Can you look good in cheap clothes?
Is it possible to look good in cheaper clothes? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look better (in some ways) with better quality ones, or that there aren’t other reasons for choosing them.
This question often comes up when we feature someone looking good, but not wearing the kind of expensive clothing normally featured on PS.
Like reader Mattia for example (above and below) - many of his clothes were relatively cheap, either new or second hand, and he looked great.
It also comes up when readers comment that they’ve bought lots of luxury clothing, but don’t feel they look good. Why does a friend look better, who hasn’t invested in any of this stuff?
The mistake of that latter reader is to think that there is either a necessary or a sufficient relationship between quality and style. There isn’t.
But those that highlight examples of students dressing well make the mistake of jumping to the opposite extreme - suggesting there is no relationship at all.
As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in between. And it’s my job (and joy) to explore those middle grounds.
People look good for lots of reasons, and most of them have nothing to do with clothes.
People are considered to be better looking facially, and to look better physically if they are taller, slimmer or simply healthier. These are highly subjective - personally and culturally - but it’s amazing how often they are confused with clothing under the banner of ‘looking good’.
Confidence is arguably the most important of all, and a bit of charm and looking relaxed also help enormously. Even things like a hair cut, a shave or a tan often make more difference to looking good than clothes do.
This is not to say you necessarily need any of these things to look good. But when everyone is admiring a guy in a simple white T-shirt and jeans, it’s more likely to be for some combination of these reasons, rather than the particular clothes he’s wearing.
Moving down a scale most to least bloody obvious, the next point is fit.
On PS I’ve ranted about the importance of fit for years. It’s why everyone should have their suit altered before they wear it. It’s why bespoke tailoring can be so flattering.
But cheap clothes can still fit very well. That guy in the white T-shirt might look because his T-shirt has a nice taper, and even better if he wore a collared shirt that framed his face.
Maybe he wouldn’t, if he’s as square-jawed as I imagine, but for many guys these things make a difference - and they don’t necessarily cost money.
Often, they end up costing a little. Alterations aren’t free, and the collar that suits you best might not be the one that’s trendy, and so not widely available. But we’re a long way from the expense of hand-sewn seams or superfine cottons.
Actually, perhaps the next point is the most obvious. Most of looking good in clothes is not about quality, but about style.
It’s not craftsmanship, or designers or luxury fibres. It’s about what styles you buy and how you wear them. That’s why the vast majority of writing on menswear is about this, rather than the sewing required in a pair of handmade shoes.
On PS we don’t cover craftsmanship because it’s the most important thing. We cover it because other outlets don’t talk about it enough.
Tradition and fit and quality are underrated, but style is always more important. You can look good in cheap clothes if you know how to put them together. And the corollary is that - sorry, cash-rich but time-poor readers - expensive clothes are no guarantee of looking good.
So. All of this is true. But it doesn’t mean quality clothing isn’t important. Often it can make you look ever better.
Style means you pick the right fabric, cut and lapel for your suit. Being tall, slim and good looking means you great in it. But it will add a definitely noticeable - if not necessarily describable - touch if that suit is made bespoke.
The suit will flow down your torso, from flush collar to rounded chest to sharp skirt. It will look like it’s part of you, in a way that another suit never does. It also adds an air of refinement, even sophistication. In some ways it looks like you know how to dress.
These are all small things, and there is certainly an argument that they’re not worth the time and money required to achieve them. But they are beautiful.
This applies most to smart clothing, but it does apply to casual clothing as well.
A cheap leather jacket always looks cheap, no matter how well it’s designed. You might need to see it alongside a better one the first time to recognise the difference, but from then on it’s obvious. Cheap leather looks like plastic; often it is plastic. It just sits on you. Like a plastic hat.
There is a similar, subtle beauty in other casual menswear: brass that ages naturally; horn buttons that are all naturally different. It’s particularly telling in shoes - indeed, in that profile of Mattia, he spoke of how he could never go back having bought his first pair of ‘proper’ shoes. They were Alden cordovan loafers, and how he appreciated how well they aged.
There’s no need to talk more about this - we cover it day in, day out on PS. But it’s worth giving it its place in this argument.
The last reason to buy quality clothing must be that it has qualities which are for us alone.
My Chapal leather jacket, for example, has an exterior that others might appreciate for its suppleness and patina. But no one sees the heavy cotton-twill lining, or the wadding between that and the leather. Yet that’s what I enjoy most about it - I feel it every time I put it on, and a surprising number of times during the day.
I find a similar appreciation of leather in my Edward Green Cranleigh boots. I don’t know why it’s those boots in particular, but I notice the softness of the lining every time I put them on. It’s often the first cheap thing I feel in a cheaper shoe.
I’m not sure my Real McCoy’s sheep fleece looks that different to a polyester one. But it feels very different when you wear it.
Being an animal product, it moves and softens with you, like a leather jacket more than a synthetic fleece. Same goes for my down vest from them, and the pillow-like compression every time you put it on.
As reader Ramon put it in a recent comment, “We live in an era dominated by the visual, and we tend to forget that dressing is a fuller sensorial experience.” Nicely put Ramon.
There are other examples of pleasures that are just for us. These include an appreciation of the craft - the time and expertise - that went into something. And the emotional connection that often comes from working with an artisan or a small manufacturer.
You know the person that made the clothes, and you might be reminded of them when you wear the clothes, or are asked about them.
I think this relationship between money and style has come up more recently because PS has broadened to include more casual wear.
Money makes more of a difference with smart clothing, because better materials and makes are usually more expensive. That’s not necessarily the case with casual clothing - finer yarn does not make for better jeans.
But quality does still make a difference. You might not want jeans in superfine cotton, but you may want the denim woven slowly, or rope dyed. Both take more time, so they’re more expensive.
I think the important thing throughout all these discussions is just to talk about what we’re getting for our money, and why we might want (or not want) that.
Explain and explore.
Should the reference to the RM fleece link to Rag Parade?
