Red Carpet Style, On The Cheap

Some of the most common emails I get ask where guys can get both affordable and ethical menswear. Truth-be-told, it’s a tricky combo to nail, but it’s out there! Often, ethical means expensive – where workers are paid a living wage, extra precautions are taken to minimize pollution and toxicity and quality alternatives to convenient animals skins or hairs are sourced. On the other hand, “affordable” often means that someone was screwed over in the production chain – whether it’s laborers, animals, or ecosystems.

Last night I attended the 25th Anniversary Gala for Farm Sanctuary, where a huge crowd celebrated a quarter-century of real progress for farm animals. The dress code was black tie-optional – and I leaned toward the “optional”. I wore a khaki blazer, cord waistcoat, blue and gray contrast-collar shirt, striped poly bow-tie, navy slacks, and gray boots.

Shoes aside, the entire look was from vintage and thrift stores, free of animal products, and cost me under $100. The majority of my wardrobe is thrift, second-hand, and vintage. Buying things that have been used gently is the most ethical way to shop – no new resources have to be extracted. Stores like Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet, and Doggy’s Clothing are some of my favorite fashion spots in New York and you can even shop online at Beacon’s.

Here are a four things to pay attention to when shopping second-hand:

  1. 1. The Fit. It may sound like common sense, but things should fit relatively well with few modifications. Sometimes rolling up the sleeves is good enough, but don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit your body mostly well. If you come across a garment that you love and it is slightly off, consider bringing it to a tailor (most laundromats have one on the premises) and have it adjusted precisely to your body. Tailors can be surprisingly affordable.
  2. 2. The Style. Giant 70s collars, humongous lapels, flared pants, and other distinct visuals are best left on the racks or saved for the costume party. Look for classic, utilitarian, and refined styles inspired by work-wear, military, and sport. Look for smaller collars, more narrow lapels, and minimal decoration like logos. The button-down collar is a sport-inspired element that gives a clean-cut appearance I really like. Narrow down your search with style standards and you’ll be a wise thrifter.
  3. 3. The Fabric/Print. Stick to basics: simple stripes, solids, plaids in  neutral colors. This really helps make going through the racks speedy. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can cut the time you spend in the store significantly. In addition, sticking with neutrals allows most of your clothes to provide multiple outfit combinations in the future. Gray, Tan, Navy, and Olive is a military palate that is quite versatile. Need a pop of color? Let the tie do the talking, or roll back you sleeved to reveal the lining if it’s colorful.
  4. 4. Practicality. Is it something you will wear again, or have you simply discovered the least terrible thing on the rack, mistaking it for a trophy?

Written by joshuakatcher

Joshua Katcher is an adjunct professor of fashion at Parsons The New School. His research focuses on sustainability and ethics in fashion production. He started The Discerning Brute in 2008 as a resource for men who want to make intelligent decisions concerning their lifestyles. With a focus on “fashion, food & etiquette for the ethically handsome man”, The Discerning Brute produces expert, essential content and boldly takes a stand. Brave GentleMan, the integrated, eCommerce brother-site of The Discerning Brute was launched in 2011 and features “principled attire” and “smart supplies” handpicked for informed indulgence.
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