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by Mike Garowee
It’s New Year’s Eve -- the one night a year you can cut loose and party like a maniac and ... wait, you might do that on St. Patrick’s Day, too. Maybe even the day before Thanksgiving. Cinco de Mayo? OK, but still, it’s New Year’s Eve.
And tonight, you’re going the classy route. Or rather, you would have, had your fanciest suit not been ruined when you were escorting people from the building that caught fire while busting that mob-driven, counterfeit Beanie Baby operation. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can have you looking Bond-ish in no time.
Now, I’m no fashion expert, and granted not all of these will work in a pinch -- but they have worked for me. And if these tips don’t help you look sleek before tonight’s fancy shenanigans, maybe they’ll at least get you ready for St. Patrick’s Day, or your next court date or whatever. You still could give it a go for tonight anyway, if the clock’s ticking and you don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, and at worst people might just think you’re going for some sort of Punky Brewster thing.
Go To Smaller Church Or Estate Sales For The Big Stuff
I’m not saying that I used to be a secret agent -- after all, I don’t want my arch-nemesis Dr. Rocketpuncher to find me. But for a long time, my lifestyle required me to wear fine-ass clothing on a daily basis. Long ago, this meant going to places like Savers and Goodwill. However, shopping at thrift stores has become popular with the younger crowd, with popularity meaning price hikes, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed that thrift stores aren’t quite as financially viable as they used to be. Which is why, if you’re specifically looking for a suit, I’d advise you to avoid those places altogether, and instead opt for smaller church stores and estate sales instead.
These smaller enterprises are just about everywhere, and have two very large advantages. The first is that neither really cares too much about turning a massive profit. Estate sales tend to be mostly about offloading the stuff the sellers find old, unnecessary, and/or too cursed with the spirit of G’harrr the All-Consuming to keep in their attic. Church stores are also good for the same reason: They aren’t in the business of trying to make a lot of money off the stuff donated -- they’re more interested in just moving it out to make room for whatever else is coming in. As a result, I have never paid more than $20 for a full suit at either sort of place. Sure, it might not be Savile Row, but it does the job and has the added benefit of not costing the combined yearly income of your entire immediate family.
Plus looking regal as hell.
The one drawback to this system is that it can be pretty labor intensive to find the correct size -- after all, estate sales in particular tend to only feature sizes that range between “the few people whose clothes they happen to be selling after a fad diet” and “those same people one day after Thanksgiving.” However, if you’re willing to put in the legwork, even this can be turned into a positive: When you eventually find a sale with something that fits both your size and style, you’re likely to find a lot of cool stuff that fits.
Hit Up The Thrift Stores For Ties, Dress Shirts, And Shoes
Unless your personal aesthetic leans heavily towards zebra-patterned zoot suits, it’s the shoes, ties and shirt that really make a formal outfit work. This is where the thrift stores come in: They might be a money hole when it comes to suits, but for reasons I have never been able to discern, they always seem to have reasonable prices when it comes to these items.
When you’re deciding on the shirt, an evening or two browsing in your area’s thrift stores should leave you with a few different options that fit you nicely and go with the cool suit you picked up from the estate sale. A few pointers on choosing a good one: The shirt is more or less the formal wear equivalent of a nice burger. If it fulfills the shape and role it’s supposed to, everything is fine. But if you serve a pentagram-shaped sandwich with a herring instead of a patty, people start getting all judgmental. That’s why it’s wise to choose good fit over neat design: A dull, but well-fitting dress shirt always passes the scrutiny of fellow suit-wearers, while a weird, ill-fitting one can and definitely will cause comment (though probably not to your face). That’s only a general rule, of course: If you’re into it, by all means pick up that André the Giant-sized, hot pink short button down collar with a sheep pattern and make it your own.
Or just a red one, because … come on.
The tie is where you can really flaunt your personality: It is essentially the face of your suit. It’s the first thing that people will notice when they get close to you, so find the one that fits you. Once again, thrift stores are a decent go-to here: They almost always have a decent selection and very reasonable prices. I usually never pay more than $4 for a tie that I like. If you need to put that in perspective, a new high-end tie of a “black and some patterns” variety can easily set you back over $200.
