A few months ago it dawned on me that it was time to reform my wardrobe. My closet needed an update, but I didn’t want to buy new stuff that would end up being a waste of money. Enter frugal male fashion – the art of getting the biggest bang for every buck you spend on clothing.
Lifestyles change, sizes change, hobbies change. What was in my closet was no longer cutting it. I had too many pieces with nowhere to wear them that I was keeping around for no better reason than that I’ve already paid for them.
I don’t mind spending my money, but I hate wasting it on something that brings no value to my life. I also don’t like spending my money on something I don’t really need, or worse, something I already have.
At the same time, I want to look decent. When I’m out with my family, I don’t want people coming up to my wife asking her why she adopted a hobo. That’s what happens when you buy lime green pants because they were on sale, and wear shoes with no laces because the little holes wore through six years ago.
So my dilemma is balancing looking good with not messing up my bigger life goals. And frugal male fashion helps me achieve that. Here’s why:
Benefits of Frugal Male Fashion
I don’t want to look too good.
You know how when you dress fancy people treat you better. That’s what I’m trying to avoid!
Stealth wealth is an important part of being a saver, and I don’t want people seeing dollar signs every time I walk into a room.
Also, I don’t want to worry about my nice clothes getting messed up. My wife has a really nice jacket, but she never wears it because our kids’ muddy boots will instantly mess it up when she holds them. There’s essentially a couple hundred dollar bills hanging in our closet until our kids are too heavy to get picked up.
I have better uses for that money.
So, according to Forbes, the average American couple spends $1700 per year on clothing and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually even more.
Over 5 years they’ve spent $8500.
Now say, they embrace frugal male fashion and they deposit that $1700 every year into an investing account (with an average return of 10% which is typical.) After 5 years those annual deposits would amount to $10,378!
Or, say that $8500 was put towards buying a rental property. At 8% average annual returns (which has been my experience) just that chunk of savings would bring in $680 of extra income every year.
Hmm. Making my money make me more money, or having a closet full of stuff I don’t wear? Decisions, decisions.
How to Look Good For Much Much Less
Frugal Male Fashion is NOT
- Mismatched end-of-season cast-offs. (My wife tells me that’s not allowed.)
- Chinese knockoffs. (Wearing Cucci is awkward for more than one reason.)
- Couponing. (Ugh. Wasting time is worse than wasting money)
Instead, it’s more like
Frugal male fashion is more about stretching every dollar you spend. So it could mean:
- Spending less on the clothes you’re already buying
- Getting more wear out of the clothes you’ve already bought.
And here are some tips to achieve that:
1. Adopt a style that looks good with scuffs
This tip stands above all others. Some clothes just look “rugged” instead of “worn.” This means that over the years they’ll look even cooler and you won’t be tempted to replace them.
Think styles that are more like outdoor athlete or cowboy and less like a Gucci three-piece suit.
I have a pair of Converse shoes and honestly don’t mind when my kids step on my feet in their muddy boots. It adds character.
2. Let one Item elevate the rest
When you’re wearing a nice jacket, even stretchy pants look good. When you’re wearing nice jeans, you can pull off a plain Hanes T-shirt and look put together. Make sure you’re wearing one piece that’s timeless and fits well, and it will elevate your whole outfit.
If you spend a lot of time outside, I suggest you start with nice jacket. This guarantees you’ll look good every single day for years regardless of how often you update your wardrobe.
3. Don’t wear fragile things
This goes hand-in-hand with the tip above. Avoid clothes and shoes that can rip or scuff easily, and especially things that are hard to clean. Even if they’re cheaper, they’re the opposite of frugal male fashion.
Years ago, I bought a really cool pair of white dress shoes for work. I bought them because I needed shoes, I liked how they looked, but mostly because they happened to be on sale.
I wear them maybe twice a year. I still think they’re really cool but I don’t want them to get messed up and I don’t want to waste my time cleaning them. But the worst part is that they sit in my closet taunting me. Now I feel bad that I never wear them and I don’t want to spend my money on another pair.
4. Know your style and know your closet
When you have a personal uniform, or at least you know your style, you won’t be tempted to buy anything that falls outside of it. If you have an outdoorsy kind of look and you see a pair of basketball shoes you absolutely love, you’ll instantly know it’s a waste of your money and walk away.
Also, know what’s already in your closet. If you come across a pair of jeans you like, I have nothing against you buying them… unless you already have 8 pairs of the same jeans at home.
5. Be timeless and avoid fast fashion
You know what’s timeless? Things I could own for over a decade and wear at least once a week.
- Button shirts
You know what’s not? Red old-school tracksuits.
Okay, I have to admit, I kind of enjoy seeing people wear them, but if it was in my own closet, I’d probably only wear it once a year and only to be ironic.
Also, I think fast fashion stores certainly have a place in frugal male fashion, but they have a tendency to sell stuff that looks cool at first and then super-dated. My brother has a fun lobster dress shirt. I’m sure he thought it was unique when he bought it, but now it’s the equivalent of an old-school tracksuit.
6. Buy your basics in bulk (especially on sale)
I’m going to break my own rule here and say when you come across something that’s “part of your uniform” and you can get it on sale, buy it in bulk.
