As an “elder millennial” (seriously, that’s what they call us now…) with a newborn, one of the things I dread the most is my child growing up thinking I have no fashion sense. But in between the mortgage, the last of my student loans, and ever-changing fashion trends, who even has the money to keep up?!
Thankfully, it doesn’t take thousands of dollars or a mysterious tailor in the backstreets of Marrakesh who only accepts payment in gold coins (I saw it in a movie once) to look fashionable; in fact, frugal male fashion is less about having money and more about having the right mindset, and maybe a nice low fade haircut.
We’ll talk about color combinations, seasonal wear, and the other technicalities on a different day, because what’s more important is wrapping your mind on these, three concepts:
- Have Reasonable Expectations with a Reasonable Budget
- Be Open to Different Shopping Options
- Create a “Signature” Look
Bear in mind, though, that building an extensive and fashionable wardrobe on a budget is going to take some time and a fair amount of effort, but if you’re like me who wants to get out of the idea that dads can only wear NB sneakers and flannel shirts tucked into blue jeans, it’s a journey you’ll be willing to take.
Frugal Male Fashion Tips for Dads on a Budget: Be Reasonable
If you need new threads fast and your budget is limited, then keep in mind that you need to be reasonable with the kind of things you’ll have access to. That being said, just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to stick to Costco classics (although, there are some good Costco choices if you know how to put it together).
Styles on a Budget
Listen, we’re not going to lie: you’re probably not going to find Yohji Yamamoto pants at a thrift store for 20 bucks, and you probably won’t be able to book a tailor who can do a full-on bespoke three-piece suit for you in exchange for a brisket. That being said, it’s not exactly impossible: it could happen, if you find the right thrift store or a generous sartorial expert somewhere.
The point is, styling yourself on a budget is understandably difficult because both your selection and the quality of the items you can get are going to be severely limited. This is why most frugal male fashion involves picking out styles that are either classic or minimalist because both need very little to make them pop, not to mention items of these styles are usually more easily found and don’t need a boutonniere for them to stand out.
Learn the basics of style like primary colors, complementary colors, and which fits never went out of style. In this way, you can go bargain shopping and know exactly what you’re looking for, saving you the trouble of going through rack after rack of denim jackets and silk shirts.
(Not So) Great Expectations
Frugal male fashion is all about spending the right amount of money for the right level of quality. Unfortunately, this means that you will have to hold out until you find second-hand pieces or decently made clothes that could potentially last you a few years.
Again, quality doesn’t have to be expensive: try to find hardy fabrics like linen, hemp, or synthetics like rayon. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a decent leather jacket in a bargain shop somewhere, just make sure you spend some time learning how to restore pieces like leather and denim.
All that being said, don’t expect to find great pieces every time you go bargain hunting; in fact, plan to come home empty-handed when you walk out the door. It will take you some time to find pieces worth holding out for and bargain shops that will actually be worth your time. Again, manage your expectations because your chances of finding a Burberry blazer that fits you just right, while existent, are fairly slim. Speaking of fittings…
Nail the Fit with the Right Tailor
Bargain bin options are, by definition, going to be ill-fitting on you, which can be difficult, especially since sticking to a frugal male fashion mindset means relying a great deal on bargain bins. You might have some more luck with off-the-rack options than second-hand ones, but either way, don’t expect them to fit perfectly.
Which is quite problematic, considering that most clothes, as a rule, look stylish and fashionable only if they fit the person well. All is not lost, however, since most bargain bin options can easily be fixed with a simple visit to the tailor.
