Are Suits Outdated? Why Style Still Matters

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Men Ditch Suits, and Retailers Struggle to Adapt” chronicled the decline in the market for men’s suits. “The U.S. men’s suit market has shrunk 8% to $1.98 billion since 2015, although the pace of the decline has moderated in recent years. Over the same period, sports apparel, which includes a variety of clothing from performance gear to fashion, has grown 17% to $44.8 billion, according to Euromonitor International.”

But is a decline in the sales of men’s suits your cue to stop wearing suits in lieu of more casual clothing?  Should you stop wearing suits?

What Does Wearing a Suit Say About You?

Clothing is more than just a covering for your body, it is a form of communication. It speaks for you, even if you give little thought to what you wear. Many of the most important decisions and decision-makers throughout your life are influenced by your appearance. A thoughtfully chosen suit tells others about your professionalism, competence, and self respect … or lack thereof.

A well-chosen suit, crisp dress shirt, and tie, along with polished shoes are some of the fundamental components of good personal style. The man with good personal style knows how to dress appropriately for all occasions. But that prompts a question …

What is good personal style?

What Is Style? Why It Matters

Style is the deliberate effort to control the message conveyed by your clothing. Style is the thought process behind how you dress. Style involves the overall presentation of oneself and the impression it conveys. Good personal style has benefits and advantages.

“In the long run, it doesn’t really matter how expensive your wardrobe is, or how old-fashioned or up-to-date, as long as it gives the impression that you care. When you care enough to present yourself at your best, then people will care about you.” –Author, Milo O. Frank.

Personal style is the deliberate effort to control what your clothing says about you.

This men’s style guide discusses four fundamental principles that can help you to develop good personal style on a budget.

The Sensible Men's Style Guide
A stylish second-hand suit purchased on for $16.00

The Four Principles of Men’s Style

The four elements of good personal style are appropriateness, modesty, thoughtfulness and good taste. Let’s discuss each of these attributes in detail and see how they contribute to good personal style.

Appropriateness. The dictionary defines this as “suitable or right for a particular situation or purpose.” In other words, you dress for the occasion. Every culture has dress codes. Many professions have a dress code. Also, life’s important moments such as weddings or funerals have a dress code as well. The man with good personal style uses his freedom of choice to dress within the guidelines of appropriate dress codes. He respects the standards of formal society.

Modesty. One must consider the feelings and circumstances of others when choosing how to dress. That means avoiding a slovenly appearance or one that might needlessly offend or shock others. Also, the modest man avoids making others feel self-conscious or inferior because of their own appearance. Modesty, as an element of good personal style, is characterized by restraint or self-imposed limits that reflect respect for others.

Thoughtfulness. Good personal style requires clothing decisions that are well thought out. Rather than allowing peer pressure or fads to guide his choices, the thoughtful man thinks through his choice of clothing. How will your clothing affect others perception of you? What group or sub-culture will your clothing identify you with? These are some of the factors that should be considered when deciding how to dress. The thoughtful person makes these decisions, rather than allowing advertisers, celebrities or peers to make them for him.

Good Taste. Good taste involves knowing what clothing works best for you. The mere fact that something is in fashion does not instantly make it appropriate for you. A person who has good taste knows what colors, combinations, and style of clothing work best for their personality, body type, and complexion. They know what clothing will convey a positive impression. Good taste is timeless so it does not slavishly follow every wave in the stormy sea of fashion.

Men's Style Guide
Everything worn in this photo was purchased second-hand (except the hat). Total cost of this outfit $24.00

Cultivating Good Personal Style Requires Effort and Maturity

“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child. . .” -1 Corinthians 13:11

One of the odd phenomena of our age is the modern man who, well into middle-age, continues to dress like a fifteen-year-old. The garish t-shirts, baggy pants sagging at the waist, sports-celebrity branded sneakers … You’ve seen the trends. Good personal style requires maturity, the willingness to put away the fads of youth and show signs of adulthood. A mature sense of style is refined with experience as we make smart decisions on what to wear and why. Evidence of maturity in our style of dress can inspire confidence and trust in all facets of life.

Of course, I cannot tell you what to wear and what not to wear. That is a personal decision. The principles discussed in this guide can help you to choose your clothing wisely no matter your background or budget.

One of the best ways to cultivate good taste is to learn from others who demonstrate exemplary personal style. Try browsing in stores that specialize in quality garments. Get to know the look and feel of good clothes. Books and websites that discuss quality menswear can help you to develop a better understanding of quality clothing and good style.

Some of my inspiration comes from the websites of better menswear retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Huntsman. and The Armoury that feature good examples of classic menswear.  Bespoke tailors craft suits that are meant to last a decade or more. Their websites often feature classic menswear looks that can be used for inspiration. Good personal style cannot develop in a vacuum. Learn from good examples. The more you educate yourself, the better.

How to Dress Well On a Budget

These basic principles can be used in every culture to help men make good clothing choices that enhance their personal style. If (like most of us) you are on a limited budget, you can still build a stylish wardrobe. One way is by thrift shopping for second-hand clothing.

Thrift Shopping, the Key to Dressing Well on a Budget

Thrift-shopping gives you access to much of the best clothing made for men over the past three decades. Better clothing is generally timeless in style and lasts much longer than cheaply made fast fashion. You can find well-cared-for second-hand men’s suits and sportcoats that will still provide years of stylish service.

Canali Sportscoat - Thrift-Shopping Finds
Canali Sportscoat Purchased Second-Hand on eBay for $8.00

Generally, you will not have a salesperson to assist you when buying secondhand from thrift shops or online. You will need to carefully plan your clothing purchases to develop a well-coordinated wardrobe. Educate yourself about menswear brands and how to assess quality in order to make the most of thrift-shopping. The rewards are worth the effort!

I have built my wardrobe for the past three decades from second-hand clothing (all of the outfits shown on this page are second-hand purchases). Thrift-shopping offers an opportunity to buy better-quality menswear inexpensively, building a foundation for good personal style.

In review, use the four principles of good personal style, appropriateness, modesty, thoughtfulness, and good taste to guide your clothing choices. If you are on a tight budget, educate yourself about quality clothing and tap into the second-hand clothing market for better clothing at affordable prices.

I hope you find this article useful! I’d love to know your thoughts on this post. Send your comments on my Contact Page. -Don P.

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