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Men's wardrobe essentials - Building up wardrobe part II

Do you know what are the men's wardrobe essentials? Read this post and you will get to know them. In other words it is time for the second part of the series "Building up wardrobe". This is a two-part series dealing with the standards and principles of men's clothing and dressing up. In the first part I covered some basics and also listed a few different kind of types of dressers. There were also basic guidelines men should keep in mind while starting to build their wardrobe. In case you haven't yet read it - you can find it here. I have posted this article originally last year. But as the points here are still valid, I wanted to bring it up again.

Men's wardrobe essentials - ground rules

In this post I will try and come up with a few thoughts about how to build foundation for your wardrobe. First of all keep in mind the basics mentioned in the first part. I will take a look what are the colors one should pay attention to and what are the essential garments to start with. Finally I will give your a few tips about what to keep in mind in terms of combining different pieces while building up the rotation. After you have done the "research" spoken in the first part and developed a basic understanding of your style - it's time go further with the process. Again we start with a short list. What you need to keep in mind when doing this. I know these points are partly similar to what I wrote in the first part but as known - repetition is the mother of learning.

Essentials - Ground rules

  1. Whatever your style is, whatever you are wearing - make sure your clothing fits. And make sure it fits you at the moment not (maybe) in the future. Pay attention to the cut and fit of the clothes and pick garments that favors the build of your body.
  2. Pay attention to versatility, diversity and simplicity. Start by investing your money on some more "classic" pieces. Go for blue colored suiting, white and light blue button-ups, sharp denim, white t-shirts and cotton trousers in beige or olive green. All of these will give you good foundation to build up the wardrobe. A versatile selection can in fact be achieved with very few sets of clothes. For example a man with only two suits, four shirts, four ties, and two pairs of shoes already has 64 different combinations to select from. The secret here is to keep your garments simple, classic and interchangeable.
  3. Go for classic colors, patterns, and styles. Play safe in terms of colors and start with options that are again versatile and easy to combine. Try shades of blue, grey and brown. When it comes to patterns and general style, start by selecting timeless and classic garments instead of trends and fashionable items.
  4. Go quality over quantity - buy less buy better. By doing this you will end up having clothes in your wardrobe that you wear more often and feel better when you wear it. And those garments will even last longer than the cheap ones with lower quality.
Men's wardrobe essentials - shades of gray

Wardrobe essentials - Combining colors

Building up wardrobe is not just about purchasing the right essential garments. It is also about how to combine them. So first a few words about colors. There are many different kind of approaches when it comes to colors and clothing. And in the end deciding on whether any particular combination of colors in an ensemble works or not is always situational. However if you are not sure what colors suits you it's better to play safe. And even though style is not science there are couple of "rules" one can start approaching this question with. Men's wardrobe essentials - how to combine colors

Color wheel

First of all there is the color wheel. A safe bet is to go by combining colors that are next to each other in the wheel - called analogous colors. For example, different shades of blue can easily be paired with a navy blazer. And dark brown jacket is safe to combine with trousers in a lighter shade of brown. However as colors too close in tone can look odd when placed next to each other one should always pay a little attention how to bring a little bit of contrast to the outfit. Another option when playing with color wheel is to pick colors from opposite sides (complementary colors) of the wheel. This gives you an opportunity to play with the balance of warmth and coolness of the colors at the same time as well.

Colors as groups

Secondly, colors can also be thought as groups. These groups can be seasonal - such as rusty or earthy shades for fall or more bright colors for spring time - or they can associated with certain "style. This means that for example a classic business attire should showcase shades of blue, black, brown and grey. On the other hand more casual, preppy ensembles for example may include muted shades of brown and light blue with spots of even more bright colors.

Classic color combinations

Finally one can always rely on the classic combinations. Shades of blue, brown and grey will always look good together, period. Some may find these combinations to be a bit too unimaginative, but you can always make them more interesting by finding more unique values or saturations. Blue and grey don't have to be boring. In case you want to read more about colors check out this post "About colors - what goes with what"

What wardrobe essentials to purchase first?

