Re-Invent your Wardrobe with 25 Essentials

January 23rd, 2012

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In a perfectly curated wardrobe, all of the pieces (well, almost all) should make sense together and be interchangeable. For example, each of the ties should work with each of the shirts, and each of the shirts should work with each of the trousers. In theory, you could get dressed in the dark.

I’ve touched on this point in prior posts, and by popular request from all the readers trying to re-invent their closets, I narrowed down a list of 25 essential items that can serve as the basis for a classic wardrobe. Using only these 25 items you should be able to create hundreds of different outfit combinations and be appropriately (and sylishly) dressed for any occasion.

Before you run to the mall, however, keep in mind that, as always, I recommend buying quality. Well-made clothing looks better every time you wear it and it lasts longer, saving you money in the long run. These are all classic foundational items that you can wear for the next 15+ years. Think of them as investments. Investements in your appearance, your first impressions, your confidence, your career…your overall quality of life.

Price points are relative to the individual and his disposable income. It might take two years to build a new, well-edited wardrobe. That’s okay. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

For those going through body changes, it’s a good idea to wait until you stabilize at a weight that you are happy with and can realistically maintain.

Lastly, before wearing any of your new pieces, don’t forget to bring them to your tailor. Tell him how you want it to look (even if you have to bring a photo to help communicate) and ask him what can be done and how much it will cost. Don’t be cheap at the tailor. 

Here it goes….


- This is your go-to business suit. You can wear it three times in one week and nobody will even notice (the beauty of solid navy in the corporate world).

- It can also be broken up and worn as a blazer (with the jeans, chinos, textured trousers, etc) or a pair of basic trousers (with the oxford and tie, under the textured jacket, with the solid cardigan & patterned shirt, etc). Include a vest to make it a three-piece and have even more ways to wear it.

- Look for a fabric that is dark enough to wear in the evening (to a club, semi-formal event, etc.) to increase versatility.

- If you’ve been thinking about trying custom or bespoke, this is a good time to do it (in which case I recommend my tailors at Michael Andrews Bespoke).

- If you’re buying off-the-rack, make sure the jacket fits properly in the shoulders, chest and the length of the body. The slimness of the sides and length of the sleeves are easy (read: inexpensive) alterations.

Alternative: Solid charcoal.


- Get a classic tux that will last you more than 10 years. Black. Four season. One button. Satin trim. Shawl collar or peak lapel.

- You may only wear it once or twice a year, but those are the times you want to look yourabsolute best.

- If it’s within your budget, this is also a good staple to have custom made (in which case I recommend my tailors Michael Andrews Bespoke).

- If you can pull it off, the jacket can also be worn for a night out to the club  (as featured here).

Alternative: Midnight blue with grosgrain trim (as pictured).


- This is the suit that you will wear more often as separates. It’s a go-to blazer. It’s a go-to pair of trousers. And when you want and extra style punch, you wear them together as a suit.

- The fabric should have some texture and be more whether-appropriate than the solid 4-season suit.

Alternative: The options here will change depending on the climate where you live. Corduroy (as pictured), donegal tweed, glenplaid flannel, wool herringbone, chino cotton, seersucker, linen, hopsack, etc…


- It doesn’t get much more versatile than a white shirt in a textured cloth with a covered placket and french cuffs. It’s a formal shirt that’s perfect for a tux (see look 2 below) and a business shirt that’s perfect for a navy suit (a traditional necktie hides the covered placket).

Alternative: If you’re a shirt studs man, some formal shirts have stud holes with a removable button placket. These can also work for the office and the black tie event, although you’ll need a set of shirt studs and a cummerbund to cover the 5th (and 6th) shirt buttons.


- Make sure the collar and shoulders fit and the sleeves aren’t too short -  everything else can be tailored.

- This is a casual shirt that can easily be dressed up. For maximum versatility, it should be just long enough to stay in your pants when tucked, but still short enough for a casually untucked look (it should hit a few inches below the waistband).

Alternative: Blue/white stripe oxford, light blue chambray, pale pink oxford, pale lavender oxford, pale grey oxford


- Try on 20 pairs and have the best fitting ones tailored – you’re going to wear the hell out of them.

