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Coats & Jackets

How much should I pay for: A smart outfit

How much should I pay for: A smart outfit

Most men make one big mistake when they buy a smart outfit – leaving it too late. Unless your office demands one, it might not be until a prompt – like a wedding invite or job interview – that you bother to fill that gap in your wardrobe. But it’s a look that’s too important to leave to the last minute. Particularly because, if you’re unsure how much you’ll wear it, it can be tough to figure out how much to spend.

“The best approach is to keep things simple,” says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. “Avoid anything trendy and stick to what’s always worked – a slim but not skinny blazer with a hem that just covers the top of your buttocks.” Trends date fast, but by investing in something classic, you’ll be able to wear it for years – which means you can spend that little bit more.

Below, Freddie explains the best way to invest your budget, at two different price points.

Budget: £150

Smart outfit

Photographed: Research Garments white shirt (£49) Topman teal knitted tie (£10) Topman blue blazer (£60) River Island green pocket square (£14)

Blazer: “If you’re replacing an outfit you’ve worn through, you should spend more,” says Freddie. “But if you only get the blazer out twice a year, it’s not worth investing.” At this price, a lot of brands experiment with trends. “Be careful of things like skinny lapels or shiny fabrics and stick to brands that are known for their tailoring. You might not break it out often, but you still want something you can wear more than once.”

Shirt: “It’s worth spending more here, because even if you don’t always wear the jacket, you’ll get a lot of use out of a great white shirt,” says Freddie. A slim-fitting shirt, in quality cotton, will also dress down. “The key thing is the collar. Measure your neck and then get something that fits snug. It makes the whole look more elegant.”

Accessories: At this price, the pocket-and-square set is particularly prevalent. Avoid it at all costs. “Your accessories should never match exactly,” says Freddie. “It looks cheap and unnatural. But they should complement each other.” The easiest way is to only have one patterned piece and then echo one of its colours in the other. In this case, the blue in the pocket square’s flowers is reflected subtly by the tie. “Be particularly careful of jazzy options,” warns Freddie. “Check all the pictures to make sure there isn’t a novelty pattern on the back.”

Budget: £500

Smart outfit

Photographed: Reiss blue blazer (£295) Paul Smith printed pocket square (£50) Mr Start green tie (£79.50) Eton white shirt (£125)

Blazer: “If your office has a fairly formal dress code, then it’s worth spending on an outfit that you’ll get a lot of wear out of,” says Freddie. Most important, that means choosing a blazer that works with a variety of shirts, ties and trousers. “A single-breasted jacket with a notch lapel is most flexible, because it can be dressed up or down. Particularly in a versatile colour like navy or grey.”

For longevity, how it’s made matters as much as how it looks. “Look for wool, which is hardwearing and comfortable,” says Freddie. He also recommends a half-canvas lining, which means there’ll be a piece of horsehair sewn between the jacket fabric from the shoulder to between the buttons. “It gives it more structure and shape and moulds to your body. So the longer you wear it, the better it looks.”

Shirt: “Fit is the most important thing when you invest in a shirt,” says Freddie. “There should be enough room that it doesn’t bunch above the gorge in your jacket, but slim enough not to puddle around your waistband when you tuck it in.” On which note, make sure you get one you can actually tuck. “This look doesn’t work with a casual shirt. The right kind has extra fabric in back hem so your trousers and buttocks hold it in place. At this budget, it’s also best to stick to white or pale blue. There’s no jacket in the world they won’t work with.”

Accessories: “Silk should be your go-to here,” says Freddie. “It looks more luxurious and will contrast beautifully with the texture of your blazer.” A knitted rather than patterned tie stops the look getting too busy but it should still echo a colour in your pocket square, to make them feel cohesive. “Because silk has shine, go for rich, dark colours and subtle patterns. Otherwise the accessories can jump out,” says Freddie. “Just because you’ve spent money, you don’t want to look like you’re drawing attention to it.”