Yes, see image of me wearing it at the bottom. I don’t have any other image I’m afraid
Nice article. Im not to keen on the title though. Seems a little provovative although perhpas thats the point.
On reading I think there’s a difference here between what you may want and what you need. You say some people might want “the denim woven slowly, or rope dyed” which are both more expensive. If we are to believe that this makes them more stylish it would imply that the guy who can afford that extra quality as you put it would therefor be more stylish than the guy who wanted it but couldn’t afford it would be less so. I find this to be categorically untrue. If you have style you will achieve it within your means regardless. Money or cost have nothing to do with it and whilst quality is important to a certain extent i think its easy to put to much emphasis on it. I believe it to be important to the extent where you may choose Unilqo over Asda own brand but beyond that the returns diminish quickly in terms of the style/ quality ratio. Clothes don’t maketh the man etc etc.
When writing however i am considering a person who has natural style. I appreciate these people are possibly in the minority and there are allot of men out there – and i would imagine allot of PS readers – who do not find this comes naturally at which point i can see that basic tasteful clothes could be elevated and therefor perhaps appear more stylish if they are of better quality. I must say though that there appears to be a plethora of men online and on IG who follow the ‘classic menswear’ look and obviously spend a decent amount of money on so called ‘quality clothing’ and appear incredibly self-conscious looking and, dare i say it, not at all stylish in spite of the ‘quality’ of their clothing. I must say i see more evidence online of expensive, or so called quality clothing not helping much.
The title is deliberately a little provocative, yes.
However, I’m not sure you’ve read the article that closely.
My whole point from the start is that you can look great in cheaper clothes.
And then, that the mistake most people make is to leap to extremes, as you do here. I do not say that more expensive things are necessarily more stylish. But nor are they irrelevant. Saying simplistic things like clothes maketh or don’t maketh the man is neither true nor really helpful.
I also make exactly the point you do at the end – that people who are into crafted, and usually therefore more expensive, clothes, often make the mistake of thinking this is enough. When there is no necessary or sufficient connection with style.
Hi Simon, Im sorry my comment annoyed you.I dont feel my position is extreme and i do conceed to some nuiance in my comment. However i also feel that an extreme postition should not be dismissed out of hand as you do. There is nothing wrong with holding a strong view shall we say. My overall impression of the article was one of the importance of quality. My point was to disagree with this slightly. I dont see that as extreme.
Sorry if I sounded annoyed Joey, I wasn’t really. I just felt that most of your points were ones I’d actually made, and wanted to suggest going back to reading them rather than restating them in the comments.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a strong view. By extreme I simply mean one that goes to one extreme or the other on a spectrum of opinion – and is often simplistic as a result.
I do think quality has an importance, but the article is more than just that, which I think is why many of our points overlapped.
Morning all, great article. Very interesting. I must say though a provoative title will always provoke.
True R, I should and do expect provoked responses. My aim is always to stimulate debate – if only because it’s so different to the simple shout of a tweet or Instagram comment.
One thing that’s missing here though simon is that Mattia is YOUNG! He has youth on his side. And, a man in his 20s typically can throw on a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans and look waaaay better than any 40 year old in a bespoke suit. Maybe this isn’t always the case, but youth (and I’d say fit of clothes) is the decider for me
I agree that can be a factor Charles, but I also think it can be exaggerated. It helps a lot when you get older if you keep in shape, and you may decide that you begin to prefer some more traditional or ‘mature’ looks.
But at the same time, when you get older you should have a better idea of what works for you, and what flatters you. I often think age is used as an excuse by guys that haven’t been that interested in clothes, or given much attention to other things like fitness, hair style and so on.
Men are lucky that they can actually look more attractive as they get older – if they have most of the things that you would expect to make someone look good, such as physical fitness, confidence and charm, knowledge, self-awareness. I certainly prefer how I look now – with my baldness, my greying beard, my wrinkles – than I ever did when I was younger.
I have to disagree with Charles here and second your point Simon. In my 20s I had little clue as to what I was wearing and there a photos to prove the madness. I think we live in a society now that is obsessed with youth in many regards, to the detriment of experience. I for one always liked better the “weathered” look a man gets with age including putting on a few pounds.
I second however your point Charles on a 40-year old wearing a bespoke suit dont make him better dressed than the 20 year old in jeans. But that I comes down to personal choices rather than the essence of youth. Most 20-year olds in Sweden today wear jeans and t-shirt, most either too large or too slim, and they seem as out of personal style as I did in my 20s. Many look like walking commercial boards to with designer labels all over the ensemble as well. Sadly, I think few 40 year olds in Sweden wear bespoke suit, simply because we have so few tailors here. If more did, rather then the off the peg slim fit suit, I think things would be quite different. Luckily there is a huge rise here in interest, even outside of Stockholm, so the future looks bright!
I think that’s a fair comment. I was being flippant, and yes, I know now (in my 40s) what suits me and what does not. I did not know this at 20, and like Simon I’m happier with my appearance now that I was then.
But I do think that it’s easier – and less effort – to look good at 20 than at 40. Part of this is style, but part is money, time available to spend on thoughtful pairing, but – the elephant in the room here (if you will pardon the pun) is keeping yourself in shape. Many men really pile on the pounds post 40 (not a value judgement: just want I’ve seen in some of my friends) and others do not. Guess who looks better in whatever they wear?
haha, agree on all accounts! Somehow, when I hit 40, certain things seem to slow down, while others sped up.
I think the expression horses for courses comes in handy here, if I have my English correct. In Sweden we say “don efter person”, meaning you should adapt what you wear after what suits you well. I had a discussion with one of our local menswear outfitters here where he suggested I should wear heavier shoes to better complement my heavy “mid-frame”. I have always gone for slimmer profile shoes, simply because I think that looks better. Interestingly enough, having tried heavier looking shoes (thicker sole etc). I found that he was right. Which may also be the reason why I always preferred boots to oxfords and such. This was particularly apparent when wearing tailored trousers with their wider fit. Denim didnt make that big a difference.
