If the fashion world had its way, you’d be replacing your wardrobe every three months. But your bank balance – and the planet – won’t thank you for it. Yet, read between the lines and you’ll find that last season’s must-haves often reappear, in the new season’s guise.
Sure, you could spend your hard-earned on brand new jeans that look five years old. Or you could ‘new season’ them yourself by adding a few rips or even turning them from dark to light at home.
Here are some free ways to upgrade your summer style without dropping a dime.
Have A Clear Out
Sometimes, taking away is just as good as adding to a wardrobe. Particularly when it’s crammed full of clothes that don’t fit, are damaged, or aren’t quite right for your skin tone, body type or lifestyle.
A small capsule wardrobe of high-quality, well-fitting garments is far better than one crammed full of impulse buys. So, start by having a clear out. Aim to keep only items worn regularly and that can be mixed-and-matched with other pieces. These will usually take the form of classic menswear staples (plain T-shirts, jeans, shirts) in neutral or earthy colourways (black, white, navy, grey, brown).
Anything damaged that can be salvaged, set aside and get to work on that after. Otherwise throw it away or donate it – you’ll be left with a solid selection of versatile basics that will not only make you look your best, but will save precious minutes when getting dressed in the morning too.
Learn To Layer
Look at most modern style icons and what do you notice? Yes, they’re usually stinking rich and have a personal stylist. But also, they don’t always own as many clothes as it first appears. Take Kanye, for example: garish statement pieces aside, he has a few plain T-shirts, some fail-safe hoodies, a handful of ripped jeans and a couple of choice jackets.
What sets his looks apart – whether you’re a fan or not – is his mastery of layering, which can make even the most worn-out (sometime literally) pieces look new.
It’s easy to get stuck in a style rut, working through the same tired outfit combinations each week. To stop the rot, set aside some time to really take stock of your wardrobe and come up with alternative matches for each piece – you can even use apps like Mod Man to keep track of the possibilities.
To produce next-level looks, try advanced techniques such as reverse layering, which involves wearing pieces that go from long to short the further they get away from the body (e.g. a longline T-shirt under a cropped jacket), or playing with necklines (e.g. a shirt collar peeking out over a bomber or a hoodie layered under a lightweight mac).
Roll Your Sleeves
Been dodging the dumbbells? Take Tom Ford’s advice and cuff shirt sleeves to give your arms a visual workout. “Fold until it hits the widest point of your arm,” says Sarah Gilfillan, a stylist who has worked on campaigns for the likes of Topman and Fred Perry. Mid-tricep is the sweet spot, then fasten with a couple of stitches so it doesn’t slip down.
On which note, nothing kills the nonchalant vibe of rolled long sleeves like having to constantly fiddle with them throughout the day. So borrow from the marines to ensure they stay at attention. Unbutton then roll the cuff back “about the width of four fingers,” says Gilfillan.
Straighten up the edges, then repeat four-to-five times, until the roll hits mid-bicep. The finished result looks even better if paired with a marine’s physique, naturally.
Add Black Polish To Brown Shoes
As Italian as adding cooking water to pasta sauce, this tip can give a pair of old brogues a burnished appearance similar to a £1,000 pair of Berluti’s. “The trick is to add several thin layers of polish and buff between each,” says Tom Beecroft, of shoe care firm The Jaunty Flaneur.
Once you’ve locked the technique, embrace the rainbow – try dark brown polish on tan brogues, or even a deep red wax, which “can ‘antique’ brown shoes and add depth to the shine of black ones,” says Beecroft.
But remember: the aim is to add detail, not apply a new paint job. “Focus on the heel and toe cap – you’ll achieve a stronger patina here,” says Laura Haynes, from men’s personal styling service The Chapar. “Let the polish dry for around 10 minutes, then buff with a cloth to remove some, but not all of it, to leave beautifully unique shoes.” Reapply whenever the shoes lack a little sprezzatura.
Lose Your Socks
It’s a classic summer move. “But I can’t stress enough that losing the socks doesn’t actually mean losing the socks,” says Haynes. Rather than going calfskin-on-skin, buffer with a pair of invisible socks, which absorb sweat and stop blisters.
