Bah,humbug.The economic slowdown is forcing even the most free-spending of us to take on some of the qualities of Scrooge.And it makes clothes shopping for men--the more conservatively clad of the sexes-- even more of a challenge.How do you invest your money to ensure a gift that's new and chic and doesn't smack of Christmas past,but that's not so wildly different it suggests Christmas future?Those involved in the men's retail fashion business--the wise men and women who make their living trying to figure out what it is that men want--were asked their ideas on what gifts would bring the most bang for the holiday buck this season. Following are a few of their ideas to help you get the most for your money.
Seize the day
Certain gift items are a particularly good buy right now. Neckties, for example.
"You're probably going to jump when I say this, but ties are a great gift right now. We're in a golden era of neckwear," says Jack Herschlag, executive director of the National Association of Men's Sportswear Buyers. It's a sentiment echoed by many other area retailers.
A wide spectrum of colors, sophisticated graphics, and a more relaxed idea of what constitutes a "masculine enough" design make these heady, anything goes, Berlin-in-the-20s times in the tie market. There's only one pitfall: just like in 1920s Berlin, sometimes anything does go. But choosing carefully and avoiding the most outlandish should turn up a unique, tied-on treasure for any of the men on your list.
You can avoid a major gift gaffe by considering his wardrobe and sensibility, and by choosing a tie that clearly demonstrates the earmarks of quality. The Neckwear Association of America says a well-made tie should be tipped and bar tacked at both ends, and should be "elastic" -- not too limp or rigid.
Gold cuff links are a good buy right now because gold is priced so low, according to Bob Smyth Jr., vice president of discount jewelers Albert S. Smyth & Co. in Timonium. "The savings are tremendous," he says.
Smyth & Co. offers a normal discount of 25 percent, but is currently adding an additional discount, which depends upon the price of gold, but which has been hovering at about 20 percent off retail of late, he says. A simple, solid 14k gold set of oval cuff links sells at Smyth for $219, while a pair of 14k gold overlay cuff links sells from $75 to $100.
If going for the gold is too much for your pocketbook, a pair of elegant sterling silver ones -- silver is also experiencing a lower-than-usual price -- runs about $50 at his store, he says.
Sweaters and holiday gift-giving go hand in hand, and this
season there are some compelling reasons to buy in at least two Baltimore area stores.
In the case of Gage Menswear, it's bulk. Because Gage buys its Italian Jacquard cardigans, V-necks, and crew necks in even greater bulk than its other merchandise, it can pass the savings on to the customer and sell them at a mere $19.99, or "two for $37.50!" as buyer Bill Glazer likes to point out.
And a new fabric resource means that Brooks Brothers can sell its classic Shetland wool crew necks at a lower price than last year -- $48, down from $60, according to Stephanie Vitrano, department manager at the Gallery Brooks Brothers. Even Land's End is selling one of its cotton crew neck sweaters for $10 less than last year.Black-tie buys
Investing in the black-tie accoutrements that keep men schmoozing in style can stretch your gift dollars several seasons. Eddie Steinberg of
J. S. Edwards thinks cummerbund-and-tie sets, which retail at his store from $50 to $97.50, are a good way to update an already-owned tuxedo or personalize a rented one. It's easy to shop for, too -- you don't have to know the size -- and choosing from the myriad styles, which range from always-appropriate black to more offbeat, festive designs, could be fun.
And what sets off a cummerbund and tie? The tuxedo shirt underneath. At $78, Brooks Brothers' basic tuxedo shirt is somewhat pricey, but it's a classic that can be worn season after season, barring any unforeseen weight changes.
A finishing touch could be a tromp d'oeil watch from Impostors, ** the copy jewelry specialists. Their maybe-Movados and redux-Rolexes retail from $55 to $85, a fraction of what the originals go for.
But if you want an evening-appropriate timepiece that's the genuine article, consider investing in a pocket watch rather than a fancy wristwatch. The pocket watches of today often become the family heirlooms of tomorrow, so it's a gift that suggests deep caring, permanence, and hints
at generations to come. They also serve wonderful double duty as necklaces, so if you give one to your brother-in-law, or your sister's live-in boyfriend, your sister will thank you too. And if you give it to your husband . . . well, you get the idea.
From the sublime of black-tie dressing to the most ridiculous of boudoir fashion, there's Joe Boxer's 3-D "Undervision" boxer shorts, one of Eclectic owner Arnold Borenstein's favorite fun gifts. Complete with 3-D glasses, they might be considered a cheap laugh at $17.50. And that store's $25 stamp cuff links, fashioned from old European and American stamps with unusual designs, are a fun, not-too-wild way to add lightheartedness to any man's wardrobe.
Finally, for the young men on your list, you might consider one of the trendy items at that bastion of cheap-street fashion, Sunny's Surplus.
Spokeswoman Yvonne Summers says their $13-$15 Mickey/Minnie Mouse sweat shirts and cardigans, $20 Hard Rock cafe sweat shirts, and East German "rain" camouflage gear are big sellers with the college-aged.