Friday, August 26, 2011

Want. Get. Have.

 (Part Eleven of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 29
Welcome back, Average Guys, and to the rest of you as well. Last week I took you on a crash-course in taking your measurements, so that when you go out to lay your hard-earned lucre on a suit, you end up with something that will fit. Remember what we learned earlier this year: correct FIT is THE most important aspect of clothing.

There are four factors that determine how good you look in a suit: the fit, the style, the fabric, and the label -- in that order. Without good fit, nothing else matters.

You can have the sharpest, most expensive, up to date, famous-maker suit you can afford -- but if it doesn't fit, it will never look as good on you as even a tatty, dated, no-name piece that's nevertheless tailored like a glove.

Given two suits that both fit you equally well, one that's more classically styled but with lower quality fabric from a nondescript label, will still look better than one that shows dated fashion fads, (like '80s low crossovers or '70s wide lapels,) even if it was a high-end suit originally.

The other factors demonstrate a similar relationship among each other, e.g.,
between two suits that fit perfectly and are well-styled, a high-quality fabric is preferred regardless of its maker.
So, with your measurement numbers in hand, I'm going to lead you on a hunting expedition. Here's where the rubber meets the road -- all the theory in the world won't help you without practical experience. Because this is SO important, I'm actually going to go out in the field and do this with you. I'm not content to be a man of mere conjecture, so let's go out and concretize these hypotheses with some footwork!

Let's set some groundrules before we go:  this is no girly-girl shopping trip; it's a manly hunt for manly clothing. One: we target one store. We're not bees flitting merrily from flower to flower -- we stake out one field and raid it. Two: we go in with a purpose, knowing what we want, and our objective is to leave with it. Period. Three: Ruthless efficiency. No browsing, no dilly-dally, no "Oh, isn't this nice?" nonsense. Get what you came for, and do it by parting with as little of your money as possible. Four: no endless try-ons. See it, get it, leave. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, you're right. Done well and in a manly manner, "hunter's shopping" is quick, easy, and yes, even enjoyable. (Just don't let your girlfriends know.)

First, I'll get my dimensions from last week, and to keep them handy, I'll actually write them on my left wrist in ballpoint ink. Don't judge: it's an old habit, as well as just happening to be the handiest spot for me. I'll write my shirt size [15½-34], half my chest measure [17½"], half my yoke [8½"] and my actual sleeve [25½"]. For my trousers, I'll put down my actual waist [31½"] and my trouser outseam [41"]. Then the jacket measures: the shoulder [18"], half the chest [19¼"], full length [34"], and sleeve [25½"]. Jot your numbers down in whatever shorthand or grouping works best for your recollection.

Now, figure the sort of outfit to which you will set your sights. In my case, I need a complete suit suitable for autumn weather. I already have a closet full of winter-weight tweed, so I'm going to keep my eyes out for a wool sports jacket of plain cloth, or maybe something lighter weight and tweedy. My closets have their share of light-colored cotton and linen trousers, so I'm going to look out for heavier wool greys and patterns for the season. Just to round things out, I'll find a shirt and a tie as well. I'm going to look for colors in the fall spectrum: rusts and golds, browns and greens. (I'm also limiting my clothing to "in spec:" nothing that has to be altered later. This is a trip for wearable as-is!)

The store: to show that it can be done, I'll go to a completely ordinary second-hand affair. Not in a fancy section of town, no estate sales -- just a regular place where wives drop of the stuff after they clean out their husband's closets. With luck, we'll find some good items with provenance and a bit of history, in good shape, but not shiny-new, and at a really good price.

The time: no longer than half an hour, and hopefully closer to fifteen minutes. That's right, forest rangers -- we're going from zero to a wearable outfit in fifteen minutes. The secret: have a plan (we have), know what you're looking for in advance (we are), have your measurements (we do), and carry your measuring tape (we will). If we don't find what we're after in thirty minutes, we're gonna walk out the door. Ready?

Here we are at our shop, at the men's section. We have three racks full of suits, a wall full of shirts, and several long racks of trousers: all unsorted, all different sizes. We'll bag a jacket first. This is a simple affair: just go straight to those jackets whose color and pattern appeal to you, and the first thing you do is, while they are still on the rack, get a good look at the fronts. If it still looks appealing, take the tape, and take a quick measurement across the front just under the arms, pulling out any slack as you do so. 

Here's a nice tweed, let's check it out:

Nope. 20 across the front is a 40 chest -- a little too slack for me. Move on.

Here's a cool plaid wool, let's measure:

Nope -- another 40. Ditch it. Next!

Ooh, a nice rough tweed with multicolored yarns. It looks a bit wide in the shoulders, so I'm not even going to bother to stoop down to take the chest measure, just a quick check across the shoulders.

Whoa! 19 inches. A little too broad for my taste. Move on.

