Business Dress on a Serious Budget

Canadian

Super Member
Okay,

I'm being considered for a political patronage job which requires suit and tie. I worked in another division of government before (I was an aide and am now trying to be hired in a research position.). I've got quite a bit of "dressy" clothes, but am wondering how do I stretch 5 suits, two DJs and several pairs of chinos into something I can bring to the job.

Basically the job is 5 days a week, 8-5. Researchers are known to work late, arrive early and be in constant contact via phone when they're not at work. They have been known to get a 4AM text saying, "I need a background paper on X, by noon Sunday" on a Friday night.

I have two charcoal suits, one pinstripe, one white and one khaki coloured.

I also have 4 blue blazers, a tweed jacket, a linen pincord in blue/white, a couple safari jackets and some casual linen blazers.

I was told very bluntly last time I worked in government that "People you meet in work are there to talk to a high level politician. So even on Saturday morning, if they schedule time with you, they are wearing their best clothes. So if you've got to show up Saturday morning, or on "casual" Fridays, dress as if you're going to meet somebody". I got chewed out by a more senior staff member for wearing khakis with a loose break because "from a distance they look like jeans".

Here is what I hope to acquire and do it cheaply:

1. Navy blue suit.
2. Seersucker trousers, 2 pair at least.
3. Another pinstripe suit or POW check
4. Another tweed coat
6. A coat to bridge the "light trenchcoat" to "heavy winter coats" season. I basically want a coat I can wear in the spring and late summer when the wind is up.
7. French cuff dress shirts (not wing collar).
8. More ties. Specifically repp ties and power ties (bright red and blue).
9. Vests. Waistcoats are good, but I'm an XL-T. I prefer the kind without the tabs on the back.
10. Another couple of nice pair shoes. I can't afford AE or Alden, but I love wearing my Florsheims and Clarks.

If you had to assemble this wardrobe, over say six months with a 350 budget per month, what would you do. I don't plan to have these additions upon starting the job, but over time plan to add to my wardrobe and (space permitting) acquire enough clothing that I can wear it comfortably and without wearing the same two sutis over and over again.

Tom
 
I assume you've read this article about building a wardrobe for business wear, which may not be perfect but is still informative:
https://askandyaboutclothes.com/Tutorials/WillBasicWardrobe.htm

If you can wear a navy blazer with gray trousers and still be alright on formality, buy more gray trousers as a stopgap.

1) Yeah, get one of these.
2) These shouldn't be item 2. They take a bit of sartorial capital to wear, and this job doesn't seem to be granting much of that.
3) I'd consider a light gray solid.
4) I'd push this down the list a few months.
5) ????
6) I don't know what you want here. Wouldn't a light trenchcoat over a suit jacket be enough for spring and late summer? If it wouldn't, then that's another knock on seersucker.
7) Same point as item 2.
8) My budget-oriented mind would say thrift stores, but the problem with those is that reliable, classic ties never show up in thrift stores in good shape. I like purple paisley more than the next guy, but you might want to consider The Tie Bar. I've never used them, but they're well regarded.
9) Maybe not yet, though it could help you layer with a navy blazer and thus not need more tweed.

I'm not listing ten, because I have a point to make inspired by it: rotation. You need to have a rotation of shirts, jackets, trousers, suits, shoes, and ties. You seem to have a rotation of jackets, but you don't mention shirts, trousers, or shoes. Your suit rotation isn't quite 100%, and I guess you're not happy with your tie rotation. Once you have enough clothes that anything wool (or a poly-blend subbing in for wool) and your shoes can have two days off between wears and that you can be a bit late on your weekly laundry / ironing without running out of clothes, while still always being appropriately dressed, then you can work on building a better wardrobe. If you start trying to build a nice wardrobe before you have an adequate one, things will fall apart.

Also, pay lots of attention to care: have shoe trees, a good shine kit, and a good clothes brush.
 

