Seven Things Better Bought Used

It’s sometimes easier to buy new, but there are some things that are pretty much always better bought used. Here’s our list of seven.

  1. Peacoats Every designer in the world has “riffed” on the pea coat, but the original is still the best. The heavy melton wool has protected sailors from the elements on-ship for decades, and it’ll protect you from pretty much anything. Best of all, vintage pea coats are freely available both from local vintage shops and online vendors. I love the ones from the 1940s-1960s, but it’s hard to go wrong. Remember that they’re sized to fit over heavy sweaters, and expect to pay $50-100.
  2. Cufflinks  There was a time when men wore suits, and with them, double-cuff shirts. So just about every man had cufflinks. That time has mostly passed.
    The result is a market glut of links. Go on eBay any day of the week and you’ll find literally thousands of pairs, from costume to fine jewelry… 1970s to 1890s. We prefer double-sided links here at PTO, and you’ll find plenty at any estate jeweler or vintage seller. Try Edwardian eight-carat gold, or enamel from the Art Deco era. Or grab yourself a cheap pair of Swank novelty links from the 1960s. Get some shirt studs while you’re at it. They’ll all be much cheaper on the second-hand market than new.
  3. Formal Wear  Unlike most men’s styles, formal wear has remained largely static since it was codified at the beginning of the 20th century. That means that if you can find a conservatively-styled tuxedo from almost any era, it will be right at home today. The bonus: it’ll probably be better-made than all but the finest new equivalents. With a bit of diligence, you can find a great tuxedo for a hundred dollars or less.
  4. Knock-Around Ties  Once you have a basic wardrobe of ties - a few solids, a few basics - you’ll find yourself wishing for novelty. Unless you’re shopping the highest end of the market, you’ll find plenty of functional ties at your local consignment or thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. Get a sense of the difference between a fine tie and a poor one, and don’t settle for less than decent… but once you’ve done that, go wild. There’s no shame in a necktie wardrobe filled out at $10 each, rather than $100.
  5. Watches A fine watch is a status symbol these days, when most men just wear a thirty-dollar quartz model on their wrist. Luckily, there’s a vintage option for almost any budget. Handsome mechanical watches from lesser-known brands are easily available for $50 or so second-hand. You can buy a beautiful Longines or Hamilton for a hundred or two. Kick it up to five hundred and there’s a pile of gorgeous Omegas within your grasp. And of course if you bump it into the thousands, there are many more choices, almost all for less than new.
    Try paging through the buy-and-sell forums of watch enthusiast communities like WatchUSeek and TimeZone, or visit a reputable jeweler in your town. Heck - if you’re buying something cheap, just take a flier on eBay. No matter what, you’ll get a more distinctive piece at a better price.
  6. Cashmere Sweaters  For a variety of reasons, cashmere’s gone downhill in the last twenty years or so. The good stuff has a smoother, tighter, denser finish… and you’ll only find it second-hand. The good news is that second-hand cashmere knits rarely go for more than $50-100 each. If it’s in good shape (be diligent), it can literally last a lifetime.
  7. Hats Men’s hats have declined precipitously not just in popularity, but also in quality. Low-end hats from the middle of the last century are as good as the high-end hats you’ll buy in a department store today. There are a few fine makers left, mostly making custom hats, but even once-fine brands like Borsalino and Stetson now make mediocre, expensive products. Vintage hats, though, are inexpensive, freely available (another supply/demand thing) and often of very fine quality. Great hats effortlessly hold their shape without being stiff, and feel fine to the hand. Expect to pay between $50 and $200 for something really good.

(Thanks to PTO twitter followers @D_Lippy, @frivmo, @voxsartoria, @platypusjones, @prairie_oysters, @SkySwartout, @HoffM, @TheMikeSwartz, @TheS_P500 and more for your ideas!)

