how to build an essential wardrobe - mainStyle is important.

It earns you respect: from women, from bosses, and most importantly, from yourself.

Think about it:

Do you feel better about yourself when you’re in an old band t shirt and sweatpants…

…or when you’re looking your absolute best in a nice suit? (Most men feel their best when they look their best.)

But… I get it:

Sometimes, you just don’t have the time/energy to put together a stylish outfit… or maybe you never learned how to put stylish outfits together.

But check this out:

I’ve found which items completely take the work out of dressing stylishly every day. This is the essential wardrobe, and it’s everything you need:

  1. Versatile (essential because you need to be able to get dressed quickly)
  2. Comfortable (essential because you’re happier/more productive when you’re comfortable)
  3. Stylish (essential for earning respect)
  4. Long-lasting (essential because you won’t need to replace items for years)

Now:

Building this essential wardrobe for yourself will take a few hours and around $1000

but it’s worth it when your wardrobe is powerfully versatile, and creating incredibly stylish outfits takes no time.

3 Helpful Rules For Building Your Essential Wardrobe

Before you read the list of essential items, you should understand the 3 basic rules of shopping for your essential wardrobe.

Just follow these simple rules when you shop…

and your wardrobe will become 1000x better.

(If you’d like to know more about a rule, click the Read More tab under each section.)

Rule #1: Find the right fit

get the right fit

Getting the right fit is the most important part of a stylish wardrobe.

If your clothes fit poorly, people (like women, peers or bosses) see you as a clueless, sloppy or careless man…

…while clothes that fit properly (lay close to your body without squeezing you) show you care about presenting yourself well.

Click Read more to understand the basic rules of fit.

Read More

No matter what the item (pants, sweaters, suits)… the simple, basic rules of fit will always be the same:

1. Don’t buy clothes too big

Look… no matter what size you are, you look best in fitted clothes.

When you wear extra material that hangs off you, it looks like added mass. You look bigger than you are.

Need proof?

Think about the last time you saw a man in a baggy suit. Did you think he looked competent and sharp, or… well, large and sloppy?

Or think about it like this:

Do you want to look like a rumpled, sloppy mess when you meet a beautiful woman, or when you do a presentation for your boss? Of course not.

In short: the best way to look sharp is to buy clothes that skim your body lightly, not that hang loosely around it.

2. …And don’t buy clothes too small

The reverse rule is also true: don’t buy clothing too tight.

Think about the last time you saw a man in overly tight clothes (shirt, pants, short, or suit)did you immediately respect him, or his style? Probably not.

Look… it looks like you have no clue what size your body is when you wear clothing that’s too tight. Really, why else would you buy something that’s clearly meant for a smaller man?

Plus, most guys would agree:

Overly tight clothing is really uncomfortable.

When you wear things that fit comfortably without squeezing, you’ll feel comfortable, and look competent (and appropriate: even for men, tight clothing is a bad choice for work).

Here’s the bottom line:

Buy your clothes the right size (not squeezing your body or hanging off it) and you’ll immediately feel more comfortable and look better.

Rule #2: Pick neutral colors

nuetral colors

Neutral colors (all the shades of black and brown) should be the foundation of your wardrobe.

They make it incredibly easy to put stylish outfits together, by guaranteeing all your outfits will match effortlessly.

Click Read More to see how neutrals will make dressing 1000x easier.

Read More

The basic neutral colors are:

  • Black
  • White
  • Gray
  • Navy
  • Tan
  • Brown

… And here’s the secret reason neutrals are the best choice for your wardrobe:

Neutrals match every other color. They’re completely versatile.

If you build your wardrobe with neutral colors, you’ll never have to worry if your different items match, or ‘go together’.

Need proof?

Look at the list of neutral colors again. Can you see how any of those colors looks good with any other color?

Now…obviously, buy a variety of neutral colors, not just oneif you wore tan pants with tan shirts every day, you’d look completely boring/unimaginative.

