Make A Change

The more time that passes, the more I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on the way I dress. When I first started out, I was directionless: buying every item that took my fancy at relatively disposable prices in places like H&M, Uniqlo and TK Maxx.

It was a period of experimentation that I now realise I had to go through. It helped mould my personal style and clarify exactly what pieces, colours and cuts suited me – regardless of how cringe-worthy some of the photos from the time may be.

After years went by, and my tastes developed, I came across a quote by Mr Sid Mashburn that would come to define the way I dressed and the advice I gave to others: “Guys don’t need a lot of choices, they need the right choice.”

The Right Choice

By building a wardrobe full of simple, classic and timeless pieces not only will you always have something appropriate to wear but you also have the luxury of being able to cherry pick the trends that work for your style – investing as much or as little in these items as you want.

For example, these days I often only highlight current trends with accessories such as ties, pocket squares, scarves and shoes.

Ultimately, this concept of limiting the amount of pieces you purchase comes with two major advantages that will help anyone – beginner or seasoned menswear veteran – in the long run:

Firstly, you can feel safe in the knowledge that nearly everything in your wardrobe is interchangeable, effectively meaning you could get ready in the dark and still look great. Invaluable on those days you wake up late and/or with a crippling hangover.

Secondly, it enables you to invest and focus on quality. Obviously everyone’s price range will be different but opting for the best that you can afford makes financial sense when it comes to wardrobe basics you will continue to wear for years to come, no matter the season or latest trends.

30 Pieces To Reinvent Your Wardrobe

With the above in mind, we’re set to bring you a definitive list of thirty key pieces that will help you build a versatile capsule wardrobe that is able to adapt to any occasion, scenario or season with ease, along with some key brands you should consider for each.

These are all classic items that you will be able to wear for the next twenty plus years and can be combined to produce stylish looks on a daily basis. Think of them as investments, not just in your wardrobe but in YOU as well: your character, confidence and aspirations.

So, without any more waxing sartorial, let’s dive in…

1. Solid Neutral Suit

I would go for grey, but I’m sure many others will vouch for navy.

Either way, you want the jacket to hug your shoulders and to be cut slim in the waist while still providing enough room for layering. Make sure it’s long enough to cover your bum and that the sleeves allow around half an inch of shirt cuff to show.

I’d stick with a classic style, so try a two button, notch lapel, double vented version safe in the knowledge that it will never date. You also want to make sure that this suit is as close to four seasons proof as possible by opting for a year-round material, such as a mid-weight wool.

The jacket can be worn separately with jeans and a tee/polo/Oxford shirt while the trousers work as a great tailored piece with knitwear and your pea coat (below).

Lookbook Inspiration

sarar ss14 suitsupply digel aw13 digel aw13 tommy hilfiger tailored aw14 jaeger ss13

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: T.M.Lewin, Austin Reed, Marks & Spencer, Next, He By Mango
Mid-Priced: Suitsupply, J. Crew, Reiss, Richard James, Charles Tyrwhitt, Massimo Dutti
Luxury: Armani, Brioni, Burberry, Canali, Gieves & Hawkes, Lanvin, Paul Smith, Rake

  • J. Crew Ludlow Traveler Suit Jacket In Italian Wool
  • Reiss Spear Two Piece Suit Dark Navy
  • Sienna Light Grey Plain
  • Luxury Sartorial New Pure New Wool 2 Button Herringbone Suit
  • Austin Reed Contemporary Fit Grey Jacket
  • He By Mango Classic-fit Suit Blazer
  • Paul Smith The Westbourne Modern Fit Suit
  • Canali Grey Wool Travel Suit
  • Lanvin Attitude-fit Wool And Cotton-blend Suit 205609
2. White Dress Shirt

An absolute classic piece of menswear and a true wardrobe essential – the white dress shirt is every guy’s bread and butter.

To achieve the perfect fit, the shoulder seams should sit at your shoulder bone and no more than two fingers should be able to fit inside your collar (when buttoned) without it being uncomfortable. Sleeves should end at the point where your natural wrist break occurs.

As you will be wearing this item tucked in, make sure it’s long enough so that when your hands are on your head it doesn’t come out of your trousers.

