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There are two things to know about Joseph Knowles. He’s approaching a dynastic hold on Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice subforum, where he’s been voted the best-dressed man two years running. And he does this by only spending $40 a week on clothing, rarely ever paying full price for anything.
When I reached out to Knowles for an interview, I imagined a conversation about high-end labels, a lavish monthly spending budget, and outfits propped up by gifts from press-hungry brands. But instead, he issued me a warning: “I just want to let you know about 95% of my wardrobe is thrifted,” he wrote. “I buy almost exclusively used clothing from relatively no-name brands and tailor my own stuff.”
Knowles is a Vancouver resident who’s currently applying to schools in hopes of getting a Masters in Physiotherapy. On the side, he does photography, writing, and styling. He received the Best Dressed Man title after his peers on the MaleFashionAdvice subreddit, which has just over 632,000 subscribers, chose him based on his contributions to a biweekly thread with a self-explanatory name: “What Are You Wearing Today?”
In my conversation with Knowles, I quickly learn that the best-dressed man on Reddit is also the most savvy. He’s proof that dressing well doesn’t require a ton of money; all you really gotta do is give a shit.
Knowles has engineered it so that the $40 a week he spends on clothing is essentially house money: He sells back what he’s done with and uses what he makes to buy new stuff. “Whatever I want to buy, I have to sell that amount first,” he says. “It's self-sustainable in that sense.”
Knowles dresses better than others on the subreddit by outworking the competition. He shops at least twice a week and cycles through four or five retailers. He tries to see everything in each store — including whatever’s in the women’s section, where he’s found some of his favorite items. “[The women’s section] has more interesting fabrics, more interesting prints and patterns or different constructions,” he says. His favorite thrift ever, a fur coat, came out of the women’s section.
Knowles dresses better than you and the place he buys clothes most frequently from is called Value Village — which is like showing up to a gunfight with a Nerf and still winning.
There’s certainly nothing stopping you from dressing as well as Knowles, except a lack of commitment. He goes to big box stores — Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew — but only to study. “I would go to those stores and spend the day trying things on and feeling different materials,” he explains. ”It took a few years before I could start equating just the sense of touch and stuff like that to quality.”
Now, Knowles is able to speed-read a thrift store simply by running his hand over the products; he’s actually developed a spidey sense. “My hand will tell me when to stop and take a better look at things,” he says. If you want to replicate the practices, Knowles advises feeling for fabrics that “are a bit heavier” and says high-quality buttons and zippers are also a sign something’s on the nicer side.
He also finds steals because of his willingness to purchase oversized items that don’t have a modern fit and then tailor them, another self-taught skill. “I jumped on YouTube and just started reading and went from there,” he says. “There's at least ten to 15 pairs of pants that I train-wrecked before I could get anything that was wearable.” (His sewing machine, of course, is also thrifted.)
These are all skills developed in the past half-decade. Knowles lurked for a while on the MFA subreddit before actively contributing one night before a date. “I just threw [a photo] up on the web just to see if I was doing something right, if I was doing something wrong,” he says. “The community in general was great at giving feedback. It was a great learning point.”
That learning point ignited an obsession, and Knowles is now able to thrift expertly, tailor his finds, and sustain almost all his purchases through the sale of clothing he’s finished with. Knowles does it to support his other “expensive hobbies.” He’s an avid traveler; when I emailed him he was in the Philippines, and he had gone home to Vancouver and been to the mountains between the time we first emailed and our phone call. (His favorite shopping destination is Barcelona, by the way).
As much as anyone could be with the title of Reddit’s Best Dressed Man, Knowles isn’t at all insufferable about his practices. He’s almost matter-of-fact about the rabbit hole he went down, but he talks earnestly about sharing his bounty of knowledge. “I hope I really give back to the community as much as I can just because I remember what it was like not knowing where to go and starting out,” he says. Some of his habits are indeed extreme, but he’s pretty light-hearted about the results. “Have fun with it and remember they’re just clothes — you're going to take them off and do it all over again tomorrow.”