THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE POWER SUIT
“Dressing well is a form of good manners.”
—Tom Ford, Designer
The term “power suit” originated in the 1980’s and was commonly referenced in films of the era, such as Wall Street. While the power suit’s classic styling—boxy, rigid, with distinct shoulder pads—might not be fashionable at this moment in time, its ethos of confidence and success are timeless and transcendent values that are the hallmark of every successful man’s wardrobe.
A power suit is metaphorically one that lives at the intersection of conservatism and boldness, exuding confidence and strength. A dark, well-fitted suit is comprised of much more than fabric – it’s a symbol of power and authority that automatically commands respect whether it’s worn in a professional setting or a formal event. Arriving at a corporate event or meeting in a suit immediately conveys that your focus is on the business at hand, and you automatically command respect. It’s societally ingrained in us to look over a man’s suit and give the best-dressed gentlemen more time and attention than their unkempt counterparts who neglected to wear a jacket and tie to an important event.
So what does dressing to the nines have to do with helping you stay out of debt? One of the biggest spending habits that keep people in debt is shopping for work clothes. If you dress for success by keeping your style simple and consistent, not only will you look great, but you’ll also avoid sinking into debt from purchasing new clothes all the time. Another great perk when you dress to the nines is that you will have additional opportunities to make money.
Here is what I mean:
A power suit means an advantage in job interviews, presentations, or other professional occasions, and it can make or break a first impression, and you’ll always be better off if you are overdressed rather than under-dressed. Even in today’s start-up culture where many offices are opting for business casual dress codes, it’s the man in the impeccable suit who will be taken seriously. For this reason alone, he will always win. In contrast, a man in a cheaply-made, ill-fitting suit will never command the same level of respect. Although your salary may not currently be that of a million-dollar CEO, you should dress for the high-level position that you aspire to one day achieving.
The price of a single high-quality designer suit ranges anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000. You will also need several shirts, ties and shoes to pair with your suits. Unless you are incredibly tactical about the way you build your wardrobe, lower-priced options will look flat-out cheap across the board. So how can you dress like a million-dollar CEO without breaking the bank?
CLASSIC ALWAYS WINS, SO START WITH THE BASICS
“All it takes are a few simple outfits. And there’s one secret—the simpler, the better.”
A classic, formal look is flattering to all gentlemen. Here are the essential components:
• A solid dark, classic style suit (black, charcoal gray, or navy)
• A light-colored dress shirt (white is always classic, but light blue is a possible variation)
• A tie of a deeper hue and a simple, repeating pattern (red is an excellent choice as a power color against a crisp white shirt, but other options can include cool shades of blues and purples)
• Dress shoes that are either black (for black or charcoal gray suits) or dark brown (for navy suits, but only if you pair it with a brown watch, briefcase, or tie that has warm shades in its pattern)
These colors mean business and are a surefire way to ensure that people will take you seriously. Make sure you have at least two solid-colored suits when you’re starting to build a new wardrobe, because these are the essentials that you can wear more than once a week, changing your look with different shirts, ties, and accessories.
Nowadays, especially with the bespoke movement, a power suit can expand to include any expertly tailored suit in a neutral tweed color or subtle striped pattern that still conveys to your audience that you’re competent and confident, but these should only be considered as options to supplement your solid-colored suit staples. But be forewarned that you won’t be able to get away with wearing a patterned suit more than every 7-10 days without your colleagues noticing (and secretly thinking that your questionable brown tweed must be a family heirloom for you to wear it as often as you do). Spend your money on safer suit choices like black, charcoal gray, and navy.
THE HALLMARKS OF A QUALITY SUIT
“You can never be overdressed or over-educated.”
Expensive clothing does not always guarantee that a garment is impeccably made. Even if you are willing to pay for the prestige of a designer brand and the expectation that a “quality” suit will withstand a reasonable amount of wear and tear, you still need to examine it carefully before you buy.
