September 23, 2011

Investing In Your Wardrobe

I wanted to write this piece now because over the last few months I have heard a lot of talk about cutting costs on clothing and shoppers being less willing to spend money on what have been deemed ‘fancy’ clothes. If you come away from this post with one thing, I want it to be that if you invest in quality, far from being a drain on your wallet it will actually pay off in the long run. This is true of many things, not only clothing, and it is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

When you buy a car, would you rather spend $1000 on a 1997 Chevy Cavalier that will probably break down in a year or $6K for a 2008 Honda Civic that will likely last a decade? This is how I think that people should approach clothing purchases. Look at a quality piece as an investment rather than next year’s thrift store donation, and you’ll end up recouping that initial cost in the years of happy wear without needing a replacement. You will also feel better wearing your investment piece because of the higher level of craftsmanship and quality of materials, which translates to more confidence. I strongly believe that confidence is key to having good style—if you don’t think you look good, no one else will.

While it is certainly true that there are clothing lines that charge a premium for little more than their name, the opposite is also true. With few exceptions, when it comes to quality, less is definitely less. Low prices are usually indicative of articles of clothing that are of lower quality, mass-produced, and made of inferior materials. Stores such as JCPenney and Kohl’s primarily stock the kind of clothing that sacrifices style as well as fit and fabric (two of the most important things to consider when buying clothes) for a low price. Check the synthetic-filled labels if you don’t believe me.

On the other hand, brands like H&M and Zara are usually very on trend when it comes to fashion and fit, and their prices are extremely affordable. The problem with these is all about quality. If you’ve ever had something from these stores fall apart after only the 10th wash, you know exactly what I mean. Don’t get me wrong, I find items like this to serve a certain purpose – what I term ‘disposable fashion’ – because they allow me to experiment with new styles and trends without making a long-term commitment to something that I may not wear ever again. They have their place in your wardrobe, but it should be a very specific one.

So why spend $300 on a pair of shoes or $150 for a pair of jeans? In the long term, over the life of your clothing, you will not only be more comfortable but also save money.

Here is an example. Years ago, I bought a pair of shoes, classic cap toe lace-ups, for $70 from Macy’s. Wearing them 2-3 times a week, it was about 8 months before they wore out. Also, since they were lower grade leather, they never really broke in, so that was 8 long months of discomfort. Handmade shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds or Alden are known to last well over a decade (with proper care, of course). I have another pair of shoes that cost about $250, but have lasted me 9 years and are still going strong. 9 years of the $70 shoe would have cost me over $600, not to mention the unquantifiable amount of pain in my feet.

While there are always exceptions and production errors (one of the worst suits I ever bought was by Burberry), generally companies that have a longstanding tradition of quality and craftsmanship are worth the extra money. A $2,000 blazer made by Ermenegildo Zegna, a family-owned company who has been in the textile business for over 100 years, is going to be made of a better fabric, with more thoughtful details, and wear better than a $250 one from the Gap-owned Banana Republic. Now I am not suggesting that everyone go out and drop two grand on a blazer, clearly everyone has a different budget and varying needs, but it is important to figure out what you want from a piece and spend accordingly. If this means saving up for an extra month, just remember that you’ll praise your forethought when you don’t have to re-buy that piece next year. Everything is relative (a Banana Republic jacket will be leaps and bounds better than a Joe by Joseph Abboud piece from JCPenney) so it’s all about finding the best piece for your situation.

Before making a purchase, analyze your budget, the intended type and frequency of use, what aspects of fit and fabric are most important to you and then make an informed decision and buy what is right for you. Just remember to consider investing in your wardrobe as you would invest in a car, a computer, or a mattress. In the long run it will pay off.

Stay stylish,

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