I am very big on quality footwear as well, and acutely aware that good shoes cost like blazes. Fortunately, dress shoes of surprisingly high quality end up in thrift stores pretty regularly. It’s probably because folks prefer getting rid of shoes that are showing signs of wear rather than spend the time and effort to maintain and polish them. The thing is, a good leather shoe is a good leather shoe, regardless of its current condition. Find a nice-looking, if battered, pair that suits your particular fancy, and the internet is full of tips on how to restore those babies to a shape that will get an admiring nod from even the most obnoxious maitre d’.
Get Your Small Accessories At Dollar Stores
When it comes to cool getups, the details make all the difference in the world. Take belts, for instance. No one has the faintest idea what a nice belt should cost, so why not get yours on the cheap? No, I’m not talking about a rope or a length of seatbelt, but rather the options at humble dollar stores. There, you can get a simple, stylish black belt that will go with anything, for $8.50. No one on earth will notice that it isn’t some super expensive name brand, because at the end of the day, it’s a damn belt, and you should be wary of creepy people who would notice such a thing anyway because man, you are way too far in my space. They’ll only notice if it’s missing completely, or if you decide to equip it with a 12-inch novelty Insane Clown Posse buckle.
Don’t limit yourself to ICP, though. There are plenty of options.
While you’re at it, you should probably get some black socks so you don’t go to the Mayor’s Ball as one of those dorks who wear white tennis socks with their evening wear getup. Once again, the dollar store is your friend here: Just splurge a cool $1 for a pair of dress socks or a 2-pack of black crew socks, and no one’ll ever know that you didn’t throw a thousand bucks down at a high street store for your foot coverings. The only thing that costs less is straight up painting your feet black, which … you know what? If that’s your jam, go right ahead. It’s still better than gym socks.
Hit Up Your Local Dry Cleaners For Unclaimed Clothes
Most people will use a dry cleaner at some point. For the vast majority of us rogues, it just means that you got too much fake blood on your good clothes while practicing your crime scene blood splatter skills. It happens. But there’s a certain percentage of people who never come and pick up their clothes after they’re cleaned in some magical dry fashion, and a few months later, the dry cleaner still hasn’t been paid for the work they’ve already done.
Enter you, the “really needing a suit” and “willing to pay for that work” guy ... in exchange for said clean and pressed clothing.
Some dry cleaners deal with the mounds of unclaimed clothing left at their disposal by straight up selling them after the wait period is up. Often, this is done by arranging events where you can buy all that sweet gear with such low prices, you can score a designer suit for $5, like a clothing-specific version of Storage Wars.
I’m not sure which is more terrifying.
If you don’t want to wait for an unclaimed clothing sale in your neighborhood, you can always ask your local dry cleaner about their unclaimed clothing situation. Just realize that all dry cleaners are different, so they have their own procedures about this kind of thing. Maybe they’ll chase you away with a big stick for insinuating that they’d even think of selling Aunt Mabel’s ballgown just because it’s been 35 years since she left it with them ... or maybe, just maybe, you’ll walk away with a crisp, pressed three-piece that just so happens to be your exact size.
If You’re In Legitimate Need, The Salvation Army Helps
If you are really, truly broke and absolutely need some good clothes of the not-going-to-party-on-New-Year’s variety, there is one place that has you covered: The Salvation Army. Part of their policy is that if you are in dire straits, they’ll give you clothes free of charge.
In my experience, the trick here is the same as it is with every other aspect of life: honesty. If you’re really hard up and need some good gear for job hunting, tell them. If you need it for a wedding, also tell them. If going to that wedding will help you get a job or in some way get you in good graces with someone, hell, tell them that. Remember, this is a charity organization. If you’re really in need, and don’t start drop-kicking everyone while yelling, “Giiiive meee a suuuuiiiit!” chances are that they’ll help. There’s probably some paperwork, and maybe some humility, but hey -- both of those are head and shoulders above the big, fat hunk of nothing that you’d otherwise have when your only opportunity is to take up this option.
Just realize that this is absolutely, positively not a, “Cool, free clothes!” scenario. This is a button that you press when your back is so firmly up against the wall that your shoulder blades are scraping bits off the plaster. When you’ve sorted yourself out -- which you’ll inevitably do because you’re a badass -- you should absolutely give something back. Like maybe that suit you no longer need because the interview’s over and your new gig is totally business casual.
Oh, and here’s a link if you want to donate, which you should, if you can afford it. They do pretty rad stuff.
Happy New Year’s, fellow rogues.