An excellent question was posted on my last post, 'Dressing to the Nines'--how does one dress well and yet maintain a frugal budget? Is this simply impossible?
In short--certainly not! Though I do not ever advertise the fact, and this is probably the only public setting in which you will hear me say it, I am often currently quite short on ready money myself. It is the curse of being an adjunct professor...doing what one loves for a fraction of what one would like to be paid. This may be surprising to some of my acquaintances, as I do live by several important maxims: 'A very well-bred man intensely dislikes the mention of money, and never speaks of it (out of business hours) if he can avoid it'...'A gentleman must always appear as if money is of no consequence to him'. Nonetheless, the wise gentleman--and the gentleman who wishes to retain that status in society--is, in actuality, careful and meticulous in his financial affairs.
Many men who may have half a mind to attempt dressing as a gentleman are immediately discouraged by the erroneous assumption that all high fashion costs at least a small farm to obtain. However, one need not shop regularly at Brooks Brothers to dress to the nines. The following are some suggestions on how one can dress like a gentleman whilst on the budget of the working masses:
1) Sales, sales, sales. Many people think, quite wrongly, that cheap stores with inferior quality clothing are the only way to save money on fashion wear. However, the cheapest prices that I have ever paid were at department stores such as Macy's and Boscov's. I have literally spent less than $10 on designer blazers and waistcoats, and all of my tuxedos (save my evening tails) have been on sale and cost far less than if I had rented a set from some horrible place such as Men's Warehouse for only one event! All one has to do is keep an eye out for sales and then comb through the racks for stylish options. In England, I found Slaters Menswear to have some excellent prices on very nice suits (especially three-piece), and even Next had some rather good sales on their men's formal styles from time to time, as well as department stores like Debenhams.
2) Discount stores. Stores like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx often carry some very lovely clothing for even lovelier prices. One may, of course, have to do quite a lot of combing through the racks to acquire such finds, but the end result can be more than worth the effort. I myself recently picked up a set of French cuff dress shirts for excellent prices in my local Marshalls.
3) Antique/Second-hand shops. For items such as cuff links, collar bars, studs, pocket watches, etc., sometimes these shops are perfect. For instance, I recently visited the antique mall 'Days of Olde' in Smithville, NJ, and picked up a smashing set of gold-plated abalone cuff links and studs and a pair of silver and mother-of-pearl cuff links--all dating to the 1920s--for $25! Though some antique dealers charge exorbitant prices, others sell things quite reasonably, so it is always worth a look.
4) Goodwill/Charity shops. Personally, I do draw the line here. I just cannot bring myself to enter any sort of Goodwill store, and I myself do not like to buy clothing that has already been worn by someone else. However, if you do not have such scruples, these may be excellent options. A friend of mine found several Harris Tweed jackets in a Pennsylvania Goodwill--for those not familiar with the make, Harris Tweed is one of the most established and respected makers of tweed suits, all handmade in Scotland. In the UK, a jacket alone easily costs at least $200-$300, while my very fortunate friend paid less than $20.
I hope that this provides some ideas as to how one can begin building his gentleman's wardrobe without emptying the bank, selling the farm, and enslaving the children. Of course, one can also learn to sew (which some of my more industrious friends do) or marry a girl who does. In the meantime, I wish you all the best of luck in your hunt for affordable gentlemen's fashion!