Photos: Peacoat by Resheie54 , Cufflinks Simon James, Tux Stephen Depolo, Watch Guy Sie, Ties Brian Johnson, Cashmere Stolte-Sawa Hat David D

I’ve written before about why black suits are generally unsuitable during the day. They’re severe, they make you look like a clergyman or undertaker, they’re not particularly appropriate for business and they make most men look at least a little sickly.
At night, though, it’s a different story. That’s where a black suit like this one I spotted on eBay can really come into its own. Some of the details of this suit suggest evening wear - it has a single button-front and is single-breasted with peak lapels. Those say “formal” and “evening.” They’re features of the formal suit, or of the tuxedo.
This guy doesn’t have satin or grosgrain lapels, though, and its slanted, flapped pockets make clear it’s a suit. It’s made of mohair, which is lightweight and has a slight sheen. That sheen could be a liability during the day, but at night it’s welcome.
What you get, then, is an elegant suit for evening occasions that don’t call for black tie. An important dinner, a play, an opening. Events that require a dressed-up outfit, a little panache, but not a tuxedo and not business garb.
Of course, one can move further down the road to casual as the event requires, from a minimalist notch-lapel black suit all the way to, say, black boots, dark jeans and a black cashmere sweater. Or even a black leather jacket. Black, while unsuitable during the day, is the color of evening elegance - no matter how formal the occasion.

I’ve written before about why black suits are generally unsuitable during the day. They’re severe, they make you look like a clergyman or undertaker, they’re not particularly appropriate for business and they make most men look at least a little sickly.

At night, though, it’s a different story. That’s where a black suit like this one I spotted on eBay can really come into its own. Some of the details of this suit suggest evening wear - it has a single button-front and is single-breasted with peak lapels. Those say “formal” and “evening.” They’re features of the formal suit, or of the tuxedo.

This guy doesn’t have satin or grosgrain lapels, though, and its slanted, flapped pockets make clear it’s a suit. It’s made of mohair, which is lightweight and has a slight sheen. That sheen could be a liability during the day, but at night it’s welcome.

What you get, then, is an elegant suit for evening occasions that don’t call for black tie. An important dinner, a play, an opening. Events that require a dressed-up outfit, a little panache, but not a tuxedo and not business garb.

Of course, one can move further down the road to casual as the event requires, from a minimalist notch-lapel black suit all the way to, say, black boots, dark jeans and a black cashmere sweater. Or even a black leather jacket. Black, while unsuitable during the day, is the color of evening elegance - no matter how formal the occasion.

Atlanta brothers Andre and Keith Churchwell looking brilliant on a summer evening, in a photo from A Suitable Wardrobe. Two of the world’s best-dressed men pulling off colored dinner jackets perfectly. The off-white dinner jacket is a summer staple - great for warm weather and less-serious black tie events. The relaxed elegance of the shawl lapel matches this tone perfectly. Light blue is a little tougher to pull off, a real sartorial power move, but Andre Churchwell couldn’t be pulling it off better.

And by the way: note Andre’s opera pumps, always the most elegant evening footwear choice. You can try and tell him he looks feminine if you want to. I’ll be too busy telling him he looks spectacular.

Jerry Seinfeld tells Tom Papa that tuxedos are not to be trusted.

It’s On eBay
Henry Poole & Co. Tuxedo
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this coat on the rack. Henry Poole? Really? But there were no trousers. That meant an absolutely frantic search through the pants rack… and paydirt. 
Henry Poole & Co. invented the tuxedo in the late 19th century as a more casual dinner suiting for their client the Prince of Wales. After an American saw it and ordered one for himself, which he wore for dinner in the Tuxedo Club in New York, the tuxedo was born. 
This thing is in perfect shape and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a couple inches short for my 42L frame, but if you’re a 42R or maybe even a 42S, you could have a piece which cost $3000-4000 for a tenth of that. It’s a piece you can genuinely wear for life.
Starts at $390 on eBay

It’s On eBay

Henry Poole & Co. Tuxedo

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this coat on the rack. Henry Poole? Really? But there were no trousers. That meant an absolutely frantic search through the pants rack… and paydirt.

Henry Poole & Co. invented the tuxedo in the late 19th century as a more casual dinner suiting for their client the Prince of Wales. After an American saw it and ordered one for himself, which he wore for dinner in the Tuxedo Club in New York, the tuxedo was born.

This thing is in perfect shape and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a couple inches short for my 42L frame, but if you’re a 42R or maybe even a 42S, you could have a piece which cost $3000-4000 for a tenth of that. It’s a piece you can genuinely wear for life.

