Posts Tagged ‘salvatore ferragamo

09
Apr
13

One Guy’s Guide to Outlet Malls


sawgrass-mills-02

I like nice things.  I also, at least try, to hold onto my familial frugality.   Buying something at full price has always been difficult for me – hence the full blown eBay addiction that occasionally rears its ugly head.  However, as much as I love the ‘Bay, it has one tremendous downside: the inability to physically see, touch and try-on what you’re purchasing.  Which brings me to the almighty Outlet Mall, the focus of this post.  Outlet malls (can sometimes) provide the bargains found on eBay and they also do not share eBay’s flaws noted above.  However, they have their own set of issues, which will be explored further below.  eBay is great in that it has an incredible selection of rare items AND it allows you browse these items while drinking a glass of wine in a bathrobe at home.  While some of the people you see at the typical outlet mall are only a half step removed from this, I would not recommend trying to mimic this experience.  If you want to visit your local outlet mall (if you have one), you will need to pry yourself off the couch to experience the joys (or, more often, horrors) that are part and parcel to such an expedition.  As someone who has been to many outlet malls on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale, please find some suggestions below that I hope will make your experience as good as digging through mountains of unsold goods in a crowd of people possibly can be.

1. Do not be specific

Almost daily, we hear the common refrain to “be specific”.  However, if you are looking for an oxblood suede belt with silver buckle, or a specific model of Tod’s loafers, or even just a “bathrobe”, and that is the primary purpose of your shopping expedition, than I would suggest not going to an outlet mall.  Outlet malls are places where you find things you aren’t looking for, but don’t find things that you are.  In other words, specificity is not the forte of  outlet malls.  From a time-cost persepective, you will spend eons of time trying to find that specific item you’re looking for.  Generally speaking, it’s not worth the time or trouble, particularly since outlet malls tend to be in the middle of nowhere.   Go to your preferred local store and spend a few extra dinero, or, easier still, troll eBay or Amazon.com in the comfort of your own home rather than sacrificing your day scouring sale bins at a distant outlet mall when your chances of success approximate the odds of the Cubs winning the World Series in the next twenty years (not out of the question, but history says that it’s highly unlikely).

2. Price, time and the sphere of availability

Walk into Harry Rosen, Bergdorf Goodman, Canali, Louis Boston, etc., and say that you would like a medium grey suit with pale blue pinstripes and they will likely have an array for you to choose from.  Same with the perfect yellow tie that you’re after, or the pair of brown boots you want for Fridays and the weekend.  It will be an easy, comfortable shopping experience (at least it should be).  When you reach the cashier with your purchases, you’ll see why: you pay for service and the ease and comfort described above.  Someone else is curating for you; sifting through the litany of options and providing you with precisely what you’re looking for with you barely having to lift a finger.

Outlet stores more closely resemble the following scenario: a dump truck pulls into the back of a warehouse and dumps a massive pile of loosely sorted apparel onto the floor for you to sift through with a crowd of fellow misers.  Much like Andy Dufresne, you will crawl through a pile of foulness to find the diamond in the rough.  This is part of the reason why they can offer goods so cheaply; they have stripped away much of the cost associated with good customer service.   I’ve made peace with this trade-off – just be prepared to spend quite a bit more time (and incur a substantially larger headache) per purchase than you normally would.  Furthermore, outlet malls bring clothes that would otherwise be out of your sphere of availability into that sphere of availability, which is the reason why it may be worth the trip.  That, plain and simple, is the value of outlet malls.

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3. Reach for the top; ‘zig’ instead of ‘zag’

Further to “2” above, I have found the most success (and the best deals) when I’ve focused on items that I couldn’t otherwise afford, but have been made affordable at the outlet.  I cannot afford a $3,000 suit; however, a $3K suit marked down to $700?  That’s what you’d pay at SuitSupply or other mid-priced establishments.  In other words, you are getting a far nicer suit at a price that comfortably fits within your budget.

