It’s a debate that’s (probably) raged on since humans first started wearing scraps of fabric to conceal their modesty: who makes the perfect T-shirt/jeans/shoes/delete as appropriate.
Of course, there are a handful of premium names synonymous with wardrobe staples that can always be turned to (Sunspel, for example, is known for kitting out James Bond with classic crew necks), but most of these don’t come cheap.
Fortunately, the high street has upped its game in recent years and now brands and retailers offer excellent alternatives to the big hitters that focus just as much on quality.
So, if you’re looking to stock up on essentials but find yourself a little light of pocket, follow this hit list of the best affordable basics for men.
Uniqlo’s soft handle Supima cotton and breathable ‘Dry Technology’ T-shirts are well known for their ability to stand up against even the most expensive options available.
What’s more, the Japanese fast fashion king offers a wealth of styles – from long- and short-sleeved to V-necks and crew necks – in a spectrum of colours that will slot into any wardrobe.
Despite coming in a third of the price, you’d be hard pressed to pick out H&M’s quality affordable basics from a line-up of more expensive options.
No doubt spurred by the success of its premium David Beckham bodywear range, the Swedish retailer has begun producing faultless T-shirts cut from ‘ohhh let me touch it’ Pima cotton and cotton-silk blends.
Marks & Spencer
Over the years, Marks & Spencer has built a reputation as a go-to for functional wardrobe basics that go the distance.
The high-street stalwart’s line-up of pure cotton T-shirts come packing features such as StayNEW technology, which is designed to reduce bobbling and colour loss. Not bad when prices start from £6.
If you’re an ethical consumer interested in T-shirt crafted from fairtrade fabrics, the selection of organic tees available at John Lewis is certainly worth a look at.
An absolute steal at £10 each, and available in both long and short sleeve cuts as well as crew and V-necks, it’s the cheapest way to do good and look good at the same time.
Not just top for T-shirts, Uniqlo also turns out excellent denim, too. Offering first-in-class quality at an affordable price, the retailer’s selvedge jeans are crafted from premium Japanese denim sourced from the renowned Kaihara mill, used by several upmarket labels.
If you’re a denim addict who can’t bear to be parted from their jeans even in the heat, check out Japanese brand’s ‘Miracle Air’ range, which are said to be 20 per cent lighter than regular jeans.
Gap has been a go-to for classic denim since the 1990s, offering some of the best affordable examples of selvedge denim on the market.
Alongside tapping into the relaxed leg trend with re-issued versions of timeless styles from decades gone by, the retailer’s jeans come in skinny, slim and straight fits, as well as a range of finishes.
Countless guys swear by Topman jeans, and it’s easy to see why. The retailer has always got its finger placed firmly on the pulse, evident by the breadth of washes, colours and design details that continues to grow season after season.
Running the gamut from spray-on skinny to carpenter-inspired wide cuts, every age, style, inside leg and wallet imaginable is accounted for here.
Aiming to stand out in an increasingly competitive market, River Island has completely overhauled its denim offering in recent seasons.
Along with a renewed focus on fabric and fit as well as design, the retailer sets itself apart from the rest of the high street by offering one of the widest range of sizes, starting with ‘extra short’ cuts, stretching up into a new ‘big and tall’ range.
It’s little surprise that Uniqlo has cornered the wardrobe basics part of the market when you add a solid selection of Oxford shirts to its range of, well, everything else.
Crafted from thick-feel cotton, the line of slim-fit shirts is designed without box pleats or hanger loops on the reverse, making them ideal for smarter looks as well as casual rigs.
When it comes to preppy pieces like the Oxford shirt, there’s no denying that American firms have the upper hand, but that doesn’t take away from Gap’s near-perfect selection.
The retailer pairs a classic cut with modern details such as flap-closure pockets and all shirts come pre-washed for a broken-in feel with added softness.
It’s the kind of essential style staple 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.
Fortunately, John Lewis hit all the right marks with its soft laundered cotton examples, many of which feature contrast buttons and other details that mark them out as an off-duty must-own.
Proving that some pieces are worth paying a little extra for, at the slightly more premium end of the shirt scale sits J.Crew. The New York-based retailer is well-known for its everyday Ludlow suit, so it makes sense that it would produce a shirt to go with it.
Crafted from quality Pima cotton for a stronger, softer handle that’s less likely to pile, they may hit the £65 mark, but they’re worth every penny.