Mix neutrals with other neutrals, or with brighter-colored items.

Here’s the bottom line:

Plenty of neutral clothes guarantee you’ll be able to match outfits… effortlessly.

Rule #3: Shop for timeless, grown-up outfits

stylish grown-up clothes

Wearing the same clothes you wore in college makes you seem like you still are in college.

It’s time to shop like an adult, and buy classic, timeless looks.

Click Read More to learn what looks you should wear, and how to find the best deals on them.

Read More

Here’s the deal:

Wearing your favorite old trends (like bedazzled button downs, baggy jeans, deep v-neck t shirts or cargo shorts) practically screams that you’re stuck in adolescence.

It’s time to move on to grown up styles. You’re an adult now… dress like it.

Classic, timeless pieces (like straight-cut jeans, minimal accessories, and simple fitted shirts) send the message that you’re now a put-together grownup.

And here’s the best part:

Shopping for grown-up looks doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here’s a quick guide to finding good deals on adult clothing:

1. Pay attention to sales

After you determine what your favorite stores/brands are, check online to see if the store is running a sale before you go in.

…And here’s a secret:

Stores usually run big sales right after New Year’s, the week of Black Friday, and just before springtime (usually in March). Shop then if you can.

2. Shop during the off season

Stores clean out “off season” items by marking them down to the lowest prices possible.

What are “off season” items?

Simple: items that aren’t currently being worn this season. For example:

In the spring/summer, off season items are coats, flannel shirts and scarves. In the fall/winter, off season items are shorts, thin t shirts and bathing suits.

3. Spend money on fundamental pieces

Look:

You’ll save money in the long run by buying pieces that don’t need replacing.

That means, though it might hurt to think of spending over $100 on jeans or a winter coat, you’re at least buying a high-quality item that won’t need to be replaced.

Spend a little extra on essentials now, and you won’t have to do it again for years.

9 Essential Pieces to Build Your Versatile Wardrobe

I’ve listed each essential piece below, along with the ideal colors to buy, the number of each piece you should ultimately own, and how much each piece should cost.

There’s also a helpful tip (at the end of each section) describing the ideal color/style you should get if you want to update your wardrobe right away… but can only afford one piece right now.

1. Fitted T Shirts

fitted shirts, v-necks

Ideal colors:
Black, White, Red, Purple, Green, or Blue

How many:
4+

Cost:
≈$20 ($ @ Amazon.com)

Now… I know what you’re thinking:

“I already have t shirts.”

But if you wear shirts like these:

  1. A t shirt with holes (from excessive wear or bought that way)
  2. A band t shirt
  3. A t shirt with overly large logos (like this one)

…then it’s time to update your t shirt collection.

Think about it like this:

Do successful, competent men like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates spend their off days in ratty band t shirts? Definitely not. They wear clean, stylish clothes… even when relaxing.

Here’s the bottom line:

You can use even your everyday basics (like t shirts) to send the message that you’re a successful, competent adult.

What the essential t shirts have

1. A fitted cut

Like I mentioned above:

It doesn’t matter what size you are: baggy clothing will always make you look bigger.

Get t shirts that lay neatly against your body (not skin-tight), so they won’t bunch up uncomfortably/unattractively under a collared shirt or sweater.

2. Texture

A t shirt with jeans is a basic look… but it doesn’t have to be boring.

You can instantly make the look more stylish with a textured t shirt, like this one.

Texture works just like a subtle pattern… it’s interesting to look at, without being overwhelming.

3. Thick, breathable fabrics

Higher-quality t shirts are usually made of thicker fabrics… letting them hold up wash after wash.

As added benefits: they also show less sweat, keep you warmer under a sweater, and are usually made of super soft cotton or linen (which are super breathable fabrics)… really, why wouldn’t you get them?

If you can only get one

White is the classic, best choice. The white t shirt and jeans look has been around for decades (think James Dean)… and a crisp, white t shirt will look good with anything in your wardrobe.

