The high street really comes into its own when it comes to ‘wardrobe basics’ – those essential building blocks that lay the foundations of any solid capsule wardrobe: Oxford shirts, quality denim, knitwear, underwear and footwear.
Due to the sheer volume of orders high street stores place with manufacturers, they can often secure better materials for less, and because many of the items that appear on this list are bestsellers for the retailer, they tend to hone in on them, refining the quality and design over time to retain our interest.
So, if you’re looking to stock up on essentials but find yourself a little light of pocket, check out our hit list:
Image: American Apparel
It’s a debate that’s probably raged since humans started wearing scraps of fabric to conceal their modesty: who makes the perfect white T-shirt? In this writer’s humble opinion, it’s undoubtedly Sunspel, but at £55 a pop they don’t come cheap.
That said, plenty of high street retailers offer great alternatives.
Uniqlo’s white tees are well known for their quality, and what’s more the Japanese retailer offers a wealth of styles – from long- and short-sleeved to V-necks and crew necks:
If you prefer thicker, more sturdy T-shirts, on the other hand, then American Apparel’s might be a better fit. They come in a wide spectrum of colours, from classic grey marl to acid wash orange, meaning there truly is something for everyone. The California-based label also offers lightweight options that are ideal for summer, as well as ‘power wash’ versions that have been treated for an already broken-in feel.
Gap is another US retailer famed for its basic T-shirts, but be warned – while the cotton is exceptionally soft, the fit isn’t always the most flattering, often coming up slightly too long or wide to show you off to your best potential:
On this side of the pond, Marks & Spencer offers pure cotton T-shirts with StayNEW technology (designed to reduce bobbling and colour loss) in a wide range of hues. Not bad for £7.50.
Finally, if you’re an ethical consumer interested in tees crafted from organic fabrics, check out John Lewis’ white organic T-shirts – an absolute bargain at just £10 each:
Not just top for T-shirts, Uniqlo does some great denim too, though it is worth noting that their jeans are cut slightly looser than other high street brands like Topman. Offering first-in-class quality at an affordable price, the retailer’s selvedge jeans are crafted from Japanese denim sourced from the renowned Kaihara denim mill and reportedly produced in the same factories as a considerably more upmarket label.
If you’re a denim addict who can’t bear to be parted from their jeans even when the mercury’s soaring on a hot summer’s day, check out Uniqlo’s new ‘Miracle Air’ range, which are said to be 20 per cent lighter than regular jeans.
Gap is also synonymous with denim, offering one of the better affordable selvedge lines on the market. You’ll find its 1969 selvedge jeans in skinny, slim and straight fits, as well as raw indigo denim in a range of washed and repaired effects:
Many swear by Topman jeans, and while the Brit brand’s offering has always got its finger firmly on the pulse, emphasis here is often placed on the breadth of washes, prints and distressed details rather than the quality of the materials used. That said, their raw denim lines are definitely worth exploring:
Oxford Button-Down Shirts
It’s the kind of thing that should be readily available: a plain, textured Oxford shirt, complete with a proper button-down collar and cut to the right length so you don’t have to tuck it in.
But it’s not. Or maybe we’re being too picky. In any case, many high street stores stock them, but the number of variables (length of the collar, weight of the fabric, fit of the shirt) makes it seem like there are as many different types of Oxford shirt as there are wearers of them.
Uniqlo (surprise, surprise) makes a decent Oxford in slim and regular fits – but there’s not an enormous amount of difference between the two and they are cut quite long, which means you’ll probably have to do a bit of tucking in, especially if you’re on the shorter side.
A genuine – and pleasant – surprise is Shore Leave at Urban Outfitters, who have slightly boxier, more relaxed-looking options available around the £50 mark (the label’s also worth checking out for clean, simple rain jackets and shorts too).
Gap, we’ve found, is king of the classic Oxford, and for around £33 the label’s Modern Oxford is a solid choice, being washed and broken in for softness:
An honourable mention should also go to J.Crew for its quality cotton Oxfords – although these push the £75 mark, if you hit the store in sale time you can snap them up for under £50.
Image: Reiss SS15
When an item of clothing is as simple as a sweat, there’s nowhere to hide when it comes to subpar details. You want everything – the fit, the weight, the material – to be just so.
If it’s choice for an unrivalled price you’re after, then ASOS should be your first port of call. With well over 100 styles on offer starting from just £18, it’s tough to beat this e-tailer’s huge collection:
If you’re on the slimmer side, stop by Topman for well-made, comparatively slim-fitting loopback cotton sweatshirts for just £20 a pop.
Available in colours like jade green, burgundy and a few shades of grey, this is cut-price luxury at its finest:
Swedish chain H&M is pretty adept when it comes to sweats. Those that feature in the main collection are cut a little slimmer and have a more formal look than those in its sportier L.O.G.G. section, but both lines provide an array of on-trend options at unbeatable prices:
If you want to take your sweatshirt game to the next level, Mango Man’s cotton-cashmere blend sweatshirt is an excellent choice, knitted with a contrast front and priced at just £35.
Similarly, upmarket high street retailer Reiss offers a selection of basic marl sweatshirts with classic sportswear details for £59 each – a little pricier, but worth every penny:
Image: Mango Man
Chinos have become a modern wardrobe essential over the past five years. But as is often the case with popularity, the more ubiquitous an item becomes, the more high street names produce shoddy quality options. Still, there are a handful of entry-level brands serving up well-made chinos.
