THE TOP 9 AFFORDABLE MENSWEAR BRANDS
HIGH-END TASTE WITHOUT THE DISPOSABLE INCOME?
Fashion magazines – menswear ones included – stick to the idealised: The product roundups picking right from the runway and latest high-end lookbooks, all geared toward readers who can fork over a few thousand for what appears to be an ordinary T-shirt. For men, wardrobe advice guides reinforce these aspirations: Spend a bunch to get started, with the assumption that everything’s going to stay classic and last you at least five years. At the same time, you’re encouraged to stay away from fast-fashion retailers, under the assumption that price is indicative of quality. So, what happens when you’ve got high-end tastes without all that disposable income? Although some get creative with eBay and resale websites, reliable yet affordable brands are your best – and perhaps most consistent – bet. If you’re fairly new to menswear, or have stuck strictly with hit-or-miss shopping centre offerings, where do you begin?
Not quite a fast-fashion retailer but neither an aspirational brand, Uniqlo does a bit of everything and, in the process, offers an equally wide assortment. Over the years, the Japanese fashion brand has introduced accessible tech styles, produced a few fun collaborations (like those Dragon Ball Z tees), and worked with a handful of Fashion Week-level designers, such as Lemaire and J.W. Anderson. Yet, even with this degree of ground covered, any time you walk into a Uniqlo, you’ll find your basic tees, button-downs, trousers, and knits, all seemingly high quality without that overtly polyester feel.
Ask any menswear aficionado about a good 'starter' brand, and ASOS is nearly always recommended. Although its initial concept brought in-the-moment red carpet style at affordable prices to the masses, its own in-house line surpasses anything you’ll find from a fast-fashion retailer, in terms of design, quality, and price. Yet, like a typical High Street brand, its variety spans your basics – think charcoal-coloured chinos and white camp collar shirts, plus unstructured navy blazers – to the far less practical, like metallic and sequin getups strictly for festival season.
Reputation as a 'shopping centre brand' aside, H&M also serves as a solid starting point for a guy beginning to care about his personal style. Shapes are far trendier and more flattering than what you’ll find at Primark, yet not to the point that you’re staring at a rack full of joggers and moto jeans, wondering what to do about your work wardrobe. Rather, with its brick-and-mortar experience trumping its ecommerce store, H&M’s physical locations distinguish the dressier basics from the more streetwear-leaning pieces. As such, you can find those flat-fronts and button-downs for the office in one section, while grabbing a pair of space-dye joggers in the same trip. While the quality may be questionable, with some shirts allegedly only lasting a few washes, these aren’t meant to be investment pieces. Instead, they’re a serviceable introduction that lets you see what does and what doesn’t work for your personal style.
From basic tees to suiting, Zara dabbles with a bit of everything, and much like H&M, its physical stores let you explore that varied assortment. But, although the trendier styles are all there, much of its men’s section leans more toward those key wardrobe pieces, essentially making it the prime retailer to pick up something business casual for the job. Especially for someone starting out in an entry-level role, you’re not going to have a ton of cash to spend – but you don’t want to look cheap or out of place at the office. Thus, finding flat-front trousers, a few button-downs, and a blazer gets you started – and makes that professional impression – without a major upfront investment.
Boohoo’s concept – first for women and later expanded to men – epitomises the fast-fashion ecommerce store. New pieces come in and sell out at record times, and much of what’s there reflects what you’ll find on the runways, in street photography, or on Instagram. In short, it’s 100-percent trendy and intends to stay that way. Yet, more so for its men’s offering, those patterned shirts and embroidered jeans now digitally sit next to more practical styles. These days, you can shop BoohooMan for a suit – granted, it still might be a purple paisley party suit – and find a crisp white button-down while you’re at it.
From how materials get sourced to where clothing gets made, the fashion industry has long kept its processes and supply chain murky. Counteracting this, higher-end and green-leaning brands have lifted the curtain just a bit, but with that decreased opaqueness comes prices often out of reach for the typical consumer. What’s a conscious shopper to do? Enter Everlane, a brand that, at face value, sticks to reasonably priced basics for men and women. You know the drill: jeans, trousers, tees, and button-ups in neutral hues, with outerwear and undergarments making them a standout. Yet, aside from its wider selection, Everlane sticks to its 'Radical Transparency' concept: ethical factories and better-quality materials meant to last longer than typical fast-fashion offerings.
Mango officially dipped into the menswear market in 2008, launching H.E. by Mango. By 2014, they rebranded it as Mango MAN, but the quality and styles are essentially the same. Lookbook shots seem reminiscent of something you’d see from Reiss, albeit at a lower price point, and cover just as much ground. The trendy stuff, on the other hand, has been deep-sixed: Rather than neon yellow trousers or psychedelic prints, chinos, blazers, and nothing more boundary-pushing than a striped button-down give your wardrobe a firm foundation from which you can only build up.
Goodfellow & Co.
No one goes to Target to shop menswear – or, at least until fairly recently, they didn’t. Women’s offerings from Merona stuck to that low-end trendy echelon – think cold-shoulder tops and light, lacey things – and the men’s fell a distant second. Come summer, you could find some tees, a polo or two, and a basic pair of cargo shorts. It’ll do for a cookout, but that was about it. On the other hand, while Target’s kept the same “everything under one roof” concept, it dabbled with a few higher-end offerings – remember that Missoni collaboration? – to differentiate itself from Walmart and Kohl’s. Thus, its men’s section got a makeover, with in-house brand Goodfellow & Co. leading the shift. Visually, styles mimic something you’d find at H&M, and the quality falls right in line. Although the colours tend to be limited, the pieces themselves don’t have “discount retailer” written all over every seam and cut.
Especially with its brick-and-mortar stores, Forever 21 looks and feels like a brand geared toward teens and young adult women. Nothing more than trendy styles line its racks, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find job-interview appropriate fare, although it’s not impossible. Yet, the company gradually started expanding its brand online, eventually encompassing plus size and men’s pieces - and stores in response - have caught up with its digital footprint. 21 Men, its men’s line, has been streetwear-leaning for the most part. A glance around its stores covers the expected: Patterned tees, hoodies, prints on everything and belts included. Yet, trendy pieces don’t sustain a guy’s wardrobe, and likely in response, basics like chinos and short-sleeve button-ups occupy a greater degree of space. Quality wise, their trousers are surprisingly durable in construction which is a standout for the cost.
Any time you think of a High Street brand, River Island gets an automatic mention. But, the brand, sold through its own site and ASOS, maintains that mid-priced balance between right-now trends and some wardrobe essentials. Not everything in your closet needs to be sky blue, navy, khaki, and black, and that’s where River Island comes in. You’ll find a printed shirt that’ll look fully on point and last you a few seasons – both in terms of design and quality – and you can get a few essentials while you’re at it. In short, they’re a brand that spans the basics to the fun stuff, without ever feeling clearly cheap.