Seasonal upgrades seem like a great idea when flicking through magazines, less so when it comes to totting up the total of a premium wishlist in your head.
Of course, getting your wardrobe in shape for summer, much like your body, is a necessary evil. The only other options are to wear nothing (wrong, and very illegal) or swelter in winter’s leftovers.
Or you could hit the high street, which has made the whole process a lot more seamless and a lot less expensive. However, it pays to know where to look to get the best quality for the best price. That’s where this list comes in.
Aside from suits, few pieces can claim to have been in the male wardrobe longer than jeans. And with a diversity that not even tailoring can match, no other item can swing from James Dean nonchalance to A$AP Rocky swagger with just the switch of a cut or wash – but that’ll only work if the basics are nailed.
There are dozens of high-end brands that produce standout examples – Acne Studios, A.P.C. and Levi’s just some of them – but to avoid spending three figures on denim, you don’t need a jean genie – just look to the experts.
“Gap is a brand built on denim,” says the retailer’s global president, Jeff Kirwan. “Over 40 years ago, it started exclusively as a jeans shop in San Francisco.”
As a slew of big-name, small-ticket retailers upped their game in the denim department with edgy cuts and trend-led colours, Gap stuck to what it knows best: classic jeans.
“Denim is such a foundation of any wardrobe, but traditionally premium jeans have not been accessible to everyone,” adds Kirwan. “We create our denim to fill the gap – so to speak.”
For 2017, Gap’s classic, straight- and slim-leg styles in a range of washes tick all the right boxes. Or for something more cutting edge, its recently reissued Archive denim features all the cuts and colours of the nineties, while staying on the right side of tasteful.
Every man looks effortlessly stylish and put together in a well-fitting white Oxford shirt. Yet on the high street, this simple item – the kind that can elevate any look from John Smith to Johannes Huebl – is harder to come by than a supermodel on Tinder.
The obsession with fast fashion at the lower end can often mean all that’s available is trend-driven statement pieces. Yet there are a handful of brands out there that have made it their sole purpose to perfect wardrobe staples, and Uniqlo is doing it better than most.
“Some high-street stores sell fashion rather than what the customer needs,” says Uniqlo’s founder (and Japan’s richest man) Tadashi Yanai. “We sell products that are rooted in people’s day-to-day lives, and we do so based on what we hear from customers.”
This uniquely East Asian outlook on the British high street, paired with Japanese attention to detail and China’s huge production power, allows Uniqlo to make menswear essentials that neither break the bank, nor fall apart after three washes.
And it’s the humble Oxford button-down that’s one of the jewels in its crown. The streamlined fit and proportions mean it works tucked in or left out, plus it comes in a range of sizes, colours and fits.
But the key selling point is the garment’s fabric, according to the head of Uniqlo’s U range and ex-Hermès designer, Christophe Lemaire. “The fabrics we use are not that far off [high-end]. We know from the beginning working to high street price points that it has to be more cotton than expensive wool, but to be honest, I’ve been quite surprised that I haven’t had to make such compromises.”
It’s not just lip service either, with men flocking to Uniqlo’s tills, the business shifts upwards of 600 million items a year – a huge portion of which is its go-to Oxford.
Show us a list of ‘wardrobe essentials’ that doesn’t include the T-shirt and we’ll show you a list that’s, well, wrong. No well-curated rotation would be complete without the classic crew neck or even its V-neck sibling.
And just because it’s a classic piece that’s, granted, best worn in neutral tones such as white, grey and navy, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. ASOS wins in this arena purely on the sheer volume of styles, colours, cuts and brands it stocks.
“Within the ASOS Brand we have over 1,500 designs in a range of shapes, fits and colours, with the most diverse and bravest use of fabrics on the high street […] from velvet and velour to mesh and organza,” explains head of design Nick Eley.
“We also have the widest branded offering, ensuring we have something for everyone including authentic street, skate and heritage brands such as Champion, Dickies and Barbour.”
Reflecting a wider trend within menswear, both in-house and branded T-shirts on ASOS are some of the most inclusive, with a large percentage available in both plus and tall sizes, along with muscle and longline fits.
Marks & Spencer
In recent years there has been somewhat of a ‘cashmere revolution’. No, that’s not Planet of the Apes with goats. Due to shifts in the global wool market that we won’t bore you with, the material once reserved for luxury labels is now being used at varying price points (with varying degrees of success).
