Trying to buy better can be a difficult thing in Australia. We don’t have the rich history of Saville Row, or the heritage of Northhampton, or the expertise of Glashütte. The rise of e-commerce has evened the playing field somewhat but you still can’t just walked into a department store in Sydney and try on a pair of Aldens. Buying online is fraught with risk – the item may not fit or may not look as it does in your mind’s eye. Shipping to Australia is sometimes impossible, usually costly, and almost always slow. Fret not dear reader, here are some handy tips I have amassed over the years and I pass them to you. (Note: If you live in the UK or USA, the majority of this will be pretty useless to you).
Find a local stockist
If at all possible, try it on in person. We may have a limited selection in Australia but there are still brick and mortar stores which sell quality clothing and shoes. Our most famous export is RM Williams and you can walk into a RM Williams store and try on their boots and clothing. Similarly David Jones stock Loake shoes – both of these brands are towards the lower end of the price range for shoes (although RMs have had a significant price rise in recent times). Double Monk is also worth a visit if you are in Sydney or Melbourne, but their shoes tend to be in the more expensive category. There are stores in Sydney which stock semi-niche casual Japanese brands like Engineered Garments, Postoveralls, and Orslow. If you are interested in a particular garment or model, try to find a stockist in Oz.
Know your size
If trying it on isn’t an option, then obviously the internet is your friend. But if you are going to shop online, then KNOW YOUR SIZE. And I don’t mean “Oh I wear a 9 in Nikes”. Go to a shoe store and have your foot measured using a brannock device. Your foot measurements come in length and width (and most people don’t know their width). For example, my feet are 9D in US sizing. Bear in mind that UK, Australian, and European sizing all use different numbers and letters and so you need to know the conversions. Google will take care of that. I can write an entire post on shoe sizing but if you are looking for a particular model, take to the internet and comb the forums.
KNOW your suit size and fine tune it from there. Buy a tailors tape measure and actually measure yourself and measure the clothing that fits you best. Know your shoulder to shoulder, pit to pit, shoulder to cuff, etc. Learn to measure your shirt size – there is one measurement around your neck and another from the centre of your neck to the end of the cuff. If this all seems too hard, go to a tailor and have them do the measurements for you and write it down somewhere. Sizes are not universal across brands and sometimes a medium will fit like a small and a 38r will fit like a 36r. Even pit to pit measurements do not necessarily guarantee the garment will fit properly as the size of the armhole will determine where the armpit ends up. When you buy online, there will always be a risk, so you will win and lose some. So know your returns policy, or hey you can always just resell it on eBay or grailed.com. If the item is second-hand and you scored a bargain you may even make a profit!
Do your homework
I really should have put this one first because everytime I have been caught out it has been my own fault. Don’t assume that pair of vintage Levis in size 30 will fit you because you normally take a size 30. Look at the measurements. Don’t assume that you go down a full size for UK shoe sizing because that is what’s normal. Go on the internet! Someone will have asked the same question as you and you can save yourself a lot of money and pain. If you are buying on eBay and they haven’t posted the measurements, ask them. If the website you are buying off doesn’t have the measurements, look for the same item elsewhere. There is nothing worse than finally dropping your hard earned cash on something and waiting 3 weeks for it to arrive only to find it is too small.
I once tried to buy a Filson jacket and the shipping worked out to be over $100. Australians always get the short stick so expect to pay a bit more than our friends in the UK or US. Try looking for the same item from another stockist. I generally find stores in the UK to have the best shipping rates, and because Australians don’t get charged the 20% VAT, that often offsets the shipping. My favourite UK online shops are END clothing, Kafka, Pediwear, Goodhood, and Oi Polloi. Catch them during a sale and there are some serious bargains to be had.
Shipping from the US can vary in prices quite a lot. I find generally the larger companies such as Woolrich, Lands End, LL Bean, Nordstrom and J.Crew have cheaper shipping. And they have sales often enough that it offsets the shipping. Newer online ventures like Huckberry and Massdrop often have very competitive or capped price shipping but you have to be patient and wait for the item you want to come up. The items are usually also priced very competitively but you have to wait longer for your item to be shipped or, in Massdrop’s case, to be made.
If you are buying off eBay, I do try to find stuff in Australia but often the good stuff is from overseas. Their global shipping program is fairly reasonable and you just have to factor in the shipping cost to the overall cost and see if you can live with it. Sometimes if you contact the seller they will take a bit off the price to offset the shipping or change the method of shipping to lower the cost. I buy most of my clothes and shoes on eBay secondhand and eBay tips is a whole other post.
Thrifting in Australia
Unfortunately thrifting in Australia is not that great for men. It seems like men here hold onto to their good clothing until it literally falls apart. You can find some good items, particularly in richer suburbs. The one exception is accessories. Ties, tie pins, tie bars, lapel pins, scarves, sunglasses and pocket squares are usually plentiful and reasonably cheap. I personally think these kinds of items look better vintage and the things you find are usually unique and interesting. I also love a good safety razor and have picked up a few of these for a bargain…