One aspect I came to think of is also adapting for the seasons. Most colleagues and friends I have dress similarly regardless of the season, maybe just with lighter fabrics. When you have a tan, I find it easier to wear shirts open-necked and use stripes and colours for instance, as supposed to the depth of winter when you are pale, where navy and grey creates a better contrast.
Nice point Nicolas, yes. I think that goes to the point above about age as well – this self-knowledge tends to come as you get older.
It would be really interesting to
Have a series of articles on adapting silhouette, etc to different body types. It comes up here and there (like in your piece on shirt collars), but something on general body types and what cuts etc complement them would be great.
Would be interesting also to read some (more) reflections (illustrated with photos taken over the years) of how a person’s style has changed, also what they buy, and how they wear it. I somewhat recall that you’ve already done some of this, but it might be a good connection to this article and jumping off point for new connections.
Thanks, yes I’ve done it a bit though more with things I’ve got wrong from a style point of view. You get it in a nice way in some reader profiles too, though not with old photos – not everyone is happy using those!
In times of plenty, I’ve bought bespoke suits, shoes, shirts, pyjamas and even ties. Only the suits offered anything more than a marginal advantage over cheaper, and sometimes much cheaper, options. On occasion, the cheaper option even turns out to be preferable.
In addition to suits, the other items I’ve been unable to find satisfactory cheap examples of are socks and underpants. Cheap underwear is so depressing, yet strangely, I find cheap shirts extremely satisfying and have come to prefer them to anything from Jermyn street.
Bespoke shoes are lovely but often come with issues, in my experience, which does cast a small shadow over such an indulgent experience. Now I find myself in reduced circumstances, I’ve discovered a seemingly endless supply of old Northampton made shoes on ebay in unworn condition, often for less than £50.
Cheap trousers are problematic, not in terms of cloth or make, but cut. Fortunately, the low rise trouser is falling out of fashion which is making life easier.
My advice for buying cheap clothes well is to avoid mainstream shops where profit is maximised and seek out the odd and unusual. This often takes a lot of time but if you love clothes you won’t mind, too much.
Army surplus is a superb source of very cheap high quality clothing in unused condition and often doesn’t even need to have a martial appearance. I once found two pairs of unworn pale blue linen pyjamas with mother of pearl buttons that were issued to Swedish army officers at some point in the mid twentieth century. The Italian army issue extremely nice quality socks too, I find.
Buying from factory supplier rather than retailer is another great tip. I bought a beautiful submariner jumper this way at a cost of £60 rather than £200ish the people they supply charge.
When you hit cheap clothing gold, the satisfaction derived exceeds that from most of the expensive clothes I’ve ever bought, however fine and lovely they may have been.
Cheap definitely doesn’t always have to mean worse.
Wonderful tips Alex.
I think that is a slightly different point – that cost and quality don’t have to go hand in hand depending on where you shop. For the sake of simplicity here I’m assuming things are being bought not second hand, at normal prices etc etc., and that relationship is closer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get quality if you value it without spending anywhere near as much as others.
Great topic. The best dressed man I have ever known (and I know Ethan Newton) was a superbly dapper Japanese businessman who studied in a class I was teaching. He was always impeccably turned out with something surprising or eye-catching about his outfits, and a great use of colour. True style and true panache. He was an extremely modest man and would never reveal the nature of his business, at least until the class went out for dinner and we all pleaded with him. It turned out he had his own catwalk model agency so was something of a professional in terms of style. I then complimented him on his clothes and asked him where he shopped. He said everything was either Uniqlo or Gap, he never spent serious money on clothes. He didn’t believe in it. Ever since I’ve been convinced that the answer to the question/title of this piece is Yes, but only if you have a true sense of style, and that is extremely rare.
Phil, This is a great example of style – almost regardless of price. Something I wholeheartedly agree with. Thanks for posting it.
Where to begin……
Size, shape, posture and proportion will all have an impact on how you look, no matter what you wear, cheap or expensive.
Taste and style will all have an impact on how you look, no matter the cost of what you wear.
Clothes that fit well will always look better than those that don’t.
So well fitting, cheaper clothes may look better on a “clothes horse” than less well fitting, more expensive clothes.
My favourite polo shirt came from Asda in 1993, the year of my first daughter’s birth. It cost £9.99. Whenever I wear it, even today, it always attracts compliments. I once worked with a guy who wore hugely expensive clothes, but his navy suit with burgundy pinstripes, green and yellow striped shirt and brown/gold paisley tie looked awful.
There can be direction, but no complete answer.
“There can be direction, but no complete answer.” I think this sentence sums it up perfectly.
Great article, Simon! A provocation is exactly the right thing and very refreshing, especially as it keeps the discussion alive and moving forward …
Some cheap products have an excellent cost/quality ratio and style. I have a beatiful pair of Vans in dark blue which fits perfectly with off white Carhartt trousers and oxford shirt from Uniqlo. All the three items have excellent quality and each of them is under 100 euro.
I’m certainly better dressed at 57 than 27. I have found my style…probably a soft Ivy…and have discovered the enjoyment and escapism of style.
Finally discovering brands that fit well does involve time (and shoe leather), but it is certainly worth the effort.
I don’t have a huge wardrobe ,( apart from mum’s knitting), no bespoke, and am quite happy to buy cheaply(provided natural fibre).PS arms me with the skills to intelligent shop.
You can definitely dress smart,cheaply,certainly for casual wear. Although I agree ‘cheap’ can be hugely subjective. I speak as a non suit wearer.
Well written ,I have seen some of the things you have written about , growing up in the suburbs a lot of my peers would engage in fast fashion, buying clothes that looked good without any thought to quality and I will admit I was the same (I am appalled to say I thought a polyester suit that fitted well was brilliant and why would anyone pair more than say a few hundred pounds for a suit? Of course I know the reasons why that is wrong now, Savile row bespoke is on another level and natural fibres such as wool are superior by miles).
