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….
1. SOLID DARK NAVY “FOUR SEASON” SUIT
- 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.
2. CLASSIC TUXEDO
- 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).
3. SEASONAL SUIT WITH TEXTURE AND/OR PATTERN
- 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…
4. WHITE COVERED-PLACKET FORMAL SHIRT
- 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.
5. LIGHT OXFORD SHIRT WITH BUTTON-DOWN COLLAR
- 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
6. SLIM DARK JEANS
- 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
7. SLIM NEUTRAL CHINOS
- See #6 above (dark jeans), same rules apply
Alternative: Khaki cotton chinos, pale grey cotton chinos, light grey flannel trousers, brown corduroy trousers
8 & 9. ELEGANT UNIVERSAL BELT (1 BROWN, 1 BLACK)
- 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.
10 & 11. NEUTRAL TIMEPIECE & VERSATILE BAND
- 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.
12. CLASSIC SHADES
- 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.
13. THIN NEUTRAL TURTLENECK SWEATER
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.
14. SOLID NEUTRAL CARDIGAN
- 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.
15. BLACK PLAIN TOE DRESS SHOE
- 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.
16. BROWN CHUNKY WINGTIPS
- 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.
17. NEUTRAL DESERT BOOTS
- 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.
18. CLASSIC PEACOAT
- 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).
19. NEUTRAL SCARF
- 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.
20. REPP STRIPE TIE
- 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).
21. WHITE COTTON POCKET SQUARE
- 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.
22. NEUTRAL CHECKED SHIRT
- 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).
23. NEUTRAL TRENCH
- 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).
24. BLACK BOWTIE
- 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!)
25. SIMPLE SILVER TIE BAR
- 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.
1. CORPORATE SETTING
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).
- Midnight navy suit by Michael Andrews Bespoke
- Grey flannel check shirt by Michael Andrews Bespoke
- Navy/grey stripe tie by Thom Browne
- Watch by Montblanc Timewalker Automatic (42mm)
- Nato Striped grosgrain watch strap by Corvus
- Silver tie bar by Purely Paige
- White cotton pocket square
- Black Seamless lace-ups by Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza