FashionSpite: Dressing well vs. being able to afford rent

While we’re waiting for the forums to relocate to this exciting new server, I’m going to write about clothing again. I only do it like once a month or so. You’ll live.

I wrote a while back about how long it took me to realize the importance of proper fit for clothing. Because I’m kinda dopey about stuff like that. As I’ve been shopping for better apparel over the past year or two, I’ve also come to another realization, one that makes me a little sad: You get what you pay for. Because I’m kinda a cheapskate (and perpetually broke thanks to the cost of supporting two people in San Francisco on a gaming press salary, but never mind that).

It’s easy to look at the price tags on luxury brands and scoff about how ridiculous is that they cost so much. Not that a button-down shirt should be $5 or anything, but a $200 shirt seems pretty excessive, right? Then I came across a Prada shirt at my local consignment shop and tried it on and it all clicked: That sort of thing costs a lot because its quality is so high. The fabric felt buttery soft: Super fine yet incredibly durable. Great stitching. It flowed. It felt fantastic. It probably cost several hundred dollars new.

And therein lay the problem. Once you start paying attention to things like fit and quality, you kind of choke at the prospect of something like Gap or Old Navy, which are kind of cheaply made and tend to be much too large for me even at their smallest sizes. Fast-fashion retailers like H&M tend to sell a better fit, but their clothes are practically made of tissue under the premise that you’ll toss them out at the end of the season and buy a new wardrobe. On the other hand, even if I could afford to drop triple digits on a high-end shirt or trousers, my hearty Midwestern upbringing makes the idea sound like heresy.

And that is why I buy most of my clothing second-hand. I’m fortunate enough to live in a city with a wide array of used clothing options: There’s a high-end consignment shop a block from my office, a more middlebrow chain called Crossroads that tends to be fairly selective and seasonal when it makes its purchases but doesn’t expect you to pay 50 bucks for a previously worn shirt, less discerning shops called Buffalo Exchange and Out of the Closet (where purchases double as a charitable gift to AIDS research), and even Goodwill. I’ve built probably 75% of my wardrobe shopping at these places, and they’ve been good to me. I’ve accumulated a remarkable array of designer and uh, semi-precious label apparel that other people decided they didn’t want any longer. I’m not too proud to wear someone else’s discards if they’ve been well-cared-for — and with nicer clothes, that’s usually more likely. Even when I find something that needs minor alterations, it’s almost always worth it: Dropping $12 on a Calvin Klein shirt or $30 on a Zegna jacket that both need their sleeves taken up for $5 per sleeve beats $60 for a new shirt or $600 for a new jacket… especially since I’d still probably need to have them altered to fit my short mutant body even if I got them new.

“Yeah, great, but all I have around here is Goodwill.” First, I find that unlikely; every town of decent size has a few second-hand shops. Secondly, even Goodwill can yield some nice treasures. I’ve found $90 Thomas Pink shirts for $6 apiece. Today I bought three brand new pair of trousers for $10 each since some random retailer apparently decided to dump a few dozen pair of surplus slacks on my local donation center. You never know. I almost picked up a $12 Armani jacket there, too, but it was just a little too wide in the shoulders. And, after all, proper fit is the whole point. Who cares how cheap your find it if it doesn’t fit?

Turns out that finding the perfect delta between fit and finance is kinda tough. At least I’ve developed a better understanding of why women spend so long shopping: They have to balance those things and the fact that women’s fashion is all over the place and totally unpredictable. Man, we should have written about that for gender and sexuality week.

10 thoughts on “FashionSpite: Dressing well vs. being able to afford rent

  1. Nice to know you still had that midwest upbringing even though we settled in Texas for those many years. And shopping second hand/consignment is not a bad thing. Think of it as one more way to recycle. Your brother shops Goodwill/Council for the Blind even if he doesn’t have the fit issues some of us have.

  2. Speaking of gender and sexuality week, yes I am going to continue nagging you about the vestigial “Hot Girls” link on every page of 1UP. It’s one thing to write about the need to make video game culture inclusive (and I’m so glad you have); it’s another thing to take action, no matter how small, where you can.

  3. Man, good to know you’re not snobbish about these things. I know people that wouldn’t get caught dead in a thrift store, or even buy stuff on sale. It’s… well, kinda sad, actually.

    Even where I live (a town of about 20k), we’ve got a couple of thrift stores and an excellent salvage / closeout store. The last one has yielded some incredibly nice stuff, and for a fraction of what I would have paid in the local clothiers.

    I still don’t dress as snappily as you, though. :)

  4. If you like the general Gap/Old Navy stuff, but find the quality/fit too poor… try J. Crew. More spendy, but I always manage to find plenty of sales – plus, I find their button-downs to be a much better fit.

  5. Consignment shops are great, but I always fret dealing with the “trendy and hip fashionista” behind the counter. Something about their glare when I get to the counter with an armful of goods doesn’t sit well with me.

    Alternatively, when I first started dating my girlfriend she was working at J Crew which meant deep discounts on sale items. Instant wardrobe upgrade at an affordable price.

  6. My problem lies on the opposite end of the spectrum from yours: I have the shape and outlook of the average American (overweight with no expectation to change) and so I guess store stuff is made to fit me, but instead of making me feel better about my weight it gives me the feeling that I don’t know WHAT to buy anymore.

    I have usually heard that H&M (which I know took off in Europe and Canada before even arriving in the US) especially sizes clothes smaller than they are, which I guess aligns with your “they fit okay” summary. It’s a fat country, after all. On the other hand, I have to get almost all of my pants modified because my legs are too short, so I know your pain.

    Is there any hope in the online front? The choices aren’t as great when you live in a suburb hours away from anything other than Wal-Mart and Sears.

    • My problem with sizing isn’t that I’m skinny (I’m pretty average in terms of proportions, bumping right at the government-mandated divide between normal weight and overweight) but that I’m short and have a small build. The best thing you could probably do if you don’t have easy access in person to consignment shops would be to have your measurements taken and prowl eBay for clothes in your size. So, for buying a jacket: Learn your jacket size, but also know what measurement to look for. I usually wear a 38R jacket, but occasionally a 36R fits me better depending on the maker. But I know that my shoulder measurement is always going to 19.5″, so I can look to the general size for a guideline and then narrow it down by the specifics and know whether I should get the 38R or a 36R.

  7. I’m a texture guy as well, but I will never be envious of a $200 shirt. Especially with Prada, there is serious inflation that has nothing to do with the quality of the material.

    The way I see it, the single most important criteria is buying clothes that “fit”. For that, one may need outside opinions. :P

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