I believe that there are a few specific reasons as to why these situations present themselves and how best to capitalize on them.  The first is that people buy things that they know and recognize.  Simply put, most people recognize the names ‘Gap’, ‘ Hugo Boss’ and ‘Armani’, so items from these brands will not need to be as deeply discounted to sell, and will also be substantially more “picked over” due to their brand recognition.  Nearly everyone knows these names, but far, far fewer are familiar with Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, James Perse, Belstaff, Sundek, Grenson and even higher-end brands within a brand (eg. ’15 mil mil 15′ by Ermenegildo Zegna or Ralph Lauren Purple Label).  These brands make fantastic quality items that, at full retail, would constitute a huge splurge over other options for the majority of people, if they even knew what they were.  They may not sell at the retail store because, next to more recognizable names, people chose those recognizable names for the same price.  At an outlet store, they are suddenly deeply discounted because they were passed over, only to be passed over again for more recognizable brands, even at the outlet store, and therefore often discounted again.  I have, on several occasions after finding a gem gone to the retail store and asked for the brand, only to be told that they no longer carried it because it didn’t sell.  Undoubtedly, there are many that are familiar with these names, but far less than more common names, which gives you a better chance of scoring a great item at a great price from a brand that flies under the radar.  In addition, there are no ‘outlet brands’ for these particular marques.  Companies like J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Burberry, etc., make items specifically for their outlets, meaning that the dress shirt you think you’re getting an outstanding deal on is actually not the same shirt they sell in their retail store.  I covered the idea of “outlet brands” in depth in the following post: https://onemansstyle.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/one-guys-daily-tip-beware-of-clothes-made-for-outlet-stores/

The best way to find deals at an outlet store is to be familiar with lesser known brands that make high quality items.  In other words, where everyone else “zigs”, you need to “zag” to find the best deals.

Here is a “cheat sheet” of brands I’ve seen in outlets which are not as well known to the casual consumer as Banana Republic, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Prada and the like, and often are deeply discounted because of it (if you’d like to learn more about the brand, click on the name as each is link to the respective brand’s homepage):  Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, Vince, Belstaff, James Perse, Grenson, Sundek, Rag & Bone, Billy Reid, Smythson, Aspesi, Charvet, Oxxford, Battistoni, Brunello Cucinelli, Turnbull & Asser, Samuelsohn, Drake’s, Nudie, Balenciaga, Mabitex, Incotex, Naked & Famous, WANT Les Essentials de la Vie, Jack Spade, Barbour, Martin Dingman and Kiton.

In other cases, many customers are unaware that a specfic brand has a variety of quality levels, leaving extremely expensive items available at deeply discounted prices.  Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph Lauren Black Label, RЯL, Ermenegildo Zegna ’15 mil mil 15′, Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza, Calvin Klein Collection, Gant by Michael Bastian, Gant Rugger, etc., can provide, as many do not realize, a much higher quality level than a brand’s standard fare.

While many of you will be aware of some, or even the majority of the names found above, keep in mind that many are not.  Furthermore, many that are do not frequent outlet malls.  This makes the Venn Diagram’s centre very small indeed.

4. Best and worst outlets

First, it must be said that many outlet malls are not even worth bothering with.  Sadly, my native country of Canada has embraced the concept of the outlet mall in much the same way as Americans have embraced the sport of curling: half-hearted at best.  In Canada there are really two places worth visiting: Holt Renfrew Last Call (which, I believe, is only in Toronto now), and Harry Rosen Outlet (again, only in Toronto).  Basically, if you’re not in Toronto, you’re probably out of luck, at least locally.   If, however, you reside in, or near the United States, there are a number of great outlet malls potentially close by.  This is particularly the case if you live in an area frequented by tourists: New York, Los Angeles, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Niagara Falls, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix.  Therefore, the first decision to make is whether it’s even worth driving out to the nearby outlet mall.  In many cases, it may not be worth it at all.

I’ve found the majority of my best deals at department store outlets.  Barney’s New York, Century 21, Niemen Marcus Last Call, Holt Renfrew Last Call (apparently there is a shortage of outlet store names, as somehow two share the same one) and Saks Off 5th tend to be some of the best.  Unfortunately, like every other store at the outlet mall, the value of these stores has been decreasing.  Formerly, they were the exlusive domain of unsold merchandise from their regular stores; however, lately they have begun to sell “outlet store merchandise” – clothing manufactured expressly for outlets (usually, they are named after the store itself, eg. Saks Fifth Avenue Green).  Nonetheless, these stores are still the cream of the outlet crop in terms of bargains, as there remains loads of items that went unsold at retail locaitons, providing some excellent access to nice things at good prices.

holtrenfrewlastcallcentury21

In addition, some of these stores, offer customer loyalty programs that provide even deeper discounts on items if you show the card associated with the program, or offer discounts if you sign up for a credit card.

