In my experience, most men who want to dress better do not know where to start. Some have very little clothing, other have purchased a ton but it either doesn’t fit, looks weird or is outdated.
Over the last 15 years, I have been building a classic gentleman’s wardrobe and in today’s guide I’d like to share with you what I have learned: 10 wardrobe staples that should be in every man’s wardrobe because they are timeless, versatile and elegant.
As the bottom line, you need to have the basics that pair well with a variety of dress codes and with various other garments in your closet. This guide does not include accessories or shoes but we have other videos such as 12 Ties Every Man Should Have or 3 Men’s Dress Shoes You Should Invest In, so make sure to take a look at those as well.
1. White Dress Shirt
Every gentleman should own at least one white dress shirt.
The fabric should be either made of plain poplin weave or a fine herringbone twill because these are classic and durable.
Ideally, you want a medium spread collar because it can be worn with many things and it works with every face shape.
You also want to avoid chest pocket because it’s a formal shirt and formal shirts don’t have chest pockets. For the same reason, you want a double cuffed shirt for cufflinks.
Avoid single cuffs for cufflinks cuffs because they’re only appropriate for white tie when they’re starched or otherwise, they’re just an in-between substitute that should never be worn. The same is true for combination cuffs.
2. Light Blue Dress Shirt
The second item you should have is a light blue dress shirt. However, that should have a barrel cuff or button cuff because you want something that contrasts your formal shirt.
Ideally, you want it to be made from a rugged fabric such as Oxford and you can also add a button-down collar to mix it up a bit. You can also go with poplin, maybe a twill weave or anything else that stands the test of time. If you live in warmer regions, you can also get an open weave fabric, but overall, I suggest you stay clear of the chest pocket even though you could wear it because it’s a less formal shirt.
You can still wear it with business outfits, and it’s very versatile and works with basically, anything you have whether it’s casual or formal.
Once you have those two shirts, I’d invest in a cream, off-white, or ecru colored shirt because it’s not as dark a pure white and therefore it goes really well with things like tweed, any forms of brown tones, reds, greens, oranges, you name it. To learn more about dress shirts, please check out our in-depth guide here on the website.
3. Navy Worsted Suit
The age-old saying that a black suit should be your first suit is grossly inaccurate. In fact, there really isn’t any place for a black business suit. The only place it’s appropriate is at funerals, and in today’s culture, a navy or charcoal suit is just as appropriate. For formal funerals, consider a Stresemann (stroller coat), or a morning coat.
Instead, the third item to invest in is a navy suit.
To start, I’d invest in a single breasted suit with notched lapels, not too skinny, not too wide, about 10cm or 4 inches for the lapel width. I would choose side vents and flap pockets.
If you don’t like the single-breasted style, you can also go for double-breasted with six buttons and two closing buttons.
For pants, I would choose cuffed, and since I have bigger thighs, I would go pleated. Of course, that’s up to you. If you have slim legs, a flat front may look more attractive. If you can, also invest in a vest or waistcoat of matching material simply because it allows you to go to more formal events with basically the same garment.
It’s very important that you don’t get a fabric that is too lightweight because they wrinkle too easily and they also don’t drape well.
Ideally, you should look for something in the 330-350 gram range which is about 11 ounces. I think you should skip fine things like cashmere because they’re soft, they may wear out faster, and if this is your first suit, you’ll get a little wear out of it. You want a hard wearing, a 100% worsted wool cloth.
If you wear a suit regularly to the office, I suggest you get a second pair of pants maybe one without cuffs, that way, you get a lot more wear out of your suit and you have a different style, so it just looks like an entirely different suit even though it’s the same.
4. Navy Blazer
The fourth item you should invest in is a classic navy blazer. No, not the jacket from your suit. While you can wear that jacket as a separate with khakis, you should invest in something distinctly different. That being said, get a lighter shade of navy than your suit because it has to look different and a lighter color is usually more casual which is the origin if the blazer hence, you should go with that.
I also suggest you go with patch pockets rather than flap pockets and have contrasting buttons, maybe mother-of-pearl or pewter and if you want to learn more about blazers, with all the details and everything there is to know, please take a look at our blazer guide, here.
5. Grey Flannel Suit
The fifth most important garment is the gray flannel suit.