After laying out principles above and short notes regarding colors and how to combine them it's a good place to take a bit closer look different pieces one need to have in wardrobe. And how to start building up that rotation part by part.

Suits - the base

When talking about classic men's clothing and wardrobe essentials it all starts with suits. In case you only have one suit in your wardrobe you should make sure that a) it fits, b) its dark in color (preferably blue or grey) and c) in terms of pattern and details its timeless in style. Men's wardrobe essentials - blue suit with white shirt and gray tie First of all, if you are not sure how your suit (or a jacket) should fit, that is the part you need to start from. A good way to start is to check out this article about "how a suit or a sport coat should fit" by Put This On. After that you should find a good and trustworthy tailor who can alter your suits and sport coats to fit properly.

Suit colors and pattern play

In terms of color - dark shades are preferable as they are more formal and more versatile options than lighter tones. My recommendation is that at least three first suits that you buy should be in darker shades of blue / grey. For patterns and style it's wise to be weary of changing trends such as skinny or overly thick lapels, suits with more than 3 buttons, or with signature style aspects such as contrast colored buttonholes that may look good to you at the moment but will not stand the test of time. If you only have one suit - make it a single-breasted, 2 button jacket with double vents and flap pockets featuring flat front trousers (can be pleated) and cuffs in case preferred. In addition to that one suit that should be dark blue made of solid light weight wool you may want to consider solid medium grey or navy blue wool. Or charcoal grey fabric with restrained pattern such as houndstooth or small checks. While you are still building up your wardrobe try to avoid too bold and memorable patterns. Men's wardrobe essentials - suit fabrics

Sport coats

Again, if you only are going to own one sport coat or a blazer - go for a navy blazer or a light weight wool sport coat made from a dark-shade solid fabric. Navy blazers featuring silver, gold or brass buttons are more formal options than regular sport coats. This mainly due their history. However a navy-colored sport coat is always a safe choice as it can easily be dressed down. Just be sure that you choose a single breasted jacket featuring horn or mother of pearl buttons instead of those medal ones. Sports coats (as well as suits) naturally can range from those very sleek and dressy worsted wool jackets to more casual tweed or flannel pieces. Or you even go for some "washed" and overdyed cotton. So the range is very wide when it comes to style of sport coats. This of course has a strict connection to the fact how different kind of jackets can be combined. Some people say that boldly patterned sport coats are actually one of the only areas where men can be safely daring. On the other hand a little bit of boldness can help you making a simple tailored jacket a lot more versatile. And as long the design is traditional and you keep the color of the jacket fairly conservative, you should be able to wear your jacket without making yourself looking snobbish. Just remember that when you go for bolder patterns you need to pay attention to the way you accessorize yourself. Regarding that you can take a look at my write-up here. Men's wardrobe essentials - Blue blazer with light grey flannel trousers

Button-up Shirts

Button-up shirts can be divided into dress shirts and casual (or sport) shirts. I start with the more business and formal-oriented perspective. The base of every men's wardrobe should include at least 2 dress shirts that are simple and classic in design. And fit you properly. The first five dress shirts in your wardrobe should be solid in color, white or a shade of light blue. In terms of style there is no option that would suit everyone. Instead, try to look for collar and cuffs that suit your proportions and showcase the image you are trying to bring visible. Regarding fit, pay attention to the shoulders and neck. Sleeves and even the width of the body of the shirt can easier be altered. If you happen to be in between sizes go for the bigger one. Sleeves can always be shortened and excess fabric on the body can be tucked. Making a shirt bigger is rarely possible. Or you can change the maker and find one that would have a size that fits you properly. Men's wardrobe essentials - Gray wool tie with gray suit After you are set with the first five dress shirts you may start looking at some semi-solids, stripes, and checks. The "rule" to keep in mind is that plain fabrics are always more formal while the fabrics with more bold and visible pattern are more casual. Also it is a fact that solid shirts are a lot more versatile and interchangeable than shirts with clearly visible patterns. By keeping your shirts plain you have more options and space to play with patterns in accessories and even in your jackets. Also try to avoid shirts made of synthetic fibers and opt for pure cotton shirts.