There’s nothing this shirt won’t go with; dress it up with your solid suit and a tie for the office and dress it down with jeans and a sports coat for a meal in a restaurant.

I prefer a button cuff with a semi-spread collar but this is a great opportunity to find what style you like and go for it. The details make the gentleman when it comes to this item.

Lookbook Inspiration

he by mango aw13 austin reed x nick hart ss14 austin reed ss14 massimo dutti nyc 5th avenue ss13 club monaco summer 2014 reiss aw13

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, T.M.Lewin, Austin Reed, Next, Charles Tyrwhitt
Mid-Priced: Jaeger, Reiss, Suitsupply, Jigsaw
Luxury: Eton, Kilgour, Hackett, Charvet, Richard James, Turnbull & Asser

  • Uniqlo Men Easy Care Broadcloth Long Sleeve Shirt
  • Next Signature White Shirt
  • Jaeger Plain Poplin Shirt
  • Austin Reed Quick Iron White Poplin Shirt
  • Reiss Columbus Cotton Point Collar Shirt White
  • Shirt White Twill
  • Turnbull & Asser White Double-cuff Cotton Shirt
  • Richard James White Cotton-poplin Shirt
  • Charvet Slim-fit White Royal Cotton Oxford Shirt
3. Slim Dark Jeans

When I say slim, I mean it. No skinny fits please.

If you can afford selvedge I would wholeheartedly recommend it, due to both its quality and durability. This type of denim can take a while to break in but once it does they will feel like they were made for you.

Steer clear of extreme distressing, rips or any other form of embellishment and opt for dark blue/indigo washes – not only are they completely timeless and versatile, it’s easier to dress down a dark pair of jeans than it is to dress up a light one.

Lookbook Inspiration

reiss 2012 farah ss14 drykorn ss13 he by mango aw12 house of fraser aw14 massimo dutti october 2013

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, ASOS, Cheap Monday, Dr Denim, Carhartt
Mid-Priced: Nudie Jeans, Levi’s, Edwin, Evisu, Lee
Luxury: A.P.C., Acne, J Brand, Jean Shop, Saint Laurent

  • Cheap Monday Tight Jeans In Indigo
  • Asos Slim Jeans In Indigo
  • Edwin Jeans Ed-75 Regular Tapered Unwashed
  • Levis Jeans 511 Slim Tapered Fit Rain Shower Dark Wash
  • Acne Roc Raw Slim-fit Tapered Jeans
  • Nudie Jeans Thin Finn Slim Fit Organic Dry Dark Grey Wash
  • Uniqlo Men Slim Fit Straight Jeans
  • A.p.c. New Standard Regular-fit Dry Selvedge Denim Jeans
  • Jean Shop Slim-fit Rinsed Selvedge Jeans
4. Fitted Neutral T-Shirts

Realistically, your wardrobe should be stocked full of well-fitting basic t-shirts in a variety of neutral colour ways and cuts, as they are essential layering pieces.

This type of tee should end at your waist and the sleeves mid-bicep. No billowing at the sides. To find out more, read our comprehensive t-shirt guide here.

If I had to choose just one it would be a grey crew neck as it goes with every colour under the sun, but other good choices are white and navy. Works casually with the jeans but can also be used to dress down the suit.

Lookbook Inspiration

reiss sports lux 2012 j crew style guide august 2014 h&m spring 2013 reiss ss13 j crew style guide august 2014 drykorn aw14

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, ASOS, Gap, American Apparel, Next
Mid-Priced/Luxury: Hanro, Zimmerli, Sunspel, Derek Rose, James Perse

  • Gap Essential Crewneck T-shirt
  • Next Premium Essentials Crew Neck T-shirt
  • American Apparel Tri-blend Pocket Short Sleeve T-shirt
  • Uniqlo Men Packaged Dry Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt
  • Sunspel Crew-neck T-shirt 136432
  • Hanro Cotton-blend V-neck T-shirt
5. A Neutral V-Neck Jumper

Another great layering piece as it works with your white shirt under the suit but also by itself with jeans when the weather warms up in spring.

Darker monochromatic colours like charcoal, navy and black are your best choice here. Pick it in a material relevant to where you live – for example, as a UK resident I’d go for merino or lambswool. Someone in a warmer climate may opt for a cotton- or linen-blend.

