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The Savvy Gentleman’s Guide to Shopping

At some point in our lives, all of us have experienced frustration and impatience when it comes to shopping for clothes. And unfortunately, many of us allow these frustrating experiences to get in the way of becoming a more stylish person – we give up and we think that working towards becoming more stylish is superficial, unimportant and a waste of time. But remember this, being a stylish person is much more than just looking good on a superficial level. It means that as an individual, you take pride in thinking about how to physically express yourself in the best manner possible. Hung up on a rack, clothes have no meaning to anyone. YOU give your clothes meaning when you take the time to decide what you’re going to buy and how you’re going to make them look spectacular on your body.

So in Part 2 of our Guide to Shopping, we’ll show you how you can translate your portfolio of visual inspiration into an efficient and actionable shopping approach we call the “Top-Down” shopping method.

How Most of Us Shop: Bottom-Up (Thinking in Pieces)

Many of us start off as “bottom-up” shoppers – meaning, we shop for individual pieces without thinking about how we would wear that individual piece as stylish component in a multitude of outfits. Bottom-up shoppers think like this: “Oh, I need some new button down shirts and pants. So let me just hit up the mall real quick, see what catches my eye and drop that sh*t on my AMEX.” At face value, it may sound harmless but this is often what happens:

  1. You waste money on something that you don’t really like all that much.
  2. You waste money on something that doesn’t quite “work” with what’s already in your closet, so you don’t wear it often, if at all.
  3. You waste time not really finding anything.

And in the end, you don’t build a congruent wardrobe that will help improve your personal style. So to the gentlemen who have a stockpile of “WTF-is-this!” clothing collecting dust in your closets, wondering why the gods of style haven’t helped them…listen up!

How We Should Shop: Top-Down (Thinking in Outfits)

Photography by Eric Ray Davidson

The purpose of your portfolio of visual inspiration you started creating last week is to think (and feel) in terms of an aesthetic that resonates most with how you want to look. It’s important to recognize that saturating your mind with stylish looks will eventually influence your tastes and ultimately color your instinctual shopping decisions, but the best way to turn visual inspiration into your own style is to define the specific pieces that comprise the looks you are drawn to.

Top-Down shopping means that even if you do actually purchase in pieces, you should start thinking about these pieces in the context of outfits. This is important because by always having a variety of outfits in mind, you can now figure out the pieces you need to achieve the “look” you’re going for. And of course, it helps to make a list. But if you feel like putting your management-consultant skills to work, a flow chart like this also helps:

Elements of [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE]’s Sartorial Inspirations:

(click on image to enlarge)

*For those who have been living in a cave: Gangnam Style 

See how every item on this flow chart / shopping list works together seamlessly to create an array of outfits that are appropriate for a variety of occasions? The Top-Down approach forces you to re-orient your purchasing decisions in a way that facilitates the creation of a dynamic wardrobe. And since a shopping list like the above is derived from the very looks that inspired you, it’ll help you achieve that new and improved style in a balanced and intelligent manner.

So get started on your own list…but don’t just go out and start buying just yet! It’s important that you take your time here. Keep using visual inspiration to further refine and think about which items you really want (or need) so you can make smart purchasing decisions. It can hurt to be indecisive, but it never hurts to be sure.

Once you’ve decided on a list of items that you know you’ll love, it’s time to drop some loot. So stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll give you tips on acquiring your new items in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner.

Got some tips on the “Top-Down” shopping method? Leave your comments below!

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7 thoughts on “The Savvy Gentleman’s Guide to Shopping”

  1. James says:

    100% on board with everything this company does. As a mid 20’s professional in Manhattan, I’m happy to be able to read about style and fashion in a way that translates to how I want to dress and who I want to be. Well done Black Lapel.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      James, this message totally made our day. It’s messages like this one that keep us doing what we do! Glad you found The Compass so helpful. Stay sharp and keep us updated on your style journey!

  2. lryplg says:

    When I look for suits (or even jackets), I try to find colors/patterns than can be interchanged. So for example, If you got a navy and a charcoal suit, you could wear navy slacks and a charcoal jacket together. Looks different, looks unique. All for trying find our way to be the best dressed men we can be, but standing out at the same time.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Excellent point LRYPLG! Versatility in your pieces is key to maximizing their utility and the space in your wardrobe!

  3. be a gentleman says:


  4. Justin says:

    Freakin’ great article. I love Black Lapel. Looking forward to Part 3.

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