2. Button-Down Shirts

button-down shirts

Ideal colors:
Any (Especially Patterns)

How many:
2-3

Cost:
≈$40 ($ @ Amazon.com)

Button down shirts are a powerful wardrobe essential. Why?

There are so many versatile styling options for them.

You can wear yours:

  1. Unbuttoned and loose over a t shirt
  2. Neatly tucked into dress pants
  3. Untucked casually over jeans
  4. Layered under a solid sweater

And all of those looks are equally stylish.

Look:

No matter what your personal style is (dressy, casual, traditional or trendy), you can wear a button down that compliments it.

What the essential button down shirts have

1. The right hem and sleeve length

Your shirt hem should end at the bottom of your belt…

…and your sleeve hem should end an inch below your wrist bone (towards your hand) when your arms are by your sides.

Any longer, and your hems and sleeves will look too big/sloppy.

2. Simple, subtle patterns

Now, you can buy solid-colored button downs…

but a simple pattern looks incredibly stylish when layered with solid t shirts and sweaters. Go with checks, plaid, or stripes.

If you can only get one

A subtle plaid, in mostly gray color tones (like this one) looks good with jeans or dress pants… in any color.

3. Thin Sweaters

thin sweaters

Ideal colors:
Gray, Black, Navy, or Dark Burgundy/Green

How many:
2-3

Cost:
≈$40 ($$ @ Amazon.com)

Here’s the thing:

Your essential wardrobe needs layering pieces (items easily tossed over or under other items).

Why? As the temperature swings, simply add or remove layers, and you’re instantly comfortable… and never too hot or too cold.

Now:

Thin, soft, cotton (or cotton-blend) sweaters are the best layering pieces for one simple reason:

They’re incredibly versatile.

They can be thrown over a t-shirt or collared shirt when you’re cold…

…and if you’re still cold, thin sweaters easily fit under a thick jacket or coat.

What the essential thin sweaters have

1. Body-skimming fit

Get a sweater that skims your body… and not that hugs tight or sags around your middle.

You might think fitted sweaters won’t be comfortable, but you’d be wrong:

Super soft materials (think cotton or silk blends) are always extremely comfortable, even if they’re fitted.

2. Dark or neutral colors

Neutral colors are the most versatile

…but if you want some color, choose colors that match your t shirts and collared shirts (a dark green sweater with a light green/yellow shirt, or a dark red sweater with a pink shirt).

Now: light, pastel colors won’t match your other pieces as easily, and will often show dirt and stains. Stick with dark colors instead. 

If you can only get one

Light gray is the neutral that works in fall, winter and spring, unlike heavy, dark colors (especially black) and it even hides things (lint, deodorant) more than darker colors.

4. Casual Oxford Shoes

classic oxfords

Ideal colors:
Brown, Navy, or Gray

How many:
1+

Cost:
≈$30-200 ($$ @ Amazon.com)

Imagine one, powerfully versatile pair of shoes that looks equally stylish with all these looks:

  • Shorts and t shirt on a Saturday lunch date
  • Jeans and a button down at a casual office
  • A casual suit (light colored, no vest or tie) at a graduation or outdoor wedding

You can’t wear boots, tennis shoes, flip flops, or dressy loafers with each of those looks

but you can wear a casual oxford shoe with all of them. 

Think about it:

Oxfords are a classic style (they’ve been around for decades) that aren’t flashy or attention-grabbing…

…but they’re sleek and formal enough to be worn with casual suits.

They’ll always be appropriate.

What the essential oxford shoes have

1. Comfort

This one is obvious… you only want to wear comfortable shoes, right?

You’ll find the most comfortable option when you try shoes on in a store. Make sure the shoes you buy don’t pinch your toe or rub the back of your ankle when you step.

And look:

Oxfords can be stiff at first, but don’t worry: they break in as you wear them.

