If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SPY.com may receive an affiliate commission.
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 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. This article will lead you through the different sections of a man’s wardrobe, from belts to Harrington jackets or cufflink knots to sneakers. We will describe what to look for in each and where you can shop the best.
With your everyday sneakers, 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 Nike’s, in perhaps the Air Force 1, an iconic sneaker first released in 1982 and has remained unwaveringly relevant since. The clean lines make it easy to match everything, and that’s probably why it’s such an enduring style. Beloved by Bball players, teens, dads, and everyone else, it has global appeal.
WHITE LEATHER SNEAKERS
If you don’t have some white leather sneakers (the smart-casual godsend) already, you might be confused about why they’re on 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. We absolutely recommend Common Projects Original Achilles and adidas Stan Smith’s — but also try Grenson, Polo Ralph Lauren or Lacoste for some excellent 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, the 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, try something like Cole Haan, Florsheim, 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 a quality grip. Red Wings are an excellent choice with a chunky, gripped sole. Also, Doc Martens are slightly less expensive 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, an extremely versatile wardrobe weapon, some pictures from the ever-chic Thursday Boots are pictured.
Socks & Underwear
There is nothing more soothing to the soul in the winter than slipping on a thick pair of woolen socks. Whether running around doing the school run, shopping or going to work, they will ensure your southern digits stay toasty. Again, it is an essential item you won’t know 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 or Alvada, whose thick socks are made from merino wool.
SMART RIBBED SOCKS
Amazon is an exceptional place to go for these absolute fundamental basics. You can find them in a variety of colors and price points. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have a variety of shades of smarter, ribbed socks. Black, grey, navy, cream, and even white will always be helpful 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 of the trash for that much longer.
Read More: The Most Comfortable Men’s Underwear
This is potentially the most essential of essential items (other than socks and underwear) and the foundational rock upon which you can build any great outfit. Other colors can take a backseat, 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.
Jeans have become integral to the way we dress. There are endless variations available, so it can be a lifelong search to choose the jeans you want. But in terms of essentials, you’ll be looking at a good, clean pair of dark indigo jeans. Bonus point if you make those jeans raw selvage.
‘Raw’ refers to its unwashed nature, and ‘selvage’ refers to the technique of shuttle looms that creates strips of fabric with tightly woven bands to each side to stop the material from fraying. This creates a pair of jeans that will initially be super raw, perhaps odd and uncomfortable. Still, it will become more individualized and more comfortable with each wear, ultimately becoming your favorite pair. Try this classic pair of inky rinse Levi’s 501 jeans.
Every wardrobe needs a pair of universally applicable pants. Thanks to the current work-wear movement for the pure value of money and the stylish-at-the-moment look, definitely look into Dickies (currently an Amazon Best Seller 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 your suit pants separately with some devastatingly effective results.
A beige, cream, stone, or light brown chino is just perfect for some smart-casual matchups. If you’re feeling suave, they go so quickly with white trainers or white T-shirts and even a suede jacket. Again, this is a wardrobe staple, and you won’t regret having it. We recommend somewhere like Bonobos, Everlane or Amazon, which have a wide range of colors, or Banana Republic.
We love an easy, breezy pair of 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.
Here’s the lowdown. You need at least four shirts. Two casual shirts in whatever plain and neutral colors you choose can be in whatever (traditional) material, such as corduroy, flannel or denim. Next, you will be looking for one nice white dress shirt with a French cuff or double cuff for cufflinks for more formal occasions.
Lastly, a smart blue shirt will have you sorted for several dress-up or business-style events. Try various brands at Nordstrom, Macy’s and Amazon for all your business shirt needs and the ever-reliable Everlane for the casual choices.
So, multiple suits aren’t totally essential, but they are beneficial once you have built up your wardrobe rotation. Building them up one at a time is the easiest and least financially stressful route to suit wardrobe success.
One navy suit and one gray suit is the definition of an essential. It’s a must. No matter who you are, you’ll need a good, dependable suit, and navy is a great, versatile and still vivacious color to take it in. A Hugo Boss suit has a great slim fit and looks dapper. Top of the range is a suit from Brunello Cucinelli. 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. If it gets too hot, this allows you to remove your jacket, and the vest will retain your formality. It also gives your suit a two-piece and a three-piece versatility. More styling choices are 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 soft sweatshirt and settle into the couch for a Netflix marathon. Ideally, it would be brandless, with just a slight 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 UMIYI is simple in design and can be worn under a jacket or alone.
You need one warm, dependable sweater. We love it in cream. However, in black, grey, green, red, whatever, you have a license 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, and the ever classic Pendleton 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, 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 jacket styles in your wardrobe. Perhaps a Harrington jacket, a leather jacket, a denim jacket, maybe one with sherpa lining or perhaps 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.
Each serves different purposes, so it is hard to say what to buy. That said, you would want to secure the most ‘jackety’ jacket and have that bade covered, which is arguably the bomber jacket. Check out our SPY Guide To Bomber Jackets and find the most suitable bomber for you.
Coats are a slightly different ball game to jackets, in that you can have one full-length woolen coat that will suffice all your coat-ing needs. You can look smart when you wear it with a suit or downright sophisticated when you wear it with jeans. A good coat can drape you in effortless style in almost all social eventualities. Cole Haan is an excellent way to achieve quality for a reasonable price.
Accessories are quite a large subsection, and some things become essential once you have bought other important items, i.e., cufflinks or knots complete your double cuff shirt. 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.
Brooks Brothers Fleece & Flag Bow Tie
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 loses the most heat from your body, so keep it insulated with some good quality wool.
Belts: The rule is quite simple here; you need one black and one brown leather belt. These need to match well with most outfits you’ll put together, whether casual or smart. Always aim to get natural, genuine leather for the longevity of use and the aesthetic of quality.