Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe (BGW) Year 1 of 5: Covering the Bases

So you have decided to begin your 5-year project, Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe.  Great.  So what do you do next?

First, you ought to work out the annual budget for your project.  Your budget may, of course, decrease or increase in subsequent years. You can determine your budget in any number of ways.  You might set a figure which is a percentage of your disposable income after essential bills, savings and investment.  If you are the kind of person who keeps receipts, you might, alternatively, work out how much you spent last year on clothing and use this as a guide.  It might be, of course, that you already have a very detailed household budget which includes a figure for your clothing. In which case let’s move on.

Next, you need to work out what are your most pressing needs, the things that need to be put in place from year 1.  See my earlier post for an idea of the contents of A Well Appointed Gentleman’s Wardrobe. If you have not been measured recently it is a good idea to get yourself measured because Size Does Matter. It is pointless to build a wardrobe filled with ill-fitting clothing.

It is helpful to have some idea of the scale of what is needed in year 1 so that you have some idea whether your budget is going to be heroically stretched or barely dented. This will of course depend on your starting point. If your wardrobe is virtually empty that is a very different starting point from someone who has a good number of clothes already but looking to build up their collection.  It might be that in a particular year you have a particular area of focus.  In my case it was suits in year 1, shirts in year 2, and shoes in year 3.

Having determined what you think are your most pressing needs for year 1 prioritise them.  Priority items you may wish to purchase in better quality (and at higher cost) than non-priority items. There may well be items that you purchase in year 1 that you will replace by year 3.  For example, let’s assume you need a whole new wardrobe because you have recently lost a massive amount of weight, or vice versa.  You might choose to buy some good quality shirts and a couple of cheap suits and 2 pairs of shoes in year 1 with the expectation in years 2 and 3 to give priority to building up your suit and shoe collection. In which case you don’t mind having cheap suits in year 1 because you can improve the breed as you go on.  It is a 5-year project after all.

So once you’ve got your priorities you now need to acquire the wardrobe items. The urgency with which you need to do this again depends on your starting point. If the wardrobe is virtually empty you may need to purchase in a big hit at the beginning of the year and not spend anything at all for the rest of the year. I keep track of what I have spent on clothing, including when it was spent, so I can see how much I’ve been spending, when and on what over the years.

The tricky question is where to go?  This may take some working out, especially if like most men going shopping is not something you do voluntarily. The size of the budget will determine whether your suit is from Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes, Marks & Spencer or Primark and your shirt from Turnbull & Asser, Thomas Pink or Debenhams.  Assuming, like me, you are a man of modest means it is more likely that you will admire the former but purchase the latter.

Be prepared to look in unlikely places. You may draw the line at shopping at Primark for ethical reasons or because you don’t like the kind of people who shop there. However, you might be open to doing a bit of wardrobe building when you do your weekly shop. A great suit by George @ ASDA or TU @ Sainsbury’s may be hard to tell from one by John Rocha in Debenhams or from the sartorial range in M&S, especially if it fits you properly. However, most George or TU suits will not fall into this category.  Visit the stores that sell wardrobe items you would buy if money were no object. Now you know what quality looks like and feels like go find alternatives which are similar but fall within your budget.

Good quality men’s outfitters like T M Lewin, Hawes & Curtis or C T Shirts will have websites which offer a wider range than in most of their stores.  They also produce online or paper catalogues which can offer ideas for how you might build your wardrobe. You can also request an email of any offers. Before you purchase items online you need to be reasonably confident that you know both your size and the outfitter’s. A size 17 shirt from two different outfitters may well fit differently.

Certain times of the year are good times to find bargains.  After Christmas, around bank holidays, and at the shift of the seasons, are typical points at which items are put on sale.  If you can, it is obviously better to wait until these points to acquire items for the wardrobe. With luck and some strategic planning you might be able to acquire your year 1 items in fewer than half dozen separate purchases.

Clearly each wardrobe will be as individual as the person building it. Nonetheless, I would hope that at the end of year 1 your wardrobe will include a small collection of decent shirts, suits, ties and shoes.  If it’s been a good year you will have accomplished this under budget and learnt a little more about yourself in the process.  Happy hunting.


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