Houndstooth hero

Starting Member
I assume you've read this article about building a wardrobe for business wear, which may not be perfect but is still informative:
https://askandyaboutclothes.com/Tutorials/WillBasicWardrobe.htm

If you can wear a navy blazer with gray trousers and still be alright on formality, buy more gray trousers as a stopgap.

1) Yeah, get one of these.
2) These shouldn't be item 2. They take a bit of sartorial capital to wear, and this job doesn't seem to be granting much of that.
3) I'd consider a light gray solid.
4) I'd push this down the list a few months.
5) ????
6) I don't know what you want here. Wouldn't a light trenchcoat over a suit jacket be enough for spring and late summer? If it wouldn't, then that's another knock on seersucker.
7) Same point as item 2.
8) My budget-oriented mind would say thrift stores, but the problem with those is that reliable, classic ties never show up in thrift stores in good shape. I like purple paisley more than the next guy, but you might want to consider The Tie Bar. I've never used them, but they're well regarded.
9) Maybe not yet, though it could help you layer with a navy blazer and thus not need more tweed.

I'm not listing ten, because I have a point to make inspired by it: rotation. You need to have a rotation of shirts, jackets, trousers, suits, shoes, and ties. You seem to have a rotation of jackets, but you don't mention shirts, trousers, or shoes. Your suit rotation isn't quite 100%, and I guess you're not happy with your tie rotation. Once you have enough clothes that anything wool (or a poly-blend subbing in for wool) and your shoes can have two days off between wears and that you can be a bit late on your weekly laundry / ironing without running out of clothes, while still always being appropriately dressed, then you can work on building a better wardrobe. If you start trying to build a nice wardrobe before you have an adequate one, things will fall apart.

Also, pay lots of attention to care: have shoe trees, a good shine kit, and a good clothes brush.

I cant agree with this more. Drop the flashy stuff and just add a couple of basics. If you have 3-4 plain suits in Navy and greys and a basic combination of 2 blue 2 white and 1-2 stripe shirts and then at least 6 different ties and 3 pairs of shoes to start you can rotate nicely and even if people think you lack imagination you will at least be satorially correct and be allowing your clothes enough time to rest. Then once this core is in place you can add pieces like the seersuckers and tweeds. I currently have some 15 suits (yes I am in the industry) and am only getting to the really fun stuff now. Consider yourself fortunate that you are in a conservative industry and therefore its easier to develop a wardrobe to fit in. Also while budget is a constraint, make sure you are getting a quality fit, as there is no use getting anything at all if if the whole point is to look dressy, and nothing you have fits well, so save a few dollars to get quality alterations done.
 

pichao

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
My advice is to buy two navy blue suits. I would buy solid rather than pinstripe, but use two different fabrics in order to make them more versatile. To this some flannel trousers for less formal occasions. To begin with buy some white and blue shirts, and later on some bengal striped blue/white shits. Three pair of shoes will be OK, two oxfords and one derby. I prefer brown shoes, but maybe black is more appropriate for you. Dont forget to buy shoetrees at the same time, that will make the lifetime of your shoes much longer.
Buy some solid and some striped ties to begin with.
For jackets, a macintosh or a trench coat would be OK.
I personally love tweed jackets, but I think that you can buy that later on.
Finally, dont forget all the discounts that you can obtain as a member of AAAC. And dont forget the internet, I bought a second hand Burberry trenchcoat in excellent condition for less than 100 USD on ebay :smile:
 
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Canadian

Super Member
So basically,

Avoid anything flashy and stock up on blue suits, white shirts and some basic shoes.

I suppose that's good advice. I really like seersucker, and it gets very hot, but it's not on my top of the list when it comes to ready purchases.

I can get nice ties from Sears for about 5 bucks each.

As for shoes, it's "recommended" to wear black, leather soled shoes. It's also common practice to leave an odd coat at the office for casual Fridays and walk to and from work in dress slacks and a shirt, with an overcoat or trench. I had a Member who was on my floor who wore black Wranglers and a black sportscoat every day. He was a real cowboy and wore a lot of western attire.