John Lewis’ Kin collection has them in both timeless neutral shades as well as subtle colours like summery mid-blue or teal green, available for just under £30. What’s more, they’re crafted from 100 per cent cotton and cut just the right side of slim:
Mango’s cotton-linen blend chinos are an ideal way to stay smart in warm weather. The brand offers a range of styles too, each packed with hidden detail, as Mango Man Image Director Jan Rivera Bosch explains…
There’s the Barna: “a smart chino with an Italian look,” according to Rivera Bosch, which features a V-cut at the waistband to guarantee unbeatable comfort, plus a slim-fit and satin cotton construction designed to offer “elegance and sophistication”.
Then there’s the Dublin, “our chino for special occasions,” which boasts fabric integrated in the waistband to stop your shirt from slipping up. And finally, the Berlin: Mango Man’s regular chino, “for the customer who values comfort, and who’s looking for an original military-style chino.” Take your pick.
Honourable mentions go to Gap and Banana Republic for their breadth of choice and prices as low as £39.95 and £49.50, respectively.
Image: Fred Perry
The piece most likely to sport a logo, your average polo shirt – despite being marginally more expensive to produce than a T-shirt – often retails at a price that’s been heftily marked up. For plain, branding-free styles though, there are plenty of inexpensive options including ASOS, which offers a plethora of different fits and colours starting from just £10.
Elsewhere, Uniqlo’s range has expanded to include a dizzying number of styles, from plain, block-colour polos for just under £15 each to refined button-down versions:
That said, if you’re into slimmer, more tailored polo shirts, for not much more money (around £55-60) you could bag yourself a little piece of history in the form of a Fred Perry design. Now synonymous with the polo, the label’s tipped styles, crafted from quality cotton piqué, are that excellent mix of smart and subversive:
Socks & Underwear
Image: David Gandy For M&S
Good quality, simply styled socks seem to be getting more and more difficult to find. A pair of socks with donuts or psychedelic patterns printed on them? Easy. But smartly crafted socks in wearable, versatile hues? Much more of a feat.
In amongst its sea of wacky patterns and cartoon characters, ASOS offers some good colours (especially in their multipacks), as well as some surprisingly subtle textures and finishes – think cable knits, ribs and moss stitch socks:
Marks & Spencer is, as always when it comes to skivvies, a fail-safe – the brand’s socks might cost a little more, but with everything from FreshFeet versions with antimicrobial silver particles to simple trainer liners, its selection really is unbeatable and worth the extra few quid:
The retailer also offers a fine selection of sturdy, nicely-fitted underwear – whether you’re a boxer briefs or trunks type of man:
At an even lower price point, Primark make some plain styles that are surprisingly comfortable and don’t differ hugely from more expensive high street brands on the quality count.
Image: H&M Sportswear
Launched last year to a lot of fanfare, H&M’s sportswear range is a good value starting point for stocking up on workout gear, with performance-led designs in bold colourways coming in under the £15 mark.
The Scandi brand has invested plenty in terms of technology too. These aren’t just athletic-looking versions of their usual wares – you’ll find seamless tees, lightweight running jackets and tops in advanced materials with functional additions such as pockets for your smartphone and keys:
Mango Man is another high street retailer that has jumped on the sportswear bandwagon, launching its own ‘Sport’ line, which mixes performance fabrics with clean lines and a distinctly masculine colour palette of grey, black, blue and neon green.
You can pick up a breathable hooded windbreaker for £69.99 or a wicking, anti-chafing, multi-way stretch T-shirt for £29.99:
Image: Uniqlo SS15
When it comes to knitwear, one high street retailer reigns supreme: Uniqlo. Offering ultra-fine merino wool cardigans and jumpers for under £25, and 100 per cent cashmere crew necks for sub £80, no brand has done more to bring everyday luxury to the masses:
Elsewhere, Topman’s Premium range offers beautiful high gauge knitwear for not much more than its usual knits, as well as merino styles in some really interesting colours that are definitely worth checking out:
There are some fine contenders from Marks & Spencer too, with pure cotton styles priced from £25 and plush, cashmere versions coming in at £89.
Charles Tyrwhitt also produces some exceptional 100 per cent merino wool knitwear, which is ideal for both smart-casual and more formal occasions:
Image: Converse Jack Purcell
Historically one of the worst things to buy on a budget, many high street retailers are cottoning on to the fact that there’s plenty of business to be had in footwear and they’re upping their standards of quality in the process.
Specialist trainer brands often provide great value for money, with Converse (Jack Purcell), Nike (Roshe Run/Toki/Air Force 1), adidas (Superstar/Stan Smith/Gazelle), Vans (Slip-On/Old Skool) and Superga (2750 Cotu) all offering excellent minimal silhouettes for under £75:
When it comes to shoes, ASOS has taken a huge leap forward recently, trading gimmicky styles for sleek, well-engineered Derbies, brogues, Chelsea boots and monk-straps in leather for around the £60 mark:
You’re not necessarily going to find basics that will last you forever on the high street, and if you’re a label-lover then you might turn your nose up at some of the pieces showcased today.
But when it comes to clean, simple and timeless design, these brands continue to get better. Maybe it’s something to do with the ‘normcore’ movement. Or maybe it’s customers being more demanding when it comes to value for money. Either way, high street wardrobe staples are arguably better now than they’ve ever been.
What are your personal high street recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below.