Gay men love individual style and fashion, but we don't always have the fat pockets to pull it off. There is a way, however, to look like a million bucks, without spending it.
Shop High End.
Most of the budget conscious avoid high end department stores or designer shops because of their expensive reputation. I hear many gawk, as if the front door is an invisible line of wealth and status. To the contrary, many high end stores either have outlet centers or offer year round clearance sales on high fashion items. If you are used to shopping in bargain stores, step it up a notch and try a higher end store. Keep your head high and walk straight to the rear sales rack. Who cares if that Ralph Lauren down-stuffed leather vest was last season? It's marked down 75 percent, and you still look like it's super high price tag.
Think Boring, Find Excitement.
I find some of my best gear in the most unexpected places at the most fantastic prices. Clothing styles, sizes and colors are usually shelved regionally. One area may carry bigger sizes or wilder colors depending on the customer demographic. This may sound fishy, but use it to your advantage. Know your region by simply paying attention to the types of clothes in the your area stores and the stores in a nearby town. Shop at the location the farthest from your fashion taste. That's where you will find those few items that you like but the local shoppers refuse to buy.
I personally like the well-cut, mostly solid color piece that few others have. For that reason, I target higher end stores in nondescript neighborhoods (ie. a suburb not well known for it's artistic style). Usually, my rare items are the last to be purchased by these safe shoppers, so they are always on sale.
The Salvation Armani.
I have a friend that shops exclusively at second hand, resale or vintage shops. His favorite is the Salvation Army, which he dubbed Salvation Armani. You don't have to be a second hand frequent shopper to appreciate the good finds. Even if the store's moth ball smell isn't your thing, spending a few minutes in a resale shop can uncover a gold mine. I've paid hundreds of dollars on single fashion threads only to be complimented the most on the 3 dollar polyester shirt I bought at a resale shop years ago. You may have to dig for good finds, but that one hot item is worth the effort.
Go for the Look, Not the Label.
We all get annoyed when we find ourselves around someone trying too hard to prove a point or validate themselves. The same holds true for fashion. Sure you have good taste, but that's no reason to be a walking billboard or advertisement. Having a name brand plastered on your chest isn't cool and definitely doesn't scream high end. Real fashion connoisseurs know a good article of clothing by its cut, the material and how it lays on your frame. Avoid buying an item just because it has the name across the front and definitely don't buy it just because it's on sale.
Go for the look of the shirt or pant. How do you feel when you try it on? How do you look in the mirror? Are you complimenting yourself or is it so so? Others will react to your look to the degree you see and carry yourself.
A Wardrobe is a Recipe.
Developing a hot wardrobe for cold money is an exciting way to bring out your creative side, so don't play it safe, like buying exactly what's on the mannequin. The budget conscious and the fashion lover can have a ball piecing together outfits. Think of a wardrobe like a food recipe. When cooking a meal (just like a wardrobe), it's important to know which items should be top dollar and which ones can be a generic store brand. The meat at a deli usually tastes better (just as high end jeans usually fit better). You can probably use generic butter (like wearing a cheap undershirt). There's nothing wrong with using the pepper you already have in the cabinet (the same as wearing your favorite T-shirt in the drawer). And, you can find the potatoes at a really good price (like those cool clearance sneakers). Think of your wardrobe as a meal. You don't have to buy everything from scratch. Piece together the old and the new to create good style.
People spend a fortune trying to look like individuals when they have the tools available to them for a fraction of the cost. Find unique items on the sale rack or take your shopping journey a step further by having a custom pair made. Many companies like Nike, Levi's, and Timbuk2 allow you to custom design shoes, jeans and even messenger bags at the same price you would buy them in retail stores. So, spring for a $100 pair of Nike, but make them look like an expensive rare edition (your edition).
I've often left great bargain-priced clothes on the rack because I dredded spending the money to get them dry cleaned. Now, with cheaper home dry cleaning kits like Dryel, you no longer have to fear the care labels.