Lookbook Inspiration

banana republic aw13 h&m modern classics thomas pink 2013 he by mango spring 2013 sarar aw13 he by mango ss14

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, He By Mango, Selected Homme, Austin Reed
Mid-Priced: Reiss, T.M.Lewin, Suitsupply, Ted Baker
Luxury: John Smedley, Johnstons of Elgin, Loro Piana, Paul Smith, Zegna

  • Uniqlo Men Extra Fine Merino V-neck Sweater
  • He By Mango Silk Cotton-blend Sweater
  • Austin Reed Grey V Neck Jumper
  • Light Grey V-neck
  • Reiss Alto V-neck Merino Wool Jumper Navy
  • T.m.lewin Charcoal Merino Jumper
  • Cashmere Classic V-neck Jumper
  • John Smedley Bobby Merino Wool V-neck Sweater
  • Paul Smith V-neck Merino Wool Jumper
6. Navy Blazer

Another classic that works for every man. There’s nothing this piece won’t pair with and it will make you look/feel invincible.

For ultimate versatility, again stick with a classic two button, notch lapel version.

As for how it should fit, length of the jacket is arguable and often subject to the whims of fashion, but I’m a big believer that as long as it covers your bum you’re doing alright. You should be able to fit your hand flat under your lapels, but nothing more. The jacket should also hug your shoulders and taper in at the waist (a tailor can help you achieve this perfect fit) to produce that desirable ‘V’ shape.

Sleeves should finish at your wrist bone, allowing around a quarter inch of shirt sleeve to be seen. Traditionally, the second button of the jacket should end at your belly button and always be left open as this allows your jacket to move more naturally during everyday life.

I prefer mine to lean more towards a sports coat – slightly relaxed fit and natural shoulder with patch pockets – but let your taste and personal style dictate your choice.

Lookbook Inspiration

m&s ss14 he by mango aw13 nordstrom 2014 he by mango ss14 burton aw13 tommy hilfiger tailored ss14

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: He By Mango, ASOS, T.M.Lewin, Austin Reed
Mid-Priced: Reiss, Suitsupply, Ted Baker, J. Crew, Massimo Dutti, Tiger of Sweden, Oliver Spencer
Luxury: A.P.C., Paul Smith, Gant, Sandro, Richard James, Boglioli, Etro

  • Asos Slim Fit Blazer In 100% Wool
  • He By Mango Textured Blazer
  • Reiss Fairline B Two Button Blazer Navy
  • Austin Reed Navy Textured Cotton Blazer
  • Havana Navy Plain
  • Ted Baker Tantkop Wool Grosgrain Suit Blazer
  • Paul Smith The Marylebone Herringbone Blazer
  • Gant Foulard Sports Jacket
  • Boglioli Dover Wool-hopsack Blazer
7. Neutral Slim Chinos

Slightly dressier than the aforementioned jeans so they will work well with your navy blazer or grey suit jacket.

Like your jeans, opt for a slim-cut pair in a timeless neutral shade such as navy, grey, khaki or beige and you’ll be able to dress them up or down to suit any occasion.

There is literally nothing these type of chinos won’t go with; wear them with a shirt, tie and blazer for dress-down Friday in the office and a basic t-shirt at the weekend for an effortlessly stylish off-duty look.

Lookbook Inspiration

he by mango aw13 saturdays surf nyc ss14 selected homme ss14 reiss ss14 selected homme aw13 reiss aw13

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, He By Mango, Gap/Banana Republic, ASOS, Next
Mid-Priced: Reiss, J. Crew, Massimo Dutti, Dockers, Levi’s, Ben Sherman, Ted Baker
Luxury: Incotex, Ami, Acne, Brioni, Canali, Paul Smith

  • He By Mango Straight-fit Cotton Chinos
  • Levis Chinos Sta-prest Tapered Fit Twill
  • Reiss Bennett Straight Leg Chinos Airforce Blue
  • Next Slim Fit Chinos
  • Uniqlo Men Vintage Regular Fit Chino Flat Front Trousers
  • Ben Sherman Ec1 Slim Chino Trouser
  • Incotex Four Season Relaxed-fit Cotton-blend Chinos
  • Acne Studios Sam Cotton-satin Cropped Chinos 205279
  • Paul Smith Flat-front Navy Chinos 207781
8. Black Dress Shoes

Shoes are definitely something where you get what you pay for – and seeing as these could be the only shoes you ever need to buy, you might as well invest properly.