2. Suede or faux leather exterior

Oxford shoes come in plenty of fabrics…

…but suede and faux leather are the most versatile materials.

That’s because they aren’t too dressy (like shiny leather) and they aren’t too casual (like canvas).

If you can only get one

Caramel brown (like these) works best with any neutral pant… plus, the light color won’t make people focus too much attention down at your feet.

5. Cotton-Blend Neutral Pants

cotton-blend pants 2

Ideal colors:
Navy, Tan, Gray or Black

How many:
2+

Cost:
≈$50 ($$ @ Amazon.com)

Look:

Cotton-blend pants are the best, no-brainer option for day-to-day wear.

Why is that?

Because you can wear the exact same pants to the office, on dates, to events, or even just to hang out with friends.

They always look sharp (but not too dressy, like suit pants), yet are amazingly comfortable (cotton is breathable and stretchy).

Here’s the bottom line:

You have to wear pants… so why not get incredibly comfortable pants that work for every occasion?

What the essential cotton-blend pants have

1. Slim cut

Look:

Slim pants are not the same as skinny pants.

Skinny pants tightly hug your calf and ankle… slim pants rest just off your leg (neither squeezing nor hanging like baggy pants), and can be either tight or loose around your calf and ankle.

Now:

Slim, fitted pants are deeply flattering (like fitted shirts), because they don’t add extra material around your body, making you look bigger.

2. The right length

The most stylish length for all pants shows about 2 inches of your heel in the back.

Plus, pants that length won’t get trapped under your heel as you walk (and won’t get frayed and tattered like longer pants would).

3. Flat-front (no pleats)

Flat-front pants are the most flattering option (compared to pleated-front pants).

Pleats add drape around the stomach/crotch area… and can make it look like you have extra body fat.

Stick with more stylish, flattering flat-front pants.

If you can only get one

Caramel brown (like these) is the neutral pant that will work in any season… wear it in summer (it’s not as hot as black or navy), or winter (it still looks good with a dark jacket).

6. Dark, Straight Cut Jeans

dark wash jeans

Ideal colors:
Dark Blue

How many:
1-2

Cost:
≈$100-200 ($$$ @ Amazon.com)

Sure, you already have jeans…

…but just like with your t-shirts, it’s time to update if your jeans look like these:

  1. Overly worn, faded, or full of holes
  2. Tattered at the heel from stepping on them
  3. Too much material around your legs (not a slim fit)

These styles don’t look respectable, and definitely aren’t stylish for an adult.

Here’s the thing:

You only need one pair of jeans to work with every outfit…

…and the most versatile option is a dark navy wash with a slim fit.

Now… you know a slim fit is the most flattering… but why does the wash (color) matter?

Because dark jeans can easily be substituted for dark dress pants. Wear them to casual weddings with a button down shirt, or wear them to the office on casual days.

Bonus: navy is a neutral… meaning dark navy jeans can be worn with any other color.

What the essential jeans have

1. The right length

The right length for jeans is the same as for other pants:

About 2 inches of your heel should be visible under the hem.

Remember: this length is the most stylish… and it keeps your pants from getting frayed at the ends.

2. Thin material

This one is a no-brainer:

Thin material means the jeans will be cooler… and less material will give you more flexibility. In short: they’ll be more comfortable.

But be careful: jeans that are too thin will wear out faster. Go with a cotton/spandex/nylon blend for the most comfortable, long-lasting jeans.

If you can only get one

A slim fit, straight leg dark wash from a respected men’s brand will last for years and never go out of style.

7. A Minimal Wristwatch

tribeca

Ideal colors:
Brown, Tan, or Black

How many:
1

Cost:
$50-500 ($105 @ the5th.co)

The best way to make any look more stylish is to add a classic, minimal wristwatch (accessories like watches make any outfit hugely more interesting).

Now… why are watches the best accessory for men?

