The Essentials. The clothes you actually need. Call it minimalism or the contemporaneous works of Marie Kondo; these are the pieces that if you want to dress well, cannot be done without. Despite fashion trends arriving hot on the scene and sloping off into the night without as much as a whisper of a goodbye, there are some items of clothing you can always rely on to stay looking sharp.
The most integral idea with all these pieces is simplicity. Having the basics covered is foundational to having good style. You cannot have one without the other. In this article we shall lead you through the different sections of a man’s wardrobe, from belts to Harrington jackets, or from cufflink knots to sneakers. We will describe what to look for in each and where you can go to shop the best.
With these, comfort is paramount. You need to wear them safe in the knowledge you won’t think about them for the rest of the day. That’s why we recommend something as reliable and comforting as New Balance, in perhaps a 574 style, an iconic range released in 1988 and has remained unwaveringly relevant since. Go for a soft, neutral color, making it easier to match to a casual outfit.
WHITE LEATHER SNEAKERS
If you don’t have some white leather sneakers (the smart-casual godsend) already, you might be baffled as to why they’re in this list. If so, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are appropriate all the time and they go with practically anything. They have the edge on your everyday sneakers and can slip perfectly into that smart-casual niche. You can dress down suits with these for a nice going-out or party vibe. Definitely recommend Common Projects — but also try Grenson, or Polo Ralph Lauren or Lacoste for some acute variations.
OXFORDS OR DERBYS
Smart shoes are an obvious essential. We recommend going with a derby shoe, which removes the decoration and, dare we say it, frivolity of the brogue detailing. For this reason it makes for an exceptionally versatile shoe and one you’ll be wanting to wear with your casual outfits too (which will look killer, by the way). We recommend going to Church’s for a good, classic derby that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. However, if you can’t stretch the wallet that far at this point in time, try something like Cole Haan or Ted Baker, from the wide selection at Nordstrom.
To buy a pair of boots is an investment not to be taken lightly. We recommend spending some money on them since that generally equates to good quality and you want them to stick around for a long time. You want a sturdy sole with quality grip. Red Wings are an excellent choice with a chunky, gripped sole. Also Doc Martens are slightly cheaper, and probably won’t last as long as Red Wings, but still will do the trick and look fantastic in a burgundy color. Similarly, Grenson is an excellent place to shop boots. Also, lest we forget the Chelsea boot, which can be an extremely versatile wardrobe weapon. Here are some pictured from the ever chic, COS.
In the winter there is nothing more soothing to the soul than slipping on a thick pair of woollen socks. Whether it be for running around doing the school run, shopping or going to work, they will ensure your southern digits stay toasty. Again, it is an item you won’t know is essential, until you own them and realize you can’t step foot outside without them. Try Target or well-known mountaineering brands such as The North Face.
SMART RIBBED SOCKS
Uniqlo is an exceptional place to go for these absolute basic basics. They are selling four for $12.90 and you can choose your colors. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have a variety of colors of smarter, ribbed socks. Black, grey, navy, cream and even white will always be useful when compiling outfits. Also, beat the washing machines evil, whimsical nature of always leaving you short of the things you must need. Stockpile plain black socks like they’re going out of production forever. Stockpile them as if your life depended on it. Of all the things to overbuy, you’ll never be upset about an extra pair of black socks.
Go for simplicity and solid designer brands. We’re thinking Calvin Klein (cliché for a reason), Emporio Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren. We’ve all experienced purchasing bad boxers and before long they’re in the trash. So spend a little more, buy quality and you’ll keep them out the trash for that much longer.
This is potentially the most essential of essential items (other than socks and underwear). The foundational rock upon which any great outfit can be built. Other colors can fall by the wayside if we’re honest. Again, stockpiling comes into this too. But the other thing to think about with white t-shirts is, well, the whiteness of the white t-shirts. So, you can either invest in some whitening detergent or buy high-quality white t-shirts for longevity. Topman would be bottom of the market, mid-range is Lacoste for example and finishing high with Tom Ford at $440.
Jeans are much the cornerstone of western casual dress. They have become integral to the way we dress. Unsure of what to… oh, no, your jeans are already on. There are endless variations available, so it can be a lifelong search choosing the jeans you want. But in terms of essentials, you’ll be looking at selvedge, raw denim in a dark indigo. ‘Raw’ refers to its unwashed nature and ‘selvedge’ refers to the technique of shuttle looms that creates strips of fabric with tightly woven bands to each side to stop the fabric from fraying. This creates a pair of jeans that will initially be super raw, perhaps odd and uncomfortable, but with each wear it will become more individualized and more comfortable, ultimately becoming your favorite pair. Try Carhartt.
Also, recommended are a standard pair of black Levi’s 511 jeans. Again, the casual-wear king. Black is just a useful color to match up, so it’s always worth having.
Every wardrobe needs a pair of universally applicable pants. So, it’s fitting that Universal Works do some excellent utility pants. Pants that will always be needed. Also, for the pure value of money and the stylish-at-the-moment look thanks to the current work-wear movement, definitely look into Dickies (currently on Amazon at a great price). We recommend them in navy blue or black, but they have a wide range of colors. Also, remember you can wear you suit pants separately with some devastatingly effective results. You can buy separate suit pants in a range of colors, like these green ones from Prada.
A beige, cream or light brown chino is just perfect for some smart-casual matchups. They go so easily with white trainers or white t-shirts and even a suede jacket, if you’re feeling suave. Again, this is a staple of the wardrobe and you won’t regret having it. We recommend somewhere like Bonobos, who have a wide range of colors, or Banana Republic.