Sweatshirts & Hoodies
If it’s unrivalled choice at an unrivalled price you’re after, then menswear e-tailer BoohooMan should be your first port of call.
With well over 100 styles on offer, ranging from trend-led designs to classic options, it’s a new-to-the-game name that’s tough to beat.
Just because a sweatshirt is a piece that can double up as loungewear, it doesn’t mean baggy fits get a pass. That’s why so many men turn to Topman and it’s slim-fitting cuts.
Made from 100 per cent cotton in a wide range of shades for around £20 a pop, the brand’s sweats and hoodies are the perfect option for flitting between the sofa and pub with ease.
Having built a business on fuss-free, throw-on-and-go staples, Swedish chain H&M is pretty adept when it comes to sweats.
Those that feature in the company’s main collection are cut a little slimmer and have a more formal look than those in its sportier L.O.G.G. range, but both lines provide an array of hard-to-refuse options.
When an item of clothing is as simple as a sweatshirt, there’s nowhere to hide when it comes to subpar details. Lucky, then, that Spanish fast fashion behemoth Zara doesn’t have to.
Everything including the fit, weight, material and (most importantly) price is nailed here, with premium-looking cotton and cotton-blend sweats coming in at less than the price of a round of drinks.
The Scandi-inspired Kin line at John Lewis has long focused on perfecting the building blocks of a good wardrobe.
When it comes to chinos the approach is no different, packing a hardy cotton twill with a slight stretch and premium hardware into a number of everyday shades.
Spanish chinos designed with an Italian look (according to the brand itself), Mango’s selection is an ideal way to stay smart in warm weather.
Each style is packed with hidden details such as a V-cut at the waistband to guarantee comfort, plus a slim-fit satin cotton construction designed to offer elegance and sophistication.
Chinos have been a modern wardrobe essential for countless years, and as long as they have, Gap has been making some of the best examples around.
One of a handful of high-street names that can give workwear brands a run for their money, each pair marries classic cuts with subtle upgrades like stretch fabrics. Look out for the ‘Gap For Good’ models, which fall under the retailer’s sustainably made collection.
If you’re looking to buy some chinos, you may as well find a pair crafted by the experts.
In the workwear game since 1922, Dickies’ reassuringly sturdy styles have seen a resurgence as drainpipe skinny cuts fell out of favour. For some of the most hardwearing examples of this wardrobe workhorse, this is where to go.
A decade or so ago, the polo shirt would have been the piece most likely to sport a logo. Now, though, brands and retailers have cottoned on to a want for plain, brand-free styles.
Few do them like Burton. A fixture on the high street since 1903, it offers a plethora of different cuts and colours starting from just £15.
Much like its never-ending array of T-shirts, Uniqlo’s range of polo shirts has expanded to include a dizzying number of styles over recent years.
From plain, block-colour styles to refined button-down collar versions, the retailer is an easy-on-the-wallet option when looking to build a solid rotation.
An expert in the field, or rather on the court, when it comes to this classic piece of tennis kit, Fred Perry remains a safe pair of hands where polo shirts are concerned.
Buying into the brand’s sport and mod heritage will set you back around £55, but the label’s instantly recognisable twin-tipped styles, crafted from quality cotton piqué, are that excellent mix of smart and subversive.
Marks & Spencer
Guys often hear words like ‘merino’ and ‘cashmere’ and instantly think of high-ticket items. While that may be true some of the time, not at M&S and not when it comes to the retailer’s polo shirts.
This season the brand has produced even more colours of this collared smart-casual staple for under £40, so your bank balance can stay in the black no matter what shade you choose.
Socks & Underwear
In amongst a sea of wacky patterns and cartoon characters, ASOS also offers a handful of pared-back socks that are ideal for the everyday.
Snap up the online giant’s multipacks for the ultimate in value and enjoy a host of colours as well as some surprisingly subtle textures and finishes like cable knits, ribs and moss stitching.
Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer is and always will be a big hitter when it comes to men’s skivvies. With everything from FreshFeet versions made using antibacterial silver particles to simple trainer liners, its selection really is unbeatable and worth the extra few quid.
And then, of course, there’s the retailer’s fine selection of underwear, which includes the sell-out David Gandy line. Whether you’re a boxer, briefs or trunks type of guy, you’re covered (in every sense of the word) here.
