Fashion Advice: Best Value for a Rising Professional

Editor’s note: The Father Life is pleased to welcome Jeff Collins of as a regular fashion contributor. Whether at home, at work, or at play, we all want to look our best. Jeff has the know-how to answer those nagging fashion questions and to help you plan a comprehensive approach to getting the most out of your wardrobe. We’re kicking things off with a query of our own, but we’re not going to do all the heavy lifting ourselves! Send your fashion questions for Jeff to and look for answers in upcoming editions of The Father Life!

QUESTION: A lot of our readers are rising professionals with young families and a steady but limited budget (what with kids, a mortgage, car payments, student loans and all). What’s the best advice for a guy starting to seriously make it in the professional world who is now in the market to invest in some quality clothes? Or, to put it another way, if a guy has $1,500 to drop on some quality clothing… what’s the best use of his money?

ANSWER: Obviously this is going to depend on the company dress code and the company culture. Within those parameters and beyond the work place there are a variety of factors to consider when looking at investing in clothing, but let’s assume the decision is made for the main item to be a suit.

The first thing to understand is to not blow the whole budget on that suit. While a $1,500 suit can be a wonderful thing, if you have to resort to wearing a t-shirt with it you are not going to make it in the board room. It is important to balance the budget to create multiple looks around that suit.

Your wardrobe collection could look like this:
1) Navy Suit, 4 dress shirts (white, light blue, light gray, yellow), 4 ties, shoes & belt
2) Black Suit, 2 dress shirts (white & light blue), 2 ties, 2 knit shirts (charcoal & light gray), shoes & belt

3) Brown Multi-Stripe Suit, 2 dress shirts (white & yellow or tan), 2 ties, 2 knit shirts (tan & chocolate), shoes & belt

If you already have nice shoes and a matching belt, then that leaves more to allot toward either upgrading or increasing the number of other items.

For sport coats, a wardrobe collection could look like this:
1) Black blazer, 3 slacks (light gray, tan & lt olive), 2 dress shirts (white & light blue), 2 ties, 3 knit shirts (charcoal, tan & light olive – wear the tan knit with the light olive slacks & the light olive with tan slacks), black shoes & belt

2) Navy Sport Coat, 3 Slacks (tan, light gray & dark navy), 2 dress shirts (white & light blue), 2 ties, 2 knit shirts (navy blue & medium gray) brown & black shoes with matching belts.
3) Brown Sport Coat, 3 slacks (tan, brown & charcoal) 3 dress shirts (white, light blue & yellow), 3 ties, 2 knit shirts (tan & dark brown) brown shoes & belt

These are only examples of possible combinations. The idea is to not go to the store in search of one item, such as a suit or a coat. That kind of shopping constantly creates confusion and frustration when you get it home and it doesn’t match up with the rest of your closet. You need to have a plan for your purchase and how it will fit in with future purchases. The great thing is this: when you start to accumulate items, many things can be matched up from outfits, multiplying the usefulness of your wardrobe and maximizing your ROI (return on investment).

QUESTION: What should a guy look for in a quality suit in terms of materials, construction, and fit?

ANSWER: The color and pattern should be appealing to the eye, but you also have to think about versatility. For example, I have a medium gray suit with a magenta stripe. It simply cannot go with as many things as it could if it had a pearl stripe, but I also have more than a few suits, so mine don’t have to cover as much ground in the variety of ways I can wear it.

One point I stress to my new customers when they first ask me what brands I carry is that you cannot tell the quality of the garment by the label. There are a couple of manufacturers that are consistently good or bad, but most of them have a wide range of products in attempt to capture the market.

Another point I stress is that most of the workmanship is on the inside of the coat. Most people cannot tell if a coat has been fused, has a full floating chest piece, or was handmade. Usually, you will see it reflected in the price but won’t know why. Often, the better made the garment is, the more it will form to your body and get to know you as you wear it.

One easy way to tell a quality trouser is how firm the waistband is. If it is floppy, then they didn’t put a lot of effort into it. A firm waist band holds up better and doesn’t roll over your belt. Also, an inexpensive way to attach belt loops is to sew them right on to the waist band instead of wrapping them up over the top of the waist band and sewing them in behind.

Here are a few other things to look for:

– Metal zipper vs. nylon

– Crotch lining and lining to the knee
– Separate piece of the coat lining sewn in as an armpit sweatshield
– 4 to 6 pockets inside the coat (in addition to the 3 to 4 outside)
– Fabric outlining the inside coat pockets
– If you have side vents, a strap connecting the two to keep them laying flat
– Functioning button holes on the sleeves

In terms of fit, the best way to put it is “it should fit.” If you are buying off-the-rack clothing and you have to do a bunch of adjustmensts, then perhaps they are selling you the wrong size, or you simply don’t fit well into ready made garments. If it is a suit you are buying, but only one piece fits you well, then ask if they have a line with a separates program. This allows you to get a beyond the stock sizes. You can also ask if they have the ability to custom make suits. Many department stores do, but they shy away from it because they have so much inventory already on the floor that they need to move.

There really is quite a bit that goes into “fit” which makes the topic too big to cover here. The same can be said for materials. I think these items are best left for another discussion.

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask by sending an email to

Hailing from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Jeff Collins is a professional men’s fashion consultant specializing in personal service. With over nine years of experience, Jeff has expanded his business into the online world through his website

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