- Make sure they fit slim enough to wear with a blazer (similar to your suit pants in shape and proportion) and make sure the hemline can accommodate for a pair of loafers or lace-ups.

- Can be dressed up or down, of course, and work with just about everything in your new wardrobe.

Alternative: Raw denim, slightly washed (but still clean and dark) denim, navy 5-pocket corduroys


- See #6 above (dark jeans), same rules apply

Alternative: Khaki cotton chinos, pale grey cotton chinos, light grey flannel trousers, brown corduroy trousers


- Look for a narrow go-to belt (I like 1″) because it can be dressed up or down. Keep the buckle silver and simple, it’s not meant to draw attention.

Alternative: Exotic skins (alligator, crocodile, lizard, etc) are the most elegant (and expensive), but you can’t go wrong with a simple calfskin.


- Think silver with a neutral, easy-to-read face and sized proportionally to your wrist.

- 35-38mm is ideal for the average-sized wrist. It’s small enough to look elegant with formal attire and just big enough to complement a laid-back look.

Alternative: For my watch i have multiple bands and a pin tool to easily switch them. I wear black alligator or brown alligator most often, but an inexpensive grosgrain strap in dark neutral colors is the most versatile and treads that casual/dressy line nicely.


- Bring a friend (someone whose opinion you value) and hit a sunglass shop with a large selection. Try on 20 pairs that appeal to you. Buy the pair that suits your face the best and looks most natural on you. Have them fitted to your face before you leave the shop. That’s how to buy sunglasses, not because celebs wear them.

Alternative: Look for a classic shape (like aviators or wayfarers) in tortoise or a solid neutral color.


- We’ve done plenty on the versatility of the turtleneck (see here and here)

Alternative: If you simply don’t like turtlenecks (or they don’t flatter your body type) you could do a solid crewneck sweater here, in which case I recommend cashmere. Think solid and neutral – burgundy, navy, grey, olive, etc.


- This should be snug through the body, hit a few inches below the waistband and fit easily under your suit jacket(s).

Alternative: If you simply don’t like cardigans, you could do a v-neck sweater, in which case I recommend cashmere. Think solid and neutral – burgundy, navy, grey, olive, etc.


- This is your go-to elegant shoe.

- Look for a pair with a clean plain toe (no seams or broging) because they can be worn as formal shoes with the tuxedo (have them freshly shined) or as business shoes with one of the suits.

Alternative: A pair of sharp black loafers or slippers with a plain toe could also be worn for formal or corporate occasions.


- This is your go-to shoe, from dressy to casual. They work with everything in your wardrobe (with the exception of the tuxedo).

- They should be sleek enough to wear with a suit (shine them first) but chunky enough to anchor down a casual look with jeans or chinos.

Alternative: Depending on the climate where you live, you could swap these for a sharp boot (see here) or a pair of classic penny loafers. Whichever style works best for you, look for something dark brown, burgundy or oxblood as they will be the most versatile.


- This is your go-to for casual occasions.

Alternative: If you tend to dress more casually, or you live in hot climates (which typically have a more casually dressed culture), you can substitute these for a classic white low-top sneaker, like a pair of common projects or chuck tailors.


- Everyday coat.

- Ideally it should be a couple inches longer than your suit jackets, with just enough room to fit them under (like here).

Alternative: Navy, grey or camel work well for classic peacoats. Depending on your lifestyle, you could swap this for a topcoat (more formal) or a duffle/parka (more casual).


- I used my chunky fair isle scarf for this post, but an understated solid cashmere would be even more versatile.

- It should work with all of the shirts, the peacoat, the trench, the suit(s), the sweaters, etc.

Alternative: Think neutral, solid or a very subtle pattern – brown, navy, grey, olive, burgundy, etc.


- Should be a simple and relatively neutral color combo. It should work with all of your shirts, sweaters, jackets and pants.

- I think a 2.75″ bottom (across its widest point) has the most attractive balance. It’s slim without being skinny. If you’re a size 40 or under, that is what I recommend. Size 42 should be around 3″. Size 44+ should be in traditional 3.25-3.5 ties.