Of all the high-street names now turning out remarkably soft handle jumpers, few have achieved the levels of Marks & Spencer.
“We pride ourselves on having a fantastic reputation as the go-to for the everyday luxury cashmere,” says the stalwart’s head of menswear buying, Dave Binns. “We lead the market by ensuring we always have a broad range of styles and colours that are keenly priced.”
With the retailer’s signature style available in 10 classic colourways, the Autograph jumper achieves in looking comparable to high-end versions, while still giving change from £100. That may be more expensive than the average throwover, but it’s a worthwhile investment when you consider it can take up to four years for the Mongolian Asiatic goat used by the brand to grow enough hair to make one jumper.
As anyone who’s ever shrunk their favourite knit in the wash knows, looking after luxury or delicate fabrics is often an issue. “What sets us apart is how easy our cashmere is to care for, adds Binns. “All our cashmere jumpers are machine washable, making customers’ lives just that little bit easier.”
The meteoric rise of the athleisure trend has seen sportswear rocket from chav-tastic to menswear must-have. Our increasing reliance on casualwear – chalk it up to relaxing dress codes or the fact we all just want to be a bit comfier – has seen us combining pieces that would previously have been confined to the gym with smart tailoring and refined outerwear.
That said, since blowing up into a full on mega-trend, the sheer volume of choice at every level has made separating the neat from the naff no mean feat.
When faced with an abundance of brands new and old, it makes sense to choose a high-street retailer that takes a meticulous approach by curating an ever-changing line-up from some of the best in the field (or on the track).
Urban Outfitters’ selection of sportswear extends across all departments and encompasses names both big and small. Better yet, the firm remains committed to reacting to subtle changes, such as the move towards vintage styles as well as offering pieces that can’t be found elsewhere.
“We noticed the trend heading toward a nineties sportswear aesthetic,” explains menswear branded buyer Daniel Lewis, “so we strengthened our collections with Adidas, Nike and Reebok, and collaborated on lines with vintage stalwarts Fila and Kappa that are over 90 per cent exclusive to us.”
Chances are the warmer months will see you packing your bags for a trip away, whether it’s a weekend in Bangor or a fortnight in Bangkok.
Luxury luggage may be the preserve of A-listers, but trading a battered old overnighter for something more refined can upgrade any look from economy to first class.
The issue, though, is that while big-name, big-budget brands turn out ultra-desirable carry-ons, the lower end of the market is monopolised by pleather versions that, if anything, are too much of a fire hazard to fly.
Luckily, Ted Baker has found a niche the market, producing high-quality bags that set themselves apart by design rather than cost. “We design for our customers, not for prestige or comparison with other labels,” says the design team behind the British brand. “For us, it’s about delivering what they want: outstanding quality, uniqueness, innovation, attention to detail and, crucially, twice the quality at half the price.”
Texture and colour are often the hallmarks of a premium bag. Recognising this, Ted Baker frequently uses pebble grain finishes and rich, deep navy, grey and khaki shades, meaning you can get high-end style without the matching price tag.
Tailoring on the high street has come a long way in recent years, with plenty of retailers now stocking suits that are a cut above what you might expect.
However, the issue with going off-the-peg rather than dropping a wad of cash on bespoke is that getting the right fit is harder than just knowing the size of your waist and chest. A selection of high-street brands have made headway in this department by offering extended measurements, while others have taken the challenge of a well-fitting ready-to-wear suit to the next level.
Topman has long been at the forefront of high-street tailoring – just ask any man who’s had to hunt down a wedding suit at the last minute. A broad range of fabrics, fits and price points that measure up nicely against most wallets allows the retailer to stake a reasonable claim to being the home of the suit on the high street, especially lightweight summer versions in more interesting finishes and colours.
The new season sees Topman extending its line-up further. “We’re challenging the conventions of traditional suiting with the introduction of a Muscle Fit and the Travel Series, both which push the envelope in high-street tailoring,” says creative director Gordon Richardson.
The Muscle Fit option is “designed with the athletic man in mind”, cut for a muscular physique from innovative stretch fabrics. Meanwhile, the Travel Series is geared towards “the urban commuter”, using temperature-responsive fabrics and built-in reflective hems.