A good tailor can make a cruddy, bottom-of-the-barrel shirt and make it look like a bespoke piece of luxury clothing. But, of course, the operative term here is ‘good tailor’. When looking for the right tailor, always see if they can do some of these essential alteration necessities:
- Minor cuff shortening (for pants, shirts, and jackets)
- Lengthening of cuffs and hems (nothing too major, though, even slight lengthening will do and only if there’s extra material to work with in the piece)
- Bottom hem shortening
- Cuff removal
- Cuff adding
- Waist altering for skinnier fits
- Rip and seam fixing
However, if you have a little bit of extra to spend on a great tailor, make sure that they’re able to do some of these challenging alterations:
- Shirt collar widening
- Shirt collar tightening
- Waist tapering for shirts and jackets
- Shoulder-width alteration
- Shirt sleeve lengthening
- Hole patching in the middle of fabrics
For the best value, always go for clothes that will only require minor alterations to fit your body well, as these are the ones that can help you build your frugal male fashion wardrobe. Again, manage your expectations: you’re probably not going to find clothes that both fit you and are in a style you like. Given that situation, go for clothes that are in a style you like, but require minor alterations. And speaking of building your wardrobe…
Build-a-Wardrobe with One Word: Interchangeability
The key to frugal fashion is interchangeability, as this allows you to mix and match individual pieces with other pieces that might not be the same “style” per se but work well together anyway.
Eclectic, unique looks –if put together properly –can give any man a ‘signature’ sense of style, but only if he has an extensive wardrobe with interchangeable pieces. And, in fact, this is exactly the mindset you should have when bargain hunting and why classic and minimalist designs are preferable: versatility of clothing is key to style.
Of course, this will only work if you’re able to find the right places for bargain clothing, which means you’re going to have to:
Frugal Male Fashion Tips for Dads on a Budget: Be Open to Different Shopping Options
Most people go bargain shopping in, well, bargain shops and second-hand stores in strip malls. Regardless, every dad looking to keep to a frugal male fashion mindset can expand his shopping options by just keeping their mind open about where to get pieces.
Bargains are everywhere if you know where to look. In the age of Instagram shopping and online stores, here are a few places that you could go to if you want to find bargain clothes:
Your most obvious choice of bargain shopping, thrift stores are every dad’s best friend when it comes to frugal male fashion, for obvious reasons.
First off, most thrift stores in the country have maximum prices, which means that different pieces of clothing will have a price tag not even the store can raise once it’s been set in barcode paper. These prices are usually set based on the quality of a piece, which means it wouldn’t matter if a blazer is Valentino or Givenchy: if the store prices it at $25, it’s going to be sold at $25.
That being said, the worst part of thrift stores is the selection. Sure, you might find a Valentino or Givenchy blazer in a thrift store for $25 that require only minimal alteration to fit you perfectly, but the chances of that happening are slim to almost-nil. Our advice is to go to as many thrift stores as you can, but don’t expect to find high-quality finds every time. Expect to go home empty-handed.
The location of the thrift store, however, will determine your chances of success: thrift stores near gated communities or upscale suburbs are usually going to have better finds. Goodwill and other charities are good places to go, but they’re usually going to have much, much lower-quality selections.
Find the right thrift store, however, and you can find great, stylish pieces for an absolute fraction of the price you’d pay in store.
In the internet age, online shops aren’t just more accessible, they also usually have great selections, from second-hand pieces to boutique fashion stores. Not only that, they’re usually amenable to alterations, but you’ll have to give out your measurements via direct message. Online shops are also very convenient, with customers rarely having to leave the house to get access to their purchases.
Online shops are a little more expensive than thrift stores, but if you visit their website or social media account at just the right moment, you’ll usually be able to find short, limited-time offers that have their pieces priced at near-thrift store prices.
That being said, one of the ways online shops can be more expensive than thrift stores is shipping and handling. Sure, you might be able to get a well-fitting blazer for $25, but if shipping and handling is at $15, you ended up not saving as much as you think. Return policies for online shops usually have customers cover the shipping for the return and for them to ship them back to you. Caveat emptor, I suppose.
Be cautious, however, of the extra costs shopping online can bring. Getting a $45 sweater for $30 and then paying $15 in shipping and handling hasn’t actually saved you any money at all. You’ll want to keep an eye on the return policy as well — when you buy without trying on you often have to make exchanges, and if you’re on the hook for all the return shipping it can start to add quite a bit of cost.
