So, I feel a little background about me, who I am, how I live, and why I choose to make style a priority in my life is in store. I'm sure most people in my profession, and with my income, do not put such priority on how they dress as I do. Not to say they dress poorly, but that they choose to spend their hard earned money on other things, things that hold higher importance to them than the vain exterior. What can I say? I'm vain. It makes me happy, and I'm lucky enough to have a family that supports me, and is happy with who I am, and who they are inspite of, or because of me.
Firstly, for those of you who don't know, I'm an employee of the City of New York. I teach American History to 14 year olds here in Brooklyn. It's not as challenging as it may seem. I earn anywhere between $60 and $75k per year, depending on overtime available. I live and work in close proximity (less than a mile) so commuting costs me nothing. In fact, at the end of the year, when you total it all up I, as well as my colleagues, have a decent amount of disposable income, even after mortgage and childcare responsibilities.
Where my colleagues and I differ is how we spend that money. Many teachers take two or three vacations a year, with can cost anywhere from $2500 per trip per person (when totalling all money spent) and up. I don't. Some opt for two cars in their household, since my wife and I work together (it's where we met), we needn't. Others choose to pay close to $200 a month just for a parking spot in our notoriously tough-to-park-in neighborhood, Bay Ridge. I don't. Others wouldn't blink an eye at dropping $500 in Atlantic City for a weekend. I would, my eyes would be sewn shut. This year I've even sold my NY Ranger season tickets (can't imagine we'll have much time or energy to get to the Garden with two rug rats crawling around!). By the end of the year, the money that others put toward foreign vacations, nights on the town, commuting costs and trips to the casinos, I put toward my wardrobe. It makes me happy in the same way that others find happiness in the things previously listed. I am by no means a monetarily rich man, where I am rich, is in the family that I love. I have a wife, who shares my philosophy on spending for vacations, commuting, and entertainment. She also supports my "vanity" by encouraging me to feel good in my clothing purchases. I have generous parents, who take our family on vacations whenever its feasible. In fact, this year we were guests for two weeks on the beach in two of the East Coast's finest beach resort towns. First, we spent seven days in Hilton Head Island, SC, and then a week in Victorian Cape May, NJ. They also help subsidize our childcare costs, without the "drag" of being French socialists.
I even manage to be fortunate enough to have a decent savings program through my job (TRS and TDA) so that our future will be just as bright, if not brighter, than our present. Also, a benefit of being a teacher here in NYC, I have job security, something that in this day in age is a real luxury. While others cut back their spending in tough times, retailers are forced to give better and more frequent sales. This enables people like me to be able to keep our retail spending and get more for our money. That's exactly what I've been able to do in the last few years, while not breaking the budget. In fact, I'm proud about how well I can shop, and what I can get for my money.
They key in this regard, is to practice. Like anything else in life, you get better at things the more you do them. Now, this doesn't mean that one has to spend to get better, but you certainly must look. The more you look, the more you see. The more you see, the more you know what you like, and whats for you. You more you know...well, you know, don't you?
I will rarely pay full price for anything, but still don't sacrifice exactly what I want. If I buy something OTR (off the rack) it needs to be exactly what I'm looking for, at half to a quarter of the retail price, otherwise I won't buy it. What I won't hesitate to buy at full price, is bespoke, which doesn't go "on sale". Again, here I was blessed with a lucky find, Frank at Ercole's. Although his prices are at the lower end of bespoke clothing (a three piece suit for ~$1500) his work is impeccable, and from my experience, as well as the experience of others whose bespoke wardrobes range from Ercole's to A&S or other Savile Row firms; his work is just as good as anyone elses. He also has a knack for my "type". Now I know what many of you may think, "Jesus man, you're a teacher, what the hell do you need a $1500 suit for?" I don't need it. I need it as much as someone making a comparable salary to me needs a European vacation, or a few trips a year to AC. I want it, just like others want those things. That's where our differing priorities come into play. I'm just as happy to stay home and watch TV for a weekend with my wife and daughter, and one day take advantage of NYC's great public parks, to go play ball with our son, than to spend a weekend in Newport, or Martha's Vinyard, or Atlantic City. My $1500 suit doesn't seem so extravagant now.
Its easy to dress well when you have a disposable income thats comparable to the national budgets of most Central American nations, but to do it when your budget is limited, is a real challenge. So while I have been eliminated in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man Competition this past week, I feel alright. I know that most of the five finalists, based on their profiles, who are impeccable dressers and have great individual style, are also men of more means than myself. To know, that I have been able to hang around with the likes of these fellas, and be in competition with them, makes me feel very good about myself, and about the choices I have made.