Editorial

Know Who You Are and Buy The Best You Can Afford

I get a lot of pressure from brands and readers alike that I have to try this suit maker, check out those shirts, review that company, take a look at this label, yada yada yada. But these days, almost every Tom, Dick and Watchmaker likes to play the ‘luxury’ card, framing their wares as premium goods for bros who want to look like they’re killing it.

My problem is that I’m neither a “luxury” person nor a person who needs or wants a lot of stuff. When it comes to solicitations that land in my inbox, I understand the confusion. Between the tailored suits, shirts, ties and shoes, I probably present like a luxury person, even though I’m not. But these are hyper-casual times where a shirt with a collar, pants that aren’t denim and shoes that aren’t sneakers are considered “dressing up.”

Contrary to what it might look like, I don’t make a lot of money. And while I lack wealth, I do have some sense of style and taste. And, contrary to the unwritten code that tells thousandaires that they have to stay in their lane, taste is not something exclusive to millionaires and billionaires with more spending power. When it comes to looking nice, men who have a reasonably discerning and educated eye can easily out-finesse overspenders. I’ve been doing it for years.

And it’s not about looking “rich” for me. It’s about looking nice. These days, many billionaires basically dress the same way we dressed for baseball practice after school when we were kids, clinging to their youth with a hoodie/sneaker dress code that flips a petty middle finger to the elegance and sophistication of their fathers and grandfathers. If I wanted to look rich by today’s standards, I’d have a better chance if I wore the same $300 Brunello Cucinelli t-shirts Mark Zuckerberg wears, or the $2,300 Loro Piana zip-ups worn by Damian Lewis in Billions. But I don’t have that impulse, and I actually liked my father. Once I became an adult, I started to understand and appreciate the handsome and simple tailored inspiration of his generation and the ones who came before, and I eventually started to incorporate the same ideas into my own sartorial value system.

With the little money I make, I’ve chosen to avoid overt fashion trends and invest in clothing that flatters and fits well, is reasonably well made, looks good today and will continue to look good for many years to come. This is a code I try to apply with every purchase I make, whether it’s a suit, a shirt, a tie, a t-shirt, jeans, shoes, socks, underwear, my watch… even furniture. Rarely, if ever, has that included designer labels. In fact, I don’t own one garment from a designer label. Not one. (And even if I could afford them, I’m not sure I would buy them. I’m not that kind of peacock.)

The older I get, the simpler my tastes become. I’m less interested in opening a closet bloated with limitless options and spending 20 minutes trying to decide what shirt and tie to wear with what suit and pocket square so I can sparkle. I’m more interested in a clean, simple, tightly edited and carefully considered wardrobe of handsome choices that I don’t have to think about – garments that enable me to go out the door and maneuver through the day with the confidence that I look alright. (And the last thing I want is to look like I put a ton of thought into it. “Effortless” is the goal.) And I’m still working on it. Even my collection of 20 or so neckties can overwhelm me. As the years progress, I’m more interested in something closer to a uniform.

On my limited budget, I have to be careful. My cap for the custom, made-to-measure yet simple suits I wear from Black Lapel is generally around $600, give or take a few. If I could afford it, I’d love to support a local custom tailor or even go to Savile Row (who wouldn’t?), but it’s just not reasonable for me. The tease and the pressure to “go higher” is constant, but I have to be smarter. My beloved solid white and solid blue dress shirts from Kamakura are $79 and I love them. (No other quality shirt with unfused collars and cuffs comes anywhere near their price.) Ties? They come from Chipp Neckwear, General Knot and The Tie Bar. Socks? Gold Toe. And shoes? From Florsheim to Alden, with a couple pairs from J.Crew that have actually held up beautifully.

As for my casual at-home uniform, I’m usually in a slim-washed J.Crew t-shirt and Levi’s 501s or 511s. All very affordable.

In this blogging adventure, as I’ve earned (not bought) more readers and followers, I’ve been approached by numerous brands over the years who’ve offered me free stuff in exchange for exposure to the readers and followers whose trust I’ve worked very hard to retain. Many of these brands are pushing goods that fit well within the luxury price category (a mistake junior PR interns make when they merely glance at my photos and my content without actually reading it). It would be so easy to suck up to this, get some free luxury swag and assume one of those ubiquitous unpaid “ambassadorships” with a brand, while betraying my readers, myself and the whole reason I set up this website. Instead, I just politely decline and thank them for their interest.

While luxury goods can be beautiful and alluring, I like to think I took the red pill when it comes to sartorial stealth and effective living. Rather than being seduced by the idea that luxury goods will offer a premium level of salvation and validation, I’ve done enough homework to learn otherwise. On the foundation of knowing who I am and what I like, I do my research and get the best that I can afford. It’s working pretty well so far.

Further reading:
The Frustrating Truth About Luxury: It Just Looks Sexier
The Luxury Agenda vs. My Agenda: A Clarification




13 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. And your integrity is much appreciated.

    Greetings from Sheffield, England.

    Dan W.

  2. Stephen Lacey Reply

    I too try to find the best possible basics I can afford.This means Sunspel and Jac + Jack crew neck t-shirts, American Giant hoodies, Country Road jeans (Australian label), R M Williams Chelsea boots (an expensive splurge), and MJ Bale suits (another very solid australian label).

  3. Stephen Lacey Reply

    Oh, and I also love Uniqlo grey marle track pants, and Bamboozled socks (Australian brand made from sustainable bamboo and with funky designs similar to Happy Socks). Went out and splurged on a James Perse cotton t shirt the other day. Realised what an idiot I had been paying that much for a t-shirt that probably cost Mr Perse $5 to make. Will be returning it for a refund.

  4. Christopher Fortunato Reply

    You can get designer/vintage on ebay for a lot less and still have it if you wish. I get my Sulka and Countess Mara ties that way. If you treat them well, they will last for years. I still have an old Lacoste windbreaker from the 80s. It’s held up. Thanks for the post, George.

  5. This is classic, needs to be published in every newspaper, magazine–and high school journal–in America.

  6. This is precisely why I follow your content! Your standards of satorial quality and class reflect an inner quality and classiness lost nowadays! Your ability to resist selling out and explotiatibg your readers speaks volumes about your ethics! Miss the YouTube content—how about an apartment tour?

    Could you offer some advice on sport coats? I need to wear one everyday, but feel like the one blue and few grays I have are too few to rotate every day.

    Thanks!

  7. Great writing, as usual. I’d like to ditto what Max (above) says in his first three sentences in the first paragraph.

    In a world that frequently feels like it’s going to hell, your blogposts are a piece of heaven on Earth.

  8. Vijay Chavan Reply

    Hi George, you have talked about a mindset, and have definitely made a point to hit that nerve in all of us (men and women) who sometimes look at a brand without an updated knowledge base. I really liked the way you have presented your thoughts. Thank You. Regards, Vijay B Chavan (India).

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