- A windsor knot is for a spread collar. A spread collar is for a guy with a large neck (16″+). (I know there are going to be comments on this from the windsor knot guys. Keep in mind that these are simply my suggestions/preferences as a stylist. If you feel more confident in a windsor, or even a double windsor, by all means, go for it).

Alternative: If stripes aren’t your thing, you could do a solid textured tie (like wool or silk knit) or perhaps a repeat pattern (dots, crests, etc).


- A simple touch that, when folded square, shouldn’t be “over the top” for anybody.

Alternative: If you are slightly more adventurous you can try white cotton with a tipped edge in a neutral color (like navy or brown). Or you could always  experiment with some pattern.


- Keep the pattern small enough to wear with a suit and tie, but big enough that it can also pass as a casual shirt (with the jeans, chinos, cardigan, peacoat, blazer, etc).

Alternative: Any shirt with a light base and neutral check/plaid will do the trick (like the ever-so-popular gingham).


- Your go-to for foul weather.

- A removable wool lining (available in many trench coats) turns this piece into a go-to winter coat as well.

- Ideally it should be just large enough to fit over a suit/blazer, but still slim enough to wear with just a shirt and/or sweater.

Alternative: Single breasted or double breasted. Keep it neutral – navy, tan/beige, brown, olive, even burgundy (like here).


- Every man should own one.

- Learn to tie it, no clip-ons.

- Ideally, it should be cut from the same fabric (or very similar) as the lapels on your tuxedo

Alternative: If you’re not comfortable in bowties, you can substitute here for a traditional black tie (but only if your tux has peak lapels – shawl collars are bowtie only!)


- Silver, no frills, just long enough to make it across your tie a couple inches below your sternum (typically 1.5″-2″).

Alternative: If you want to add a style punch you could get a tie bar with a little more personality, or go with a collar pin instead.





- Lightweight bomber jacket (denim, leather, suede, etc.)

- Chunky shawl cardigan

- Down vest

- Wool Ivy/driving cap (herringbone, tweed, cashmere, etc.)

- Classic penny loafers (dark brown/burgundy/oxblood)

- Rain/snow boots



In the following five looks I am wearing all of – and only - the 25 items.

From these 25 essentials you can create hundreds of different combinations.

It’s on you to learn how to put your own spin on them, and build from there.




Lose the tie and unfasten a couple shirt buttons after a long day and you’re ready for a night out.

I’m not a fan of patent leather tuxedo shoes. They almost always look cheap, and you certainly can’t wear them to a business meeting (like here with the plain toe leather lace-ups).

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  • Elijah

    That peacoat. Is that the standard issue peacoat of a US Sailor?

  • Allyn

    Square toe black leather dress shoes? Is this a style guide from 2001?

  • christian louboutin

    I have been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found
    any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  • Anu


    Great post! Just wondering if you have any suggestions on simple belts with silver belt buckles. I have looked all over Montreal and I can’t seem to find a simple silver belt buckle with a less than 1 inch wide belt.

  • Ace F.


    How can you tell whether if a suit jacket or a trouser is a men’s wear? Does it have to do with the buttons or what?


  • Ariel

    I’m glad you mentioned warmer states, because if you tried wearing most of that further south then you would end up soaked in sweat. The business stuf would be good for airconditioned buildings but a lot of the casual stuff would only be good for winter to early spring. Also you forgot black/white socks for formal and informal occasions and hats for either formal or informal occasions.

  • Frank

    Your pants are too short.

  • Amando

    Got this site locked in my smart phone

  • Amando

    1 Luv!

  • James

    What do you do when slim fit jeans do not fit in the thigh area. But you still want to go for that fit look?

  • Katie

    You’re my favourite fashion blog for men! (I even got my husband to start following you)

    Most men who want to be style conscious have a hard time getting into fashion because they simply don’t have many events to dress up for. Alot of blue collar workers don’t go to dinner parties or trendy cafes and the like.

    Request: Can you please make a functional (read: casual to mid-range) essential items guide?