But as I started reading fashion blogs yours included,and looking into it more, you realise that quality matters for instance it is better to go for Goodyear welt from a cheaper brand if you can’t afford say Crockett and Jones then it is to buy a pair of designer brogues which are poorly made ( a mistake which I have made).
For many years (in my 20s) I bough cheap clothes (Burtons/Moss brothers etc) due to a lack of finance. When I did move up a bracket what I noticed was
a. Better cut and fit in general
b. Better quality material (just felt better)
c. Better quality texture or pattern
d. Clothes generally wore better (kept colour didn’t become mishapen) and lasted longer.
I think also these improvements gave some confidence.
Having said that you can look good in even cheap clothes – the most obvious example of this for me used to be wearing a tie (in a place where few wore ties) – again my early ties were not expensive but often commented on.
I think this is an important article Simon, especially given the prohibitive price (for me at least) of some of the clothing you cover. I have really enjoyed this progression of PS over the last couple of years – you have made the website more inclusive but without compromising the values if the site.
I suspect that there is a contextual aspect to this issue too though…certain types of clothes are simply too expensive for certain contexts and stand out and vise versa. I am a school teacher and I suspect that I wouldn’t look right in a bespoke suit at work because it would be too expensive for the context, even if I had something like a standard grey sb worsted. Therefore,in that context, very expensive clothes may lack style. Equally, attending an event where everyone is bespoke clothes in a rtw suit on could also make one out of place and ultimately feel (and look) unstylish. In addition, other people at said event may gave a better eye for fit and fabric and see that too! I guess it’s hard for most people to feel confident if they know they are out of place.
That being said, I totally agree with your points about details. As someone who spends much more than my friends in clothes, I do gravitate to things that look fairly normal to the untrained eye, but which have details and textures that I can appreciate on a personal level.
Great point: propriety is paramount. Overdressing can be as bad as underdressing. That said, I don’t think a simple, plain bespoke suit like the SB grey worsted you mention would look out of place on a schoolteacher: you’ll be subtly better dressed than most of your colleagues* but without looking flash or showy, like the quality clothing you mention in your final paragraph.
I couldn’t afford much bespoke when I was a full-time classroom teacher (and wouldn’t have worn bespoke to teach in a science lab anyway!) so I used to buy vintage suits and jackets or from sample sales (although tbh the quality of some of the designer labels is really quite poor) and have them altered (so many men would look so much better if they’d spend a little money, often a fraction of the RRP of their clothes, having them altered)
*Most of your male colleagues anyway: a younger teacher complained to me that it was unfair men had to wear suits and ties while women had much more choice over their working wardrobe. I said that it’s because women could be trusted to dress themselves without turning up to work in tracky bottoms and a moth-eaten Italia ’90 shirt: a glib joke of course but women are generally raised to groom and dress themselves. There’s a lot to say about the gender politics of appearance and dress but this probably isn’t the place, suffice to say, a little more effort on men’s parts would go a long way in terms of appearance, which given that most of us want to look good would surely be no bad thing?
Agree all the way about alterations. I think you’re right that some bespoke suits would work in the classroom. I am now in a place where I have the garments I need from vintage/ebay and other second hand and am slowly saving towards getting my next tailored clothes mtm.
It has taken me a few years to work out that seasonal fabrics in muted colours stand out less in a school than fine wool. I live in a grey flannel suit and a brown check jacket in the winter and in a navy linen suit in the summer – these feel a bit more casual and distract slightly from the feel of a really crisp bespoke suit. I think a high quality worsted might stand out more because of how sharp it would look! School is such an odd environment for dressing because it is business dress but most teachers don’t really invest in their clothes. Many male teachers look quite shabby despite mostly wearing grey and navy suits.
Interesting article, Simon. Once you’ve read it, it couldn’t be more obvious, but it takes skill to bring all those strands together. Nothing to add to the discussion, I’m afraid, but thought it worthy of applause…
Thank you for saying so Ben
Simon, a great article and the subsequent ongoing debate it has generated.
I for one take great pleasure in reading about styles (in PS) and look-books (not an Insta fan though) and trying to recreate at a ‘relatively’ lesser price.
As examples: I’ve included two links below for examples from a well known UK high street brand , with in my opinion long-standing good ethical and sustainability credentials.
Yes, if like Simon one has a great eye for style and detail then you would indeed notice a difference, however most people tend to look around in a more superficial way (not in anyway wrong). Many of the points Simon makes around physical appearance combined with clothes are what create the style impact.
One great point you once made was to put your hand over the face in a picture (not recommended in person!) and see if the look still work.
Thanks again Simon I’ve really enjoyed the article and the debate.
A very interesting article. Thank you.
I find that if you want to look good – fashion magazine style – as a man over 40, you have by far the greatest impact by simply staying fit and slim, followed by a good haircut, and only then by clothing.
However, in my humble opinion, clothing at this age has a more important function than just looking good. It can show taste, which is perceived above all professionally and can thus in turn support professional success. After all, for most men, that is the main reason for a suit, which is not necessarily the most practical of garments.
Young or Old:
Posture – 20%
Smile – 25% – (why do models scowl in fashion shoots? Are they hungry? Oppressed?)
Fitness – 30%
Decent haircut – 10%
Clothing – 15%
This seems to be another rearguard against a permanent strand of PS critique, that the items it covers are too expensive and it is espousing a consumption habit that’s out of reach for many if not most. It’s of course any author’s right to choose whatever topic to focus on, but if your thinking about clothes is so dictated by coverage of the high end that you even have to ask the titular question to this post, some alternative sources and critical thinking would do you good. Of course you can look good in cheap clothes. If you look good, you look good in no clothes or, as any pop culture red carpet event these days prove, horrible and expensive cloths. I’d love to look as good in my bespoke suit than any of those Gap models look in their logo sweatshirts.
Thanks Ben. Genuinely always good to have critique like this.
As you say, we of course only cover one part of the market. Not the more expensive necessarily, but the better made. Up to people what they want to focus on and what they want to buy. I of course also write against over consumption and have covered that in depth here if anyone wants to read and debate about it again.