Price variation in menswear depends on three essential factors:
1. Cut and Fit
This aspect refers to the construction of the garment itself and the original pattern that the fabric was cut to fit. If a suit is intended to adapt to a variety of men’s sizes and shapes, it will usually be priced lower since it targets a more general audience. If a suit is designed to fit an athletic or thin physique, then it will likely be priced higher since it targets a smaller audience—those men who are willing to a pay a premium for a better fit and specific styles that suit them.
Off-the-rack clothing is typically machine-made in batches, and it tends to be cut loose to fit as many men in the designated size range as possible. Unfortunately, this usually means that it fits poorly. A mass-produced garment is going to need tailoring in multiple places before it attractively fits your body. A significant drawback is that the cheap nature of the product can make alterations difficult since there isn’t usually much fabric allowance to open seams. A poor fabric will also “scar” and show needle marks where the seam formerly was.
Designer and specialty clothing retailers tend to manufacture their off-the-rack clothing from a less forgiving pattern model, which means the wearer must somewhat fit the pattern. It’s important to take all of these things into account when you’re shopping for a new suit.
2. Fabric Type and Quality
The fabric weave and fiber type also determine the retail price of a suit. Synthetic fabrics such as rayon or polyester look cheap and wear poorly because they lack the drape, luster, and durability of genuine wool, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Cotton fabrics are the next tier up on the price scale, with natural fibers that vary in shape and length. Typically the longer the fiber, the more desirable the type of cotton for higher-end menswear, but you’re still not going to experience the same quality as wool. Most men’s suits are made from wool, which is the most expensive fabrics. The top wools come from reputable, established mills and use only virgin wool, or wool sheared and spun directly from the sheep. Cheaper wools re-purpose old fibers, creating a coarser and less durable textile. Once you begin to notice the texture and feel of different types of fabrics, you’ll develop an eye for high-quality garments.
3. Construction Methods
The way that suits are assembled impacts the cost. Construction by machine is the fastest and least expensive, while hand-sewing and bespoke custom tailoring take more time and skill, invariably increasing the price of a garment.
However, the advantage of custom-tailored garments is precision and the attention to details that are apparent in elements such as the chest piece of a suit, which is either sewn in or glued or in dramatic, eye-catching linings in colorful, iridescent fabrics that make slipping off your coat a statement of style. Ultimately, a custom-tailored garment might cost more money up front, but the construction will be immaculate and more durable than a mass-produced market counterpart.
If you do buy suits off the rack, then your tailor will become like a best friend that you visit often. For example, cheap suits tend to come with flimsy, shiny plastic buttons that are easily broken or lost, but your tailor can replace them with a genuine horn or Corozzo buttons, which are crafted from ground nuts. You can have your sleeves taken in, or a cuff added to the hem of your pants, giving your inexpensive suit a designer flair, or have a torn lining replaced. Whatever wardrobe concerns you may have, the right tailor will have a viable solution.
EXPAND YOUR WARDROBE TO INCLUDE SEPARATES AND ACCESSORIES
“I can go all over the world with just three outfits: a blue blazer and grey flannel pants, a grey flannel suit, and black tie.”
—Pierre Cardin, Designer
Once you have one or two classic suits in your wardrobe, you can add some separates, pairing black pants with a warm-toned or grey blazer, or grey flannel pants with a black or navy blazer. Many brands such as Ralph Lauren, Alfani, or Banana Republic sell their jackets and pants separately and are in the “under $500” price range, giving you a made-to-measure feel on a budget.
Beware of choosing separates that are too “trendy” in bright, jewel-tones, loud patterns, or overly shiny fabrics that would be more appropriate for a nightclub than at the office.
Ties are an essential accessory, but there are a lot of other signature style elements such as cuff-links, watches, and pocket squares that will give you a distinctive look. Your briefcase is another accessory that can be as stylish as it is functional.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SHOES
“Be well-dressed, behave like a gentleman, and keep your shoes shined.”
