This week, I’m going to take a brief detour from giving proscriptive advice on what to wear, and take a more philosophical angle to the column. Today I want to talk about durables.
You see, last weekend, Jordan and I had the honor and privilege of being invited to visit an esteemed law colleague. While there, our conversation topics ranged from how to avoid spreading stupidity, shutting up when it’s prudent, and the fundamentals of a successful practice. But I’m not going to belabor these topics, as they’ve all been said before, and better, by those wiser than I.
Let’s talk about why you should stop buying cheap crap, and instead buy durables.
What the hell is a durable?
Among the other boring legal stuff Jordan and I discussed with our colleague, we got onto the subject of buying good things that last. This concept really stuck a chord with me. As you might have noticed through my several posts here that I generally advocate for buying high-quality things. There’s a good reason for this — high-quality things tend to last a long time.
Don’t be duped by of the false economy of cheaper, inferior products. In the long run, instead of buying 10 poor quality things that wear out, you buy 1 good thing and have it last for years. This means you buy the best quality that you can afford. Those items that cost a bit more, but will last you — those are durables.
Mistaking “Luxury” for durables.
The word “luxury” has become a useless modifier. I see terrible, dank apartments advertised as “luxury” all the time — I imagine the agent trying to rent the place saying “hey, it’s now with fewer roaches!”
You see the same things with brands. Too many brands famous for “luxury” or “style” produce mediocre to inferior products, relying on their brand name or cool image to keep buyers coming. You’ll notice these brands’ conspicuously gaudy advertising in men’s magazines. It’s the equivalent of advertising your law practice on the side of a bus.
No, luxury is a useless marketing term. Durables last.
Keep It Simple and Sedate — a mantra worth repeating
You’ve seen in now in basically every article I’ve written. I advocate for erring on the side of boring. I’ve been told I dress like an old man. In fact, today I’m wearing a tweed suit, and I probably look like an old man. Part of that might be that the suit I am wearing is 40 years old, and will probably be able to be worn for another 40 without looking out of place.
But the idea of keeping it sedate applies well to the concept of durables in your professional life as well.
How does this apply to menswear?
Consider the changes in the “timeless” suit, the lawyer’s uniform.
- 1960s look, as popularized by Don Draper and Mad Men, brought about a slimmer look — slim lapels, slim ties, higher gorges, and 3/2 button stances.
- 1970s. Lapels got wide, ties got wide, and flared pants became acceptable business wear. Let’s not even talk about polyester.
- 1980s. We saw menswear grow into a Yuppie characature, epitomized by Wall Street and American Psycho — big shoulder pads, low button stances, power ties, and a resurgence in the popularity of the double-breasted suit.
- 1990s, with ugly Jerry Garcia ties, oversized three button suits, and shirts more suited for the club than business-wear.
The details of popular menswear are constantly changing and evolving. If you were on the “cutting edge” of menswear in any of those eras, you look hopelessly dated today.
But if when buying your clothes, you stuck to classical ideals of proportion, fit, and color — and didn’t venture off into any of the whims of the fashion of the day — well, you could probably still wear those items today. Sure, you might not have been the coolest lawyer in the office, but consider which is more important to you: longevity or temporary relevance.
To put it in more concrete terms: How’s that polyester flared suit working out for you today?
Weight your options when you next see a national menswear chain promoting their latest “Buy 1 get 3 Free” sale. Do you want to have things that are valuable, or just things? Maybe you don’t need four bad suits. Maybe just one good suit will do.
Your lawyerly accessories should be durables, too.
Its not just your suits, shirts, ties, or shoes either. Think about all the accessories that are part of your practice — whether office furniture, office art, your briefcase, or even your business cards.
Put some thought into what you’re buying. Don’t just pick up some print from GENERIC-ART-R-US because you think you need something on your walls. Find some real art — it doesn’t have to be an original Warhol or Matisse. There are plenty of artists around producing real art. Look locally if you can. If you’re in an area where that’s difficult, try Etsy or 20×200. Buy some real original pieces or prints. Frame them nicely. Hang them on your wall. Maybe it will be worth something someday, maybe it won’t, but it’ll be yours. And if it’s nice, who knows, maybe it’ll be worth passing on in your family.
Sure, you can be the lawyer that keeps using that beat-up ballistic nylon backpack that got you through law school. Or, you can buy a real professional bag that only looks better with age, will outlast you, and can become an heirloom. I proudly carry a Saddleback, and I convinced Jordan to toss his junky Kenneth Cole bag for one too. No, I’m not getting paid by them to promote their bags, they’re just that good.
And your furniture — do you really want your clients feeling like they’re walking into an IKEA showroom when they sit down for a consultation? You might not have the money to buy any better now, but when you do, hey — replace those EXPEDIT shelves that you used to have in your old apartment with real furniture. That POANG might be all you can afford now, but wouldn’t you rather eventually have a Herman Miller Eames that’ll hold it’s value, rather than sell for $20 on Craigslist in the future? You don’t even need to buy one new — there are plenty of second-hand furniture stores out there.
Yes. Even the lowly business card should warrant your careful consideration.
I know what you’re thinking. “Why spend money on something disposable as a business card? Not like anyone remembers them anyway?” And I’ll say “you’re wrong.”
I used to believe that too. Which is why when I first had my cards printed, I went with an online-to-be-unnamed-vendor whose business model is to give you oodles of “free” or “cheap-as-free” goodies when you check out. When I received those cards, they were forgettable — small, flimsy, and cheap-looking. To this day, I can immediately identify a card printed by this company — the poor quality is that readily identifiable.
Then I wised up. We had cards professionally designed, and we invested in high-quality stock. They stand out from the masses of ivory and bone colored, generic, cheaply printed, disposable crap. Does it mean we get hundreds of clients just based on our cards?
No. But people remember us because of the cards. So I ask — do you want to be a forgotten lawyer with a forgettable card? Or worse remembered as that guy with the cheap, crappy cards?
Leo, you’re a cheap bastard and a hypocrite to boot!
You’re right. I make Jordan keep the heat in the office at 65 degrees. My entire office is done up in IKEA. I’ve used cheap card printers in the past. I buy second-hand treatises. I don’t have Herman Miller furniture. I’ve bought secondhand Brooks Brothers, Oxxford, and Ralph Lauren suits. I don’t have a fancy automatic watch.
It’s a matter of baby steps. I wasn’t born into gobs of money, nor do I expect to win the lottery anytime soon. So while I have perfectly serviceable furniture, it’s unlikely I’ll be wasteful and toss it into the trash.
But step by step, piece by piece, the disposable will be replaced by the durable.
Next time you’re looking to add a piece to your office or your wardrobe, think about it. In a world of disposable, valueless pieces, wouldn’t your money be better spent on durables?
Read the next post in this series: "A Treatise on Ties (Now with Pictures!)."