It may seem obvious that you can look good in cheap clothes, but I personally know there are readers that need reminding of this. And as you point out, of course lots of celebrities and other people with more money than sense too.
The only point I’d take issue with is the one that if you look good, you do so in no clothes. That rather undermines any other point, and the idea of taking any interest in clothes at all.
It’s a cheeky aside, as the motivating discourse to this post is of course about how and not whether one dresses. But if I wrote a blog about looking good rather than dressing well, I’d also of course dedicate as much material to cultivating the body as I would the wardrobe.
This really got me thinking about how in all the years I have been reading PS how have I evolved .
pre-PS days, about 10 years ago, I would only shop sales never paying more then
£30 for Clarkes shoes
£20 for a shirt
£30 for a sweater
£40 for trousers.
Winter coat for £50 max
and a suit ….. no more then £150.
I had no sense of fit and stayed within
greys , navy , blacks for trousers
only black shoes,
white or blue shirts,
Some of these clothes I still have and others I only just got rid of a couple of years ago. I looked after them and they served me well … all be it they were often the wrong size !
In reading and, then more importantly, acting on PS ‘advice’
my shoes collection numbers 20 pairs and include many brown, burgundy and only 2 black pairs.
my shirts are MTM
my trousers are Incotex (now crazy , stupid expensive… I only brought at heavy reduction prices)
I have several jackets from Boglioli , GiGi and Trunk Clothiers
Numerous colourful sweaters from Trunk.
So in summary ….pre-PS I brought cheap , post-PS I paid more (a lot more for shoes!!).
The pre-PS clothes brands have now significantly reduced their quality level and aren’t cheap … they’re actually expensive because they’re throwaway .
The post-PS clothes brands ? … the quality is good and the prices have risen ….alot .
e.g. I could get incotex trousers at SALES for between £75 to 110 . Now I’m lucky if they reduce them to £150.
So how will I move forward ?
Well, now with gas bills biting and inflation soaring, as well as style mistakes made and lessons learnt from experience , I will move forward at a happy middle ground.
I will always pay to get clothes altered … fit is paramount.
I will continue to embrace colour and style.
So now Incotex trousers is silly money and an altered M&S pair of trousers will suffice. No talk of milling, cloths, artisans etc will convince me otherwise.
Shirts ? This could be tricky … I love meeting Simone Abbarchi and the cloths are great but at £150plus a shirt I might have to see what a £50 RTW shirt is like or take my chances with online MTM.
Jackets and suits ? …. Don’t really need any but I’ll keep an eye out for ‘bargains’ and maybe chance online MTM. If desperate it’ll be RTW that is altered by a tailor.
Otherwise, I’ll keep an eye out for sample sales and factory sales.
You have to go through this journey to appreciate cheap and expensive. Neither is good or bad because its cheap or expensive .
Really nice case study, thanks Robin
This comment about “oh you have to spend so much money to look good” comes up in most of the menswear places that I follow. But there’s much more than the price of the items covered to the articles in this site. When I started reading this site I was living in my home country, and I couldn’t afford or even reach even a pocket square of the brands covered here. All of my suits and jackets were hand me downs or cheap second hand, but the information here helped my to start training my eye to see if what I was getting was reasonably timeless in styling, and also possible to adjust to fit me better.
Since then I have been incredibly lucky to be able to move to Europe, and now I can afford to buy some new stuff, but I am still very far from being able to afford or justify 5000 euro suits. My wardrobe is mostly composed of Suitsupply suits, Eton shirts and shoes ranging from Meermin to Crockett and Jones (regular line, not hand grade). I still thrift from time to time and I have been able to find a couple of “treasures”, which would have not been possible to find, or appreciate, without the information covered on this and other sites or YouTube channels that I follow.
Then things like the outfit posts, the rules series and the reader series serve as inspiration for outfits that I put together today with what I have. Or even the series about tailors, even if you are not buying from them you can apply some of that styling and fit info when buying off the rack. I know I did.
All in all I think reading the articles here helped me make more educated choices at every price scale that I have been able to afford, and I am sure I will be also better educated if one day I can go to a bespoke tailor.
So thanks Simon, keep up the amazing work!
Amazing, so nice to hear Dario
One thing that I notice with clothes and prices is also the design. Even in casual (or maybe specially) where there is much more liberty to what to do, I feel (entirely subjectively) that there is a correlation between prices and designs.
In the end, good designers is not an easy skill and would be more in demand, second well thought designs are not easy to come by and require time by the designers, so it is not something that they can do every season in coming with 40 different designs.
Another thing on the design is the material.
The material itself can make something more beautiful (say a fine cashmere nap), but it also limits the designs possible. Polyester won’t drape the same as wool, and so even if one were to cut the same pattern in same color shines etc, the draper won’t be the same, and so affect the design and impression of the garment
It’s a good point Tamaki, and one that’s really hard to communicate often. Money gives designers time and money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what they come up with will be something you like.
Good point Simon on not liking everything
I am quite picky on the designs, and most of the time I don’t like the designs even if I appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes it them. For example, while I find them super interesting, I find I don’t like much of the Real McCoy designs and just some from Coherence. But all of these are usually for quite the niche audience, both for the prices and for the appreciations of the fine details, and will not appeal to everyone, but they will be very special to a few
One important point, is that some cheap clothes might look good on day one but age rather badly over time. For example corrected grain shoes. Furthermore, if such a product is replaced often, is it really cheaper than a higher priced one that lasts longer?
There are also certain category of products where very cheap alternatives never look good, such as leather jackets (as you’ve mentioned Simon) or tailoring (that might use synthetics and glue instead of canvas ). Others like t-shirts, chinos, jeans and some types of knitwear can be produced at relatively low prices without affecting their look too much.
Great article, Simon. I would add that ones definition of cheap or expensive has some weight here. When you look at purchasing quality and style that transcends trends, you have to look at a cost-per-wear perspective. Cheap clothes become really expensive when you must buy 3-4 over the life of the costlier alternative. Insightful, as always….
