Dress Parade

John Goodell

WHEN I DECIDED to leave active duty, I quickly realized that my work clothes—a set of jungle jammies—wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Most people slowly amass their work clothes as they progress through adulthood. Military folks, however, have to do it all at once when they transition to civilian life, and they’re often beset by sartorially inept groupthink. You can always tell current or former military in civilian clothes. Typically, they still wear a uniform, but now it’s tight khaki pants and a tucked-in baggy polo shirt. If you’re having trouble visualizing this outfit, picture a muffin.

If it’s a backyard barbecue amongst military friends, hiking boots are common. If it’s a formal event, such as a holiday party at the general’s home, hiking boots are still common.

I spent a lot of time researching what clothing to wear. Since I now work as a civilian attorney for the government, I wasn’t required to buy the ubiquitous law-firm uniform—a dozen very expensive suits in shades of grey and navy blue. This was a relief. Like all government employees—except some head coaches of public college and university football teams—I don’t earn law-firm wages, either.

The options were overwhelming. One of the wonderful things about the military is that it inculcates a preference for minimalism. Everything’s standard issue, whether it’s the uniform or the modest on-post housing options.

In buying a new wardrobe, I decided to revert to my minimalist military roots, only with more style. Full disclosure: My daughter informs me that, “It’s not much more style, Dad.”

Eventually, I found shirts, pants and dress boots from three companies with products that fit me perfectly and ship directly to the consumer. These three companies are expensive. But I believe that the cost per wear of a few well-made items make them an excellent value proposition, plus I waited for 10% to 40% sales before buying.

What were the three companies? I bought seven pairs of pants from Lululemon. (Guys, if you’re rolling your eyes, you’re missing out.) I bought 10 Ledbury shirts, and I purchased a few pairs of Tecovas boots. During my shopping spree, I bought no crazy, patterned clothing that’ll languish forgotten in my closet. Instead, I wanted what’s called a capsule wardrobe, items similar in color and style that I could wear interchangeably.

Their total retail value was about $2,500. But because I waited for sales, the cost to me was a little less than $1,800. The combined wardrobe generates more than 50 outfit combinations. Based on my research, I can expect these items to last between five years and forever.

I’m not counting on forever, obviously. But I think my cost per wear will be no more than $1 a day. That’s slightly better than average, with a much lower environmental impact than cycling through the latest fashions.

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