While getting dressed casually on a budget can be done relatively inexpensively, adding dressier items into the mix makes things trickier in terms of price. Parts 1 and 2 in this men’s style budget recap (which you can see here) tackled just how to revamp your downtime wardrobe in a versatile manner, and Part 3 will set out to do the same. However, this time around, we’re diving into the best places to go for dressier items — dress shoes and dress shirt or two, along with ties and suits. Later on, we’ll wrap things up with other accessories, including watches, belts and socks. For now, suit up on a budget below!
The Shoes: JC Penney
While JC Penney’s dress shoes won’t win any awards from shoe snobs any time soon, don’t be so quick to turn away from this pair. While it’s a more casual-leaning wingtip shoe (which some would say makes it harder to wear with suits), a lot of us don’t seem to have jobs that require a suit every day of the week. And in those instances, it’ll work just fine. If you have the capital to invest in a higher-quality shoe (even something from the Mercanti Fiorentini line at DSW would work), go for it. But these shoes provide a similar look for a much lower price. On top of that, when worn as part of a rotation throughout the year and when mixing in other business-casual styles, these shoes should hold up alright for the price. Reviews have been largely positive, another plus for these shoes — and it’s worth noting they can drop down to about $50 when on-sale. They’ll also work with jeans and chinos alike (for more on budget alternatives for those styles, check out Part 1 in this series). On top of that, this pair is available in multiple shades, including the versatile dark brown (which would even work with a charcoal suit or pants).
The Dress Shirts: J. Crew Factory
Quality can be hard to maintain when delivering dress shirts at a discounted price, but J. Crew Factory meets that challenge. Unlike other brands (such as Express), J. Crew Factory’s shirts seem more consistently on-sale, especially if you can get into a store during a promotion (currently, one shirt will set you back about $43). Available in staple colors like white and light blue — two shades that go with practically any suit-and-tie combination you can think of — their dress shirt offerings also include stripes, prints and other patterns. And their quality, while a step down from J. Crew, is on-point with similar budget brands. Starting out with two of these in your basic colors expands upon an already solid casual wardrobe. Don’t forget that these shirts, despite the ‘dress shirt’ title, can be worn under v-neck sweaters or cardigans alongside jeans, too.
TOTAL: About $86
The Tie/Pocket Square: The Tie Bar
There’s a reason GQ uses products from The Tie Bar month after month after month in its shoots. For a fraction of the price of other high-end ties, The Tie Bar delivers the same styling and pretty darn good quality, to boot. While the sheer array of fabric choices and variety of ties on their website is overwhelming at times, the brand makes terrific ties at terrific prices. And for all the wide varieties they stock (including a dizzying 62 pages of bow ties), they do the essentials very well, too. If you had to start with only one or two ties to pair with the restock you’ve already taken care of, reaching for either a navy or a black knit tie would be one great way to go. The silk knit hits on both casual and dressier fronts —either color goes with virtually any outfit combination from chinos to jeans (although a navy knit tie should be worn with brown accessories), and there’s a reason James Bond wore a black knit tie. Additionally, the price makes it easy to throw one of these in your cart along with other accessories — like a white cotton pocket square, an all-season essential that’s the perfect finishing touch to a blazer or suit. So, if you start with one go-anywhere, do-anything tie (like the navy knit) and toss in a versatile pocket square, you’re looking at a price that hits the sweet spot.
The Suit: J. Crew Factory
When you need a suit on a tight budget but prefer a step up in quality, turning back to J. Crew Factory is once again the way to go. Their line of Thompson suiting has drawn high praise across the blogosphere and with customers for exceptional fit and quality for a budget-tier suit. This year’s run of suits appears to be no exception. The brand doesn’t do anything overly fancy — standard double-vent suits in worsted wool that could work in a pinch in nearly any season. The color offerings are the perfect starter’s set for a suit — charcoal and navy options, along with some flannel fabrics mixed in and a chino option for the warmer months. If you’re just jumping into the suit game, either of those staple colors (navy or charcoal) would be a great look — their neutrality, while not flashy, provides so many options for mixing and matching. The pants, crucially, come in a slim-fit option. Admittedly, the line doesn’t have the pedigree of J. Crew’s Ludlow suits, yet you get nearly a dead look-alike for the price. Take that navy suit, throw it together with a light blue dress shirt, navy knit tie and white pocket square as discussed above, and you have an office-ready outfit While the price, even on discount, might cause some eyes to pop, this suit is a definite upgrade from a standard department store offering, or a more affordable option, like Express. On top of that, the suit brings versatility with it. In a tight spot, the jacket can function as a blazer with chinos, for example, while the pants can be worn on their own with other dressier offerings.
Editor’s note: This rundown is pretty focused on the color blue, no? Fear not — shake things up with some wild socks!
So, the total for today’s dress essentials comes to about $475 — quite a lot of money in comparison to last year’s men’s style starter kit. However, these items are the basics of a dressier wardrobe, yet can do so much more. Break up the shirts and knit ties with sweaters and jeans, wear the wingtip oxfords with chinos and suit pants, and use the jacket as a blazer when needed. The color palette of most of these offerings, as well, can be mixed and matched with plenty of other choices. Plus, paying a bit more money for a few basics up front can ensure you get more use out of these items than you would when picking them up from a cheaper retailer. Keeping these essentials in mind will save your pocketbook more in the long run. After all, building great style on a budget is fun, but having more money left over to go out and wear those clothes is infinitely better.
Do you have any go-to’s for dress essentials on a budget? Alternate picks? Leave it all below!