Hey, this is interesting -- a plaid wool in some nice fall colors. Its buttoning is a three-roll-two, which is kinda different, as well. Let's pull out the tape.


Nice! We have a 19½...your chest measure plus four inches is a good fit, usually, and this 39 is right on target. Let's spend a few more seconds and take some further measures on this one.

The sleeve length is 25¼. That's nearly bang-on.

The shoulder is right at 18 inches, too. This is looking REAL good now.

Total length: a hair over thirty. That's at the short end for me, but well within specs for this rather sporty style. This is starting to look like it was hanging here just waiting for me. I'm sure it will fit now, and I haven't even taken it off the hanger or checked its tags! Total time in the store, so far, by the way: less than seven minutes.

This brown plaid could look dated if the details are too '70s. A quick check of the fronts show the lapels are just a quarter-inch more than half of the front chest: in other words, classic proportional standard. Throw it in the cart, and we're done here. Let's move over to the trouser racks.

Trousers hanging by their waistbands are easy to check: since you've worn them all your life, it's fairly easy to "eyeball" if they're going to be grossly over- or undersized. When you find something that looks close and is an appealing style, pull your tape across the waistband for an instant "go" or "no go."

Argh. Most of these are huge, with measures in the 18-24 inch region. (Remember you're measuring half the circumference.) This one? 15. No go. Remember you want something a bit larger than your natural waist.

Here's an interesting one. 16 inches...that's very close. It will be a little snug: another half-inch in the measure would be perfect, but nothing else here approaches that while being even close to the right length in the outseam. I really might like these, though. I haven't worn corduroy often, but I like the color and texture of these. They would go well with the jacket; very autumnal.

A quick check of the length finalizes it. A 41½" outseam can't be beat. In the cart it goes. We've burned a lot of time in the trouser racks; checking and rejecting sizes because we didn't want to have to alter anything. At twenty minutes in, though, we've got a good pair of trou that will fit well.

The shirts are easier to fit: just find a fitted size that matches your numbers and you're set.

A couple minutes of frantic tag-checking results in a 15½ -34 in an appealing shade of green. A quick check of the sleeve length from the cuff to the back of the neck shows it is indeed right at 34, and the shoulder seam is around about 25. Ka-ching! In the cart it goes, and we're up to 24 minutes in the store.

But wait! What if you see a shirt that just says 'M,' for instance? Well, here's a medium sized shirt. Nice one, too; let's see if it will fit.

Measure across the inside of the collar from the button to the buttonhole. H'm...a 16 incher. That would be a little loose on me.

The yoke is nearly 11 inches -- that's pretty extensive. To find the sleeve length, I'll measure out to my own half-yoke measure, 8 1/2 inches...

...and then from that point measure down to the cuff. Well lookee here! 25½. Not surprisingly, the chest measures out to 20 inches. So it would be very roomy, and the shoulders would be slouchy, BUT it fits well in the sleeve, and very nearly in the neck. As a casual fall shirt, I could pop for this. The fact that it's not only nearly new, but freshly professionally laundered and pressed with heavy starch, won me over. Put this one in the cart too, and the clock says 26 minutes have passed.

Turning our attention to a tie, it's a simple matter of sussing out those that just don't work from the one that does. Here's one! Add it to the cart, and we are in the checkout line with two minutes to spare!

So for twenty-eight minutes of my time, I have a new sportcoat, trousers, two shirts, and a tie. If I hadn't sprung for the extra shirt, and had bent my rules about getting trousers that needed no altering, I would have saved probably nearly ten minutes, and might have made it out in just over fifteen minutes.

This is the outfit, as-bought, as soon as I got it home. (Still a bit rumpled from its time in the shop: the application of a shot of steam from the iron did a great deal of good later on.) The jacket, in addition to fitting well, is quite well made, with a goodly amount of shaping and waist suppression.

Of greater interest, perhaps, than the fact that the entire shopping experience was less than thirty minutes, is that the entire spree cost me sixteen dollars and fifty cents. Really?! Yes, really: the jacket for five, trousers for two and a half, tie for two, and two shirts for three-fifty each. Proof positive, I believe, that dressing like a grownup doesn't require great amounts of time, effort, or money -- good news for students and professionals alike.

An update: since the time this blog was written, my new outfit has accumulated many miles of wear, is still in my regular wardrobe rotation, and has received some very nice compliments. Greater proof that any suit, well-worn but worn well, can be just as stylish and fashionable as any other.

Click here to go to Part Twelve of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically. 

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically, Part Ten of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go back to Part One of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to back to the beginning.


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  2. Dear mr.Thompson:

    I would like to thank you for all what this blog offers to every man who starts his journey to dressing like a man. I, as a 21 year old, young man, have realized that a real man has to dress like he wants to be percieved, either as a real man, or as a kid. I find your blog full of secrets and rules that men today don't know, nor want to know.

    Thank you for helping men dressing as men!