Friday, May 03, 2013

Buying Good Suits at Goodwill

As summer rapidly approaches, I've found myself looking for clothing options that do not include sweating through my suits on the Metro. So, I've decided that I'll be commuting in shirt & tie and leave the jacket at work. The problem, though, is that suits kinda work best when worn together. The solution? Blazers & sport coats. Which also cost money. So, where can I find a decent jacket that I can leave at the office, just in case I need to wear one to meet with upper management?


Yeah, that's right. Goodwill. I kid you not, I found $88 Brooks Brothers shirts in there for $5 and decent suits for $20. Unfortunately, very few were in my size matched what I was looking for. We visited one of the local Goodwill stores on Sunday and there was one rack of suits, one rack of sport coats, and probably 100 linear feet of dress shirts of in all shades and sizes. The catch is that the clothes may or may not have sizes on them other than "M", "L" or "XL" (if you're lucky) so you really, really need to know your personal dimensions (e.g., neck & sleeve) before hand to be able to parse through the inventory with any real efficiency. Here's how to measure yourself. It also helps if you're familiar with how a good suit should fit, and knowing a few department store suit house brands (the names of manufacturers/designers) doesn't hurt either. I was able to do all this while also keeping an eye on a three-year-old, which can be a full-time job in and of itself. If you want a handy guide, try this 30-second suit quality test.


Anyways, I pulled out the suits/coats/shirts that appealed to me visually, checked for size info (mostly dress shirts), quickly inspected for unsightliness like stains and rips (I can credit my years in the military for learning how to do that very quickly), and then tried on the jackets before taking anything to the fitting room. I found two suit jackets that fit me well (one from Macy's, the other is Joseph Abboud/Nordstrom). At that point, the pants were bonus because I was just looking for jackets...but the pants fit too. My dry cleaner was able to replace the cracked or missing buttons on one of the suits for a couple of bucks and I'll probably still need to get some alterations. But I wore one to work today and got a couple of complements, which I think validates my strategy. Of course, in addition to making sure your suit fits, you should also observe the "rules" for wearing a suit if you want to make the best impression.

Obviously, there isn't a Goodwill on Savile Row. But this interactive graphic from NPR on the difference between a $99 suit and a $5,000 suit might give you the knowledge and the confidence you need to find that gem that just needs a little polishing. Also, it helps to hunt for bargains in locations where rich people are likely to donate high-quality, lightly-worn clothes (like Washington, D.C.).

If you're in the Greater D.C. area, the Goodwill at 10 S Glebe Road, Arlington VA 22204 gets all sorts of good stuff from folks who move into the area only to discover that their townhouses can't hold all their stuff.

Update: this link at lifehacker.com entitled "Use These Handy Tests to Make Sure Your Suit Fits Right" might come in handy as well.

Happy bargain hunting!


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2 comments:

  1. Hubby's also found some great suits via ebay, and modified with a local tailor.

    And, for the best, all-purpose shirts with suits? Go with Eagle Brand. Truly no-iron (or, since you are former military, low-iron.) Available via Amazon for $35-45 and last a long time. (Well, except if you are at red-dirt African posts and don't have a skilled housekeeper. Our housekeeper kept Hubby's shirts white, but I couldn't do it. . .)

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    1. I'll look into Eagle Brand, it's news to me. And you've got me pegged on the low-iron shirts. How do light blue shirts hold up in AF?

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