Can you look good in cheap clothes? Yes
Can you look bad in expensive clothes? Yes
Style; some have it, many don’t.
However the cheap clothes will always look cheap. One can across a range of categories see this in a very obvious way… leaving one with only “but he could have looked better”
I liked this article a lot, because obviously you can look great in cheap clothes and awful in hugely expensive designer suits. At the end, this is just your own talent which will make the difference. Honestly, it is a relief that you cannot buy style (and a guilty pleasure to see some talented modest men much better dressed than many billionaires) but clearly some money can help at some point. Like a better car may give the championship to equivalent drivers…
Maybe, from a more logical point of view, it’s worth remembering that “cheap / expensive” are economic frontend-categories of objects, widely based on availability. “Good looking”, on the other hand, is a fluid empiric effect, based on personalization and situativity. And as an example of malfunction there is a type of menswear-shopkeeper, himself always well and expensive dressed, but without convincing effect. Problem here ist not “trying too hard”, but “getting too low” and the situation of retailing.
One of your best articles of the last time. In my opinion the age body and face play the hugest role. If someone is beautiful its easy to have good style whatever he wears. If he is 160 90kg whatever he wears is secondary cause everyone is seeing a fat guy. That doesnt mean everyone should be a model, but a nice body and a nice face give many more options.
Simon, evidently you should have just named the blog ‘Permanently Attractive’ and only have written one post telling us that if we don’t have a square jaw, thick hair and abs, then we just should buck up and fuck off because we’re never going to be stylish.
What a silly comment to leave Jackson. No I’m not saying that, and I don’t think you think I am either.
Sorry, Simon, I think you totally misunderstood the point of my comment. Perhaps I could have been a lot clearer! I didn’t for a moment think YOU were saying that. It just seemed to me there were a surprising number of people in the comments saying things to the effect of ‘if you are fit/young/attractive’ then you’re halfway there, or lumping style in as a small factor in having style, when compared to how you look otherwise. They struck me as rather obtuse and missing the point of both this article and your entire body of work . I don’t think there’s any debate about whether being good looking is an advantage when it comes to looking good, but it has little to do with being ‘stylish’ in my opinion. How many of the people in your how to dress like series could be considered pretty boys? Few of them, yet they all look great!
Apologies for what read as bared tooth and nasty facetiousness, but it certainly wasn’t aimed at you!
Ah, I do apologise Jackson, I did misunderstand. If you don’t mind though, I still think the point could be put more politely to others please. Thanks a lot.
Western boots on the first photograph – they do look superb, any details about them…?
Details on the post on Mattia here
Look at women; in my country I’d say they buy ~60% of their total clothes expenditure from Zara, which is definitely on the cheap side. A minority manages to look gorgeous with the rest ranging from average to tacky.
There is of course, a big difference between cheaply made clothing, and cheaply priced clothing, I have maybe two dozen Brooks Brothers OCBD and broadcloth shirts. Retail price ranging from 80 -140 USD. I didn’t pay more than about 45 USD for any of them. I bought them on Ebay; pre-owned or new factory seconds with TINY imperfections. Believe me, a 45 dollar pre-owned shirt (laundered and pressed) and a 140 dollar off-the-rack shirt are indistinguishable. We all work hard for our money. Spend it wisely.
Shirts is a good area to save on Michael. The difference in a more expensive shirt is often a finer cotton – which you don’t even want if you don’t want to be smarter/slicker – or a finer make that you might never notice.
Great article! Provocative title appreciated~
The article mentions it but I think it bears repeating:
Just as “craft”, “make”, and “quality” cannot substitute for style, so it is possible to appreciate those things without necessarily caring first and foremost about how you look in them. The knowledge of the skill it took to put a shoe or a shirt together can be pleasing in itself, even if they are not particularly fashionable or stylish. Same with fineness of material, or simply an items rarity.
Personally, my favorite parts of this blog by far are the ones focusing on craft. Reading about how fine things are made, and the myriad ways they are ‘different’ is both interesting and entertaining, and it is coverage not found so easily elsewhere. It makes me see beauty in such items no matter if they are mine or if I see them on others.
Obviously looking good (either for yourself or others) is a big part of clothes but I think fashion and style is always pretty local and context driven. So while I greatly enjoy enjoy those articles as well, how applicable they actually are varies.
One thing I’ve been noticing over the years is that when I go into larger department stores, the cheap clothing is cheaply coloured—the dyes look old and faded.
I don’t have a strong opinion on this, it’s rather something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Because so many high-end manufacturers cultivate an image of age and unchanging tradition, the constant developments in weaving, dying, and heaven knows what other technologies are rarely discussed.
This is the first thing that I noticed when I walk into better men’s stores, but women’s as well: the colours are interesting. I’m open to being call that this has something to do with the lighting, but they look nicer when they get home as well.
(ditto on the comfort and feel, but this is something that is visible).
I agree looking good in an outfit is more about style than quality. You are correct clothes altered to fit properly matter more than wonderful fabrics or sturdy construction. In addition to clothes that fit well and whose lines flatter the wearer, an appearance of health matters a great deal.
Some of my male friends bemoan their lack of success with women yet don’t work out. Even if they’re not overweight, they lack the glowing ruddiness of health. Their movements lack suppleness and strength. When a man works out vigorously and regularly, it shows in his skin, eyes, and carriage. This is true even if he doesn’t have a flat belly or big biceps. Vigorous exercise also makes a person less self conscious about his or her appearance. This is why young girls and adolescents who are really into sports are less likely to have eating disorders.
You touched on how wearing good quality garments makes one feel good. A man who feels good in his clothing is a more confident man. I don’t have to tell you a self-confident man is usually a more attractive man. This is reason enough to choose the best quality one can afford. In addition alterations cost about the same whether they’re on a lower quality garment or higher quality. Might as well spend the money on the better quality version. It’s more environmentally sensitive to buy long lasting things, too.
