Debunking the “affordability” myth

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“I’d love to dress better but I just can’t afford to.”

Every Christmas season I hear this familiar lament from young male relatives. And I counter it with an argument I’ll put into writing, in case you or someone you know is telling themselves this convenient lie. For the truth is if you can afford to dress yourself, you can afford to do it well. What it takes is not necessarily an excess of money but of time and effort. And that is what they really “can’t afford.”

I’ll start by saying, as I have before, that dressing well is not about how expensive your wardrobe is. It is about knowing yourself, developing a personal sense of style, and investing in quality and a good fit. Those criteria take time to mature, they are skills that must be built through a lot of trial and error. And so I often question my relatives on whether they actually want to dress better. Because if they did, they would find a way. And buying stuff is not at the heart of the matter. As the great G. Bruce Boyer says about shopping in his most recent book True Style: “Most people think they’re buying style when in fact they are only buying clothes.”

The hat. The collar pin. The tie knot. Those lapels. The ease in the trousers. And the way it all moves together.

A photo posted by Pedro Mendes (@thehogtownrake) on

I wrote a series of style resolutions that I believe will make you a better person. Now’s about the right time to read that list again, I’d suggest. It contains my advice for how to develop and build your approach to dress, which includes following the guidance of others, dressing with intent (instead of just throwing on whatever is around) and caring for your wardrobe. I will admit that this is a long process – I started over a decade ago and have a lengthy road ahead. In fact, I will never arrive at my destination; it is the journey that matters.

Clichés aside, I won’t ignore the fact that money must be spent. But if spent wisely, on high quality items, your wardrobe will actually be an investment. I don’t mean that you’ll be able to resell it in years to come, but it will last longer and look better than poor quality clothes. And if spending is a concern for you then I have a simple solution: buy less but buy better. It goes against the disposable, cheap culture we’ve been raised in, but instead of buying four or five pairs of cheap shoes over the next few years, buy one pair of excellent shoes. And apply that approach to the rest of your wardrobe. Strive for the very best, just get less if cost is an issue.

I am at least heartened by one thing: that so many men want to dress better. I hope this wish stems from a real aspiration to lead a more elegant life because if it does, it expresses a deeper desire to live life to one’s full potential. And that desire is really why dressing well matters.