I’m talking basics like underwear, T-shirts, and workout gear, but also things like hoodies and work pants. If you know it works for you, and it’s on sale – buy a couple so you don’t have to think about it later.
This is where stores like H&M, Amazon, and even Costco really shine. No, I don’t want their Lobster dress shirt, but yes I do want their 10-pack of plain white Tees.
7. Buy off-season
At the end of the season, stores are trying to clear out their inventory and they sell things with barely any profit margins.
This is my time to shine!
While I wouldn’t buy things that say Happy Valentines Day 1999, I’ve bought some pretty sweet winter gear right after Christmas.
The trick is in planning ahead. If I know my coat is on its last legs, I have to stretch it out for just one more season so that I can find the perfect one for next year. If you can’t time it right, it kind of sucks, but for the well-prepared, it’s an awesome frugal male fashion tip.
8. Avoid brand names
Thankfully, people don’t seem as brand-obsessed as they were when I was younger, but I urge you to avoid this trap nonetheless.
Back in the day, we associated a brand name with higher quality. That’s just not true anymore. Brand name stuff can be just as crappy as your run-of-the-mill no-name brand, and the no-name frugal male fashion can be well-made, long-lasting, and timeless.
Also, people buy brand names because they think it says something about them. But I’m pretty sure you already know what I think about that. I think it’s stupid.
9. Be okay with weird fashion sites
Okay, so while I won’t let you out of the house wearing Gavin Khein, I have nothing against trying clothes, even knockoffs, from weird sites like Amazon and Wish.
You have to be careful. What you see isn’t necessarily what you will get. And sometimes their sizing is weird. But if you’re average-sized you’ll probably be okay. You also can’t really go wrong with shoe sizing. Plus, Amazon offers easy returns so if you hate what you got, you can just send it back and pretend the whole thing never happened.
10. Try buying custom clothes online
I have a problem. Normal clothes don’t fit me. And even if I like something I see in a store, there’s a 90% chance they wouldn’t have my size. Actually, that problem has been pretty good for not wasting my money, but it’s a problem nonetheless when you need to buy a dress shirt for the office and everything I put on looks like it’s made for a toddler.
So I went online and ordered some custom-made clothes that were made in India from a site called Make Your Own Jeans. You literally measure every part of your body and they mail you a perfectly-fitting piece of clothing like shirts, pants, and even suits. I looked like a million bucks.
That had to end though when I started getting charged for duties by the shipping companies. It was an unpredictable and unplanned sum of money, which kind of negated the whole frugal male fashion purpose.
However, I know this custom-made industry has been growing, so much so that companies are setting up shop to measure you and place your order. If you need some high-quality clothes, it’s definitely worth looking into.
11. Consider thrift stores (And apps)
I used to love shopping at thrift stores. It’s not only because I’m cheap. Thrift stores play into deep-seeded desire to not be wasteful. And I don’t want to convince you to adopt the hobo-chic sense of frugal male fashion either. (Kanye already stole that idea, and it’s not so frugal)
There are stores like Plato’s Closet, other consignment stores and even apps that specifically go out of their way to buy second-hand items that are in good shape and still in style. You could totally find a timeless leather jacket and call it your own for the next few years.
12. Don’t go shopping
And this tip is probably the most important one. Basically, go shopping as infrequently as humanly possible, and when you need something – plan ahead. This goes for online shopping too. It’s too easy to show up in a mall (or on a website) and all your rules go out the window.
I’m pretty good at following my rules, but just the other day my wife told me I needed new shoes and pointed me to a website with a sale. I’m pretty sure I wasted more time than I’m willing to admit just comparing and contrasting different styles before realizing – hey, I don’t need new shoes, what is she talking about?
Be strong-willed, know what you’re after, and follow the three tips below:
Yes, getting a discount is nice, but you’re still spending money. I mean, of course I’d prefer to spend $20 rather than $50 on a shirt, but if I don’t need a shirt at all, then that’s a moot point. Sales are mostly there to shut off that part of your brain that asks if you really need this item.
I remember my wife going into a store that had everything 50% off and everything she saw seemed like such a good deal. The week after that, they had that 50% off sign again, and the week after that and after that. Basically, that sign was always there, and the discount prices were basically their true prices. I’m pretty sure that tactic comes as no surprise to anyone, but it’s nice to remember that sale doesn’t really mean anything anymore.
Of course, if I actually need something, then I get it. I can’t bring myself to pay full price for something that I know will be marked down at some point.
Skip the outlets
Outlets are weird. I remember getting dragged to those as a teen, and feeling sad about the veneer of those low prices. They use the same tactics as the “sales” in the above points, but it’s even worse. The cheap stuff they have at outlets is the opposite of timeless. It’s the things that were cool for like a month and then you’d be too embarrassed to be seen in.
So even though you’re being frugal, you’re not exactly partaking in frugal male fashion.
Avoid store memberships
Every store seems to have a loyalty program. But when it comes to my money, I’m loyal only to myself.
Okay, so maybe they’ll send you some sort of discount code for signing up. I’m all for that. But then I hit unsubscribe as fast as I can. For all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I don’t want to know about their sales, and I don’t want to be dragged into some BOGO BS.