A friend of mine came to me with a predicament: He needed a suit for a meeting and presentation he had to give. He didn’t have a pair of dress shoes. He didn’t have a tie or shirt. He didn’t even have socks. And the meeting was the next day.
Oh, and his budget was around $500.
In fairness, he’s living out of state for the summer to work on his startup and had moved all of his wardrobe to California, meaning he brought none of it with him when he came to visit Chicago. A company he’s working with found out he was going to be in town and wanted to meet with him, putting him in a bit of lurch.
I tend to agree with Put This On that you can’t really do “cheap/good/fast”, because you end up sacrificing so much along the way. However, I brainstormed what I think ended up being a decent outfit given the constraints. Here’s what I came up with for him over the lunch hour:
The suit I’ve linked to might be different than the one in the store (the link says “sharkskin” but that’s not what I’d call it in store, could be different but looks the same). My friend’s got a more athletic torso, so I figured the “slim fit” line might actually look decent on him without the need to taper the sides. I was pretty close in my estimations. The suit fit pretty well for an off-the-rack, no-time-to-get-altered option. The cuffs needed to be shortened, but he had to forgo that option because of time constraints.
The only alterations that needed to be done were the trousers to hem them to a slight break. The sales associate (evil!) tried to convince him to go with a full break, but after I cuffed the hem under a bit and said to look at the straight line the crease makes to your feet, he was convinced to hem them shorter.
I’ll give Macy’s credit though: they knocked out his alteration on the trousers the same day by 5 p.m. If you need a suit fast, be sure to go somewhere where you can pay for a “rush” alteration service — and make sure they do alterations, too.
The suit came to around $200 on sale and with tax and alterations. Not bad for something 100% wool and slimmer fitting. I suggested he get the cuffs shortened later, but it would look OK overall given the situation.
The Shirt & Tie: Tommy Hilfiger club-stripe tie and white “tailored fit” dress shirt, $50 at Nordstrom Rack
If you need a cheap shirt off the rack and a wide (and somewhat random) variety of brands and sizes, Nordstrom Rack is a pretty good option. I just randomly guessed my friend’s neck and sleeve size and happened to find a white dress shirt that nailed his fit on the first try. For $30, it certainly fell within budget and fit him great.
As for a tie, Nordstrom Rack has a pretty wide selection of stuff, but I went with a Tommy Hilfiger club tie because I knew the knotted fairly well (I have one) and certainly were cheap enough. For around $20, it would work.
Doesn’t need much of an introduction and my friend lucked out they were on sale. I wouldn’t say this falls under “cheap”, but it’s certainly a solid purchase that’ll actually contribute to a larger wardrobe over time.
So, that’s how I’d spend $500 to get a complete outfit — in a single day with zero other alternatives. Obviously, this isn’t ideal at all, but I don’t think at the end of it any one of those purchases were bad. And certainly, it’s better than shuffling into the Men’s Warehouse in a panic mode and buying whatever they throw on you.
Is there a better (cheaper, perhaps) way to spend $500 to get fully suited up? Sure. But within limits, I’d doubt it.
My friend said the meeting went really well and he got several compliments on his suit asking where he’d gotten it. So, that’s a plus.
- It can be done — if you have prior knowledge of what various places carry, who does alterations, how the types of clothes fit and where current sales or discounts can be had. Otherwise, this would be a much more expensive exercise.
- Everything will be a compromise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad compromise where you lose more than what you gain.
- Maybe traveling in a suit when you go on a plane is a really good idea, as Gay Talese likes to point out.