It was 3am before I realized how badly I screwed up.
It was my first month as an agent in Manhattan and there I was at 3am, desperately trying to scrub a coffee stain out of my ONLY white dress shirt.
My client booked for the next morning had a seven figure budget and I had $47 to my name…
I ended up wearing a polo shirt to the showing and well, lost the client.
Luckily, after a few months on the job, some real estate grey beards let me in on some insider secrets to dressing like a million bucks on a ramen budget.
Here’s what they taught me:
Do The Right Shoes Make (or Break) the Wannabe Million Dollar Agent?
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.
Need more proof? Legendary men’s shoe manufacturer Allen Edmonds recently conducted a survey of 1,000 men and women. The results should put the idea that your shoes don’t matter to rest forever. They found that:
64% of women judge a man’s fashion sense based on his shoes, 54% said shoes reflect your attention to detail, 52% said they show your personality, and 36% said your shoes, yes your shoes, are an indicator of your financial success.
Here’s our quick start guide to buying, maintaining, and wearing shoes that will make a great foundation for your fake it till you make it Realtor wardrobe.
You Need at Least Three Pairs of Shoes in 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.
It’s no surprise that 65% of the women surveyed in the Allen Edmonds study, admitted to making their men change their shoes before leaving the house…
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.
Since moisture is the sworn enemy of leather, giving your shoes a chance to dry out every two days will extend their life span exponentially.
There’s a catch to this though. You can’t just throw them under your bed and forget about them.
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.
Only Buy Resoleable Goodyear Welted or Blake Stitched Shoes
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.
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.
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.
For example, I have a pair of Allen Edmonds Strands that I’ve owned for more than 6 years; 4 of them pounding the pavement showing apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Because I rotate my shoes and keep them on cedar shoe trees when I’m not wearing them they still look great.
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.”
Even better than lasting long enough to to pass down to your son or nephew, high quality shoes are actually more comfortable than cheap shoes.
For example, instead of a cheap rubber or poron foot bed, high quality shoes have a cork insole that acts like an orthotic and conforms to the shape of your foot over time. They also often have steel shanks for stability, while cheap shoes have cheap plastic or even cardboard in their midsoles.
Does this mean you’re going to have top shell out for 5 pairs of $400+ Allen Edmonds or Alden dress shoes? Nope. I have a system for getting high quality shoes from both brands and more for half that or less… more on this later.
5 Types of Shoes that Every Realtor Should Have in Their Rotation
Okay, now that you’ve got a better sense of what you should look for in a good shoe, let’s take a look at five styles every Realtor should have in their rotation. The idea here is to have shoes that will look great with a suit at a closing, in 95 degree weather at a summer showing, or 10 degree weather for the winter.
Brown or Walnut Brogue Oxfords
Brogues, named for the decorative punched holes in the cap of the shoes, are a perfect balance between dressy and informal. Instead of looking like you’re off to the junior prom, you’ll look like someone who actually cares about how they look. In other words, you’ll look like a grownup.
Pictured here are the Allen Edmond Strands. I happen to be partial to these because like I said, I have owned a pair for more than six years, but trust me, they WILL get you compliments.
They run around $425, but read on to learn how to get them for much less.
2. Casual Loafers
If you want to get a bit more casual but still get away with wearing them with a suit, you can’t go wrong with suede loafers.
If they’re well made, they’ll also be very comfortable and breathable, perfect for hot summer days.
Shown above are Meermin Goodyear welted suede loafers which run around $185.
3. The Chukka Boot
Even more casual, the chukka boot has been a style icon for decades now. You can dress them up for business casual, or wear them with a comfortable pair of jeans on the weekend.
They also come in a wide variety of price points and dressiness. The classic Clark’s Desert Boots can be had for around $70, while more high quality boots like the Aldens above, can run up to $550.
You can get chukkas in suede to go very informal, all the way up to shell cordovan for very formal.
