On Shopping: Value

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On Shopping: Value

I’m not advocating that men should buy a lot of clothes, or that they should buy the most expensive. Actually both of these approaches are wrongheaded. [. . .] The best bargain is the definition of quality. – Bruce Boyer

In the world of menswear, the mantra on shopping is that you should “buy the best you can afford.” This maxim deserves a little bit of unpacking. The saying does not recommend that you buy the most expensive items for which you have the means. Best means best quality. The best item may not necessarily mean the most expensive, though it could be. And generally price does indeed correlate with quality.

I reconcile these ideas by focusing on price to quality ratio. My goal is to buy the nicest item, in terms of construction and aesthetics, as I can get in relation to the price.

Getting the best value requires a bit of understand of the clothing industry. If you buy a shirt in a regular retail store for $100, it probably only cost about $25 to make.  But the profit margin of the brand is usually between 10% and 20%. So in the example of the shirt, where does ~$60 go? That money goes to advertising, sales staff, store rent, and the like. Consequently, for a brand to make a reasonable profit, it has to make the retail price somewhere between 4x to 10x what the item costs to make.

Personally, I am not trying to help huge clothing companies cover the costs of their magazine advertisements and SoHo store leases. Paying those expenses does not help me get a better price to quality ratio. So I actually avoid huge brands. It’s tempting to believe that these massive corporations would achieve great economies of scale that would allow them to sell quality garments for lower prices. But the reality is that they sell clothes at a huge markup in order to pay for a laundry list of costs that do not contribute to the quality of the garments.

I prefer to seek out smaller makers that can offer much better value. With sales and special offers it is still possible to get good value out of big name brands, but consistent value is better found with niche businesses. And these niche makers often also have better style…

Moreover, when shopping you should keep in mind the concept of diminishing returns. As you move up the game of quality clothing, you pay more and more for smaller differences. The difference between a $250 JC Penny suit and a $550 Suit Supply suit is significant. The difference between a $550 Suit Supply suit and a $1100 Southwick suit is also significant, but slightly less so. The gap of increased quality continues to diminish as you move from the $1100 Southwick suit to the $1500 Eidos Napoli suit, and further up the tiers.

This article would be a miss if I failed to highlight that value should not be, and will not be, the only determinant of what you buy. Ultimately we acquire what we like!

In another post I will share some suggestions regarding where to buy items at a good price to quality ratio. In this way you will be able to buy the best you can afford.

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Learn more about corporate profit in this talk: https://youtu.be/R_Z30exN0gQ


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