The Best Of The Best

You’ll reach a jaded part in your life when, clothes-wise, you’ll have seen it all, bought it all and worn every conceivable variation of the same t-shirt. Your wardrobe will, probably, be bursting at the hinges and contain enough to keep you going for the foreseeable future, so what will compel you to buy more?

The Holy Grail of menswear is ‘The Best of its Type’. Whether that’s a hoodie, pair of chinos or plain white shirt, it’s what keeps us looking, testing and buying.

Menswear doesn’t go through extreme changes like womenswear; it merely evolves over time. So, once you’ve got a selection of white shirts, for example, it needs to be pretty special to buy yet another one.

These trusted and reliable basics set the foundation of any successful capsule wardrobe and, if they’re good, will continue to be worn regularly for many years. They’re the items you don’t think about – but that’s what makes them so special.

Of course this is subjective, but if you go to a brand or maker with many years’ experience, there’s a reason why they are still in business. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book, he states that the key to success in any field, be it carpentry or music, is a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.

The same principle can easily be applied to the textiles industry. These 10,000 hours give these master craftspeople the knowledge and confidence to produce their product in the best possible way, for you to enjoy and fully experience the difference.

With this in mind, from my humble experience, here are the current best of their type: wardrobe basics edition…

Knitwear – John Smedley

Founded in 1784 at Lea Mills, in Matlock, Derbyshire – and still there! – founders John Smedley and his associate Peter Nightingale were inspired by Richard Arkwright, who had pioneered the factory system thirteen years earlier, to build a spinning mill. The brook that runs through the village provided the motive power and a constant source of clean running water.

Today, John Smedley’s merino wool knitwear is renowned in the industry for being the very best you can buy. The brand source the fabric ethically and fairly from a select number of wool growers in New Zealand, producing soft, luxurious collections that are naturally warm, comfortable and easy to maintain.

And what’s more, unlike the low cost or mass-produced alternatives available on the high street, you can reliably chuck this stuff in the washing machine at thirty degrees and not worry about any shrinkage or side-effects.

So whether you choose to add a classic crew/v-neck jumper to your wardrobe, want to upgrade your formal wear with a merino roll neck or individualise your look with a bold coloured scarf, you can be sure that you are investing in quality.

John Smedley SS14/AW14 Collections

Key Pieces
  • John Smedley Bryn Merino Wool Cardigan Charcoal
  • John Smedley John Smedley Cotswold Long-sleeved Merino Wool Polo Shirt
  • John Smedley John Smedley Bobby Merino Wool V-neck Sweater
  • John Smedley John Smedley Belvoir Rollneck Merino Wool Sweater
  • John Smedley Wyvern Merino Wool Jumper
  • John Smedley John Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater
  • John Smedley John Smedley Marcus Crew Neck Merino Wool Sweater
  • John Smedley John Smedley Sherwood Merino Wool And Cashmere-blend Cardigan
  • John Smedley John Smedley Bryn Fine-knit Merino Wool Cardigan
  • John Smedley John Smedley Marcus Crew Neck Merino Wool Sweater
  • John Smedley Longnor Striped Merino Wool Jumper Navy/multi
  • John Smedley Emerson Merino Wool Jumper Shadow Blue
Chinos – Incotex

Part of the Italian family-owned Slowear – like the Slow Food movement – group, Incotex is their chino/trouser making division. Based in the north eastern corner of the country, near Venice, the company started in 1951, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Incotex brand appeared.

Slowear state that they “produce durable, timeless wear… A Slowear article is chosen with care because it is not made to last just one season, nor to suffer the whims of transitory fashions”. It is an ethos that will surely resonate with all FashionBeans readers, with the brand focusing on producing classic, versatile menswear that is designed to transcend seasons and trends.

Trust me when I say that these are the best cotton chinos currently on the market. They are expensive, but you’ll definitely get your cost-per-wears, especially if you invest in neutral hues like khaki, navy or grey.

Dress them up with an Oxford shirt and blazer or down with a tee and bomber jacket at the weekend – either way, a pair of Incotex chinos will quickly become one of your daily wardrobe go-tos.

Slowear Autumn/Winter 2013 Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Slowear Incotex Four Season Relaxed-fit Cotton-blend Chinos
  • Slowear Incotex Four Season Slim-fit Cotton-blend Chinos
  • Incotex Slim-fit High Comfort Chinos 191154
  • Incotex Slim-leg Chinos 191129
  • Slowear Incotex Four Season Relaxed-fit Cotton-blend Chinos
  • Incotex Birds-eye Weave Chinos 191212
  • Slowear Incotex Slim-fit Linen And Cotton-blend Chinos
  • Incotex Lightweight Cotton Chinos 191086
  • Slowear Incotex Linen And Cotton-blend Chinos
T-Shirts – Sunspel

Founded in 1860 by Thomas A Hill and based in Long Eaton, Nottingham, Sunspel is well known for its undergarments. They were the first to introduce the simple cotton boxer short to the UK in 1947 and saw a massive revival when Nick Kamen striped down to his in the famous 1980s Levi’s commercial.

Today, I highly recommend their superb range of cotton tees. The British label have been refining their t-shirt design since the 1850s, with the latest iterations constructed from the brand’s signature Q82 fabric: a unique fine jersey knit constructed from long staple Egyptian cotton, which is hand-picked so that only the softest, highest quality fibres are selected.