We’re not ones for suggesting cheaping out unnecessarily, especially on something you’re guaranteed to wear every day. However, even at a lower price point, Primark produces underwear that doesn’t differ hugely from more expensive names.
The crowning glory of this Dublin-born chain in recent years has been its trainer liners, a modern essential for pulling off the sockless look.
Good quality, simply styled socks seem to be getting more and more difficult to find these days, but (surprise, surprise) there’s always Uniqlo to fall back on.
Sidestep anything covered in doughnuts or psychedelic patterns and instead pick up a smart selection of big boy pants and socks that won’t get you laughed out of bed.
Launched a few seasons ago to much fanfare, H&M’s sportswear range is a good value starting point for stocking up on workout gear with performance-led designs.
The Swedish retailer has invested plenty in technology, resulting in a range that includes seamless T-shirt, lightweight running jackets and tops in advanced materials with functional additions such as concealed pockets.
Offering its health-conscious shoppers more than just muscle-fit tees, New Look is another high-street retailer that has jumped on the sportswear bandwagon in recent years.
Housed in its own dedicated section online, the ‘Sport’ range mixes performance fabrics with clean lines and a distinctly masculine colour palette of neutral tones.
Offering one of the largest ranges of gymwear around, Superdry’s ‘Sport’ line is an easy way to look good while getting, well, super sweaty.
Ticking off everything needed to hit your #GainsGoals this year, it’s perfect for the guy starting from scratch. And thanks to a core colour palette of bold blues and cool greys, you never have to worry about an awkward colour clash on the cross trainer.
For proof that high street doesn’t mean low quality even when it comes to technical clothing, look no further than Gap’s range of active gear.
Launched last year and including everything from breathable tees to stylish base layers, whether you’re hitting the weights or the running track, you’ll find what you need to look good doing so here.
Proving that premium materials don’t have to come with a premium price tag, Uniqlo once again reigns supreme when it comes to knitwear.
Offering extra-fine merino wool cardigans and jumpers for under £35, and 100 per cent cashmere crew necks for sub £80, no retailer has done more to bring everyday luxury to the masses.
Despite being positioned as a high-end addition to the chain’s mainline range, Topman Premium still manages to offer excellent high-gauge knitwear without too much of a price hike.
Channelling the usual Topman approach, breathable yet lightweight merino wool knits come in both classic and trend-led designs that are definitely worth checking out.
Marks & Spencer
Having prioritised using the best materials available for more than 130 years, it stands to reason that M&S would be a key brand when it comes to knitwear.
Whether you choose from its pure cotton styles or plump for luxury cashmere, you’re guaranteed to walk away with something that will only enhance your existing wardrobe.
Despite making its name in the shirt business, Jermyn Street firm Charles Tyrwhitt also produces some exceptional 100 per cent merino wool and cashmere knitwear.
With plenty of deals like two for £80 on styles that are ideal for wearing as part of both smart-casual and formal outfits, keeping the cold away never looked so good.
Low-Cost, Branded Classics
The sneaker market is a big game that turns over big bucks. But beyond the limited editions and collaborations, there has luckily always been a steady slew of classics within most wallet’s reach.
Provided they’re looked after, brands like Converse (Chuck Taylor), Nike (Cortez), Adidas (Stan Smith), Vans (Slip-On) and Superga (2750 Cotu) all offer greater cost-per-wear than many cheap alternatives.
Every good wardrobe needs a solid foundation and this usually means a solid rotation of shoes for every occasion. But covering all the bases can quickly add up.
That’s where ASOS comes in. With plenty of sleek styles including well-engineered Derbies, loafers, Chelsea boots and monk-strap shoes in real leather or suede for around the £40 mark, the only issue is knowing when to stop.
Marks & Spencer
Historically one of the worst things to buy on a budget, many high-street retailers have cottoned on to the fact that there’s plenty of business to be had in affordable footwear.
M&S had been leading the charge in this arena for many years, making it a go-to for everything from city-slick dress shoes to cool-for-the-pool sandals.
All the best menswear pieces got their start in the military: the white T-shirt, the bomber jacket and, of course, the Clarks desert boot.
But the British shoemaker is about more than just this extremely versatile style. It also manufactures plenty of other distinct crepe sole shoes alongside a number of new innovative sneaker silhouettes.