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Buy Menswear at Department Stores, Not Mall Boutiques

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Before I started my new job, my fiancée kindly bought for me a nice set of buttoned down shirts and ties from the local department store (JC Penney) since it coincided nicely with my birthday in August. Since then I’ve purchased a few more shirts and ties (last night I pulled the trigger on a new dark navy suit and a charcoal pinstripe suit from Men’s Warehouse!) and quickly realized the incredible disparity in prices between a department store like Macy’s and JC Penney’s versus a Mall “Boutique” store like Banana Republic or Express. (I didn’t even consider the high end men’s clothiers like Brooks Brothers or Joseph A. Banks where polo shirts are like $80 a pop)

Don’t develop the mall boutique mentality. My generation sees the stores like Express and Banana as the cool, trendy, and classy stores; we see the department stores as stodgy, older, catalog-type stores that probably won’t have anything that appeals to us. The mentality is that you start your shopping in the mall and then trickle into the department stores if you have time to kill.

Flip that thinking around. The styles in those boutiques will appeal to our generation because they cater to us (the twenty- and thirty-somethings) but the real value lies in the racks of department stores. The prices are more reasonable because as a business professional you’ll be buying lots of shirts and ties and pants, so they want you coming back after you realize how good of a deal you’ve gotten.

A nice button down shirt (for someone in their twenties) should cost you between $20 and $30 a piece. I usually try to go with wrinkle-free or iron-free shirts because they require little to no ironing (crucial, as my friend Chih-Wei would say). What I don’t understand is how places like Banana Republic can get away with selling a shirt for $60? What’s even more ludicrous is that they sell ties for $50! With ties I understand the need for quality because of the abuse these strips of fabric take. However, you can buy three ties at Macy’s for the price of one tie at Banana Republic. That’s just plain crazy.

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14 Responses to “Buy Menswear at Department Stores, Not Mall Boutiques”

  1. Amanda says:

    You think that’s bad, you should try being a woman! Our clothes are generally almost twice the cost of men’s!

  2. jim says:

    There are other downsides to being a women, outside the cost of clothes. :)

  3. Karen says:

    I used to work at Banana Republic, and while I do agree that their clothes are expensive, their menswear, especially the suits, are really high quality. I learned a lot there about how to tell if a suit is good and their suits are comparable with Italian ones in terms of all the detailing they put in. Granted, I haven’t looked at department store ones much, and I’m not saying they’re not nice (my dad has bought a suit or two at dept. stores), but there really is a quality difference. Having said that, I haven’t bought any clothes from Banana Republic since I quit working there. I couldn’t justify it without my staff discount! :)

    I really enjoy reading your site!

  4. Flexo says:

    I haven’t bought any suits from there, but Kohl’s has surprisingly good quality clothes at low prices.

  5. I tend to get my clothes from TJ Maxx. Sure it takes a little more time, but I don’t buy close that often and whenever I go, I can usually find something a lot cheaper than I could at Macy’s. It’s usually all the brand-name stuff too. I’ve had no problem getting Polo or Hilfinger clothes.

    For suits, I went to K&G Menswear years ago and got some great deals. I have to admit that as a software engineer I don’t have to dress up very often, so I get a lot of use out a few dress clothes.

  6. jim says:

    Ha, I was/am a software engineer who went to the dark side and became a consultant… hence the need for more suits. Plus, at a certain age you want to look good… the ratty jeans and t-shirt look is out.

  7. RichC says:

    The prices at Joseph A. Banks are normally off the charts. The trick is to get on their mailing list and catch one of their sales. Granted their sale prices are still high but it’s good quality stuff. I go there because they carry low rise pants which are hard to find.

  8. Sam says:

    Yes, but the BR shirts, and even better, shirts like Ted Baker or Thomas Pink, are FAR superior in quality, will last years longer, and can be distinguished from a “wash and wear” by anyone who has ever paid attention when buying a suit. If image is at all important to your professional life, spend the money on the good shirts.

    Plus, if you look carefully, you can often find them for far less. I buy a lot of BR shirts, but I’ve never paid more than $20 for one. Just stick to the sale racks. And I routinely buy $100+ dress shirts at Macy’s for less than $50. You just have to look carefully, or make friends with one of their personal shoppers, who can help you find the best deals.

  9. Abel Garcia says:

    I just bought a suit from Mens Wearhouse. So my plan was to purchase a good quality suit and buy my accessories at the department stores. That’ll save u some bucks.

  10. pete says:

    dont cut corners on the shoes or ties, a decent shirt and suit with a designer tie and designer shoes looks nice

  11. Jim says:

    BR shirts are made by the same company who makes Gaps and Old Navy, on the same line by the same people with the same material.

    Its all name, there is now difference in quality.

  12. JAB says:

    Frankly, I buy most of my husbands clothes except for the two times a year he goes to Bloomingdale’s Mens Sale. So, yes, I am buying department store, but no, I am not spending $30. A good men’s shirt will cost much more than that. We are not talking Pink, Armani, etc. Plain old Joseph Abboud. It will run you between $85 and $120. But, they will not come apart and will still look good after a year, if you take to the dry cleaners. Ties are another thing. Do not buy $20 ties unless you work in a back office or are going for that “I am a sleazy used car dealer” look. Ted Baker, Hickey Freedman, Facconable, etc ties aren’t cheap. But, once a year Nordstroms has a great Mens Sale at the start of the season. Most of the ties that are $90+ will go for much less. I got 6 ties at the last one for roughly $400, okay not cheap but they will last and aren’t inferior quality.

    Menswear is as much an image and quality game as women’s. If you are a professional, you need to keep up that image and $20 shirts and ties won’t cut it. You end up paying the same amount anyway, since you have to replace so often.

    And, I am still paying off student loans, car payment, mortgage etc. I am a twentysomething, as is my husband, so I am not talking out my ass like some rich suburban couple through their twenties with no debt.

  13. King Asa says:

    Maybe if you weren’t paying $65 for ties and over $85 for shirts, you would be closer to paying off your dedt. Sure, menswear is an image quality game, but you don’t have to play it. Wearing expensive clothing isn’t going to make you do your job better or get more respect. Unless you are in a position with a lot of customer and management visibility, image means nothing.

  14. jim says:

    Price is not an indicator of quality and my $20 ties and my $25 shirts suit me just fine. I don’t know if my shirts and ties are made by brand names (Stafford seems to do alright by me) and honestly, neither do the folks I deal with. I have tons of customer visibility and management interaction and honestly, they don’t care what the labels says because, as Asa mentioned, said, it won’t make you smarter or a better performer.


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