All that being said, thrift stores and online shops aren’t your only choices. In fact, waiting for a branded or retail store to go on sale is a great way to find a bargain, but only if you keep your wits about you.
It’s extremely rare for most brands to go on drastic sales that see their pieces go above 25-30% off. So, don’t be fooled when branded or retail stores go on “sale”: that $80 pair of pants that the store claims is “70%” might not actually be on sale. This isn’t technically illegal, but it is a very misleading way for stores to offload some hard to move merchandise at minimal losses.
Of course, clearance sales can and do happen, and these usually happen during the end of seasons, as stores will want to move these merch out their door regardless of whether they turn a profit or not (because, chances are, they already did with the other pieces anyway). Be on the lookout for clearance sales in your local malls.
Frugal Male Fashion Tips for Dads on a Budget: Create a “Signature” Look
Keeping a frugal male fashion mindset is all about creating a stylish wardrobe without having to spend inordinate amounts of money. One of the ways to do this is to find a ‘signature’ look and sticking to it. It’s one of those things, I think, that help you become a good father: having a curated look lets your kids know that you take the time to make yourself look presentable, but in terms you decide.
But what does ‘signature look’ even mean? Well, that’s going to be up to you, hombre. Every man is going to have a different ‘signature’ look: do you want to go for the burly lumberjack flannel, the Ivy League prep, or even ironic normcore? It’s entirely going to be up to you, but we would recommend on spending just a little bit more on creating your signature look.
Classic Pieces to Consider
Once we go beyond complementary colors and pieces, style becomes a completely subjective experience that’s going to change from dad to dad. That being said, there are some pieces that should be in every man’s wardrobe:
- Full Suits: Every man should have at least 3 suits in his wardrobe: one for business, one for formal affairs, and one for dressy occasions. Try to stick to classic colors like black, dark blue, and grey. You don’t have to start with a bespoke suit, but it will do you well to invest in getting bargain finds fit to you perfectly.
- Jackets and Blazers: jackets and blazers are a lazy way to stay stylish without having to spend or think too much. A good, well-fitting blazer or jacket can go with most looks, giving even casual outfits a touch of class. A well-fitting peacoat is also a good piece to consider because of its versatility.
- Collared Shirts: Collared shirts should be the ‘core’ of every dad’s wardrobe. They are the most frugal male fashion pieces because they’re right in the middle of casual t-shirts and formal dress shirts. You can play around with patterns, but it’s always a good idea to have some plain, solid-colored shirts in your closet.
- Leather Shoes: a good pair of leather shoes can turn any outfit from dressed down to refined in a jiff. In general, you’ll want to have a separate pair of dress shoes for formal outfits, and understated leather shoes for slightly more casual looks.
Classic pieces can be interchangeable, and they usually work well when they’re plain or have subtle patterns. That being said, don’t be afraid to go for a statement piece every once in a while, especially if it comes in a color or pattern that complements the rest of the look.
Frugal Male Fashion Tips for Dads on a Budget: Invest in a Few High-Quality Pieces
We’ve given some pretty solid frugal male fashion advice throughout this article, but there are simply some pieces that you’re definitely going to want to spend on. Usually, special occasions like weddings or job interviews will require you to go out and spend a fair bit of money for high-quality pieces. Don’t shy away from this! In fact, with the money you’ll be saving from thrifting on the rest of your wardrobe, you’ll have a bit extra for your more expensive pieces.
Always remember, though, that the key to frugal male fashion shopping still apply to not-so-frugal male fashion shopping: you’ll want to manage your expectations with whatever budget you’re working with, you’ll want to expand your options as much as possible, and you’ll want to revolve your decision on the signature look that you’re working with.
You don’t have to go overboard: maybe 1 or 2 outfits with expensive pieces are all you need, and maybe 1 or 2 expensive suits. But for everything else, try to thrift as much as possible because it is a great way to teach your child some healthy habits. And for god’s sake, let’s retire the notion that dads are unfashionable, shall we?