10 wardrobe essentials men must own
If you opened your wardrobe this morning to be confronted by a pile of shapeless t-shirts, distressed looking jeans you’ve not worn in years, jumpers with holes in, loud Hawaiian shirts missing buttons and a jacket sporting stains from that night out with the boys, then it may be time - in the immortal words of Dizzy Rascal - to “Fix up, look sharp.”
It doesn’t have to be a complicated process. First things first you’re well advised to have a clear out. Work through each item of clothing you own and ask yourself whether you’ve worn it in the last year or so. If you haven’t and don’t think you ever will again, be ruthless and get rid (preferably by making a donation to the local charity shop).
Once you’ve separated the wheat from the wardrobe chaff you’ll likely have an idea of the types of clothes you favour and the colours which suit you. Now it’s time to indulge in a little retail therapy by filling in the sartorial gaps.
For years women have sworn by ‘capsule wardrobes’ as a means of maximising tight clothing budgets and minimising the temptation to indulge in passing fads. The basic principle is that you stick to purchasing a select few timeless items, in two or three neutral colours, that can be paired together and dressed up or down depending on the occasion. The aim is form and functionality.
Sounds simple enough. So here’s how it applies to guys…
Every man should own a suit, there are no excuses for not doing so. Even if you don’t need to wear one for work, there’s every chance at some point during the year you’ll be invited to an event which requires you to smarten up. We’re not talking anything extravagant - stick to plain navy blue or grey, make sure it’s single breasted and ensure that it fits properly.
When a man puts on his favourite suit he should automatically feel more confident. While bespoke tailoring is out of most people’s price range, you can still pick up stylish two-piece offerings without breaking the bank. Marks and Spencer are a great place to start your search while fellow English stalwarts Jaeger and Reiss are perfect for those looking for a more modern cut.
Remembering that the essence of a capsule wardrobe purchase is versatility, there is little room for manoeuvre when it comes to denim. Jeans should be straight cut and dark blue in wash. Nothing else.
No baggy, boot, carrot or super skinny styles. No ‘fashionable’ rips on the thigh. No giant pockets and certainly no Jeremy Clarkson stonewash fade. When it comes to trying on jeans it’s keyto make sure that the leg, crotch and waist areas are not too tight, that they sit on the hips and that they fit from behind. Be warned though, given denim’s propensity to shrink in the wash it’s best to leave yourself a little extra room.
Classic denim is timeless and will work not just for weekend socialising, but also smarter occasions. Wear with a blazer and a plain shirt and those dreaded ‘smart casual’ decisions are immediately banished. Swedish brand Nudie (available via My Wardrobe) have a great range of simple styles, while Gap and Levis have spent decades dominating the market for a reason.
As tempting as it may be to live in jeans, it’s best to invest in a separate pair of casual slacks just to add a little variety. Chinos have lost the stigma (and the leg crease) which saw them perennially associated with cricket-watching, middle aged dads. Navy and khaki are still the most popular colours for that preppy look, but if you’re feeling more playful you could try your hand at a bolder greens and warmer reds and oranges.
Pair with a plain knit and brogues in the winter, or roll up the cuffs in summer to show off your canvas tennis shoes. Dockers and Polo Ralph Lauren are arguably the kings of chino, although Urban Outfitters are home to a host of young pretenders.
The white shirt
Nothing in this list is quite as versatile as the humble white shirt. It is, in no uncertain terms, the perfect platform for any outfit, both formal and relaxed. Whether you’re pairing it with the aforementioned navy suit or a pair of dark blue jeans it is simple, crisp and will never look dated. Indeed, when a top designer like Tom Ford lauds it’s qualities you have to take notice: "When I put on a white shirt, it's the same feeling as getting into crisp, fresh sheets at night,” he recently stated.
