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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)