Fill Up Your “Clothing Bank”

I’ve written before about how clueless I was about how to dress properly when I first entered the workforce after college. There were a handful of reasons why it took me so long to get my act together when it came to how I dressed.

I worked at a company with a casual dress code, so I never needed to “dress up” for work. Everyone in the office was in jeans and t-shirts (even upper management) so I didn’t have any good examples for what to wear in an office.

Even though I was in NYC and lived in the same place as many stylish people, I had no money and rarely went out. I wasn’t out at parties, bars, clubs, or events so I never actually SAW these highly stylish people other than on the street on my way to and from work. And I never took much notice since I, and everyone else, was always in a rush.

Lastly, I never had any real instruction from a young age on how to dress, or the importance of it, so I didn’t think it was a big deal that I didn’t have a well-rounded wardrobe. I thought I just didn’t need it.

As a result of all of this, I only owned one suit and one dress shirt (that I didn’t know how to iron). There was a steep drop-off from there into nothing but t-shirts, jeans, and hooded sweatshirts. I didn’t own any khaki pants. No oxford shirts. No sweaters.

I looked like a total slob all the time.

The problem with not having key staples was that I was unprepared for life. If I couldn’t get my ONE dress shirt cleaned and pressed before an interview I just had to wear my dirty shirt (great first impression!).

I didn’t have any flexibility since my wardrobe was SO limited. And since I had virtually no disposable income, I couldn’t buy anything new even if I wanted.

What I SHOULD have done is used a little foresight. I should have realized beforehand that I was starting my professional career and stocked up on some nicer staples (sport coat, collared shirts, chinos) so that when I was struggling financially I was still able to present myself appropriately if I needed to.

I should have made an effort to fill up my “clothing bank”.

Just like how you save up your money to provide a cushion for the lean times, you should always make sure you have an adequate supply of nice clothes to carry you through whatever life throws your way.

I always think I will be able to buy a new suit if I want or need one. But that’s not always going to be true. I may find myself in a position where that isn’t a possibility for a long time. I sure am happy I have a few already hanging in my closet.

I have built up my closet over a number of years. I am confident that I could go many more years without purchasing anything else since my “clothing bank” is relatively full. I am at a place where the stuff in my wardrobe has me covered for any event, in any season, in any weather.

And this, mind you, is not because I dropped a ton of money or bought a ton of stuff (that DID happen in the beginning but I quickly learned my lesson since I no longer have most of what I impulse-bought when I first got into menswear). I don’t really have that much clothing now. I have been selective throughout the years to only spend money on things I know will last AND look good years from now.

And that’s what I encourage you to do. Build your wardrobe while you can with the staples you will realistically need throughout the year. I am not advocating for you to go on a spending spree. But take stock of what you have and what you don’t.

You need more than one or two dress shirts. You need a suit (maybe two). You need a sport coat. You need some khaki pants. You need a pair of conservative leather shoes. If you don’t have these things then I recommend you make an effort to grab them before life’s circumstances make it impossible.

You don’t want to be unable to attend a friend’s wedding because you recently lost your job and can’t afford a suit. You want to be able to grab the suit you already have out of the back of the closet.

Also, when you’re building up your “clothing bank”, make sure the items are timeless so that they look stylish year after year. This means “middle of the road”. Make sure your sport coat’s lapels aren’t too skinny or too wide. Make sure your ties are relatively sober and roughly 3 to 3.5 inches in width. Cuffs on trousers shouldn’t really be too much more than 2 inches. You get the idea.

I think it was one of Flusser’s books where he mentioned that Cary Grant said he was always stylish because his clothes didn’t reflect the passing trends of the day. Everything had “middle of the road” proportions so that he could wear it in any decade and still look great. Be like Cary.

We always think that our current state of life will be constant. But it isn’t. Circumstances can change on a dime. As dads, we pride ourselves on being prepared for whatever life can throw at us and our families.

Exert control where you can and make sure you have enough in your “clothing bank”.

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