While the colour may stay the same the varieties in collar, material, cuff and fit mean that there is enough room to cater to individual tastes. For the preppy look you’ll want a button down Oxford collar – Uniqlo do a great budget version. For a traditional, professional look go for a boxy ‘classic’ cut, or, if you’ve the physique to pull it off, a slimmer fit can also be very flattering. Jermyn Street trio Charles Tyrwhitt, T.M Lewin and Thomas Pink are all specialists worth checking out.
You may find it hard to believe, but women really do check out a man’s shoes. It’s easy to keep the rest of your clothes looking spick and span (a washing machine and iron does most of the work), but too many guys disregard their shoes. Prove that you’re a man of taste by investing in a proper pair of smart shoes and keep them pristine.
Brown brogues are a fail-safe option out of the office, while black is preferable if you spend most of your time in the boardroom. Not only do they add a dash of luscious leathery luxury to an outfit, they’re also pretty hardy – they were initially designed to be worn in boggy marshland after all!
As well as being a vital weapon in the arsenal against the cold, knitwear is also a terrific vehicle for adding colour and a contemporary layered look to an outfit. If you’re feeling conservative stick to crew and v-necks in black, brown, grey or blue; wool and cashmere are particularly good if you’re trying to cover up any extra pounds put on over the festive period, although it’s key you stick to thin, rather than chunky, designs.
For those who are a little more adventurous you could, as with the chinos, experiment with more vivid colours. Stick to plain, block colours though – stripes and hoops aren’t nearly as adaptable.
If you need a more casual shoe for the weekend, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Converse All Stars. First produced 95 years ago they are hard wearing, come in every colour possible and suit all seasons. Fred Perry and Italian brand Superga are also great for understated, but stylish canvas sneakers. Office, Schuh and Size? are all well-known stockists.
We’re not talking the gold button look as sported by old fogeys at Henley Regatta. We’re talking fitted, modern and adaptable; a light to middle weight jacket which perfectly finds the balance between dressy and casual and can be worn on almost any occasion.
The perfect blue blazer should fit like a glove whether it’s a classically tailored wool variety or made of unstructured cotton. Dress it up by wearing a shirt and adding a pocket square, or dress down with a plain t-shirt or knit and a pair of jeans. John Lewis is great for a one stop blazer shop covering everything from their traditional own brand to more modern styles by Gant, Duchamp, Aquascutum and Scotch and Soda.
As has already been stressed, all the elements of a capsule wardrobe should be as flexible as possible. As such when it comes to buying t-shirts the only option is plain.
Any garment you got free with a packet of cereal, any with a witty play on words or a crude attempt at a ‘joke’ and anything that has you proclaiming membership of a 1980s Californian under-12 baseball side is to be worn in bed for sleeping purposes only. It is for your own good.
Black, white and navy, polo shirts and crew neck collars are not only simple and stylish, but also available on the cheap from the likes of Gap, Uniqlo, Topman and M&S.
Google “men’s capsule wardrobe” and aside from this stunningly written article you’ll be presented with a million and one results advocating trench coats as the best outerwear for gents. It’s hard to argue with that – the trench is a classic.
Suitable for the commute to work as an added layer to battle the morning cold, it can also be dressed down with sneakers and jeans. A staple of men’s fashion since the First World War, the variety of styles and materials available mean that there is something for everyone.
The fit is key so make sure it sits above the knee. Belt up at the front if you’re slim; leave the belt tied at the back if you’re a little chunkier. For a lighter, waterproof coat opt for cotton drill or poplin, for protection in winter weather go for heavier wool. Burberry and Aquascutum are the two brands best known for pioneering the trench, but cheaper options are available on the high street from Banana Republic to Topman.
Given the minimalism of the majority of the aforementioned capsule wardrobe elements, it is to accessories that most men turn when trying to add a little panache to an outfit.
From ties and scarves to belts, bags, socks, pocket squares, cufflinks and watches, it is the little details that allow a man’s personality to shine through. Invest in quality and a flash of colour and you’ll never look dull even on the gloomiest of January mornings.
What essentials do you have in your wardrobe that you couldn't live without? Leave your comments below...