I came back from Milan two weeks ago with only one new pair of shoes - grey patent lace ups from Dolce & Gabbana - autumn versions of the shoes I bought last summer. I've always returned from my Milan trips with a new wardrobe. The city was my fashion Holy Grail, but this last trip seemed more like torture rather than a pilgrimage to the shopping gods.
While my personal net worth is not high enough to have been affected by the economic crisis, there's no escaping the pinch, which means blowing a month's salary on a feathered Burberry trench is out of the question, if not in bad taste.
Recession dressing calls for what I like to call a more studied approach. Think of it as channelling your craving for vintage Dom Perignon to a less extravagant Moet - you still get the fizz and the cachet without having to seek a government bailout when the credit card bill drops.
While blue chip investments are diminishing, blue chip fashion pieces aren't: that is, styles that can be worn for multiple seasons such as a navy blazer (the one sports coat, in my opinion, every man should own) or a cashmere sweater.
For me, Dolce & Gabbana makes the best blazers because the cut is always precise and perfect for men who have a slim to medium build. For autumn, they have plush velvet blazers in navy, black, and for the daring, in Bordeaux, with shapes that are great for emphasising a gym-toned body. I invested in a Dolce & Gabbana velvet blazer two years ago and it remains on constant rotation during the colder months. Investment pieces may seem like a lot of money at first but at the final tally, you get maximum wear for every dollar spent.
If budget is a concern, Massimo Dutti offers pieces with a European cut at less cost. You won't get the same quality of fabric and tailoring, but they are good alternatives. Look for the blazers in cotton twill because they are thick enough to keep you warm during that one week of Hong Kong winter, especially when you layer them with sweaters.
Sweaters are a great wardrobe staple because you can wear them under a suit or over a shirt and jeans. I like the cashmere sweaters from Yves Saint Laurent and Brunello Cuccinelli (above, right). I have my eye on a red cashmere V-neck sweater from Hermes (above, left), which I can wear with my dark velvet blazer and jeans to give my outfit a jolt of colour. When it's cold and miserable, a punch of colour is a great pick-me-up.
Cashmere sweaters are not cheap and if you don't care for them properly, you won't get a good return on your investment. J Crew's online store has cotton-cashmere blends at less intimidating prices. Colours range from pastels to dark, earthy tones. For preppy style, try the sweater with an argyle pattern.
Also take a trip to Uniqlo to check out their Merino wool sweaters in autumnal colours. They may not be as soft and plush as Brunello Cucinelli's, but they make for stylish cover-ups. My friend Albert swears by them because, unlike other wool sweaters, Uniqlo's fabric doesn't make you itch.
Club Monaco also sells classic men's staples at great prices. I'm a fan of their cardigans (below, right), which can be worn with just a T-shirt. Or if you want to channel the look of Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl, pair one with a button down shirt and tartan trousers accessorised with a bowtie. I like a more traditional look so I would buy the white cardigan with a light grey border and pair it with an old white shirt and slim black trousers from G2000 Black Label, which with the right attitude can pass off as Dior Homme. I'd also throw in a striped silk tie from Ralph Lauren (bottom, right) for a touch of luxury. When it gets really cold, top it all off with a white puffer vest from Club Monaco's collection to give the look a more urban vibe. What's great is that you can still use the cardigan in the summer months as armour against the full-blast office air condition system.
A final word of advice: dressing during a recession is about knowing when to splurge and when to save. If you can only afford one big ticket item this season, avoid anything too trendy or identifiable to one season. Choose something that you can throw in with all the other pieces you already have. The great thing about menswear is that trends are not as volatile as the stock market, and if you pick classic pieces, you will remain in style - recession or no recession.
Brunello Cucinelli, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2311 3068
Dolce & Gabbana, Alexandra House, Central, tel: 2877 5558
Club Monaco, Queen's Rd Central, tel: 2118 2989
J Crew, www.jcrew.com Hermes, Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2522 6229
Massimo Dutti, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2805 0588
Ralph Lauren, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2869 0388
Uniqlo, Lee Theatre Plaza, Percival St, Causeway Bay, tel: 2577 5811