The epitome of stylish simplicity, the material, cut and finish oozes quality and, most importantly, they retain their shape extremely well.

Opt for timeless neutral versions that are perfect for layering, or go for a subtle Breton stripe that will continue to get good wear each and every spring/summer.

Key Pieces
  • Sunspel Grey Classic T Shirt
  • Sunspel Men’s White Short Sleeve Crew Neck T-shirt
  • Sunspel Mens Grey Short Sleeve Crew Neck T-shirt
  • Sunspel V-neck Cotton-jersey T-shirt
  • Sunspel V-neck Cotton-jersey T-shirt
  • Sunspel Striped Cotton-jersey T-shirt
  • Sunspel Crew-neck T-shirt 190670
  • Sunspel Crew-neck Striped T-shirt 190674
  • Sunspel Sunspel Stripe T Shirt
Shirts – Eton

The not-very-Swedish-sounding-Swedish-brand, Eton are shirting experts. Founded by husband and wife David and Annie Pettersson in Ganghester, Sweden in 1928, Eton remains a family-owned company run by David and Annie’s grandson, Hans Davidson.

The brand still makes their shirts in the original factory in Sweden, as well as Eton-operated factories in Estonia and Romania. They use fine, extra long staple cotton from Giza in Egypt (much like Sunspel) and Pima in Northern California, which is the finest cotton currently available and accounts for only 0.7 per cent of the world’s production.

The biggest selling point of an Eton shirt is its lack of creasing, which is attained by altering the molecular structure of the cotton fibres rather than coating the fabric – not only making you look smarter for longer, but also rendering your iron redundant.

Eton Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Eton Plain Long Sleeve Shirt White
  • Eton Thin Stripe Long Sleeve Shirt Blue
  • Eton Contrast Trim Shirt
  • Eton Slim Fit Collar Tab Shirt
  • Eton Checked Trim Shirt
  • Eton Gingham Shirt
  • Eton Dot Print Long Sleeve Shirt Blue/white
  • Eton Contemporary Fit Checked Shirt
  • Eton Slim Fit Striped Shirt
Underwear – Hanro

Swiss underwear brand Hanro turns 130 this year. When Mr Albert Handschin founded his clothing factory in Liestal, Switzerland in 1884, he set out the vision of quality and comfort that would quickly become hallmarks of the brand.

Today, Hanro’s products are still manufactured in their Austrian factories and meticulously adhere to a ten-point procedure in order to guarantee the highest quality standards throughout each production step.

Another label that favours timelessness over fleeting trends, Hanro have embraced the idea of wardrobe ‘essentials’: understated basics that make a statement due to the quality of their construction, perfect cut and exquisite finishing.

So, whether you’re a trunk or briefs kind of guy, Hanro’s minimal and unbranded underwear provides the ideal foundation to any outfit.

Hanro Lookbook

Key Pieces
  • Hanro Two-pack Cotton-blend Briefs
  • Hanro Cotton-blend Briefs
  • Hanro Cotton-blend Boxer Briefs
  • Hanro Superior – Shorts – Blue
  • Boxer Shorts – White More Hanro
  • Hanro Cotton Superior Shortleg – Shorts – White
  • Hanro Shadow – Briefs – Blue
  • Hanro Cotton-blend Boxer Briefs
  • Hanro Sporty – Boxer Shorts – Blue
Socks – Pantherella

Mad Men‘s Don Draper can’t be wrong. Pantherella has been making the world’s finest socks since 1937 from the most luxurious fibres.

Still based in the original factory in Leicester, the home of British hosiery, Pantherella is a family-owned business manned by highly skilled craftspeople that have passed their expertise down from generation to generation.

Pantherella’s hand-linked toes and superior finish will make you fully appreciate the amount of work that goes into a quality pair of socks.

Pantherella Lookbook

We all know how much of a difference socks can make to any look, whether casual or formal. Use them to tie an ensemble together, inject a bold shot of colour into your formal wear or add a patterned punch to an otherwise standard outfit:

Key Pieces
  • Pantherella Ribbed Sea Island Cotton-blend Socks
  • Pantherella Ribbed Silk-blend Socks
  • Pantherella Ribbed Sea Island Cotton-blend Socks
  • Pantherella Charcoal York Birdseye Stripe Wool-blend Ankle Socks
  • Pantherella Navy Frith Spiral Patterned Cotton-blend Ankle Socks
  • Pantherella Navy Battersea Retro Cotton-blend Ankle Socks
  • Pantherella Round Bar Striped Cotton Socks
  • Pantherella Ribbed Cotton-blend Socks
  • Pantherella Gingham Cotton Socks
Final Word

Men are instinctively drawn to expertise. There’s a saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’, which is true for many large, multi-national fashion companies making their products in anonymous factories.

Buying less, but better, and supporting these brands who have been making the best for centuries makes long term financial sense – a language us guys fully understand.

With this in mind, the next time you’re replenishing your wardrobe basics – which set the foundations of any successful outfit – search for the expert. Think about finding and buying from the labels or people who make one thing extremely well.

You will pay for the privilege, as we all know expertise doesn’t come cheap, but they are often considerably cheaper than ‘designer’ alternatives and will wear better for longer.

So, in your opinion, who makes the very best jeans, t-shirts, suits, polos, outerwear etc.?

Let us know in the comments section below…