You don’t need money to be stylish, they say. But we wonder if they ever had to make the call between shelling out for a premium suit and not defaulting on next month’s rent.
Without the luxuries of infinite time and a bottomless bank account, ensuring you look on-point at all times can be a challenge. Which is where wardrobe basics come in, those versatile menswear staples that invariably have your back (arms, legs and everywhere else) covered for any occasion.
To avoid falling into the rut of reverting to the same look, try these easily put-together combinations to make yours work even harder.
1. Long-Sleeved Shirt + Shorts
Hotter than Satan’s Jock-strap but still need to sharpen up? This warm-weather duo is sure to stand you in good stead. Not as casual as a T-shirt and shorts, it’s a pairing that allows your legs to breathe, but keeps you looking the business up top.
Choose a lightweight cotton, linen or cotton-linen blend for the shirt and opt for chino or tailored shorts depending on how dressed-up or -down you want to take it.
As for the finer styling points (especially during high summer), try rolling the sleeves up for extra ventilation and to give your look a sense of stylish nonchalance.
2. Polo Shirt + Chinos
Popularised on the Riviera, this effortless mix of sharp, low-key pieces typifies the style of refined holidaymakers.
As ever, the fit is paramount. Look for a polo with sleeves that end mid-bicep, and that lightly hug but don’t squeeze them. You’ll also want the shirt’s hem to finish no lower than your trouser fly.
Speaking of trousers, the chinos should be slim- or straight-cut and rolled up slightly to reveal a flash of mankle and give a pair of loafers their time in the sun.
3. Blazer + Tee + Jeans
Ever been stumped as to what ‘smart-casual’ actually means? Well this, essentially, is it. Comfortable but put-together, marrying three classic workhorses is a guaranteed style win for everything from a relaxed client dinner to date night.
To realise the look’s full potential, opt for an unstructured single-breasted blazer, a fitted crew neck T-shirt (not gut-suffocatingly tight, but not sloppily loose either) and a slim-fitting pair of dark jeans.
Polish the look off with a leather belt (hold the wrestling-worthy supersize buckles, though) and a pair of suede monkstraps, Derbies or Chelsea boots.
4. Blazer + Oxford Shirt + Chinos
As well as being a preppy-inspired pairing that will have you looking nothing short of smart, this is a perfectly permissible way to side step head-to-toe tailoring.
Nailing something as simple as this look is all in the detail. You’ll want to make sure each piece is coordinated: a navy blazer works well with beige chinos (and vice versa), while a black blazer teams expertly with dark grey legwear.
As crucial as it is to find a shirt and blazer that fit well, don’t neglect the chinos: they should be cut slim with a minimal break in order to maintain a sense of sophistication.
5. Leather Jacket + Tee + Jeans
When it comes to edge, this iconic rock-inflected combination has more of it than you can shake a Fender at.
To stay faithful to the original line-up you’ll need a black leather biker jacket, tonal skinny or slim jeans and a T-shirt that’s equally monochrome (bonus points if it’s from your favourite band’s tour merch). Then play out the night in a pair of high-top sneakers or Chelsea boots.
As a slightly more mainstream (and lightweight) alternative to the rock variation, try switching the biker for a sleek bomber jacket instead.
6. Leather Jacket + Shirt + Trousers
Of course, wearing a leather jacket doesn’t have to mean pretending you’ve always really been into the Ramones. Simply switch out the T-shirt and drainpipe jeans for a chambray or cotton shirt and some well-cut trousers for an entirely new take.
This high-low mix offers a more contemporary slant on the traditional blazer, Oxford shirt and trousers formula, adding some much-welcome personality to occasions that call for somewhat smarter attire.
7. Crew Neck Jumper + Collared Shirt
One to fall back on when the winds turn fresh, this pairing is a foolproof solution to looking sharp throughout the wardrobe-bothering transitional seasons.
The key to making this one work is finding a well-fitting shirt (fixed into place with a military tuck if necessary) and a knit that’s just the right gauge.
Merino wool is the benchmark here: not light enough to cling unflatteringly and expose the shape of buttons, but not so heavy as to stop you from layering a jacket on top either.
Wear this with jeans and sneakers to stay looking sharp on your downtime or dress it up with a pair of tailored trousers and some brogues, Derbies or loafers.
8. Pea Coat + Chunky Jumper + Heavyweight Legwear
Practical and classically masculine, nautical-inspired outfits are a solid go-to long beyond the summer months.
Once the wintry weather hits, stick to a pea coat in navy to nail the maritime theme, and then style with a heavy gauge knit – everything from cable to waffle styles – in a complementary colour like off-white, grey, burgundy, or a flecked style that adds another helping of rugged charm.
Round out the look with a pair of hiking or work boots and don’t forget a pair of thick knitted socks for optimal comfort.
9. Shawl Collar Cardigan + Shirt
A soft handle shawl collar cardigan worn over a shirt is an ideal choice for days when you’d rather wear your duvet out than actually get dressed. Much less restrictive than a shirt and blazer, it looks just as buttoned-up and also lends your look an Old Hollywood charm (Steve McQueen was a fan).
We suggest a handsomely sized, thicker gauge cardigan worn open. But, the choice is yours – it’s hard to go far wrong with this one provided the colours of the shirt and cardigan contrast to the degree that they don’t blend into one mass.
10. Overshirt + Jeans + T-Shirt
When a jacket is too much, but a T-shirt is too little, it pays to have a handy hybrid to see you through the sartorial headache.
In recent seasons, the rugged workwear-inspired overshirt has been remixed by designer and high street names alike and has become such a go-to that it’s hard to imagine a time without the boxy-cut inbetweener.
Perfect for pesky transitional days, and cut with military or lumberjack vibes, flank with a pair of dark jeans and a T-shirt or Henley, and don’t be afraid to experiment with patterns up top.
Of course, the same layering technique can be achieved using a thinner cotton shirt during the warmer months and dressed up or down depending on your choice of footwear.