How to not dress like a grad student
I’m a 29 year old man, and a year away from my PhD in computer science. My adult years have been spent either in school or in pretty casual jobs, and my wardrobe is pretty grad school: mostly jeans and a polo/t shirts. I own one black suit that kinda sorta fits, and I’ve got two ties that stay permanently tied (I don’t even know how to tie one). In short, I really don’t know much about style or looking good.
All this works OK for a schlubby grad student, but it seems pretty embarrassing for an adult. I’d like to seriously upgrade my wardrobe. I’ll be on the job market within a year (either academic or an industry job), and I’ll need to dress better for that. Also, my girlfriend is a pretty stylish dresser, and while she never complains about the way I look, I think she’d appreciate an upgrade as well. And I think I’d enjoy being someone who looks sharp in any given situation.
So, what I’m looking for: I don’t really know much about style, but I’d like something classy that (if such a thing exists) doesn’t go immediately out of date. I don’t need anything out there. I’m 6’3″ and 220 (although I’m slowly getting in better shape, so I anticipate being 200 before too long). If it matters, I’m in the midwest USA right now but that’ll probably change when I graduate. And for now, at least, I need to do all this on a grad student’s budget. so incremental changes would work well.
Oh, and before someone suggests it, the girlfriend doesn’t know anything about men’s fashion, so she’s not a lot of help. And my friends are also slobby grad student types. So I’m kind of on my own here. I’ve looked around for stuff on AskMe and the ‘net at large, but the stuff I found mostly presupposes more fashion sense than I have. so I’d be grateful for any pointers. Thanks much!
posted by captainawesome to Clothing, Beauty, Fashion (39 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
If you feel totally clueless, go to a place like Banana Republic and pick out an outfit or two. Their stuff is not very exciting but will get the job done. Although you say that your girlfriend does not know anything about men’s fashion, see if she will come along to give thumbs up or thumbs down votes to the outfits you pick out. Perhaps a dinner on you will motivate her.
Once you get to the level where you feel confident that you can pick out reasonable outfits for yourself, then it’s time to get creative. But don’t feel pressured to show up looking like Kanye from the get go. Start simple. Keep it simple.
posted by rachelpapers at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2009
Tip 1: never buy clothes for the weight/waistline you hope/expect to be. Buy for size you currently are.
Although I never buy any of their stuff, I love keeping tabs on Blackbird.
posted by furtive at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2009
A key factor in looking sharp is to have clothes that fit you perfectly. Which means getting clothes tailored to fit your body.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]
Start with a navy or camel sport coat that really fits. (It should feel almost too small.) You don’t have to spend more than $150 to get a decent one, and it will be one of the most versatile pieces of your wardrobe. Just adding the coat to your standard jeans and t shirt or polo will instantly class you up. Of course you’ll also wear it with trousers and an oxford shirt. (Just be sure to wear a belt and tuck in the shirt.)
Next buy some nice shoes. From there, just watch for examples of stylish men you can imitate. I shop at Banana Republic and Gap a lot, because I find that their stuff fits me well. As a tall guy, you might have more trouble finding a good fit, but once you’ve found a store that has your size and style, stick with it.
(I’m also betting your girlfriend can help you more than you think.)
posted by ijoshua at 6:59 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]
A few thoughts based on my experience shopping with the fashion neutral men in my life:
Take your suit (and yourself) to a tailor and have it tailored to really fit, not just kinda sorta.
Learn how to tie a tie. Either go to a men’s clothing store and ask a sales person to teach you (seriously, this is fine they’re used to it) or get a friend to teach you.
Depends on what you mean by grad student budget, but prepare to invest a fair amount of money in a few key pieces: dress shirts (forward point collars, not button down collars), a sport coat, two or three pairs of slacks, decent shoes. Stay simple: white shirt, blue shirt, blue windowpane pattern if you want to get fancy; navy sport coat; khaki pants, gray pants. Be prepared to have the jacket and pants tailored (most stores offer this on site). Eventually, get a new suit charcoal gray, or dark navy but your first priority should be rounding out your wardrobe with the above pieces.
If you’re in the Chicago area, try Suits 20/20 or try to find whatever the local wholesale price menswear store is (someone among your fellow grad students must know of such a place). Men’s Wearhouse can have decent sales (buy one, get one free on ties, etc.), and will certainly be cheaper than Brooks Brothers, but you’ll still be paying $100 for a pair of pants. This is normal. Be aware that anything significantly cheaper than that is likely to look significantly cheaper as well. For now, I’d stick with professional type menswear stores stores where anything casual looks like what a huge dork would wear on his sailboat (seersucker shorts and pink polo shirts, that sort of thing). Those will be the stores for these basics, then you can branch out later.
If she’s willing to tag along, take your girlfriend shopping with you she may not know much about men’s fashion, but she can steer you clear of anything obviously bad that an over enthusiastic sales person might try to sell you, and in general it’s just good to have a second opinion.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]
Start by buying yourself six good business shirts you can iron nicely and continue into learning to tie ties. As a CS student you’ll no doubt find getting your head around the patterns a great deal easier than the rest of us did. It took me a full day to work out the windsor knot.
Keep your shoes clean. Lots of people notice scuffed shoes.
It doesn’t matter if you pick up clothes cheaply or if they’re a bit unfashionable. As long as they fit you well and you keep them in good shape, you’re going to look better as a clean, tidy jobseeker than a slob in a $1000 suit.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2009
If your girlfriend can’t do it for you, solicit the advice of a store sales rep with a personal shopping appointment. There’s no reason you can’t ask someone at the store who’s an “expert” in fashion to help you out in figuring out what fits you best. Hopefully there’s not a lot of pressure to buy lots of clothes afterward, but if you do schedule a shopping appointment, be prepared to buy some stuff.