Starts at $390 on eBay

Q and Answer: What Is Cocktail Attire?
Kyle writes: When one is instructed to wear cocktail attire, what is appropriate?
Cocktail attire doesn’t have a strict definition - it’s a way of requesting clothes that are appropriate for the evening, more formal than casual clothes and less formal than evening wear (like black tie or white tie).
What you should put on when the invitation says “Cocktail Attire” depends to a great extent on context. Cocktail attire at an after-work event for the warehouse workers at a paper company will likely be less formal than cocktail attire at a reception for the Metropolitan Opera. You’ll have to know your own wardrobe and have some idea of what sort of event you’re headed to if you want to make educated choices.
No matter how formal the event is, you’ll want to be appropriate for the time of day, which will almost certainly be after dark. That means favoring dark solid colors, wearing black shoes rather than brown and choosing suits over sport coats. Navy blue, dark gray and black are especially appropriate for evening. (Yes, I really am recommending black.)
On the casual side of the spectrum, you might wear something as simple as a sharp pair of pants, a pressed shirt and a v-neck sweater. You may even be able to get away with dark jeans. Remember when going casual after dark that your goal should be to look sharp. This means avoiding anything that looks sporty or outdoorsy and focusing on fit.
The classic cocktail attire for men is simple: a dark, solid suit. This can be worn with or without a similarly simple tie, depending on the formality of the event. A plain white or blue shirt and black shoes completes the look. If you wish, you can be a bit more fashion-forward in the styling of the suit in this context - you’re not at work. No pinstripes, please, those scream “business.”
Remember that this is one of the most flexible dress codes you’ll encounter. The key here is not so much formality as tone. Think of Sinatra or Bond in their black tie - that’s the tone you want to create, whether you’re wearing jeans and a sweater or a suit and tie.

Q and Answer: What Is Cocktail Attire?

Kyle writes: When one is instructed to wear cocktail attire, what is appropriate?

Cocktail attire doesn’t have a strict definition - it’s a way of requesting clothes that are appropriate for the evening, more formal than casual clothes and less formal than evening wear (like black tie or white tie).

What you should put on when the invitation says “Cocktail Attire” depends to a great extent on context. Cocktail attire at an after-work event for the warehouse workers at a paper company will likely be less formal than cocktail attire at a reception for the Metropolitan Opera. You’ll have to know your own wardrobe and have some idea of what sort of event you’re headed to if you want to make educated choices.

No matter how formal the event is, you’ll want to be appropriate for the time of day, which will almost certainly be after dark. That means favoring dark solid colors, wearing black shoes rather than brown and choosing suits over sport coats. Navy blue, dark gray and black are especially appropriate for evening. (Yes, I really am recommending black.)

On the casual side of the spectrum, you might wear something as simple as a sharp pair of pants, a pressed shirt and a v-neck sweater. You may even be able to get away with dark jeans. Remember when going casual after dark that your goal should be to look sharp. This means avoiding anything that looks sporty or outdoorsy and focusing on fit.

The classic cocktail attire for men is simple: a dark, solid suit. This can be worn with or without a similarly simple tie, depending on the formality of the event. A plain white or blue shirt and black shoes completes the look. If you wish, you can be a bit more fashion-forward in the styling of the suit in this context - you’re not at work. No pinstripes, please, those scream “business.”

Remember that this is one of the most flexible dress codes you’ll encounter. The key here is not so much formality as tone. Think of Sinatra or Bond in their black tie - that’s the tone you want to create, whether you’re wearing jeans and a sweater or a suit and tie.

It’s On eBay
Circa 1920s Astrakhan Coat by Lesley & Roberts
This is the coat to wear if you want to look fabulous while being blown to bits by an old-timey bomb thrown by a Spanish anarchist.  If I ever get invited to the Oscars, I’m wearing (vintage) astrakhan.
Starts at $156, ends Monday

It’s On eBay

Circa 1920s Astrakhan Coat by Lesley & Roberts

This is the coat to wear if you want to look fabulous while being blown to bits by an old-timey bomb thrown by a Spanish anarchist.  If I ever get invited to the Oscars, I’m wearing (vintage) astrakhan.

Starts at $156, ends Monday