    My husband would absolutely love it. One of his favourite blog entries is the one where you wore the black v neck and sneakers combination.

    Looking forward to a reply :)
    - Katie

    • Jonathan

      She brings up a good point. The place where I live I would be considered overdressed by following 70% of the tips on this blog. I want to look good but I don’t want to stand out in the wrong way. I need some more casual suggestions.

  • cate

    love the blog – great idea – how would a woman do it?? always would need an amazing kaftan – see fab designer kaftans at – hope you like them – and lovely embellished tunics

  • Brayden


    I have seen the “classic pea coat” shown here (#18), many times on your site and others, and am wondering where exactly to get these “vintage naval coats”. Specifically yours shown here, because I am a fan of the large lapels and collar and button detailing. I live in Canada so maybe that is why I cannot find one.

    Any info on where to find/order one would be great.

    Thank you

  • Nick

    Did that scarf shed a lot when you first got it? I bought one and the shedding was out of hand, especially when I wore with with any wool fabrics. I had to return it.

  • jessejamesj

    So, if you have only two pairs of casual pants say you ware them twice a week for 102 times a year how often would you say you dry clean them and how long do they last?

  • EvanM

    amazing post man! the pics at the end where you showed some of the possible looks made it even better!

    Thanks for this one! as always….keep up the great work.

  • Peter


  • jason

    hey dan,

    i like the color and look of those wingtips. what color/model are they? thanks!

    • breezy

      the description is on the bottom of the pic…its by florsheim and its colour brown

      • Jason

        @breezy. Florsheim has many brown colored wingtips. Thanks got your comment but I was looking for the actual model type.

  • Scott

    Outstanding. Well thought out and very well put together.


  • Anon

    Phenomenal post. I am totally archiving this. It’s like an entire book condensed into one page and straight to the point. Write a book, I’d buy it!

  • TO

    You will laugh when you see this DT. If you look closely, dude adopted your most controversial look, and got props from your boy. Let’s see if other readers get it-? Reply to this comment if you do! :)

    In all seriousness, you should feature this cat*.
    *Official fan request

    • Oli

      I thought Dan’s most controversial look was the cardigan-and-nothing-else-under-a-suit-jacket one? ;)

  • Grant

    Best post in months. This is what I read your blog for. Practical + Down to earth+ Stylish= Job well done.

  • Matt

    I coincidentally went jean shopping this weekend and tried on about 20 pairs before selecting a pair of dark blue slim fitting acne jeans.

    What sort of tailoring would you recommend I do to these? Should I plan to wear them until they have stretched out before going to the tailor?

    • SB

      Excellent point. YES.

      Wear the jeans. Break them in. Stretch them to the max of their capacity (5-10 wears at least), THEN have them tailored (only if they need it…might just be a hem, if you don’t want to roll them). And then don’t ever wash them. Dry clean, only when they get REALLY nasty.


      • Matt

        Thanks for getting back to me and for the great blog post!

      • Dre.

        So by never wash them do you literally mean NEVER wash them. Or just always hand wash them? or what. Sorry I’m confused.

        • SB

          dry cleaning only.
          only when they absolutely need it.

  • Kyrnan

    I follow your blog daily and I love it! I think your approach to educating us in men’s fashion is so great. This post was well written and extremely helpful. Big thanks to you!

  • TO

    Loving the new changes to the layout, btw. Every day these days it seems there’s a new improvement made!

  • Collin

    This is a direction I’d love to see the StyleBlogger continue to take in the future. As great as the fur scarves are, it’s not something that is applicable to my life. Advice is! You dress great, I trust your advice, and would love more posts similar to this one!


  • Louie

    Thanks for the great list, Dan! This is exactly what I was looking for. Now moving and rebuilding my closet is something I can look forward to more now, haha.

  • Justin K

    SB, you’re firing on all cylinders. You’ve had many wonderful posts for those who are already fashion-conscious and comfortable in well-fitting clothes, but you haven’t forgotten those of us who look at your styled looks in awe and, at times, fear. Thank you so much for this post. It’s amazingly helpful and reader-conscious. I’d love to see a warm-climate version in the future.

