Something I touched on a little bit in my last article was the tendency for menswear writers and bloggers to overuse adjectives such as ‘versatile’, ‘sprezzatura’ or ‘steez’. We end up applying them to so many different kinds of trends, styles and garments that the real meaning gets completely watered down. It also tends to leave readers or beginners to the game confused as to what is really going on. With this in mind, the biggest, most overused adjective of them all has to be ‘essential’.
I think it’s criminal (and slightly ridiculous) the amount of times this word gets thrown around by guys in the industry, without any thought for what they really mean by it. I mean, come on, I’m all for a double breasted blazer but is it really an essential part of your wardrobe? The same goes for tassel loafers, pocket squares and shirts with prints on them. They’re all great additions to a wardrobe but they aren’t the foundation of a great wardrobe.
What essential really means is just that – the kind of item, that if not present, makes your wardrobe fall apart. Furthermore, they should all (well, almost all) compliment each other when put together and be completely interchangeable. So much so that, in theory, you could get dressed in the dark. A list of true essentials is what I’ve attempted to put together below.
For a more in-depth look at each piece I’ve selected below, check out the rest of my men’s fashion basics articles, which cover everything I’m about to mention. Make sure you also read up on the excellent series Will Colman did on reinventing your style.
Finally, remember that when building the perfect foundation wardrobe, you should be paying close attention to quality and fit – it will make all the difference to your look and these pieces will be getting a lot of rotation in your day to day style.
The Top 10 Essential Items
1. A White Oxford Cloth Shirt
The most versatile shirt you’ll ever buy.
Easy to dress up with some formal trousers and a blazer but works equally as well dishevelled and rumpled with a pair of jeans. For maximum versatility, try and get one that is long enough to stay in your trousers but still short enough to look good when untucked.
- Allsaints Addison Shirt
- American Apparel Pinpoint Oxford Long Sleeve Button-down Shirt
- Selected Oxford Shirt
2. Slim Dark Jeans
The reason they should be slim (but not skinny) is so they can be worn with a blazer but still look great with a pair of loafers or lace ups. They can be dressed up or down and will go with anything you get your hands on.
But you must remember to do your homework! Try on as many pairs as you can and then get the best pair tailored to perfection.
If you can afford it, opt for a selvedge pair – the quality of the denim is generally much better and will help them last years.
- Levis Vintage 1947 501 Rigid Denim Jeans
- Nudie Jeans Slim Jim Dry Broken Twill Slim Jeans
- J.crew 484 Rinsed Slim-fit Jeans
3. A Dark Solid Tie
Should be simple and neutral enough to go with all the suits, jumpers and shirts you can throw at it. Navy, grey or black are ideal. Again, keep it slim but not skinny, and try not to go more than 3″ at its widest point.
If you can, opt for one with a bit of texture (like wool or a silk knit) in order to add a bit of detail to an otherwise very simple and versatile piece.
4. A Navy Blazer
Normally I would suggest you purchase a navy suit as it will work just as well separated as a whole piece. However, I appreciate not everyone has the budget for a whole suit and I would rather you spent the money on a quality blazer than an average suit.
Try to make sure the fabric is dark enough that it can be worn in the evenings to clubs, bars or semi-formal events and throw it over anything to instantly smarten up your look.
5. A Pair Of Grown Up Trainers
Something I cannot stress enough. Upgrade to something like Adidas Stan Smith’s, Chuck Taylors or Vans, buy them leather, keep them clean and you won’t go wrong.
- Vansauthentic Leather White Mono Excl
- Converse Jack Purcell Leather White
- Common Projects Original Achilles Leather Low Top Sneakers
6. Grey Crew Neck T-shirt
I really shouldn’t have to explain this one. Works great as a layering piece, because grey goes with every other colour under the sun. A crew neck also flatters nearly every face shape.
This item will never look better than when it’s paired with the dark jeans and grown up trainers on a lazy Sunday morning.
- Allsaints Berkeley Crew T-shirt
- J.crew Slim-fit Cotton T-shirt
- American Apparel Fine Jersey Short Sleeve T-shirt
7. A Black V-neck Jumper
Again, another classic.
One of the easiest and most elegant looks for a man to pull off is a pair of formal trousers, a white shirt and black v-neck jumper combination. It works well as a layering piece under a suit and even looks great with just a pair of jeans in those summer evenings.
8. Slim Neutral Chinos
Same rules as the jeans here guys. Go for something in beige, camel or olive for maximum versatility but grey or brown will work just as well.
Try to make sure they are of the traditional formal variety rather than the denim wash versions that are out right now – it’s much easier to dress a smart pair of chinos down than it is to dress up a more casual trouser.
- Shore Leave Stone Chino
- Beams Plus Straight-leg Cotton-twill Chinos
- Reiss Senator Slim Casual Trousers Rust
9. A Pair Of Black Lace-up Shoes
Your go-to elegant dress up shoes right here. That is not to say they can’t be dressed down with a pair of jeans and a tee, but when you have a pair that are clean toed (so no seams or brogue detailing) they could be worn with a tuxedo and would still look appropriate.
10. A Medium Grey Suit
If there’s one thing you should spend some money on, it should be this one.
It’s the most versatile suit you can own and you can use the jacket as another blazer and the trousers as another pair of formal trousers with the chinos. It can take you from your first interview all the way to your final address to the board – including all those weddings, funerals and clubs in between.
- Topman Three Piece Best Grey Charlie Skinny Suit
- River Island Slim Fit Jacket
- Reiss Ark Modern Two Button Suit Grey
As I said, with only these ten essentials in your wardrobe you should be able to get dressed in the dark and still look as stylish as ever. The beauty of menswear is that once you have these items, all you have to do is start expanding your colour palette in order to add even more interchangeable pieces. So why not pick up some shirts in blues, pinks and greys? Or another blazer but this time in black? A few more different neutral chinos and jumpers won’t hurt either.
Stick to this format and you will have a great foundation wardrobe that will soon be ready for you to start introducing on-trend pieces and accessories that will individualise your look.
But as always, it’s not all about what I think – we want to hear from you guys too. Do you agree with my top ten list? Have I missed a key ‘essential’ piece off? And if I have, are you prepared to say why it should be deemed as essential? Let us know in the comments section.