It was 3:00 a.m. before I realized how badly I had screwed up. It was my first month as an agent in Manhattan and there I was, desperately trying to scrub a coffee stain out of my ONLY white dress shirt. Years later, I learned how to fill my closet with the professional clothes that all realtors should wear without spending a ton of money.
Whether you’re a new or experienced agent who wants to save a few bucks, check out this guide to building a professional wardrobe on a budget. We also cover how to buy clothes that will last and be stylish for years, not months.
Table of Contents
How to Buy & Care for High-quality Dress Shoes for Less
Yes. Hell, yes. In fact, that’s why we’re starting this guide at the bottom; as any builder worth their salt will tell you, in order to build a solid structure, you need a solid foundation. Your shoes, whether you like it or not, are that foundation.
How to Get High-quality Dress Shoes for Less
Yeah, I know. $400+ is quite a bit to drop on a pair of shoes even if they’re going to last you until the second coming. Luckily, Allen Edmonds sells “seconds,” which are mainline Allen Edmonds shoes with slight flaws.
Here’s the thing though, these flaws are usually very minor and almost impossible to notice unless you’re looking for them. You can get shoes here for 30% to 40% off or even more when they have sales. Check it out: www.shoebank.com
Alden Factory Seconds at Shoe Mart
For Alden factory seconds, you can contact their main U.S. online retailer, TheShoeMart, and ask to get put on the list. Check it out: www.theshoemart.com
Long a well-kept secret among frugal shoppers, Meermin is a Spanish company that sells excellent quality, Goodyear welted shoes for a fraction of what Allen Edmonds or Alden does.
This is a great way to try out a more fashion-forward style, like Chelsea boots or monk straps, without the guilt that comes with dropping $400 on them.
They just recently opened up a retail shop in Manhattan, so you should expect them to pull a Warby Parker and take off any day now. Get them while they’re cheap! Check them out: www.meermin.es
A startup that seems to be actually pushing to be the Warby Parker of high-quality shoes, Jack Erwin offers nice-looking Blake stitched (resoleable) shoes for a song.
4 Tips to Make Your Shoes Last for Years
1. Wear at Least 3 Pairs of Shoes on a Weekly Rotation
A lot of guys out there (myself included, a few years ago) have two pairs of shoes: “Dress” shoes, and “shoes” which are generally sneakers. They wear each pair until they’re ready for the landfill, then they wear them a few more months for good measure.
You can, and should, do better. Here’s how: Buy at least three pairs of shoes and only wear each pair a maximum of two days in a row before switching to another pair.
This will not only give you some variety in your life, but will allow you to keep your shoes in good condition for YEARS instead of months. Yup, that’s right. YEARS.
2. Always Keep Your Shoes on Cedar Shoe Trees When You’re Not Wearing Them
Shoe trees will help dry your shoes out faster, and cedar shoe trees in particular have antimicrobial properties that will actually help remove some of the funk that builds up after a long day of showings in hot weather.
3. Only Buy Resoleable Goodyear Welted or Blake Stitched Shoes
Instead of replacing cheap shoes every time the sole wears out, you can buy nice shoes and simply replace the sole when it starts to wear down.When it comes to shoes that last, it makes much more sense to spend a little extra to buy resoleable Goodyear or Blake stitched shoes.
As a rule, Goodyear welted shoes are going to cost more than Blake stitched or, god forbid, cemented shoes. That said, the extra life you get from resoling your shoes instead of tossing them in the trash will pay for itself in a year or two.
4. Life Is Too Short to Buy Disposable Shoes
As you might have guessed, high-quality Goodyear welted or Blake stitched shoes are not cheap. For those of you who may be balking at spending big on shoes, I would refer you to an old adage that skilled mechanics and carpenters use when buying tools: “Buy Once, Cry Once.”
How to Save Money on Chinos, Slacks, Dress Shirts & Blazers
Now that you have your shoe game on point, here are a few resources for buying chinos, slacks, dress shirts, and blazers for less:
J.Crew & J.Crew Factory
While J.Crew is not exactly “cheap,” they sell very high-quality clothes that run the gamut from super-casual to Met Gala elegance. Here’s a secret: J.Crew has great sales ALL the time. I’m not talking 10% off once every few months—I’m talking 40% or more once every few weeks.