The outlet stores I would tend to avoid are those that almost exclusively sell merchandise manufactured for outlet malls: Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, etc.  By and large, the prices match the quality of the items being sold.

5. Buy with purpose, not for price

You may think that the teal blazer is kind of cool and it’s down from $722.98 to $89.99!  How could you lose on this deal?  Well, after it sits in your closet, unworn, for 2 years, the economics no longer support this particular purchase.  Don’t buy something cheap, buy something because you know it will be part of your regular rotation, or you have a specific purpose in mind for it (wedding coming up, been looking for an orange tie, you can never have too many socks…).  It’s cheap and you may not have otherwise been able to afford it (“I’ve always wanted an Hermes tie… it’s just too bad it’s pink, yellow and orange, with pictures of bunnies on it…”), but that doesn’t make it a wise purchase.  I have a number of items I’ve bought at outlet malls that I wear/use all of the time (my go-to carry-on bag, a number of my favourite ties, some favourite shirts, one of my favourite suits) but I’ve also had a few losers haunt my closet after the fact.  You really need to win much more than you lose, otherwise you are negating the savings you believe you are getting via outlet shopping.  Only buy something at an outlet mall if you’d buy it in a regular store.  More is not always better when it comes to a wardrobe; I find that I gravitate towards certain items time and time again, and the remainder simply take up precious storage space in my condo.  Buy like a surgeon, not a drunken gambler.

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6. Get in, get out

Outlet mall trips are like commando raids – you want to get in and get out as quickly as efficiently as possible.  The decending hordes typically do not get there until mid-afternoon.  Be smart and go first thing in the morning.  You do not need to into every store and wander around.  Only go into the ones that you actually may make a purchase in.  Do you really need to wait in line to get into the Coach Store?  (Hold on – you WANT to get into the Coach store….?  Your problems are bigger than I thought….)  Outlet malls are exhausting places; don’t blow your stamina at places that are a waste of your time.  If you’re there with your wife, girlfriend or friends, and your attention is starting to wane, often times there are restaurants with bars to grab a bite to eat and a drink (often times at very cheap prices – they want you to stay as long as possible, not to go elsewhere to find something to eat) when you’ve just about had enough.

09
Dec
10

How to Maximize Your Wardrobe Dollars


Introduction

How do we, as men, buy things?  Well, when it comes to clothes, the answer is usually “as quickly as possible”.  However, at the root of nearly all purchases are one or both of these considerations: 1) I need this; and 2) I want this.  Something you need could be a winter coat if you live an a cold climate, or a tuxedo if you’re invited to a black tie event.  Things that aren’t really optional and therefore take precedence over other purchases.  They may be required for the long-term (the winter coat) or for a single use (the tuxedo).

On the other hand, there are things we want.  They can be anything and this is where we can get in some trouble (but also are what can make buying clothes interesting and fun).  We may want an expensive cashmere scarf that we’ll wear every day during the winter.  Or, we may want a pair of baby blue driving loafers from a place like Zara that don’t cost too much but that we’ll wear a grand total of twice.  Given that the vast majority of us have limited resources with which to buy clothes, like Steven Segal in Under Siege, it’s about making our bullets count.

 

Actual Cost

I majored in Economics during my undergrad years and so I have a habit of reducing things into economics-based ideas.  This may sound like something you don’t really want to read, but hear me out for just a minute.  I think it’s important for all of us to figure out the actual cost of what we buy.  What I mean by the term “actual cost” is the “cost per wear” for a particular item – the amount you paid for the item divided by the number of times you’ve worn it. Say I buy a sweater for $200.  An relatively expensive sweater to be sure, but one that fits me perfectly and looks great.  I really like this sweater, so over the span of 3 years I wear it 50 times.  Imagine, as well, that right around the time I bought the first sweater, I come across a second sweater, marked down to $30 from $120.  It’s lime green, but it’s a great deal and I kind of like the colour.  Three years later, I still do like the colour, but I just haven’t found as many occasions to wear it as I might have liked.  In fact, I’ve only worn the second sweater 5 times over that same 3 year period.  On the one hand, we have a sweater that cost $200, and on the other, one that cost $30.  I wore the first sweater 50 times, making the actual cost of that sweater $4.  The cheaper sweater I only wore 5 times, making its actual cost $6.  In other words, the first sweater cost me less on a “per wear” basis than the second one, even though it was $170 more expensive in the first place.