Casual shirts

When it comes to casual shirting there are multiple options ranging from chambray and denim to linen and flannel. With this range even more bold patterns such as big checks are appropriate and even preferable. Although when it comes to combining them with other pieces in your wardrobe the rules mentioned above apply just in the same way than when wearing dress shirts. For casual shirts button-down collars are a good option. But remember to look for makers that have their collar roll-game in order. Also, try to avoid those trendy "skinny collars" especially if you are about to wear your shirt with a tie. Men's wardrobe essentials - casual chambray shirt


When talking about men's shoes it's good again to make difference between casual footwear and dress shoes. The main difference between these two groups is of course the nature and style of the clothing the shoes are intended to be worn with.

Dress shoes

In terms of dress shoes the first pair you buy should be a pair of black oxfords. That pair will take you through business-meetings, job interviews, weddings, funerals and all occasions where you need to wear a suit. After that you can go for brown or a second pair of black. Remember that darker brown shoes are easier to combine with different kind of trousers and suits. The choice also depends a bit of the color of the suits you have in your wardrobe. If you prefer shades of grey, black is preferable. In case most of your suits and sport coats feature shades of blue, brown is more useful. Also keep in mind that black is always more formal color than any shade of brown. My personal suggestion would be a pair of dark brown oxfords. After that go for a pair of loafers, chukka boots, chelsea boots or monk straps depending on the climate and environment you are living and your personal style. All in all a man should have at least three pairs of dress shoes. For a guy who wears a suit or sport coat for work on a daily basis one pair is definitely not enough. You should never wear your shoes more than one day in a row. And the shoes should be given rest with shoetrees inserted. Therefore you need to have at least three or four pairs in a rotation at time. Men's wardrobe essentials - CrockettJones-for-Ralph-Lauren-tassel-loafers

Casual shoes

In terms the number of casual shoes needs of a man again depends on his lifestyle. There is also a wide selection of casual shoes ranging from a bit more dressed-up options such as loafers and chukka boots till sneakers and more robust blucher or boot-options. When it comes to casual footwear opt for muted and restrained colors. These will never go out of style even the trends change. Shades of brown, black and white (for sneakers) are safe and solid choices. If you go for colors that itself draw a lot of attention it will make it a lot harder to combine them with different kind of clothing and wear them often than just occasionally. In terms of material, suede is a good choice for casual footwear.


And every man should own a pair of classic sneakers. The range of options here is wide as hell. This is also a model that you don't need huge fortune to invest in. The classic (white) canvas (or leather) sneakers can be worn with denim, cotton chinos and even with a suit. To read more about sneakers check out the post here.

Take care of your shoes

With all of your footwear bet on quality. Avoid shoes with poor construction and take care of your shoes. This way you will build a rotation that will last longer and keep you more satisfied. After every use take your shoes and brush off the dirt from the uppers and from the soles. After that put in the shoe trees and set the shoes back to the rack. Every now and then remember to condition and moisturize the leather of your shoes to keep them in shape. Keep your dress shoes in a good shine. For more information about how to do that - read the post from here. Your casual footwear does not have to have a shine like your dress shoes, but always keep your shoes neat, clean, and presentable. And never wear shoes that are broken or shred. Rotate your shoes, and keep the shoes you are not using in a dry place where they can air out. And always have shoetrees in them.