  • Jase

    Am I the only who noticed the engraved tie bar?

    Gifted personalized item? Or upcoming SB accessory line-up?


  • Osrodi

    Awesome, a guide that actually works for every guy. This is the real everyday thing. Thanks.


  • Arsene

    If anyone doubted why you won “best dressed real man” Esquire, this serves proof positive. The fundamentals are often overlooked and this article is the official constitution of a man’s wardrobe. Every man should get this as a 21st birthday gift as a guideline. Great write-up.

    Like Michael mentioned below, I think a good henley and a casual sneaker should have mad the top 25. Nonetheless, keep it up!

  • imobiliarias santa maria

    I like the shoes, hehe

  • AFH


    Thought-provoking piece. I think talking about wearing the 4 season navy jacket as a pseudo-blazer is a bit questionable (SB has certainly questioned this) and, once you take that idea out of the running, there are more versatile suits to own (e.g. a grey birdseye: affordable example (my brother just got one as his go-to): I also feel the placketless-shirt is a bit of a jack-of-all trades; but nature of the article I suppose.

    I definitely think midnight blue is definitely the way to go with tuxedos if you can find one (or can afford to go bespoke) – and indeed they’re firmly within the rules. But you are bending a lot of other rules here with what you’re wearing as ‘semi-formal’ eveningwear. Cover that waist mon ami americain!

  • Michael

    Awesome post!

    The only thing I see missing is mention of layering.

    What about the v-necks/henleys that allow you to mix things up high/low as well as add a little more warmth when necessary?

  • ciara

    Well done. I agreed with you on all accounts. You might want to have added a more casual shoe for weekend coffee runs(such as converse or adidas samba). Not the best quality casual shoes, but they get the job done. Maybe for the future, you can do “addional items” once you’ve gained the basics.

  • Drew

    I’m beginning the process of building up my wardrobe away from t-shirts, baggy jeans and running shoes. This will be most helpful, thank you!

    • SB

      Good luck. Make sure it works for YOU.

  • Cory

    I’m guess I’m doing things the right way; I have all of these items, including the honorable mentions. :-)
    Great post!

  • Oli


    Still wondering what’s happening with the MAB F/W collection though

  • Gary-A

    BAM. Best post on the site. I really think this should be your landing page. New to TSB? Start here.

    I personally am batting 18/25 for the pieces, but (unfortunately) my job is super-casual and my friends are all bachelors (no meetings and no weddings!), so my suit collection is where things don’t measure up.

    Fantastic work SB. I really think this is a shining gem of an article.

  • Ionut

    Foarte tare, postul asta, adica serios cine are nevoie de ajutor pentru a a-si reinventa imaginea, acesta e locul unde trebuie sa caute.
    faci o treaba foarte buna Dan.
    (if you don’t understand please use google translate..(romanian to english)):)

  • justchad

    This is good …
    all the not so traditonal pieces …
    lov’n the Turtleneck not many guys wear it put i am a firm investor!! lol have a couple..
    bowties! need i say more!!!!


  • Erich

    By far one of the best, most useful posts I have read here. Thanks!

  • Jesse

    Might be my favorite post ever. Very good work yet again, Dan. Though I do agree that it is a bit winter-y.

    Keep up the good work.

  • David

    Very nice post Dan. But I noticed most of these seem to be winter essentials with few summer items. Possible article idea being essentials by the season. Either way keep up the good work!

    • SB

      Good point, the list is geared for the current weather where I am based (winter).

      Keep in mind though, that each piece here can be rendered in a number of fabrics, for any season. For example, if you live in a place with a warmer climate, you could look for an unlined nylon trench, cotton peacoat, linen knit cardigan, light weight denim, linen/poplin shirts, etc.

      Don’t take it too literally, make sure it works for YOU.

      In the past 30 days we had readers in 181 different countries. It’s impossible for me to tailor this to everyone’s individual needs.