When you think about it, we all have to get dressed every day.  We need pants (or shorts) of some kind, a shirt, a sweater and/or jacket if it’s cold or rainy, undergarments, some sort of footwear and whatever other assorted things we wear on a daily basis depending on the weather, time of year, the occasion, etc.  Each day has clothing slots that need to be filled and we’re paying everyday to fill these slots – albeit, we paid upfront.  If you think about it, this partially explains why certain things cost more than others.  Well constructed items such as Alden shoes (above, on the left) or Barbour jackets (above, on the right) will last you years, which allows you to amortize the hefty up-front cost over many wearings (and, this also means that these business don’t expect you to be coming back for a replacement for a long time, meaning they need to charge more for each item they sell).

H&M, on the other hand, operates from the exact opposite notion.  Their clothes (some examples of which are pictured above) are disposable; they’re not of particularly high quality and they’re built to be stylish for a brief window of time.  H&M expects you to be replacing them regularly and therefore they’re available at a very low price.  Neither of these approaches, economically speaking, is really better or worse than the other.   On the one hand, with a Barbour coat, you wear it many times (good for “actual cost”) but it’s got a high upfront cost (bad for “actual cost”).  H&M clothes are cheap (good for “actual cost”) but disposable (bad for “actual cost”), so you’re really not particularly better off, economically speaking, buying one over the other.  Both have their function and fill a particular role.  What you generally want to avoid are items that are relatively expensive and that you won’t wear very often (either because they won’t last very long, or because you don’t really have the need or desire to wear them).  I say that you “generally” want to avoid these things because there are certain instances where you have no choice.  Things fall into the “need” category rather than the “want” category all the time.  For example, if you live in Hawaii and decide to go on a ski holiday in the Alps, you’ll need a good ski jacket to keep you warm.  Good ski jackets tend to be costly and you’re not likely to be wearing this jacket very many times living in Hawaii – but if you want to go skiing and stay warm, you need one.  The same goes for things like tuxedos and many other things that are required for one reason or another.  You simply have to bite the proverbial bullet and take the hit with a high actual cost.  What you want to avoid are things that you’re buying because of “want” for a lot of money that, when you actually try and think clearly through your cloud of lust, you’re really never going to use.  Even cheaper things, as shown by my earlier example, may not make economical sense if you don’t wear them very often.  However, given that you purchased them for a lesser cost, you need to wear them less than a more expensive garment for them to make financial sense.

Factors that tend to give you the best (i.e. lowest) actual cost, are items that:

a) you like and will be wearing regularly (this is the most important factor – if you really like something, you’ll find reasons and occasions to wear it);
b) serve more than one function (for example, a navy blue suit jacket, which can also be worn as a blue blazer, thereby increasing the times you can wear it);
c) cost less (although, as my first example shows, this shouldn’t necessarily be your focus, as it is for many people);
d) are well-made and likely to last a long time (thereby increasing the opportunity for you to wear them); and
e) are staples, things that are acceptable to wear in as many social situations as possible and match as many items in your closet as possible (for example, a grey sweater is generally more useful than a lime green one, just because it can be paired with more things in your wardrobe and is a more classic colour).

There are undoubtedly other factors that influence actual cost, but I think these are the core ones.  It’s not as simple as buying low and wearing things a lot, because often you get what you pay for.  It’s about “using your bullets” like a sniper rather than a machine-gunner.  Target certain things that will check the major boxes (navy suit, black shoes, gray sweater, etc) and fill in the space around them with things that are more interesting, one-dimensional and infuse your personality into your wardrobe, but always with at least an eye on the actual cost of what you’re buying.

