Back To Basics
No doubt you’ve already got a fair amount of ‘basics’ in your wardrobe. Plain T-shirts, jumpers, Oxford shirts, chinos, underwear… true, they’re not as exciting to buy as a limited edition pair of trainers or something emblazoned with a flashy print, but they’re definitely the items you’ll wear the most and get the best cost-per-wear from.
Some people might baulk at the notion of spending £80 on a T-shirt or dropping £100 on a belt, but if a piece helps to form the backbone of your wardrobe, is scrimping really saving you money in the long run?
With this in mind, we’ve picked out ten modern day ‘hero’ basics – unfussy in their design, unrivalled in their quality, and guaranteed to deliver a great ROI.
1. The White T-shirt
Image: Sunspel 2014
In these relaxed times, there’s weight to the argument that a white T-shirt is even more important than a white shirt. And while budget versions might cut it, for a true wardrobe hero, Sunspel’s Egyptian cotton and Sea Island cotton T-shirts are – if you’ve never tried them before – in a totally different league to anything you will find on the high street.
“The Sunspel philosophy is to make exceptional, everyday clothing from beautiful fabrics,” says the brand’s CEO, Nicholas Brooke. “We use a very specific Egyptian cotton called Q82 in our T-shirts – something that’s unique to Sunspel. Two threads of the finest staple, 80s count cotton are twisted together to create a strong, smooth, extremely fine cotton thread that is incredibly robust.”
At the designer end of the spectrum, progressive brands like Rick Owens, Maison Margiela and Damir Doma specialise in fashion-forward cuts and featherweight tees that are ideal for layering, while Jil Sander’s mercerised cotton T-shirts have that solid, crisp feel that runs throughout the label’s collections, but at a price that won’t burn holes through your wallet.
Worn with suits, layered under jackets and knits, styled on its own with jeans – if there’s one item you’re going to blow some money on, a white tee can’t be beaten for versatility.
2. The Cashmere Crew Neck Jumper
Image: Ralph Lauren
Although a cashmere jumper can be bought for under £100 these days, cheaper versions could cost you more in the long run. Cashmere fibres are sourced from the undercoats of goats that live in cold climates, and cheap cashmere tends to be made from the shorter (read: less durable, more prone to bobbling) threads, which drastically reduces the lifespan of the garment.
Brands like John Smedley, Ralph Lauren, Johnstons of Elgin and Brora produce top quality, beautiful weight cashmere knits that aren’t cheap but – when looked after – will provide you with years of wear.
If you prefer something more lively, American label The Elder Statesman specialises in colourful cashmere with natural dip-dye finishes, prints and luxuriously chunky ribs (though bear in mind prices can hit the £1,000 mark, so be prepared to dig deep).
Elsewhere, British label ESK brings its own truly modern twist to cashmere – the brand’s knitwear comes in beautiful, jewel-like tones that are as considered as the fabric itself. “We knit and finish all ESK products under one roof so we have ultimate control over every aspect of make and finishing,” says Lorraine Acornley, the brand’s Creative Director.
“We use highly skilled local craftspeople to make our products and PH-neutral water is used in the finishing process which adds to the unique softness.”
It’s these little differences that you’ll only notice up close, and that really set these fine cashmere pieces apart from other wools.
3. The Cashmere/Merino Hoodie
Image: J Crew
Press even the most sartorial-minded guy and we’re sure his most-worn item just might be a hoodie. Ideal for between-season layering, nipping to the shops in the rain, and even working out, the hoodie is arguably the ultimate throw-on piece.
Although the term ‘luxury hoodie’ may seem like an oxymoron, a design crafted from a high quality material like cashmere or merino wool will take your lounge time to an all-new level of comfort, while bringing a touch of luxury to your casual layered ensembles.
Marc Jacobs is famous for popularising the style – but Loro Piana, Berluti, J.Crew and, again, Sunspel are the ultimate go-tos for premium cashmere zip-ups.
4. The Hard-Wearing Backpack
Image: Head Porter
The humble backpack might often fly under the radar, but let’s face it – due to its practical nature, it’s probably going to see more use than that leather holdall you’ve been eyeing up all season. So, it is worth spending a little extra.
“A good backpack is a style staple. They can last years; a good quality leather design will actually look better with age and evolve with your personal style,” says Sam Smith, Fashion Editor at online retailer oki-ni. “A modern style-conscious man might now incorporate trips to the gym, commuting by bike and general hands-free practicality into their everyday agenda,” adds Christopher Fisher, oki-ni’s buyer.
We’re talking something that’s stylish enough to wear to work, but also functional enough for, say, a hike or trip to the gym. As for brand recommendations? “Japanese label Porter has been hand-crafting their bags with high-grade Japanese nylons, producing the best sport styles domestically for over 30 years,” says Fisher, who’s been buying into luxury versions of classic backpacks for this season and next.
Similarly, Master-Piece hand-craft its canvas and nylon backpacks in Japan for the ultimate in durability, while brands such as Arc’teryx Veilance and Christopher Raeburn have produced some sleek, waterproof and packable designs that wouldn’t look out of place paired with your suit for work.
5. The Luxe Sweatshirt
Image: Reiss SS15
Every man loves easy to wear, casual gear that bridges the gap between workout and weekend – and the sweatshirt’s probably the only item you can get away with wearing on a run, to the office and out for drinks (best washed in-between, of course).
