Classics: Best Bet Essentials for those making under 35K

Proof that you can stretch a smaller paycheck.

Originally Published 2/12/12

One of the constant challenges with this website is pinpointing just what “affordable” means.   It can mean drastically different things to different people.  And right now, the economy isn’t helping.  Young or experienced, straight out of college or long time member of the workforce, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Plenty aren’t making enough to justify a $450 suit or a $300 watch.  That doesn’t mean one day that won’t change, but until that happens, these suggestions should help the under $35k per year crowd maximize the style/cost ratio at a level they can afford.
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The Suits:  Overstock Hilfiger Trim, Michael Kors, or Kenneth Cole New York – $150 – $199

Tailoring will make them look 10x better.

Overstock.com can hold some real gems for ultra-inexpensive suiting.  You have to do a bit of checking in from time to time, but you should (should) be able to land a decent, 100% wool, two-button “slim fit” suit for between $100 and $200.  Tailoring will be a must, and you might have to settle on armholes or a lapel you don’t like, but they’ll certainly get the job done.  Steer clear from Kenneth Cole REACTION.  They’re all synthetic.  Also worth keeping an eye on: the oft mentioned  J. Crew Factory Thompson wool blend (80/20) suit.  Seems to bottom out at $170.

 

The best overall store:  J. Crew FACTORY during an extra 30% of Sale

Wait for one of these.

Speaking of J. Crew’s lower line… Look, nice work by J. Crew over the last decade or so.  But often times, their Factory goods look just as good as the real thing.  Tweed blazers for $130, casual button up shirts for $30, and merino sweaters in the fall and winter for a reasonable $35.  All with fits that are superior to anything you’re going to find at Kohl’s.  They went online not too long ago, making them accessible even if there’s no outlet mall near you.

 

The Jeans:  Levi’s 514 Slim Straight or Levi’s 527 Low-Rise Bootcut

Keep them dark with minimal distressing.

Unlike 501s, these go on sale and if you play your cards right you can get them for the mid to high $30s through Macy’s in-store.  If you like a closer fit, stick with the 514.  Unlike some other brand’s bootcuts, the 527s don’t have that noticeable of a flair at the ankle (honestly, no one who doesn’t spend too much time looking at men’s ankles won’t notice).  That and they’ve got a little more room.  Each holds their color and shape real well.

 

The best place to look for higher end stuff:  Lastcall.com during an extra % off sale.

Top shelf for medium shelf.

Last Call is the outlet for Neiman Marcus.  Most of us don’t do a lick of shopping at Neiman Marcus.  But thanks to the online source for their outlet goods, extra 25% – 40% off already reduced to outlet-level-prices can make some top notch stuff attainable.

 

The Watch:  Bulova 96B104 – $92.30 ($150)

An extra strap & a spring bar tool = you’re set for anything.

Simple, clean, classic, and under $100.  Timex has been doing an incredible job lately, but when you head in for your meeting about maybe landing a promotion or raise, a Timex on your wrist might not do you any favors.  This Bulova is pretty much a legend.  Here’s the thing about it too:  Don’t be afraid to wear it casually.  Like super casually.  Get a brown strap for it, and feel free to wear with a t-shirt and jeans.  Really.

 

The Shirt:  Target Merona Ultimate Dress Shirt – $19.99 – $29.99

Has become a personal go-to.

Usually can be found for around $20 when on sale or clearance.  They’re not all cotton, but the fabric isn’t tissue thin like other inexpensive cotton/poly dress shirts.  The thicker feel means they’re less scratchy, and the influx of poly helps it stay less wrinkled.  Substantial collar, plenty of colors/patterns to pick from, and while not super fitted, they’re fitted enough to get away with under a blazer or sweater.

 

The place to get ties:  TheTieBar.com

They’ve got it. Yes. Even that.

They seem to have every single fabric, width, color, and pattern combination ever made by man (short of singing Reindeer Christmas ties.  Not that you would want one of those.)  Their tie bars often show up in GQ.  Ties are $15 with shipping a flat $5.95.  Quality is good for the price.  The selection, again, is unparalleled.

 

The Best T-Shirts:  50/50 cotton poly blend tees from the thrift store.

Easy to layer.  At least the graphic is genuine.

Why the cotton poly blend?  Because you can beat the hell out of them, wash them a million times, and they’ll still hold up.  They’re as close to indestructible as it gets.  And thrift store tees will usually cost only $2 – $5.