More important than how I'm dressed is quite bluntly, being able to perform without wrecking my health, my sanity and lastly, the clothes I'm wearing.


Anyhow, thanks for the input. I'm not starting from scratch, but I also don't own a lot of good suits and my shirt supply gets me through about a week.

Tom
 
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More important than how I'm dressed is quite bluntly, being able to perform without wrecking my health, my sanity and lastly, the clothes I'm wearing.

This is an excellent approach to take, and a sign that you're on the right track.

One thing I can suggest is that, if your office is hung up about black shoes, you should purchase other clothes that will look good with black shoes. That means more gray/navy, less tan/brown, especially in slacks. That may be obvious, but it bears mentioning.
 

Canadian

Super Member
I don't know about dark brown dress shoes. I was recovering from a foot injury and was wearing Rockport dress boots and people told me it was too casual.

That said, it's a heckuva lot easier to get a pair of Florsheims, a pair of Dressports and some Bostonians all in black. I suppose things have to be simplified. What I need to assemble, is enough clothing that I'm only wearing any particular suit once a week. I will be bringing my SUV if I get the job, so I can drive a fair distance to get to a good dry cleaner and tailor.

That said, the important thing is to do the job, do it well, and maybe once I'm more established, I'll be able to do what I like for dressing. My old boss told me he showed up for his first day with long hair and a skateboard. It was his ability that counted, not his immediate appearance. He did cut his hair and buy some decent suits though.

For men, there's a double standard. There was a girl on my floor who wore tight tee-shirts and short skirts. We all got the idea she was dressing for "after work" and not work. But nobody dared say anything, lest it be construed as being unfair. Other girls typically wore a basic blouse and pants or a conservative skirt. Men are stuck wearing suits, every single day.

Tom
 

Acme

Super Member
8) My budget-oriented mind would say thrift stores, but the problem with those is that reliable, classic ties never show up in thrift stores in good shape. I like purple paisley more than the next guy, but you might want to consider The Tie Bar. I've never used them, but they're well regarded.

YR gives great advice! I would, however, encourage you to check out thrift stores since you have some time to build your wardrobe. I've often found ties in good condition for a dollar or two each; Robert Talbott, Brooks Brothers, and Zegna are just a few of the makers that come to mind. Ties (and sport coats, like a nice tweed jacket) would be the easiest to find, since most stores generally have a large selection of those items. Don't expect to find good suits off the rack in your size unless you have a whole lot of time to devote to searching.

I'd also strongly recommend the sales forum on this website. You can find really nice deals on some great items.
 

12345Michael54321

Senior Member
There was a girl on my floor who wore tight tee-shirts and short skirts. We all got the idea she was dressing for "after work" and not work. But nobody dared say anything, lest it be construed as being unfair. Other girls typically wore a basic blouse and pants or a conservative skirt.
I could understand a male co-worker not wanting to offer this girl advice on her work wardrobe, but you'd think the other girls - who did understand how to dress properly for work - would have said something. Odd.

'Course, maybe they did try to advise her, and she simply choose to ignore their advice. That happens, too.
--
Michael
 

Canadian

Super Member
She was allowed to dress that way, because she caught the eye of a Member, (think Congressman) and according to him, she could do no wrong.

That said, I simply don't like working somewhere where men must wear a suit and women aren't held to the same standard. I can understand not wanting to wear a jacket all day (I usually hung up my jacket at work if I wasn't meeting anybody) but really, how much can a blouse and conservative skirt cost. I mean, you can go to Walmart and get basic business attire. It doesn't have to be Zara and Banana Republic every day, but even Target or Sears has good options.

That said, I am on the lookout for navy blue suits. I am always buying more shirts, because somehow the collars tend to shrink :) I hope to have fifteen shirts, five casual shirts for weekends, ten ties and five suits by the end of the year. I don't think wearing a bright white suit is regular office wear, and some of the inexpensive suits on Ebay tend to be funky colours.

Thomas
 
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