—Joseph Abboud, Designer
There is a classic saying, “You can always judge a man’s character by his shoes,” and this holds true. As a visual endpoint, shoes receive a tremendous amount of attention and make-up more than 30% of the visual judgment we make when sizing up a stranger. Unpolished shabby shoes indicate carelessness and an overly casual attitude, and they will cheapen even the most expensive designer suit. Never think you can get away with sneakers and a suit—
men who think they can pull off that look are either rappers or fashion victims.
Oxfords are lace-up dress shoes which are commonly divided into balmorals and bluchers, depending on their lacing systems. Balmoral oxfords use a closed lacing system and are usually styled more simply, making them the dressier option that’s best worn with suits and formal wear. Bluchers are more varied when it comes to styles and colors, and while a conservative pair can be worn with a suit, the ones that utilize brogueing, a split toe, or “saddle shoe” color combinations look best with more casual clothing
Slip-ons by design are usually less formal. If they are conservatively styled, then they can be worn with suits, but they are generally best when paired with grey flannel trousers and a sports jacket.
Be sure to match your shoes to other leather accessories, such as belts. This shade-matching principle can expand to your leather watch strap and briefcases for a polished, cohesive look.
SHOP WISELY INSTEAD OF BREAKING THE BANK
“To me, clothing is a form of self-expression–there are hints about who you are in what you wear.”
The Style Triangle
In fashion, three aspects comprise what’s known as the “style triangle”—the key characteristics that define a piece of clothing and the effect it has on your overall appearance.
In the past, inexpensive meant overly conservative with no style. Modern, trend-driven details—including peak lapels, double vents, and a variety of patterns and fabrics—are now attainable at a moderate price.
The Outlet Hoax
Beware of outlet stores and the clothing brands that are now making product lines specifically for them. This means that what you find in the outlet store is not excess stock coming from a high-end retailer—it’s lower quality merchandise that has specifically been made for the outlet. So when you see an “original retail price” noted on the tag, it’s just an illusion of value created by the outlet’s sales team.
Consignment Stores and Online Shops
Men’s consignment stores are not as abundant as women’s consignment stores, but they do exist. If you have the patience to actually sift through one-of-a-kind garments, you can find some fantastic designer garments and accessories. Online shopping is another great option. Poshmark is a digital marketplace that is fast-eclipsing eBay, where people can buy, sell, and trade new or used clothing, shoes, and accessories.
The Real Real features authenticated luxury men’s consignment items which are carefully curated, and they also operate stores in some cities.
Department Store Sales
The best places to buy new suits for the best prices are high-quality department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s–all of which have yearly sales and quality menswear with up to 50%-60% off retail pricing depending on your timing. For a tremendous all-around classic brand and styling, you can’t beat Brooks Brothers, especially for their durable and quality dress shirting. The brand offers a Lifestyle Collection at very reasonable prices, and they also offer seasonal discounts.
If you need a more inexpensive suit option, then check out these Suits for $100 or less.
Burlington Coat Factory: Suits for $79.99
Amazon: Suits for $49.99-89.99
Groupon: Suits for $100 or Less
“Create your own visual style…Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
The suit remains one of the most powerful silhouettes ever created in fashion—a symbol of intermingled masculine confidence, strength, and savvy business acumen. Wearing a suit says to the world that you are a competent professional who deserves to be taken seriously, and cultivating your personal style allows you to portray the most successful version of yourself through the precise cut of a jacket, or a crisp white shirt against a perfectly-knotted tie.
There is an emotional side to wearing a suit that conjures up images of pop culture icons such as James Bond, or the nostalgia of your own father getting ready for work every morning.
A suit radiates a feeling of respect and consideration towards others, whether that means dressing up for an important business meeting or wearing a suit to a wedding or other formal event.
Your wardrobe is an investment in your future, and men who understand that fit, fabric, and function are the core components of style will always manage to wear the best clothes that complement their physique and highlight their individuality.
So…how has dressing to the nines helped you financially? Leave us a comment below!
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