 

Substitute Goods

The second consideration when it comes to maximizing the economics of buying clothes is how substitutable the item is.  In other words, can you get something that is reasonably close to the same thing for less, and, if you can, why are you paying more?  This second consideration becomes useful where an item seems to be carry a reasonable actual cost.  Here’s an example: imagine that I’ve purchased a pair of black Salvatore Ferragamo captoe lace-up shoes.  These shoes are from Ferragamo’s Studio line, which is their lowest priced line of three. (Studio, Lavorazione Orginale and Tramezza).  I purchased them from Saks (here), for $473 Canadian.  The first thing I will say about these shoes is that they look great.  Modern, classic and yet very elegant and tasteful in appearance.  They’re black and captoe making them an absolute wardrobe staple.  Plus, I can wear them to the office, but also out on the town.  Frankly, I can wear them just about anywhere.  They’re not going to go out of style, and their construction is certainly equal to many commonly sold shoes on the market.  They cost a fair amount, but I’d say that I might wear them as many as 150 times in 3 years, making their actual cost around $3.  In other words, they seem like a winner on an actual cost basis. However, they’re a bit of a disaster when it comes to a substitute goods analysis.  You see, they may look great, and their construction may be equal to many shoes on the market, but they’re still $500.   They’re entirely glued together, as most shoes are, meaning that you’re only likely to get 3 years out of them.  This is especially so if you wear them as regularly as you’d need to to make them economical – plus, while many shoes are constructed similarly, this is actually more than I’d like to spend on glued shoes.  For less than $500, I can find you many shoes that are better made here, here or here .  These alternatives would last you longer, look just as good (or nearly as good) and therefore be more economical for you.  A lot of what you’re paying for the Ferragamo shoes is due to the Ferragamo brand name on the sole and the cachet that goes with it.  This means that items can pass the “actual cost” test, but still not be a great buy.  Therefore, it is important to determine whether there are cheaper substitute goods available.

Now, this isn’t to say that buying a $500 navy suit is superior to buying a $1,500 navy suit, because these goods may not be as substitutable as you think.  The construction of the cheaper suit is likely to be such that it will limit the life of the suit; perhaps it’s more trendy and therefore will go out of style faster; perhaps, when you buy a few more expensive suits, you’ll shy away from the cheaper suit because you’ve seen the way that nicer suits look on you and you’re almost embarrassed to where that one; perhaps the cheaper suit really doesn’t fit you particularly well.  In other words, perhaps you’re really not getting the same thing for less money at all.  At the same time, I feel that dress shirts are inherently disposable.  They get stained, shrunk, sweated in, rolled up in laundry baskets, their collars get damaged, etc.  The life of a dress shirt is hard and often relatively short.  Moreover it’s often predominantly covered up by your suit jacket and tie, so only your collar is visible.  Which, to me means that I don’t want to pay $300 for a dress shirt even if it becomes my favourite dress shirt and I wear it all the time making its actual cost not particularly high.  This is because I feel confident that I can find a dress shirt nearly as good for under $70 at places like T.M. Lewin.  If you look at the pictures above, there really isn’t much perceptible difference at all, despite the fact that the Brioni shirt on the right costs $475 at Niemen Marcus, while the T.M. Lewin shirt on the left can be had for $50. Undoubtedly, if you inspected the shirts up close, you would notice a difference in materials and quality, but enough to justify a $425 price difference?  In my opinion, no.  With suits, the gap between expensive suits and cheap suits can often be massive, for a variety of reasons.  Suits are far more technical and difficult to make than a shirt and require more expertise to properly fit.  Shirts do not; neither do socks and even pants.  So, your second question when you’re buying an article clothing (after estimating your actual cost) should be asking yourself whether there are any substitutable goods.  If there are, you may be better served buying the cheaper item and pocketing the difference.  On the other hand, if there’s not, you might be better off ponying up the extra cash.

Conclusion

So, the next time you’re shopping, don’t necessarily jump at sale prices and turn up your nose at high prices.  Weigh each of them on their merits and use the tools of actual cost and substitute goods to decide what your best decision, economically speaking, would be.  Don’t be afraid in making an investment in something you’re going to wear the hell out of, even if the initial cost is high.  If you always try to cut cost corners and end up with things you don’t quite like, you may actually be costing yourself money on an actual cost basis.  And don’t worry too much about not wearing something very often if you really did get it for a song.  Soon there won’t be as many “ghosts” kicking around the back of your closet, hardly worn that you purchased on a whim.  That’ll put money into your pocket, and who doesn’t want that?




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