 

The Smartest Splurge:  A grey, crisp cotton:  Banana Republic – $163 w/ BRTIME ($198)

$138.60 when 30% off

Grey is incredible versatile since it’ll play with any seasonal fabric and color.  Skip a more casual rumpled chino and aim for a smoothed out cotton.  The already mentioned BR option above is all but gone online, but the usual suspects GAP and INC from Macy’s both have one right now (haven’t seen them in person though, and note the unfortunate white buttons on the INC.)  Wear it with dark jeans out on the town, or almost white pants once summer hits.

 

The Under $100 Dress Shoes:  J&M Gillum, Stafford Ashton, Steve Madden Bluto

$99, $50, and $90.

You’ll get a lot more style bang for your buck if you can save up for a pair of on sale DSW house brand shoes like something from Mercanti Fiorentini or Mike Konos, but if you’re budget is a max of $100, these will do.  The funky toe stitching on the Johnston & Murphy is less noticeable in person.  The Stafford Ashton is awesome for the price, and they make a similar, black longwing.  The Steve Madden Bluto is as simple as Steve Madden gets.

 

The Best Every-so-Often Lace-Up:  Aldo Lehane in Tan – $69.90 ($99.95)

Hard to ignore, in a good way, for $70

Aldo’s not known for long lasting shoes.  But if you don’t wear them more than once or twice a week, keep some shoe trees in there, and only bust these out when you want some more than normal ankle-down pop, then $70 is a pretty small investment.  Toe shape looks to be perfect.  Great color.  Ship/returns free via Nordstrom.

 

The Best Piece of Luggage:  Frost River Flight Bag – $140

Still the champ.

Waxed canvas, made in the USA, and the perfect blend of utility and eye-catching “what’s that?” appeal.  The carry-on size is plenty big at 2800 cubic inches.

 

The Best Belt Setup:  Two GAP “Basic Leather Belts” & One Reversible Dress Belt

If your browns don’t match perfectly, wear a blazer. Or don’t care.

Your slightly wider brown and black GAP belts are for jeans, chinos, and cords.  GAP doesn’t seem to have changed the quality of these specific leather basic belts for years (have a pair myself going on 4 – 5 years and they’re holding up great.)  Check stores like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and ROSS for the dress belts.  Less is more here.  You want an inexpensive dress belt that’s ignorable.  No unnecessary risks on buckle shape, and keep the buckle darker and/or matte.  Would it be nice to have a lighter belt to match, say, cognac color shoes?  Yes.  Is it necessary?  Not right now it’s not.

 

The Best Eyeglasses:  Warby Parker RX or Polarized Sunglasses – $95.00

They’ve figured it out.

Their Home Try On Program allow you to pick 5 different models to try on, in your home, and they ship them to you for free.  Return shipping is also free.  After that, a pair of the updated classic style frames cost $95 and that comes with your lenses.  Non-prescription polarized sunglasses are also $95.  They also have a buy a pair / give a pair program.

 

The Best Tools For Clothing:  Your Iron and Shoe Shine Supplies

Do it yourself.

Paying the cleaners to launder and press your shirts can add up fast.  So much so that plenty of us would never even consider it.  Doing your own laundry and getting proficient at ironing is the way to go.  Keeping your shoes looking great by shining them every few weeks will go a long way.  So much so that a pair of well shined shoes is akin to well fitting clothes.  They look better in an almost unfair way.  More on one way to shine shoes here.

 

The Best Grooming Tool:  The Beard Trimmer

EAT IT GILLETTE (Teller, we’re still cool)

Razor blades are expensive.  Shaving cream isn’t free.  Embrace the groomed stubble or beard look.  It’s accepted in most workplaces (especially if you’re making $35k or under) and the ladies seem to like it too.

 

Best way to save up for a better wardrobe:  Pack your lunch

Just add spinach. There’s lunch.

According to this, 2/3rds of American workers will grab lunch out a least once (if not more) during a work week.  The men in that group spend, on average, $46 a week on lunch.  A month or so of that and you could buy a new suit.  Good lord.  Brown bag it friends.  Save that cash for dinner out with your significant other, or, updating your wardrobe.

Looking for more places to shop when on a seriously tight budget?  Head hereTop photo credit: Chad Miller