Simon Lister of cult Newcastle store END Clothing says that when it comes to sweats, you truly get what you pay for. “Acne Studios, for me, is the best,” says Lister. “Their sweatshirts have a slightly relaxed fit and they get better and better with every wash.”
Also worth checking out are A.P.C.’s sweats, which provide a fine balance of fit, weight and softness, as well as high street retailer Reiss’ extensive selection of minimal, well-manufactured styles.
6. The Brogues
Image: Barker Grant Shoes
Some styles of shoe go in and out of fashion (remember that time Prada tried to make square toes happen?), but a sturdy pair of brogues truly is a man’s best friend.
While there are plenty of designs to choose from on the high street, investing in handmade, Goodyear-welted brogues whose soles can be replaced means you’ll lose count of the miles you walk in them.
Storied Northamptonshire-based companies like Tricker’s, Church’s, Cheaney, Barker, and Edward Green craft some of the best shoes money can buy, while newer, heritage-flavoured labels like Irish-designed, Italian-made brand O’Keeffe and London-based Mr Hare provide slightly more contemporary silhouettes and innovative detailing that breach new territory for this footwear classic.
- Edward Green Ulswater Textured-leather Brogues
- Okeeffe Hand-polished Leather Brogues
- Churchs Diplomat Leather Oxford Brogues
- Cheaney & Sons Leather Edinburgh Brogues
- Trickers Bourton Derby Brogue Acorn
- Barker Toddington Leather Brogue Shoes Tan
7. The Handmade Glasses
Image: Garrett Leight AW14
Some people would have you think that there’s little difference between £10 budget spectacles and £250 designer glasses – apart from a generous dose of sexy marketing.
But try on a few pairs of Cutler and Gross or Oliver Peoples frames and you’ll quickly see – with 20/20 vision – the difference that premium spectacles have on your overall appearance.
A handmade pair of glasses just look and feel ‘right’, while cheaper frames often don’t fit, fall apart easily or have something slightly misshapen about their aesthetic. There’s a weight, a thickness, and a wealth of detail in frames that have been lovingly crafted by true artisans.
Take Italian label Persol, for example, whose frames feature intricate arrow detailing at the joints, or Garrett Leight, whose glasses dazzle with brilliant textures and finishes.
8. The Luxe Trainers
Image: EQT Amsterdam
Like Goodyear-welted shoes, well-made trainers are in an entirely different league to the type you might pick up on the high street, or even from a supposedly reputable sports brand. While modern sneaker culture has made it tempting to opt for outlandish designs and bright colours, you’ll want to keep your staple trainers simple – think monochrome and leather.
Common Projects, ETQ Amsterdam and Filling Pieces are the current go-to brands in the sector, while high-end labels like Lanvin are worth looking at if you’ve got a little more to play with – even their simplest lace-ups are rendered in exquisite materials and versatile neutral colours.
Newcomers such as Feit deserve consideration, too. The Australian brand’s shoes are like works of art in their own right, owing in no small part to their streamlined construction, smooth, raw-cut leathers and timelessly simple shape.
Buttero, Bottega Veneta, Acne Studios and Number 288 have also season produced some sleek, look-twice sneakers in classic silhouettes this season, elevated by their quality materials and pared-down finishes.
9. The Leather Wallet
Image: Smythson of London
There’s something beautiful about a leather wallet that’s softened and developed its own distinctive patina over time. Italian label Valextra is a leader when it comes to small leather goods, while British heritage brands such as Mulberry, Smythson and Dunhill also produce handcrafted, durable wallets that are timelessly simple in design and will last a lifetime with proper care.
Elsewhere, younger brands like Troubador and Isaac Reina are challenging the old guard, dragging the classic billfold into the present day. Reina, in particular, excels at recreating traditional shapes and making them modern by removing the weight and crafting them from the finest leathers by hand.
“Leather is a noble material,” says Reina, one that “refines simple things”. Through his work, the designer is “always trying to make things easier and simpler [so that] standard things become sublime”. It’s this simplicity that makes them true contemporary classics.
10. The Black Derbies
Image: Mr Hare Bernard Shoe by Mr Porter, The Finishing Touches Feature
Traditionally speaking, there are two types of smart shoe in the world: the Oxford and Derby. The former has a closed front (meaning the eyelet facings are stitched underneath the vamp, or front section, of the shoe), while the latter has an open one (where the eyelet facings are stitched on top of the vamp).
While these two styles obviously aren’t worlds apart, we tend to lean towards the Derby for its versatility – it pairs equally well with smart and casual looks. The key to spotting a good Derby is finding one that sports a top-notch finish, and that won’t crease each time you wear it.
Mr Hare’s ‘Bernard’ Derby features a rounded, snug toe that’ll help prevent this, while Church’s offers a selection of masterfully crafted styles in an array of colours to suit all tastes. Finally, John Lobb, the shoemaker of choice for greats from George Bernard Shaw to Frank Sinatra, makes some of the best Derbies in the world, with more than enough heritage and craftsmanship to justify their higher price point.
Sometimes it pays to spend. While you’ll find more affordable versions of the items on this list at high street retailers, swapping highly priced, premium quality pieces for shoddily made, cheaper alternatives is a false economy – especially when it comes to the cornerstones of your wardrobe.
Do you believe in investing in basics? Or maybe you have your own brand recommendations for well-crafted shoes or an especially luxurious cashmere jumper?
Let us know in the comments section below.