Because watches are timeless, not trendy. You’ll never look out of place when you wear one… you’ll always look appropriate.

Now:

A minimal watch is the best, most versatile option. Flashy details (blingy bands and colored faces) won’t seamlessly match everything in your wardrobe…

…while the solid bands, gold/silver casings, and uncluttered faces of minimal watches will.

What the essential minimal watches have

1. Interchangeable bands

You don’t have to buy a whole new watch every time you want to change the look.

Many watches come with more than one band, or you can buy bands to swap out, for around just $20.

2. A medium sized face

Look for a watch with a 3-4 cm face:

Larger than 4 cm is usually too flashy and bulky, and smaller than 3 cm is too feminine.

If you can only get one

A dark brown leather band with a white face is the most classic look. Wear it every day: it’ll never look out of style.

8. Linen Sport Jacket

linen sport coat

Ideal colors:
Navy or Charcoal

How many:
1

Cost:
≈$100-1,000 ($$$$ @ Amazon.com)

Sometimes, an outfit needs a little extra polish.

… And when occasions like weddings, casual client meetings, or big dates call for more than just a layered sweater/button down combo…

…throw on a linen sport jacket.

Now:

Why is a linen sport jacket so essential?

It takes all the work out of dressing up. Simply throw one over a plain t shirt, a thin sweater, or a patterned buttoned down (with jeans or dress pants), and your look is instantly stylish.

What the essential sport jackets have

1. The right hem and sleeve length

The most flattering hem length stops right at your inseam (the crotch of your pants).

Sleeves should stop about 1.5 inches below your wrist bone (toward your hand)… any longer will look too big.

2. Two buttons

Sport jackets come in one, two or three button options.

While any number of buttons is appropriate, the most versatile option is two button.

Why?

One button creates a plunging v neck shape on your chest (looks very trendy), and three buttons looks like a dressy suit jacket (looks very formal).

3. Thin material

No one likes to feel confined in their sport jacket

… but linen or cotton jackets are thin and soft, allowing you to move around comfortably.

If you can only get one

A textured medium blue, several shades lighter than your jeans, is the most versatile. Medium blue isn’t quite a neutral, but it looks great with greens, yellows, and dark reds, and will stand out against your dark jeans.

9. A Casual Coat

casual coat

Ideal colors:
Charcoal or Black

How many:
1

Cost:
≈$100-200 ($$$ @ Amazon.com)

Now… unless you don’t live in/travel to cold areas, you need a good winter coat.

You may only wear it a few times a year, or you may wear it for months straight…

…but either way, you need to have a roomy, versatile warm coat in your wardrobe.

Layer sweaters, button down shirts, and t shirts under your coat to keep you warm (yet stylish) through the winter.

And… remember:

You don’t have to look sloppy just because you’re in a thick coat. There are plenty of coats that are warm, comfortable, and stylish.

What the essential casual coats have

1. A longer cut

A coat should be longer than shirts and sweaters. The right length falls past the seat of your pants.

It makes sense: a longer coat keeps out more cold wind.

Now:

As long as it’s at least that length, it doesn’t matter exactly how long it is. It can fall just past your butt, to your knees or to the floor… whatever you prefer.

2. Wool or wool blend

Look… your coat doesn’t need to be soft (since you’ll be wearing other things under it), it needs to be warm.

Wool is a rough, but completely thick and cozy material that the best heavy coats are made from. Always buy a wool or wool-blend winter coat.

If you can only get one

Charcoal is the best option. Since you’ll be wearing it for years, you should get a dark color (which shows less wear over time), but charcoal is more unique than basic black.

In Conclusion

Having good style doesn’t have to be difficult, uncomfortable or time-consuming.

If you spend a few hours and around $1,000 following the guide above, your essential wardrobe will quickly become the most versatile, comfortable one you’ve ever had.

PS: for more on versatile wardrobes, check out our the Lean Wardrobe from our friends at Effortless Gent.