Finding the balance between quality and value is a never-ending challenge for all clothes-wearing people. Sure, it’s nice to save money, but the bill always comes due in other ways: when the new $5 T-shirt starts to disintegrate after just a few wears or the trend-biting jacket languishes in the back of your closet once its moment has passed. To help navigate this challenge and steer you towards menswear nirvana, we’ve rounded up the best relatively affordable brands that aren’t fast fashion.
Alex Mill is a brand that always seems to hit a bullseye when it comes to the little details. It makes the platonic ideals of chore coats, breezy tees, and crewneck sweatshirts. But really Alex Mill is at its best when it’s pushing customers slightly out of their comfort zone. Go ahead and try AM’s pleated chinos with a generous drop crotch or even one of its zip-up jumpsuits.
We call Stüssy the Chanel of streetwear because the skate brand, like the Parisian couture house, has sat for so long at the peak of its category. The two, of course, differ dramatically in price. A Stüssy T-shirt—“Just the coolest thing you could have,” Our Legacy co-founder Jockum Hallin told GQ*—*retails for less than $50. The brand continues to spit fire with its collaborations, working with Dries Van Noten and Levi’s in just the last few months alone, while putting out the skater-friendly jackets and pants that are the foundation of its streetwear empire.
The Philadelphia-based Paratodo prioritizes fun more than most menswear brands. Its standout items include shorts with a design reminiscent of a lava lamp and tees and shirts with far-out psychedelic graphics. The brand also knows that kicked-up color is one of its greatest assets—who doesn’t need a cardigan in shades like “mango” and “key lime”? And if the clothes are out of your price range, maybe you’ll be enticed by a $5 brick-shaped stress reliever.
Patagonia flies its ethical-fashion flag prouder than any other brand on this list. Its founder donated his stake in the company last year, ensuring that its profits would go to charitable causes. That hasn’t stopped Patagonia from putting out great menswear. The brand continues to make colorful Baggies shorts that sell like streetwear grails, and its Snap-T fleece may as well be a closet requirement at this point. Patagonia makes clothes that are meant to be worn for a long time. And in the unlikely event that you get tired of a purchase, Patagonia will take the garment back, restore it, and sell it again through its Worn Wear platform.
Fear of God Essentials
In 2020, Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo told GQ about his aspiration to become the next Ralph Lauren, and he is putting together the building blocks of a similarly sprawling operation. There’s his mainline, FoG, where he strives for eternal design, and the highly anticipated Fear of God Athletics program with Adidas. But no arm of FoG has extended Lorenzo’s reach like the Essentials line. The perfectly boxy collection of sweatsuits makes owning the same hoodie that NBA superstars wear as simple as a trip to your local PacSun.
Nike doesn’t just make impossible-to-buy sneakers. The Swoosh’s selection of basics—socks, tees, sweatpants, and hoodies— are practically unbeatable. There’s a reason that the brand’s tech fleece items were at one point as coveted as the latest Jordan drop. Nike is heralded for its technical innovations when it comes to sneakers but it takes the rest of its offerings just as seriously.
There’s always that thing on the horizon: the wedding, the interview, your cousin’s graduation from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). What these things require is a shirt—a nice one! The place to get this nice shirt for these nice things is Kamakura, the Japanese maker that produces button-ups at prices that continue to astound ($110). The upside of a Kamakura shirt is once you have one, you have an arrow in your quiver for whatever the next event is on the horizon.
The worlds of quality shirting and affordability intersect in Atlanta, Georgia, where Sid Mashburn lovingly makes its legendarily crispy dress shirts. Mashburn would have been a place where you got an entire wardrobe for work before casual clothes and remote work decimated the dress code. But now Mashburn gets to be something even better: the place you go because you really want to wear a beautiful striped shirt, maybe with a jacket and even a tie. Few places make dressing up as enjoyable—or affordable—as Sid Mashburn.
One of life’s greatest challenges is finding a pair of swim trunks that are fun without being corny. Bather somehow threads this needle. And it doesn’t just make stuff for the pool—Bather is really a one-stop pre-vacation shop. The brand’s selection of funky camp shirts can sustain good vibes for an entire getaway. Bather’s sweatsuits will also put you in that relaxed, vacation state of mind at home.
The Levi’s 501 jean, available for less than $50 on Amazon, might be the best deal in menswear. There isn’t another piece of men’s fashion that’s remained iconic through every fashion trend—a friend to the hippies in the ‘60s, the punks in the ‘70s, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Jobs, and everyone in between—with such a low bar of entry. The best thing about the 501 is that the more worn and beat up the jeans are, the cooler and more personal they’ll look. So wear the hell out of them.