Easy, breezy, blue cotton shorts for those halcyon summer months. Light blue, navy blue or beige. Cotton is good, for its durability, lightness and more porous natural than wool. However, for a real summer short, try some linen blend shorts. Very lightweight and comfortable. This linen/cotton blend in beige, by Rhythm is exactly the sort of short that has to be in your closet.
Here’s the lowdown. You need at least four shirts. Two casual shirts, in whatever plain and neutral colors you choose and it can be in whatever (traditional) material, personally we tend towards corduroy, flannel or a heavy chore. Maybe one in a nice deep red, or one in navy, and maybe one in white. Then, on to the business end. You will be looking for one nice white dress shirt with french cuff, or double cuff for cufflinks for the more formal occasions. Then finally a smart blue shirt, which will have you sorted for a number of dress-up or business style events. There is a fifth style which, although isn’t ubiquitously essential, could be deemed so in hot climates: the linen shirt. Get it in a darker color, like an olive green, so that creases aren’t so obvious.
Try various brands at Nordstrom for all your business shirt needs, Orlebar Brown for linen and the ever-reliable Everlane for the casual choices.
So, multiple suits aren’t exactly, totally essential, but they are so exceptionally useful once you have built up your wardrobe rotation. But, building them up one at a time is definitely the easiest and least financially stressful route to suit wardrobe success.
A navy suit + a grey/black suit is the real definition of an essential. It’s a must. No matter who you are you’ll need a good, dependable suit and navy is a fantastic, versatile and still vivacious color to take it in. This navy Hugo BOSS suit has a great slim fit and looks dapper. Top of the range is this grey check suit from Brunello Cucinelli. Or, Paul Smith, who are always a great choice for off-the-peg suiting options. For the winter months, mohair or thick wool and a lighter thread count, light cotton or linen for the summer.
A double breasted suit adds real versatility to your wardrobe, since it retains a strong structure, adding an edge of formality and panache to your dress. Plus, it is easily worn with some chinos and so in a way, you’ll be opening up your wardrobe to even more stylistic potential, as well as gaining one matching suit. Ideally it’d be your winter suit as it works well in a thicker material.
Consider a three-piece suit option in at least one of these suits with the waistcoat. This allows you to remove your jacket if it gets too hot and the vest will retain your formality. It also gives your suit a two-piece and a three-piece versatility. More styling choices is never a bad thing.
A sweatshirt is amazingly versatile. We recommend a creme color, so it has a classier feel to it and could be worn under a suit for a smart-casual look. But equally, get yourself a fluffy sweatshirt and settle into the couch for a Netflix marathon. Ideally it would be brandless, with just a little crest. Lacoste or Ralph Lauren can add a little weight to your decision. Or perhaps one word across the front, in a subtle two-tone to the sweater.
This sweatshirt from JW Anderson x Uniqlo.
One warm, dependable sweater. Personally we love it in cream. However, in black, grey, green, red, whatever, you have licsence for a bit of personality here. In a cold weather climate, this is the equivalent of your clothes giving you a nice warm hug. Rest assured you’ll still look pinpoint suave, though. Howlin’ & Everlane are brilliant retailers to explore in this realm.
Perhaps a few people might roll their eyes or question this inclusion, but we passionately believe in the transformational power a turtleneck can add to an outfit. It can replace a shirt and switch up your suit/smart-casual wear, or be worn with pants or jeans for a more lived-in, comfortable feel. Recommended colors are black and oatmeal — a good mix of a light color, but with a difference.
Although it may not be essential, ideally you would want a variation of styles of jacket in your wardrobe. Perhaps a Harrington jacket, a leather jacket, a denim jacket, maybe one with sherpa lining or maybe a bomber jacket, a rugged chore jacket, a waxed jacket for the rainy days, a puffer jacket for when it is super cold. Or a Parka Jacket, for all that a parka jacket does. They all serve subtly different purposes, so it is really hard to say what to buy. That being said, arguably, you would want to secure the most ‘jackety’ jacket, to have that bade covered, which arguably is the bomber jacket. Check out our SPY Guide to purchasing the most suitable bomber jacket for you.
Coats are a slightly different ball game to jackets, in that you can have one, full-length woollen coat that will suffice all your coat-ing needs. Smart worn with a suit, down right suave worn with smart casual. A good coat can drape you in effortless style in almost all social eventualities. Mr. P, Mr. Porter’s own brand is an excellent way to achieve quality for a reasonable price.
This is quite a large subsection and some things become essential once you have bought other essential items i.e. cufflinks or knots. So here is a quick list of things to check off:
Ties: Navy, red, black, striped. Try Polo Ralph Lauren.
Bow Tie: Never hurts to have when attending formal events. Try Brooks Brothers.
Pocket Squares: Adds stylish panache to a suit, but make sure you match well and again, you can only do this with a variety of colors and styles. Check out Nordstrom.
Sunglasses: Whatever you do, make sure you have a pair of the RayBan Clubmaster. That is probably one of the only single-brand products we will very specifically recommend in this guide.
Hat: for the chilly months. Your head looses the most head on your body, so keep it insulated with some good quality wool. Topos Designs.
Belts: Quite simple here, one black and one brown leather belt. That will match well with most outfits you’ll put together whether it be casual or smart. Always aim to get real, genuine leather for longevity of use and for the aesthetic of quality. Try Hugo Boss for a black leather.