You’ll also need a decent shoe rotation. Leather absorbs sweat, but any other fabric becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
At the end of the day, after taking the shoes off give them 10 minutes to air out, says Beecroft, then slip in some shoe trees. Unvarnished cedar absorbs moisture (and smells) and helps the shoes retain their shape.
Brine Your T-shirts
T-shirt nirvana is finding that soft, broken-in style that wears like it’s seen multiple decades. But the same effect can be achieved without the wait.
Dunk a top into a bowl full of lukewarm water, then add half a cup of salt and three teaspoons of baking soda. Let it soak for five days, and the cocktail will break down the T-shirt’s fibres like years of moshing.
Distress Your Jeans
Ripped jeans were as unexpected a 1990s return as Pokémon. Unlike Pokémon, however, we think distressed denim has some staying power. The grungier alternative to all that heavy raw selvedge is softer, lighter and comes with in-built ventilation. The off-the-rack stuff also often packs three-figure price tags. The wise man takes matters into his own hands.
Start by running a razor over the jeans to scuff and soften areas of the fabric. For larger gashes, back the jeans with a piece of wood and cut a small hole with a knife, then tease the edges apart until a narrow rip appear (unless Axl Rose, don’t tear the whole thing at once). Wash to soften the raw edges, then tease out a few extra fibres with tweezers.
Make A Shirt A Jacket
Most guy’s wardrobes have two settings: shorts or overcoats. But unpredictable climates demand more nuance. Solution? Use casual shirts as makeshift jackets over T-shirts and vests.
“Camp collared shirts work nicely,” says Gilfillan. It’s a look that speaks of hazy Havana summers, so is best accessorised with some age. Wear unbuttoned and open over a white crew neck tee, with a worn-in leather belt.
And remember that grunge thing we talked about? You can steal more from Kurt Cobain’s wardrobe. In recent seasons, checked shirts have doubled up as belts, to create a layered, ‘I’m with the band’ look that’s best harmonised with those just-ripped jeans and a worn-in T-shirt.
Stonewash Dark Jeans
We don’t have a vendetta against raw denim, honest. It’s simply the case that lighter washes are much more suitable when the mercury rises.
The T-shirt brining method mentioned earlier can be adapted to give winter jeans a blue-sky update. This time add three cups of salt and leave to soak for a full week. Once softened, wring them dry and rub with a pumice stone to strip away the indigo. What’s left will be authentic stonewash, no Delorean required.
Swap Clothes With Friends
Of course, this is a list of free upgrades so buying new clothes is strictly off-limits. But that’s not to say new items can’t be added to your rotation with a little sartorial nous.
Swapping clothes with friends (as opposed to stealing them or ‘forgetting’ to return them – don’t be that guy) is the easiest way to get ‘new’ clothes without spending a penny.
Hosting a wardrobe exchange – where each person in a group brings a set number of items and then trades a piece for a piece – may sound like what you do right before you braid each other’s hair, but there’s no shame in it. Nor is there in doing it one-on-one or agreeing to swap clothes for a set period of time.
Just make sure you trust your mate not to scuff your shoes or be sick on your suit.
Turn Unworn Trousers Into Shorts
Sometimes, the best way to cut back a wardrobe is literally. Trousers that the years have been unkind to – victims of either wear or of-the-moment patterns – can easily find a second life as shorts.
Their width should dictate the new length: straight- or relaxed-leg trousers can become just-above-the-knee Bermuda shorts, while tailored fits can be snipped anywhere from a couple of inches above the knee to mid-thigh.
Slip them on, then ink on a guideline just below where you want the end of the shorts to fall. Unless going for the raw edge look, remember the hem, says Gilfillan.
“Leave enough length in the fabric so you can turn it under about an inch,” she says. “Then fold to make a small turn-up [and secure].” This can be held in place with stitches at either side and front and back, or use an iron-on hemming web if less than handy with a needle.
Hemming Web, available at Tesco, priced £2.