There’s nothing wrong with paying upwards of £300 for a pair in my eyes, especially once you get your hands on them and see the difference in quality, comfort, design and construction. Opt for Goodyear-welted styles from traditional Northamptonshire shoemakers and they will last you for many years to come, if you look after them properly.

Stick to a classic silhouette like the Derby or Oxford and you won’t go far wrong.

Lookbook Inspiration

hugo boss business 2014 h&m october 2013 tommy hilfiger tailored ss14 reiss ss14 reiss aw14 luigi bianchi mantova aw14

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Traditional Shoemakers: Church’s, Grenson, Cheaney, Loake, Barker, Crockett & Jones, John Lobb, Trickers

  • Loake Black Plain Derby Shoes
  • John Lobb City Ii Leather Oxford Shoes
  • Cheaney Lime Lace-ups
  • Churchs London Leather Oxford Brogues
  • Alex black calf
  • Barker Newbury Leather Derby Shoes Black
  • Oliver Sweeney Diamond Simply Beeswax Shoe Polish Black
  • Gentlemens Hardware Shoe Shine Kit
  • Churchs Norfolk Wood And Metal Shoe Trees
9. A Navy Pea Coat

It’s about time we added some classic military influence onto this list. The pea coat is an excellent winter through spring outerwear option that oozes masculinity and looks great on all body types.

Make sure there’s enough room in the shoulders to fit a suit jacket or multiple layers underneath, and that the length covers your blazer too.

This is the coat I end up wearing the most during the colder months; so much so that I ended up selling all my others on eBay last year.

Lookbook Inspiration

house of fraser aw14 he by mango aw13 he by mango aw12 he by mango aw12 matalan aw14 reiss aw14

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: HE By Mango, Burton, Topman, ASOS, Austin Reed, Selected Homme
Mid-Priced: French Connection, Reiss, Farah Vintage, Ted Baker, Barbour, Ben Sherman
Luxury: Burberry, Belstaff, Paul Smith, Private White V.C., Lanvin

  • Asos Peacoat In Navy
  • Topman Navy Peacoat
  • Ben Sherman Peacoat
  • French Connection Marine Melton Peacoat
  • Reiss Peacoat With Tonal Collar
  • Ps By Paul Smith Peacoat
10. Decent Pairs Of Boxers/Trunks/Briefs

Seriously, why does no one ever mention underwear on lists like this? It blows my mind.

Whether you’re a boxer, brief or trunk kind of man, get enough to last you at least a week and make sure they actually fit you. Please don’t be one of those guys who thinks that S or XL corresponds to his package size and therefore upsizes – like any other piece of legwear, sizing relates to your waist circumference. Similarly, no one wants to see the waistband cutting into your love handles, so buy the size that fits your natural waist.

And after you’ve worn them for three to six months, maybe think about replacing a few of them? Uniqlo do great pairs for a couple of quid each. Your loved one/potential partners will thank you, trust me.

Recommended Brands/Key Pieces

Affordable: Uniqlo, ASOS, American Apparel, Next
Mid-Priced/Luxury: Hanro, Calvin Klein, Oiler & Boiler, Sunspel, Derek Rose, Bjorn Borg, HOM

  • Uniqlo Men Supima Cotton Knit Boxer Shorts
  • Uniqlo Men Seamless Low Rise Boxer Trunks
  • Sunspel Cotton Boxer Shorts
  • Asos 7 Pack Plain Trunks
  • Hanro Two-pack Cotton-blend Briefs
  • Calvin Klein Underwear Three-pack Stretch-cotton Boxer Briefs
Final Word

OK, we’ll stop the list there and move on to the following twenty items in part two, tomorrow.

But in the meantime, why not tell us what you think of the list so far? I tried to make the first ten as close to ‘essentials’ as I could, even though I really hate that term in menswear.

Is there anything you think could have been swapped in? And what are you hoping to see in part two?

Let me know in the comments section…