If you will permit me to reuse an anecdote from a previous article; I think it is a fair assumption that we men of fashion, we lovers of all things sartorial and elegant, have quite a fondness for shopping. Contrary to the stereotypes of today’s modern man, we do actually enjoy the act of finding, trying and purchasing the clothing that will allow us to achieve visual excellence.
Long gone are the days of being forcefully dragged around the ladies underwear section of M&S, growing redder and redder by the minute and having to stand outside the changing rooms whilst cooing women giggle at your misfortune. Now we relish the opportunity to rifle through rails of items, searching for that perfect jumper, the exquisitely fitting blazer of your dreams or most delightfully supple pair of shoes. We actually like to spend hours in that hot, sweaty, brightly lit boxes pulling on and off the fruits of our search.
Or if you’re like me, you enjoy the guilty pleasure of spending money that you know you probably don’t have, on something you don’t necessarily need, just as much as trying on new threads. Shopping guilt is a good feeling.
For some, shopping is an art, for others more an exercise in smash and grab (figuratively of course). I can of course understand that a few image conscious chaps still don’t enjoy dragging their heels round the shops but in either case we each have our own methods; we know what shops we like, which brands tickle our fancy and which clothes will be emptying our wallets.
But with the age of the Internet and the unlimited access it offers to every aspect of fashion and shopping, at just the click of a button, the humble high street seems to be losing its purpose. Trawling around the shops has become less important; life becomes much easier when you can do your shopping online or even from your phone.
However, both sides have their pros and cons and I’m sure we all have different attitudes towards either, so which is better?
The biggest benefit of shopping on the high street is of course being able to see, touch and try the clothes before you by them. You can get a good idea of quality, fit, colour and shape from seeing it on the mannequin or rail and being able to try it on just helps to make your decision even easier. I would imagine everyone has experienced an item that looked a lot better on the rail than it does on them or even vice versa. Being able to try before you buy is arguably one of the best ways to shop and could certainly save you money in the long run.
You can also compare items from the different stores. This is of course very closely linked to trying before you buy, but if the actual items you want are available you can spend time shopping around until you find the one that is perfect for you. Pictures on a screen don’t often do clothes justice, for better or worse.
Depending on your personal shopping style and/or preferences, you also have the advantage of being able to get true and current advice from other people – be it a shop assistant, spouse or friend. Where shops offer a one to one service, shop assistants are there to give you feedback, tell you what looks good, what fits and suggest other things that might work (not just to sell you as much stock as possible). With your partner or friend you can always rely on some frank opinions, which could just stop you spending a fortune on something you’re never going to wear.
You can also make the most of charity shops, vintage stores and independents that won’t necessarily have a website. Many is the number of times I have heard people coming up with outrageous finds in charity stores and they are certainly a worthy of a visit – should you have the patience. Vintage stores are the same and the independents will often stock amazing new brands that you might not have heard of or are much harder to find, without resorting to the Internet.
For all its benefits, the high street suffers from one big problem; limited stock and restricted brands. Unless you are lucky to live in a larger town/city that has a large number of independent or alternative brand stores, you will more than likely be stuck with the likes of H&M, Topman, Zara and River Island. You might have an AllSaints and perhaps a French Connection, but even with these your choice will be very limited.
Because these stores may not be in London, you will also have to face the problem of stock availability. Individual stores will not receive every item a brand produces, even though many slowly get introduced as the season progresses. Many will only stock the most generic and therefore best selling clothes, so there is little room for imagination or variety. For true choice you will have to make the trip to the larger stores in bigger cities and shopping centres – the cost in travel expenses adding to your overall budget.
With the Internet you obviously don’t suffer from any of the problems faced when tackling the high street. Your choice is pretty well unlimited, with every item produced by a brand available to buy somewhere. You also have a massive choice of clothing websites directed specifically at men, offering particular styles of clothing – from street wear to prep.
You can also make the most of eBay, which can be a very useful tool when trying to create a wardrobe of high quality items on a tight budget. Just take a look at the FashionBeans forum for examples of some of the great finds people have made.
There are also a huge number of discounts and voucher codes available online that you wouldn’t get if you went in store. Many of these are well hidden (and not advertised) so it is worth looking at FashionBeans’ dedicated vouchers page, which keeps you up to date with the latest discount codes and is updated every day with all new offers.
You will also have access to a huge resource of fashion tips and styling advice – from us here at FashionBeans or many of the other great sites. Good advice is always useful and you can apply it easier to your purchases when you have access to it at the same time you are making decisions.
As far as I can see, the only major defect of the Internet is that you aren’t able to try before you buy. You cannot test the sizing of items and, as we know, sizing can vary hugely between stores – even between the sizing on the same items. Colours can look a great deal different in real life than they do on a shiny computer screen and you have no way of assessing quality.
The counter argument to this is that many retailers now offer free returns. It makes returning an item easier than ever, and you can pick a variety of colours, styles and sizes to try on in the comfort of your own home before making your final decision. However, even arranging a return and waiting for a refund is just too much hassle for some men.
You can of course look for reviews or read up on other people’s experiences but ultimately it should be you that decides whether you like an item enough to invest your hard earned cash. I would also say that it is far too easy to spend a fortune online when you don’t have to lug around bags and the money is coming almost invisibly out of your bank account.
Considering the pros and cons above, here are just a few examples of how online shopping can expand your access to some of the most exclusive fashion and brands on the planet.
Below are a selection of products that are exclusive to online. These are limited edition products that can only be found at the individual retailers website. Although the likes of ASOS and Mr Porter continuously secure exclusive products, big names from the high street – such as Burton, Topman and Urban Outfitters – also release limited editions only available to purchase from their websites. It’s these types of products that can individualise your look when you step out into your local city:
Shopping online also opens you up to a whole new selection of retailers. The likes of ASOS, my-wardrobe and Mr Porter only sell online, meaning if you just shop the high street you are stifling your choice and the ability to expand your personal style.
Topman also release specific collections – such as the Ltd and Topman Design range – to the major Topman stores around the country. If you live in a ‘smaller’ city, online is your best bet if you want to get your hands on all the rarer and more sought after merchandise from high street giants.
We all have our own methods when it comes to shopping and whether we enjoy the process or not, we all do what’s best for ourselves. Most of the pros and cons are fairly linear, each having a positive and a negative side; with both methods having a similar number of each. The question to ask however is whether one is better than the other.
Do you prefer being able to try your clothes on or are you not that bothered about taking the risk? Is it better to strike a balance? Do you investigate your purchases online first and then try them on in store? Or try them on in store to then purchase online?
In some cases, items such as jeans and shoes are better tried before purchase as a lot of their success comes from the fit. However, once you know a brand you could order online to your hearts content.
With that in mind, it’s time for you say:
Let me know in the comments below.
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