By N. Mark Castro

This note starts with a confession: I own too many clothes.

I can give you all sorts of rationalizations — they’re a way to celebrate myself, they reflect my keen sense of aesthetics, they’re cheaper than therapy.

Or simply, I’m a victim of a fashion crime.

But I might as well admit the truth. A working man like me, who goes to an office every day and usually wears a tie, needs about 10 dress shirts — maybe 15.

Oh sure I barely work, but that’s another story.

Yet when, on a nervous hunch, I recently counted those in my closet, I hit … well, I won’t tell you, because it’s a little embarrassing and might cause undue stress while inviting envy from you.

Ok, maybe not a little. Too embarrassing.

Then again, we don’t share the same malls. This is Asia, the factory outlet capital of the world.

So the figure is several times too high. And opening another closet, I found more bad news: ranks of suits, 12 pairs of branded Italian thieves (including three in the same shade of black), enough khakis for an elite frat house, and a gang’s worth of jeans … well, provided your gang is P. Diddy.

And let’s not go to my sports wardrobe. You’d think I’m still in the national team with that.

Let me be very clear though — I am not proud of such excess.

It is unseemly at the best of times. It makes me sound like a dandy with more money than sense.

During a recession, such indulgence is even less forgivable — not to mention unsustainable. Indeed, the economic meltdown has prompted some serious rethinking of my buying habits. Oh sure I’m not affected. Most Asian countries aren’t. But what I’ve realized after careful study is that the best path back to thrift is simple.

Spend more.

It’s a time-tested strategy for beating a recession; it works for a huge range of goods and services. And signs are that savvy consumers are already doing just that.

And like a good business analyst that I am, I based my conclusion on careful research of the primary source: my wardrobe.

The first thing I noticed was how few clothes I actually wear.

Maybe a dozen of classic shirts: Geoffrey Beene, Van Laack, Saville Row, Giorgio Armani, Massimo Dutti, Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Sandro Moscoloni, Ted Baker, Cristobal Balenciaga, Guy Laroche, and Hermes. Five suits: two Giorgio Armani(s), two Ermenigildo Zegna(s), and one Canali. One killer blazer: Brioni. A single, beloved pair of jeans: Gianfranco Ferre. I also realized — and this is key — that the Chosen Few tend to be some of the most expensive clothes I own.

Though my shirts run the gamut from cheap (Old Navy) to midrange (Thomas Pink) to expensive (let’s not go there). The two I love the most come from a small boutique in New York’s Nolita called Seize sur Vingt, and cost about three times those I rarely touch. Ditto my Hermès Jeans. Among the suits, my favorite is a made-to-measure number in pin-striped Zegna. And on afternoon cocktails, I always switch to my cream Armani I picked up at a frighteningly high price four years ago.

You get the picture.

These garments have been trying to send me a message. Since I can’t afford to be a one-man retail stimulus program, I need to start shopping the way I dress: avoiding cheap junk in favor of a few expensive but high-quality items. It’s how people have historically spent their money during tough periods.

Remember when the first crisis hit, nothing was more hilarious and pointed than the George W. Bush recommendation.

Of course, in the old days there was no such thing as disposable clothes—the astoundingly cheap garments pioneered by brands like France’s Tati and Britain’s Topshop — so people had no choice. But now as incomes drop, old habits are reasserting themselves.

The reason is simple: quality pays.

Well-made but expensive items in classic styles offer a few big advantages over more disposable things. The first is “good looks”. That $38 Nail dress shirt with the eccentric collar may have seemed like a good idea in Sarinah. But it’s stiff and scratchy, and will never look as good on me as it did on the mannequin. Meanwhile, my few proud but sober $120 Canali shirts are so much more comfortable and flattering that I’m likely to wear them forever.

Especially since quality also lasts.

Upscale — as opposed to just overpriced — shirts, for example, come with heavy mother-of-pearl buttons lock-stitched onto the placket, making them much less likely to break in pressing than the thin, cheap plastic ones (think Banana Republic).

With suits, the advantages are even more pronounced. A production line suit (Bandung-made or not) is way different compared to a suit made after extensive measurements. The suits are constructed during three fittings over about 50 hours (versus 90 minutes for a factory-made number). Nearly every stitch is done by hand; because it fits perfectly.

As a result a tailored suit can last for generations.

So can other luxuries that never go out of style.

This isn’t to say that we should all run out and blow what’s left of our cash portfolios on a Picasso (though if you have the cash, it’s not a bad idea). All it takes to economize through value shopping is a little discipline.

Start small — an Hermès tie, a pair of Church’s shoes. Remember that costly doesn’t necessarily equal quality; do your research first. Whatever you pick, avoid the vagaries of style and make sure you opt for a true classic that will age well. Thankfully, these can now be found at unusually reasonable prices. Retailers across the board are offering deep discounts, including never-before-seen markdowns in cities like Paris and Rome and, why yes, Jakarta.

But if expensive treasures are to last, they must be treated with respect.

Clothing historians point out that during the Great Depression many people had only one or two good ensembles — not for nothing the term “Sunday best” — and thus handled them lovingly.

One final recommendation: while adjusting to the economy, now might be a good time to get rid of all that cheap, trendy stuff you don’t actually use. I’ve decided, for example, to give up my surplus shirts (full disclosure, as my wife gave me a tough choice: throw them out or throw me out.

The total number is around 62, minus those in the overflow room I couldn’t bear counting), handing off the extras to an organization like Mark Castro Fashion Victim Enterprise, which, if you actually get the first and last initials would go like: ME.

Oh sure it’s economically and socially responsible. In fact, it’s making me feel so virtuous that I just might decide to celebrate. But not by shopping.

Unless, of course, you know of a really good sale.


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on August 6, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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