As a straight woman, I think a lot about what makes a man look good. I don’t mean to say appealing to women should be uppermost in a man’s mind. First a man should make himself happy with himself. Follow blogs like this one, work out regularly and vigorously, eat a reasonably healthy diet, get sleep, wear sunscreen, and exercise your mind. You’ll be the best man you can be and therefore more attractive to everyone in every context, not just in romantic relationships.
As we all know „looking good“ lies in the eye of the beholder.
My older Suit Supply jackets will probably appeal to the same amount of people as my newer Anglo-Italian ones.
But I also dress for myself, to simply feel good and my now more developed taste is guiding me to cuts, styles and fabrics that are not the cheapest. Lack of comfort with slim fit high street brands was one of my main motivations for getting interested in tailoring. This newly found comfort makes me look better to others, I am sure. Not because of how the clothes are looking, but because of how I am acting in them. So quality can bring comfort and comfort can bring style.
On the other hand, from a purely aesthetic viewpoint: my own view on what looks good on me and other people has changed drastically because of what I have learned in recent years. I spot cheap shoes, glued suits and elastic denim from far away. Those are preferences and standards that I can never leave aside again.
P.S.: Instagram etc. play a big role in exaggerating how good cheap cloths may look. Often these images are fake or just cannot get across how clothes look in movement. On IG it is easy for cheap companies to make their stuff look “just as good”. The impressions we consume this way are static and in this medium makers of better quality clothes will naturally always have a hard time portraying how their clothes look and feel in motion and after hours (or years) of wear.
I know that this article is focused on the aesthetics of cheap clothes vs. expensive, but the missing piece is the relationship between clothing cost and cost of labour.
Honestly the reason I spend more is because I want to support better labour standards for garment workers. I’m careful to buy from places with better worker protections and reputations for high skilled tailoring/clothing.
I’m not sure these heuristics (made in China bad, made in Bangladesh bad, made in Italy good, etc.) are always correct. I don’t really have an educated view on the economics arguments re: development through sweatshops. But I do know that I feel better knowing the people who made my garments were paid properly and not horrible mistreated in the process.
Maybe I even look slightly better because I believe that. Here’s hoping, anyway.
Firstly since I have been following you for a looong time (when you and ASW where the only menswear blogs), I am honoured (and flattered) that you quoted me. Second, what you rightly underscore in this article is the notion of quality. Yes! you can look good in cheap clothes (and bad in very expensive clothes) but you always will look, and maybe most importantly, feel better, in clothes that were well made. It takes a bit of money, time and introspection as well. I would argue that time and introspection may be more influential factors than money. While I understand that this level of involvement is not for everyone, I believe that this is exactly why this interest (or passion) is not a self-centered egoistic quest for external validation but can lead, to the contrary to a very stimulating intellectual journey.
Are the frayed legged trousers yours or are they an illustration of cheap clothing that should be avoided? I hope it is the latter. Ridiculous look, and one that should be avoided by even by teen boys, let alone grown men.
I have a couple of made-to-measure suits from Battistoni. Beautiful fabric and construction. I paid upwards of $10,000 for each of them. I also have two Suit Supply suits for a fraction of the cost–probably under $500. (I have a hard time remembering because the price seemed negligible at the time,) I showed them to my tailor–who does impeccable work–and he pronounced the detailing “estimable”. One of the Suit Supply suits is my “go-to” suit, and I believe I look fully as good in it as the Battistoni ones.
My favorite jacket–wool-and-silk and now 35 years old–is from the lower-priced Polo line, Chaps. I expect the equivalent jacket Ralph Lauren jacket would have been twice as expensive. That said, my favorite light-weight jacket, the one I will be wearing when I’m in Paris this July, is linen-and-wood from Brunello Cucinelli. It cost a fortune and is worth every penny.
Apologies: I see now that the frayed trousers are worn by Mattia. Still a bad look.
No worries Thomas, but still try to be polite in saying if something isn’t your style please. Thanks
Great article, Simon! Many more women than men know instinctively that one can look good in cheaper clothes, if they fit and are combined well – the most stylish women I know will consciously pick a jeans from Uniqlo, a blouse from Zara and sneakers from Vans, and make these items look better (and appear more expensive) by upgrading them with a bag from Fendi or a scarf from Hermes. Many men seem to use brands in certain categories or price bands as a ‘guardrail’, whether it is ‘obvious’ luxury or ‘if-you-know-you-know’ classic menswear – I have not seen too many men (including myself) who have the skill and confidence (!) to equally effortlessly combine high- and low.
Absorbing discussion- thank you.
After a working life in international menswear, I am now based in Australia,
The Jil Sander/Uniqlo collaboration has become my favoured clothing. Very well priced- and exemplary cut and make! As good inside the garment as out. Every detail considered. Her cut is subtle, using fabrics of considered quality and drape, way better than many other Designer brands. Current favourites are a navy double face wool shirt /jacket of perfect proportion – and heavy cotton ‘work’ trousers of impeccable and almost bespoke make. And a paper thin blue/purple indigo swing raincoat that travels very well.
There’s a reason why the Zara chain is so very successful – their clothes certainly won’t last for years, but their designers brilliantly demonstrate how chic styling can be combined with low cost materials to produce a garment that looks great and sells at a very reasonable price. Anyone who wants something at low cost for a growing child attending a posh event or any person wanting to look smart on a limited budget won’t go far wrong by starting the hunt in a Zara store.
Very true Russ. Personally I think people that can afford it should buy a little better quality than that, if only from a sustainability and labour practices point of view. But with children’s clothing it’s different.
A mid-way would be to mix and match between one or two quality and expensive signature pieces and utilitarian ensemble. A good pair of polished leather shoes stands out in any modern metropolis, but to top it off with another thousand dollar jeans, shirt and accessories are just a bit over kill.
Combine a few Uniqlo pieces such as their trousers, flannels and knitwear with a signature Ralph Lauren blazer or leather jacket (which lasts forever and grows patina) in Winter months could work wonders.