Since you’re not always going to be showing on 72 degree sunny days, you’re going to want to have some foul weather boots in your rotation. The hard part of course is finding boots that can keep your feet warm and dry without making you look like a lumberjack.
J Crew’s Kenton line of boots are a pretty good halfway point between business casual and work boot. While they generally run around $250, you can regularly find them for $150 or less on sale.
5. Plain Bluchers
The great thing about plain toe or cap toe bluchers is that you can dress them up or down. A nice black pair like these Alden’s above, can be worn with jeans, slacks, or anything in between. While these happen to run a hair over $750, you can very easily find more affordable versions from Johnston and Murphy, Allen Edmonds, or J Crew.
Chinos, Slacks, and… Shorts?
Yes, yes, and no. Unless maybe you want your client to think you’d rather be on the beach than helping them sell their home?
Here’s a quick rundown on the pants you’re going to want to have in your arsenal.
Halfway between formal and casual, chinos can be dressed up or down and will get you through pretty much any style situation. Here’s what you’re going to want to buy”
Chinos in Navy, Black, Charcoal, White, Brown
All the colors above except for white will match with pretty much anything. Even better, they’re machine washable, and relatively affordable. You can get high quality chinos from J Crew for ~$50 each on sale, or from J Crew Factory for $35 each or less on sale.
Slacks & Dress Pants
More formal than chinos, you should try and have at least three pairs of nice slacks in your arsenal. To start, I would go with:
Grey or Navy Wool, Tweed, & Linen Slacks.
For simplicity’s sake, we went with J Crew Ludlow dress pants in navy. If you want to stay warm and toasty next winter, pick up a pair of heavy flannel or tweed dress pants. If you want to stay cool in the summer, pick up a few pairs of breathable linen dress pants in lighter colors.
If you want to play it safe, you’re going to want to buy shirts that already go with your pants. For most of us, that means:
Button Down Oxford Shirts in; Light Blue, White, Tattersall or Gingham, & Pink
Since you’re going to want to have some contrast in your clothes, you generally want to go a bit darker for your pants, and lighter for your shirts. For all around formal and casual wear, you can’t go wrong with the classic oxford cloth button down.
The classic Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button down pictured here isn’t cheap, they will run you around $140. That said, Brooks Brothers frequently runs a 4 for $199 sale, so it makes sense to stock up when they’re on sale. As always, J Crew or J Crew Factory if your budget is tight, will work almost as well.
Blazers & Sports Coats
While they can be a little bit tough to dress down successfully, you will never regret wearing a well fitting blazer on your first meeting with an important client.
While blazers come in every flavor under the sun, if you’re just starting out stick to the old tried and true navy and charcoal.
Just remember. A blazer is NOT a suit jacket. A good blazer should look like it’s supposed to be a blazer, not like you forgot to dry clean your suit pants. This is why blazers with some texture like tweed or flannel tend to look best.
A Navy or Charcoal Wool Blazer
Here’s San Francisco mega agent and all around baller Roh Habibi rocking a standard issue navy blazer on a private jet like it’s his job… Which yeah, it kind of is.
How to Save a Ton of Money and Still Dress Like a Top Producer
Okay, we’re finally past the boring rules and on to the good stuff. How to actually save some money and get baller gear on a ramen budget. Let’s start out at the beginning with shoes:
Allen Edmonds Factory Seconds: The Shoe Bank
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%-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 US online retailer the shoe mart 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 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.
Shirts, Chinos, Slacks, and Blazers at 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.
Brooks Brothers 346 Factory Stores & 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.
Check them out: Brooks Brothers 346
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: 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: Dappered
How to Buy a Great Suit 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
Suit sizing is actually surprisingly straightforward once you know what you need. Your jacket size is roughly equivalent to the diameter of your chest + an inch or so of fabric so you can breathe. If you’re 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 go 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, Barney’s Warehouse, 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 him what his limits are for alterations. You may be able to get away 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.
For example, in April their suits are 50% off.
Key Takeaways for Realtors on a Budget
With a little patience and research, you can learn how to dress like a top producer even when you’re just starting out.