"It's easy to look good when you've got money," declared a rather rakish friend of mine.
In a different multiverse he's a model for Brooks Brothers; tall, strong, and suave -- with a tightly groomed salt and pepper beard. He would be the walking embodiment of "distinguished" no matter what he wore, but his soft-shoulder sport coat that seemed to fit perfectly by coincidence rather than design -- well it really drove the point home.
"Sorry, 'Pierce Brosnan,' but I disagree."
Honestly, I only vocalized the last two words of that sentence. We discussed further and eventually came to a consensus on the relationship between style and money; let's just say it's complicated.
One would rightfully expect that spending more money on clothes garners you nicer pieces, if nothing else. And that's generally true, but not always. There's a lot of "buts" here.
Let's examine this topic through the lens of suiting, though it reigns true across all types of clothing.
A $100 suit is not only made from cheaper materials than a $400 suit, but will also be constructed by lesser trained (and more horribly exploited) laborers. When we get into the $900-$1500 range, we'll start to see some high quality materials and garments made through diligent and skilled construction. Jumping up again into the $1800 - $3000+ bracket, artisan craftsmanship and exquisite materials become more prevalent. But not always.
Unfortunately there are some companies that sell suits at a price that would demand luxury fabric and impeccable construction, yet these suits are hardly better than items sold at a fraction of the cost. So what do you get for your extra investment? A brand name on the tag.
But let's assume you invest in a piece that is properly priced according to quality -- what do you get for more money? You'll get a closer-cut suit (hopefully), a more comfortable suit, and a more durable suit. In fact, given the difference in caliber of material, you'll even get a better looking suit.
So more money = more style, right?
Alas not. Even the most luxurious, full canvassed, super 180's wool Ermenegildo Zegna suit that doesn't fit will look awful on you. Worse yet if you garb yourself in clashing colors, overburdened patterns, or square-toed shoes.
At the end of the day, style is the skill of visual self-expression. Your clothes are the tools which allow you to exercise that skill. The best tools cannot make up for an unskilled wielder. However, the stylistically deft can make magic happen with even the most modestly-priced kit at their disposal.
I'm rarely approving of -- much less impressed by -- the way most men in Boston dress themselves. So when I see a skillful display of style, I often spark a conversation in which I'll ask where this man purchased his garments. While I'd be lying if said that none of these dapper gents boasted high-end luxury pieces from Drake's, Neiman Marcus, or some custom haberdashery, a *surprising* amount of them revealed to me that they'd successfully styled themselves with apparel from Primark, H&M, and Topman.
Z-Zegna - $997, H&M - $125, Ermenegildo Zegna - $2999, Topman - $150
So at the end of the day, my Silver-Fox friend was theoretically correct: it *is* easy to look good when you've got money. Yet the vast majority of these men still drop the ball, because while money can buy you nice things, having nice things won't teach you how to implement them.
Owning a gold-nibbed fountain pen will not make you a poet.