I’m not sure if you saw it Anthony, but this article on Massimo Dutti goes through what I personally would pay more and less for. I agree in particular that leather is not worth saving money on. But shirts are.
Everyone needs to find their own way through this. Mine has turned and turned again from not being able to spend, to spending too much, to finding it absurd to spend so much, to needing to spend more to appreciate more. I also used to believe that there has to be an either or. You either have quality clothes or uniqlo, while actually as always it’s in the mix.
Sure, the pieces I‘ve had the longest, are mostly ones I bought at high quality and high price – and they are hard to part with. But then again, my favorite trousers are altered uniqlo. If you know what works for you,
you can find it at budget or at Cucinellis. Maybe if you keep on spending a certain amount, and always keep on shopping, it’s best to buy at higher prices so your wardrobe doesn‘t explode, but if you can limit yourself you can also buy smart and save.
One of my default jackets on a cold day is either a Berghaus or Regatta fleece jacket. One of them is starting to look bad, understandably after several years wear.
I may now decide to scale up in quality.
Can you advise on any better makes?
I’m a big guy, 6 foot and a 50″ chest.!!
Pretty disappointing to read some of the things you said here. In two different moments you imply that being tall, skinny and beautiful is an advantage to others and i think it was really unnecessary.
I think this kind of fashion advice forum should aim to motivate everyone to dress well and to feel more confident regardless of their height, weight or any other physical or social and financial characteristics. These kind of subtle notes only serve to perpetuate prejudices, stigmas and shame or low self-esteem of people who are not conventionally beautiful, tall and thin. You yourself are an example of this, that even though you are bald, a characteristic that also suffers from a lot of prejudice, you dress well and that makes you look better and seem more confident. In addition, I felt that the conclusion of the article was that we can be well dressed in cheap clothes, but expensive clothes will make a big difference, even more if we are not tall, thin and beautiful.
Everyone, despite their characteristics, with or without money, can look better and more confident if they have pride on themselves, good care and hygiene, and know how to combine clothes, colors and cuts, and if you have clothes that fits good in you type of body.
That’s the message i think you should pass. As other fashion advisors do.
Thank you Edwin for the feedback.
I certainly didn’t mean to imply that anyone could look good and feel confident with good clothes. The point was that keeping healthy and looking after other aspects of how you look will often make a bigger difference than clothing – from eating well to simply having a good barber. People often seem to forget this in their consumerist tendencies, and think that clothes will be completely transformative.
I think the baldness is a case in point. Not only am I happy with that now, after many years of not being, but I have learned how to take care of myself to make the best of what I have. I’ve never considered myself good looking, but some seem to see me that way.
In regards to the price of clothes, no if you read the piece you will see that I make the particular point that expensive clothes make some difference, in some ways. It’s a nuanced point, but everyone tends to resort to extremes, as your summary does there rather.
You said this: “People are considered to be better looking facially, and to look better physically if they are taller, slimmer or simply healthier.”; and this: “Being tall, slim and good looking means you great in it.”. I was referring particularly to this two things you said because you imply there that someone who is tall, slim and good looking have an advantage in relation to others. And someone who’s not may feel a bit unmotivated by reading it, while you should be doing the exact opposite in my opinion. And that is motivate everyone to dress better, take care of themselves and feel more confident regardless of their physical characteristics.
I like a lot of articles you write, but sometimes i find these kind of old and musty stereotypes in them that i think they are just unnecessary. It’s just that. A small, a fat or a bald man don’t need another remembering that they aren’t the conventional “look good” package, like the implies you did above. They need motivation to dress better, take care of themselves and feel more confident. A lot of men read you, and that small details make a difference.
Best regards, Simon.
You love that “extremes” line eh 😉
It’s so often true! Particularly with online discussion
I wish my coment was read more with a constructive mindset and not being dismissed as extreme. But i feel you do that often here, maybe as a defence mechanism, i understand. My point was just for you to avoid that type of stereotypes, because it’s just unnecessary and may contribute to demean somebody that is reading, when the article should be the exactly opposite. It’s just that. I’m not here trying to attack you or anything. Just trying to raise some awareness to a thing that in my opinion it’s just unnecessary.
Thanks Edwin, I don’t think I dismissed your comment, but I don’t think it was a fair reading of what I said. It is true that people are perceived that way – I’m observing, not endorsing.
It’s also true that anyone can look great in clothes and it can make them feel better about themselves, but that wasn’t the point of the article.
thank you for this post and this fantastic blog! (It feels like so much more than just a blog.) I absolutely agree on the importance of fit, but struggle to improve mine. I grew up in the 90s, had to endure the slim and skin fit pandemic as a young adult and now, in my 30s, I try to develop my own, more adult, masculine and classic style, but am failing.
I have a problem with chinos and jeans in particular. (Sometimes also with knitwear.) Where should they be tight? How long should they be? How should they fit in the crotch and around the buttocks? How do you want it to look with the thighs? Tight? Loose?
It’s absolutely amazing to me that a pair of trousers can be so wide in the legs and the hem and still look as perfect as in your outfits. On me, on the other hand, I feel like everything is too big and kind of sloppy. (Although I suspect I often still wear clothes that are too small.) I suppose it all has a lot to do with proportions. From your point of view, is there a magic rule that always applies or do you just have to develop an eye for it? Where can one learn this? I would love to read your thoughts on this.
It’s a good question. I think a lot of think is developing an eye – seeing what looks good on someone else and trying it on yourself, then learning what you like. Some things, like knowing the leg opening on a pair of trousers, can be helpful, but it’s only a start and of course relative.
If I remember rightly Giorgio Armani said that a man in good physical shape needed little more than a white t shirt, a pair of well fitting jeans and maybe a nice watch.However he thought that all men should make friends with a local tailor who could make alterations to even the cheapest of clothes so that they fitted properly. This, he believed, was the best advice he could give.
Nice, thanks Dave