If you have a limited budget and can’t wait for sales, their more affordable J.Crew Factory line is very affordable and will do in a pinch. While it might not be the same high quality as mainline J.Crew, it’s generally still head and shoulders above Uniqlo, H&M, Zara, and other fast-fashion stores. Sign up for their email alerts to find the best sales. Check them out here: J.Crew or J.Crew Factory
Brooks Brothers 346 Factory Stores & Mainline 4 for $199 Sales
Again, not “cheap” but high quality and worth it. Brooks Brothers made for outlets line 346 has some great suits, blazers, and shirts for a fraction of what their mainline stores charge. Both also have frequent sales. Watch out especially for Brooks Brothers’ infamous 4 for $199 shirt sale to pick up a season’s worth of work shirts for basically half price.
Nordstrom’s Half Year & Anniversary Sales
Another way to save a ton of money on high-quality shoes, shirts, pants, and suits. Check them out here: www.nordstrom.com
Another great place for sales, Banana Republic seems to have 40% off sales every other week these days. One caveat: quality at Banana Republic is a step or two down from J.Crew.
Best Resource for Keeping Up With Sales: Dappered
Instead of checking all these sites individually, check out Dappered, a blog dedicated entirely to affordable men’s style. They not only list the best sales every week, but take it a step further and tell you what the best deals are at each sale. A must-read for anyone trying to look great on a budget. Check them out here: Dappered
How to Buy a High-quality Suits Without Breaking the Bank
We haven’t really touched on what to look for in a good suit, mostly because we could probably write a book on the subject. Instead, check out sites like Dappered or Putthison for guides on what makes a good suit.
For now, here’s a quick rundown on how to save some money buying one:
1. Know Your Size So You Can Buy Suits Online
Suit sizing is actually surprisingly straightforward once you know what you need. Your jacket size is roughly equivalent to the diameter of your chest plus an inch or so of fabric so you can breathe. If your chest is 40 inches in diameter, then you’re probably going to be a 42 or so jacket size. If you’re in doubt, you can always get measured for free at any department store.
Pants are pretty easy. Just wrap a tape measure around your waist. Length is also pretty easy. “R” just means regular, “S” means short, and “L” means long. Unless you’re unusually short or tall, chances are an “R” fitting jacket will fit fine.
2. Look for Suits Online With the Right Drop
Now that you know your jacket size and waist size, you need to learn what a “drop” is in order to see what size pants your new suit will come with.
The drop is just the difference in size between the jacket and the pants. For example, if a suit is a 40R drop six, that means the jacket is size 40, and the pants are 6 inches smaller, so a 34-inch waist.
3. Learn How Different Designers Cut Their Suits
This might take some time, but before you can confidently shop online for a suit, you need to learn how different designers size their suits off the rack.
For example, Brooks Brothers suits are notoriously roomy, except for the more modern-cut Fitzgerald line. J.Crew Ludlow are cut just right, and more fashion-forward Italian suits might be cut super-tight.
That means you could be an entirely different jacket size in J.Crew and say, Canali.
4. Hunt for Sales
Now that you know what fits, you just need to play the waiting game. Nordstrom, J.Crew, Brooks Brothers 346, and Banana Republic all regularly have great sales on suiting where you can get an excellent quality wool suit for half price or less.
5. Befriend a Local Tailor
A good tailor can make even a cheap suit look like a million bucks. Make friends with a local tailor and ask them what their limits are for alterations. You may be able to get away with customizing something that you’re swimming in off the rack to fit you like a glove.
6. Go Custom When You Can Afford It
A suit custom-made to fit the contours of your body will look better than anything you can get off the rack—no matter how much you spend.
Indochino is an online suit maker that offers a custom-made suit for the price of an off-the-rack suit from J.Crew. Amazingly, their sales can be just as good.
Key Takeaways for Realtors on a Budget
With a little patience and research, you can dress like a top producer even when you’re just starting out. Share your best fashion tips in the comments below!