Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the fourth part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch the first, second and third parts in the series here . Look for more in the coming weeks!
There are a couple things pretty apparent upon first entering Express. First: It’s bright. Everything from the clothes themselves to that lighting to the bright red 40% sale signs. And it’s kind of loud. The music is often a mix of strange techno-electronic beats, which makes for one interesting shopping experience.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s that lion logo. That thing is everywhere — on T-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, polos, jackets, graphic tees —you name it, that logo’s on it. Since many are now heading in the anti-logo direction, that’s a definite hit against the clothing. Granted, it could be layered over if it’s on a T-shirt, but not so with a sweater. There’s a few stacks of shirts and sweaters without that logo, but a good chunk of the clothing is emblazoned with that large lion. Even items that would be perfectly good on their own seem to have it.
So that’s upon entering the store. When digging around, there are actually some alright finds. The Photographer chino (as pictured below) fits about like a Dockers Alpha Khaki (although it’s more expensive). But in a light khaki shade, a grey and even a darker amber color, it’s a good buy. Generally, anything without a logo is actually quite solid in terms of fit and quality. Outerwear looks to be a good buy from here, as the pieces are often cut slim and in neutral colors.
The store’s suit separates actually aren’t half-bad either — the trick would be to catch them on a sale. And since suit separates are becoming more ubiquitous this year, it’s a good idea to get into that market at a lower price. The color selection is surprisingly nice, with a few patterns thrown in there, too. The quality and construction isn’t up there with anything from a nicer department store, but in some solid shades (like navy or charcoal), a blazer or pants could be a good buy when on sale. The dressier department is also where the pitfalls keep popping up, unfortunately.
Certainly most of us remember (and probably wore) the middle school or high school dance-esque bright solid shirt and bold patterned tie combo. It’s not inherently bad, but if it’s ill-fitting (likely the case), it’s a recipe for disaster. In the dress shirt area, that’s what Express seems to specialize in. Granted, the fit of the Express 1MX shirt is a personal favorite, but only makes a ton of fashion sense with a white or light blue shade – not highlighter yellow, bright purple or dark maroon.
The ties themselves actually have some half-decent patterns to them, but again, harken back to the solid shirt-patterned tie combo. And the lack of winter-weight fabrics or knit ties (at least on the shelves in this store) is somewhat disconcerting.
Other dress shirts are hit or miss, as well. A green checked shirt hanging on one of the racks wouldn’t look out of place under a khaki summer suit with a grey knit tie, but then there are anomalies like an odd shirt fading from one color into another (see below). There was also what looked to be a newer ‘soft wash’ shirt (the phrase on the tag), which felt much more forgiving to the touch than a starchy, bright dress shirt.
Neutral basics like crew neck and v-neck tees, along with briefs and boxers, are available in typically bright shades but also dark solid colors — while a bit overpriced, these are likely a decent purchase. Patterned socks from Express are actually a personal favorite, but like much of the rest of the store, wait until a sale to snag two or three pairs at once.
Jeans are another area where Express seems to have some misses. Although they introduced the ‘super skinny’ Alec jean last year, the store still offers (and tries to push, no less) bootcut jeans (for more than $60 on-sale, more than $100 full price). Dark blue denim, free of distressing, is in short supply here, unfortunately.
Accessories from Express (like a belt or a watch) could work on a budget — a reversible leather belt takes care of 2 things at once, for example — but there are certainly better (and less pricier) places to go than Express for, say, a good watch.
The ultimate takeaway from the store would be this: stay away (if it’s your preference) from those large, garish lion logos. Look for solid basics including outerwear and slim suit separates, but steer clear of those neon dress shirts and patterned ties. Keep an eye out for solid buys like crew neck or v-neck tees or a collared shirt with a colorful, understated pattern. Buy on-sale and in pairs with most items like briefs or socks. And maybe pick up some chinos if needed. Again (and this is important) watch out for those lions. Happy shopping!