      Thanks for reading,

      • David

        Thank you for the reply and I completely understand. I figured that this was more tuned for the New York weather that I am so jealous of, but had not thought about all the different countries. I’m from Florida so many of these things do not get much wear (I’ve worn my peacoat twice this year). Also, very good point about different materials and though of different colors had not crossed my mind. No matter what though, absolutely fantastic article! Thanks again.

  • Ambyr

    I love a cardigan, wingtips and a bow tie on men. I think they typically shy away from these 3 pieces because they’re not a t-shirt and jeans pieces. But each can be worn with a tee or jeans. It’s the simple details that make a lasting impression. Great style shots.


  • kelek7688

    Thank you, Dan!

    I read your site all the time and was wondering when you would post something of this sort.

    I am forwarding it to a handful of friends immediately!


  • Shawn B.-C.


    Excellent post! On my way to build myself a new wardrobe, exactly what I needed. Still have to reach and maintain a weight I’m confortable with before (funny you mention that!)

    Juste one question: when wearing suits separate, I’m guessing one is washing the trousers more frequently than he’s having the jacket cleaned. How do you prevent the discoloration/fading of the trousers and ensure that they stay the exact same color to be worn together in the future?


    • Oli

      A lot of bespoke suits come with 2 sets of trousers so you can rotate them and avoid this issue. I’d say just make sure when you do dry clean the suit, take it in together rather than separately (even if the jacket has been worn less). If you have them cleaned separately/one more often than the other then you’ll get fading issues

    • SB

      Excellent question, and good answer.

      I would ad: only dry clean items when they are physically dirty (from sweating, or spills).

      If the pants just needs a refresher, have them pressed (the steam will surface clean them some) and they will be back to life, without suffering from the harsh chemicals of dry cleaning.


  • Andy Collier

    Best post in a long while! Please publish more of these basic style advice posts!

    • Russiamore

      Very practical! just what I’ve been looking for

  • Emanuel Iuhas

    Thank you man!
    Regards from RO!

  • Chasin

    Top notch Dan, great post loved the length of the whole post and loved all your picks.

  • Rudy

    NICE!! a bookmark post!

  • RC

    Echoing many of the previous comments: this is EXACTLY the type of high-quality, in-depth post that I’m always looking for, and the type that, if you continue to provide, will definitely make this blog the go-to for men’s style and fashion.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Maurice

    I love this post. Men want simple solutions.

  • JR

    The problem for me is getting the $ to check things off my list of essentials…

    Could you possibly do a post on how to get nice stuff while staying under budget?

  • TO

    This post is a game changer. It answers the question every guy to ever visit a “style blog” has asked himself, either privately or out-loud.

    I hope it gets the recognition it deserves across the world wide web!

    I can say I’m 13/25…but fully expect to be stocked up in a few years!:)

  • HarrisonK

    Great post. Although, to stay at your 25 piece limit I would’ve deleted the tie bar and added a pair of casual penny loafers, or some other summer staple shoe.

    • cam

      @HarrisonK – its a shame that Dan spends much of his personal time with the writing of these posts and so many simply do not actually read them in full.

  • Francis

    Hey Dan
    Excellent post as always. Where did you get your Peacoat? And did you get it tailored and if so, how?


  • Tony

    Awesome post. I’ve been telling my friends that’s it is much more cost efficient to buy staples as opposed to ‘what’s trendy’. Thanks Dan. Keep up the good work.

  • Andrew

    One of the best posts yet.

  • Jackson


    This is the post I have been waiting for. I completely agree with all of your choices!

    Thank you for this post!

  • Chase

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. An excellent run down on what every guy needs in his wardrobe.



    I was checking out SB daily, clicked on the “Home” button, and to my delight found your latest post. You were definitely correct, I appreciated this latest post and I am confident your other readers will too.

    Regarding the brogues, I am curious to know whether these are Florsheim x Duckie Brown…

    Neiman Marcus was having a great sale and I just picked up two pairs (brown broken-in brogues, and the white pair). Curious to know your thoughts on these shoes…

    Stay Fresh,


  • cam

    dan this is THE post i’ve been waiting for since March 10, 2009. thank you, thank you, thank you! p.s. would like to see another feature on towsend soon.