a few suede and leather products (at Connolly and Cromford) I would avoid these pieces, because I know how much good leather - such as the nappa referred to here - costs.
More importantly, rather like leather shoes, cheaper skins often involve compromises on the integrity of the skin, such as splits rather than full grain. The Massimo Dutti overshirts are soft, but they also lack body - they feel flimsy. This is also often a reason such leather pieces are lined, to cover up the rough suede of the split. Luxury pieces usually aren't.
It is possible to buy quality leather that’s cheaper, but then it will be thicker - a bigger, coarser hide. Which can be great for workwear, for example, but less so for these smooth, chic looks.
Another point worth considering is that, unlike shirts or underwear, you really don’t need many pieces of leather outerwear. Really one or two should be fine, particularly if you’re on a limited budget. I would save up therefore, for something like the Mr P range on Mr Porter, or a heritage maker like Dehen.
That same logic applies to shoes, especially today. As people need fewer dress shoes, it should be a lot easier to invest in quality ones.
Some of the Massimo Dutti shoes are cemented, rather than even Blake stitched or Goodyear, and use split suedes. Plus, they’re £89, and that’s not a lot of money for a leather shoe.
If you only need two or three good leather shoes in life, it’s worth spending on something like Crockett & Jones in the UK, or a Carmina or TLB from Spain.
In some ways this is unfortunate, because the designs of the Massimo Dutti shoes are good - simple and classic, unlike some of the leather jackets, like the sheepskin fronting a polyamide quilt (above).
Yes, shirts and knitwear
The design point is important, because it’s often easier to economise on basics, where the design doesn’t vary that much.
Shirts and knitwear are good examples. You might not like the fit of a navy crewneck, but it’s unlikely you’re going to take strongly against the knit pattern or the ribbing at the neck. They’re going to be pretty standard.
Shirts are a little trickier, because the collar is so important to the look it creates. But if you like the smaller, softer collars that mainstream shirts often have, then this is also somewhere you can economise.
That’s particularly true with casual shirts, because expensive dress shirts tend to use finer and finer cottons, which is not necessarily a look you want, let alone a quality you need.
(Inevitably, all these points are generalisations, but there are some more detailed articles on them around PS - eg here on superfine cottons.)
A roughly similar argument applies to knitwear: if you’re buying less luxurious fabrics, you’re likely missing out on less as regards quality.
So among the knits I looked at and tried at Massimo Dutti, the cottons and then the merino wools seemed the nicest. There are definitely finer versions of both - in terms of material and make - but the difference between this cotton and the most luxurious I have is less.
Cashmere is the tricky one. The demand for cheap cashmere has been so great in recent years that quality has dropped everywhere, often with corners being cut - as we covered in this piece on Uniqlo.
The Massimo Dutti cashmere is more reassuringly priced, at £149 rather than £89 at Uniqlo; and while it’s made in China, it doesn’t have the treated feel the Uniqlo did. But still, I think here you’re better off investing in one or two pieces slowly, and buying lambswool in the interim - which is often very well-priced for the quality and longevity, like £125 at William Crabtree, or £150 from Rubato.
Yes to underwear, no to tailoring
To answer a question posed higher up, I do think underwear is somewhere you can save.
Underwear and socks in finer cottons can certainly be more comfortable. But they can be more fragile too, and despite them being next to the skin, they’re not often the quality piece you notice and appreciate.
Plus, those pieces can get away with a little synthetic fibre in the mix, to add a little stretch (underwear) or a little strength (socks).
I love the Zimmerli underwear I’ve had, but it’s too much to justify regularly (£85 a pair) and so I usually buy Sunspel (£32). Someone on a lower budget could happily buy Massimo Dutti (£15). Like Sunspel, they unfortunately always have the brand name on the waistband now, but at least it’s tone-on-tone.
As to tailoring, I’m sure no one will be surprised that I suggest investing good money here. But certainly, you shouldn’t be buying suits that are fused, or those that have polyamide or polyester in the fabric.
Yes to sneakers, no to jeans
I wouldn’t buy jeans or chinos, because they’re slim, low rise and have 2% elastane. So both quality and design reasons.
With sneakers, the quality of most of the market is so poor, that actually Massimo Dutti looks good. The actual trainers have a cleaner make than Nike, and the clean models that are similar to Common Projects are decent too. There’s even a range that looks a lot like Loro Piana.
I won’t try and cover absolutely everything, but in general synthetic pieces and sports clothing are often good value, because you’re unlikely to need anything actually high performance unless hiking or running.
And I’d put overshirts in the same category as shirts and knitwear - as something that is so simply made that a version in a casual material could work well. Although it would be nice if versions like the one below were more than 65% wool.
I hope this gives some perspective and insight for readers that are constantly trying to work out what they should invest in, and what they should save money on in order to invest.
I also don’t want to appear too harsh on Massimo Dutti. They do a good job of providing good clothing at this price point, and most of the designs are solid - including some evidence of menswear trends, such as mock necks - with a good taste level.
It’s not uncommon for me to walk past their window on Regent Street and take inspiration from a combination of taupe suede and white cotton, or an olive overshirt worn over denim. I couldn’t say the same for a lot of other high-street brands, and that’s why I picked them to look at.
The important thing, I think, is to recognise that difference categories of clothing present different trade-offs. It's not just about how much you have to spend on everything.
There are differences because of what you get at a higher price point, and because of how things fit into your wardrobe. You’re unlikely to need more than a couple of good overcoats - but you’re going to need somewhere reliable to stock up on shirts.
As mentioned, many of these points are quick and simple, as necessitated by a piece this length. If you’d like to talk more about details, please do ask in the comments below.