Every guy needs a pair of jeans. I know there are guys who think that they can never wear denim. That it is too casual. By their nature all jeans and denim are casual indeed. However nowadays there is a wide range of denim - going from very relaxed fitted raw denim to Italian style denim slacks that you can in fact wear with sport coats and other tailored garments. As a "rule" it could be mentioned that the darker the color of the denim the more formal it is. Finally,  it's all about the fit and the situation will tell how the jeans should be combined. Jeans are also a good option for those looking a versatile pair of trousers. A good pair of denim can be combined with a t-shirt and sneakers on one day and with button-up shirt and sport coat on another. My own preference is that a man should own at least two pairs of jeans. One in a darker shade of blue and one made of more light colored denim. Just keep in mind that the fit is all that matters. A man in a white t-shirt and well fitted denim will always look better and more sharp than a man in suit that does not fit. It's good to keep in mind that denim is also one of those garments you don't need a big budget for. For example from Uniqlo you can get great looking denim with a decent quality for a very reasonable price. But if you want to go all the way, there is no limit that you can spend for your jeans. Men's wardrobe essentials - Sutor Mantellassi chukka boots


When talking about (odd) trousers or slacks the most important thing to consider is that they need to be made from a clearly different looking fabric than the jacket they are combined with. So we are not talking about suit trousers, although suit trousers can many times be used as separate and so they can work as odd trousers. The most dressiest slacks are usually made from a dark (grey or blue) wool and styled in the same way suit trousers are so that they can easily be combined with blazers and button-up shirts. By changing the color to something more light and fabric from wool to cotton for example the style becomes less formal and more appropriate for casual wear. While starting to build up your wardrobe my recommendation is to acquire one pair of dark grey colored (lightweight) flannel slacks and one pair of light colored cotton slacks for more dressed-up occasions and two pairs of cotton chinos in restrained colors (beige and dark blue would be a good start). Chinos are in the end more dressed-up option than denim and they can quite easily be dressed up or down - depending how you end up combining them. Men's wardrobe essentials - brown suit trousers with pleats


The need for knitwear differs a lot depending the climate and environment you live in. However there are couple of things to keep in mind regarding knitwear no matter where you're from. First of all the fit and secondly the type of fibers used in its construction. After that comes color and style. Guys who are living in more chilly areas are justified to have at least 4 or 5 different kind of sweaters in their wardrobe. Guys who live in more warm climate can easily manage with one or two lightweight cotton sweaters. And even these they keep in storage just in case.

Knitwear for layering

When it comes to layering, knitwear is one the most best things there is. If you don't need to wear a suit at work, bet on your knitwear-game. Start with one or two merino-wool crewneck sweaters in restrained colors (such as grey and dark blue). After that go for one v-neck sweater and a cardigan. Finally complete the starting quintet by adding a nice roll neck sweater to your rotation and you are set. Cardigans are also a good way to dress down an outfit featuring a sport coat and more dressier trousers. Just keep sure that the materials are compatible. Wearing a robust lambswool cardigan with sleek wool slacks, dress shirt and lightweight navy blazer is not the best option. Instead remember to keep the textures and weights of different materials on the same level. Read from here more about different kind of knitwear and from here about shawl-collar cardigans, one of the most versatile pieces of knitwear there is. Men's wardrobe essentials - blue shawl collar cardigan


Finally there is accessories. This is an area where the needs especially depends on your personal style. If you wear a suit for work and have a lot of business or other formal occasions, you need to pay more attention to this section. But if your style is all casual and you have one event per year where you need to wear a button-up shirt with a tie, you can manage with much more limited selection. If you start from the scratch, go for a navy blue grenadine tie or a silver grey tie and a white linen pocket square. With these two you can handle almost every situation that you come across. After that you can start adding colors and patterns step by step. However keep one thing in mind. If you keep your accessories simple you have more choices to choose from. If your selection only features big and bold patterns and bright colors, your selection is more limited. Take also a look at the articles about "how to tie your tie" and "how to combine ties and pocket squares". Accessorizing is pretty much just a matter of taste. But still remember this one thing - never wear matchy-matchy tie and pocket square. Men's wardrobe essentials - finding your personal style

Sum up - keep it simple

So now you have gone through men's wardrobe essentials and how to dress like a man. Now you know the basics of how to build up wardrobe and how to start building up your own style. Just remember to keep it simple. Post updated 2016.

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