It’s not just so popular because some famous people wore it, but because it is very functional and versatile.
For example, you can take the pants and wear it with a navy blazer which is another very classic combination. If you got a single-breasted navy suit, I suggest you get a double-breasted gray flannel and vice versa.
Personally, I like the style with six buttons and two closing buttons. You also want flap pockets that can be tucked in so it would look like jetted pockets, it just gives you more versatility. It’s a wonderful suit for the fall/winter season when it’s cold outside and super comfortable, and you can wear it for a casual setting and for something more formal. To learn more about flannel, please check out our in-depth flannel guide here.
6. Tweed Sport Coat
The sixth most important item in a classic man’s wardrobe is the tweed sportcoat. You have plenty of other options and you can learn about them here. No matter how old you are or what your style is, there is a tweed sports coat out there that suits you perfectly.
7. Trench Coat
The seventh item to invest in is a classic gabardine trench coat. It’s a timeless classic that has a military history; it’s the perfect raincoat. It can have a liner for colder months of the year, and in a double-breasted silhouette, it’s simply elegant, and you can pair it with formal suits as well as casual combinations. We have an in-depth guide about this wonderful garment here.
8. Chinos / Khakis
The eighth piece I’d invest in is a pair of classic chinos. Chinos are cotton pants that come in a shade of khaki, sand, or stone, and they’re more casual and very versatile. You can wear them with all kinds of jackets or just a shirt or a sweater and they’re often office appropriate. They come flat fronted or pleated with cuffs or without and it’s basically a matter of choice. To learn much more about this wonderful pair of pants, please check out our in-depth guide on chinos, here.
9. Burgundy Vest
The ninth item you should invest in is a classic vest or waistcoat.
Personally, I love vests and I have many in my wardrobe. If I’d have to pick just one vest, I’d go with a burgundy color, maybe in flannel, or doe-skin, because it’s contrasting and you can pair it with anything else I discussed in this guide and many other garments. The great thing about vests is that they cost a lot less than a suit, but they allow you to really change up outfits and just by having a new vest or two more vests, you basically multiply the use of the rest of your wardrobe.
Last but not the least, the tenth piece I’d invest in is a sweater. More specifically a bottle green wool sweater with a V-neck because I like to wear ties with them. If you don’t, go with a crew neck that is round and it just looks better than a V-neck.
It’s perfect to layer over shirts, you can have it under jackets, you can wear it on its own, or with an overcoat, and it just keeps you warm in the winter.
Spend a little more money to get a high-quality sweater made from long 3-ply or 4-ply yarns because they will not pill as quickly as cheaper sweaters.
For added softness, look for wool-cashmere blends or go with an all-cashmere sweater, but that’s a lot more expensive. The $100 cashmere sweater may feel just as nice and look just as great as the $400 version in the store, but the less expensive one will start pilling after a few weeks and look unsighlty after half a year, whereas the quality sweater will still look good after years of intense use.
For your first sweater, get something in a dark shade. I suggest dark bottle green because it’s a slightly more casual color, it’s dark, but you can pair it with all kinds of casual things as well as formal colors such as navy or gray. If you want to invest in more sweaters, you can extend to colors like camel, navy, gray, or personally; I like orange. Of course, burgundy red is an all-time classic and brighter shades of red are also brilliant.
Aside from the apparel mentioned above, one other item every man should own is a good pair of shoes. No outfit is complete without shoes and you can ruin your entire look by wearing a cheap pair of shoes.
Even though you know the ten most important pieces of clothing to wear, please check out this video where I discuss the must have dress shoes for men. If you’re more into boots, please check out this video about the two most important ones.
For neckwear, take a look at 12 Essential Ties Every Man Should Have.
Quality Over Quantity
Now, all of these items are super versatile and therefore you will wear them a lot, for that reason, it’s important to invest in quality over quantity. I suggest you buy the most expensive item you can afford at any point in time simply because the cost per wear will be so low and you’ll thank me for it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this primer on the ten items every gentleman should have in his wardrobe. These items will arguably become your most versatile pieces in both small and large wardrobes. Then, by adding additional pieces, you can quickly develop more pairing options and begin to introduce some flair and panache.
What articles of clothing do you get the most use of? Are there any items you recommend that are just as, or more, versatile?
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