Before we begin, here are some basic rules:
- Always, buy quality garments on important elements such as suits and shoes
- Quality also means you won’t look disheveled, because the colour & cut won’t fade & fray
- But don’t bother with quality on a cotton t-shirt. $10 or $100, it’s the same thing.
- Choose classic cuts, prints & colours so that it will last through (hopefully) decades
- Don’t forget basic grooming: a good haircut will always work wonders
These are all just general tips for a basic working man’s wardrobe, but of course, it depends on your budget, your industry, your job & lifestyle.
So use your own discretion.
THE INSPIRATION: MAD MEN’S DON DRAPER
Note: Cigarette in hand, not really recommended.
There is a reason why women swoon over the show (and Don Draper in particular), and it isn’t just for the 50s women’s fashion.
Classic, with a twist.
STANDARD, CLASSIC WARDROBE
- Business casual during the week
- Fun on the weekends (possibly with or without children)
- Also attend events such as weddings & dinners on occasion
- You do laundry weekly, because as a minimalist, you will not have many (clean) outfits to last for months without laundry
- Live in a place with 4 seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter
THE FULL LIST: 40-45 items
- 6 business casual shirts
- 3 work pants
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 polo shirts
- 3 sweaters
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 winter jacket
- 1 sport coat
- 1 black/dark grey suit
- 2 ties
- 1 reversible belt (black/brown)
- Summer sandals
- European sneakers
- Dress shoes
- Winter Boots [Possibly Optional]
- 9 pairs of socks (each pair counted as an “item”)
- 1 pair of Pajamas [Optional]
- 2 pairs of Shorts [Optional]
- Winter accessories: gloves, scarf, earmuffs/hat
- Work Bag
6 business casual shirts
Because if you are anything like me, you are going to forget to do laundry once a week, and come Sunday, you will realize that you will have to either wear a dirty shirt from the laundry basket, or actually do laundry at 8 p.m. at night.
The 6th shirt is your backup. Just in case.
I’d suggest at least these 2 colours in your choice of 6 shirts: white and some sort of flattering blue.
Blue looks good on everyone, and white can be worn under your suit for if/when you need to go to an event.
I am not about to start going into your “colours” and telling you what blue looks good on you, but a saturated, mid-toned blue is a good, safe start. Try a couple of blues and you’ll see which ones you gravitate towards.
Remember: White or Solid coloured shirts, don’t have to mean plain, smooth textures — you can also go for something with a slightly raised white-on-white texture like in the above shot.
3 work pants
All you need is really 2 or 3.
The most classic style is a flat front, un-pleated, fitted, straight-legged pair.
I’d say 3, just so that one is a backup for in case you spill something that has to wait until laundry day.. but other than that, BF wears the same 2 pants all week.
Pants don’t really get dirty or smelly during the week, and if you wear them in a khaki or darker colour, it can be worn until its frayed death.
If all else fails, you can always wear the pants from your suit in a pinch.
Plain, cotton with some spandex, t-shirts. Don’t try and go fancy, or too spandex-y or strange.
What you don’t want, is to have the shirt cling to your body — for one thing, it doesn’t let your body perspire comfortably, and if you have a less than stellar shape, it’ll highlight the rolls rather than skim over them for a smoother look.
Basic colours: black, white, grey, or blue
This is for when you work out, or need to do some painting around the house, like that free t-shirt someone from the beer company tossed at you in college.
I’d suggest having one t-shirt for “household work”, that you don’t mind getting dirty.
The other two shirts are just for backup or just to wear around the house. Remember: one is your backup.
2 polo shirts
(Please do NOT pop the collar and wear it just as its shown in the image above)
You may be wondering why I am suggesting 2 polo shirts when you have 3 t-shirts already.
This is because you want to look somewhat casual, but not too casual or formal.
This is where the polo shirt comes in — it’s for dates, or other slightly more special occasions.
In fact, depending on your profession & industry, you could have 5 polo shirts as the base of your business casual wardrobe, and just one white button up dress shirt for events & occasions.
BF used to wear polo shirts to work everyday until he became a freelancer, and then he stepped it up a notch to be more professional at work.
A simple, v-neck or crew neck sweater in a thin-ribbed, light or medium weight natural fiber (wool or cashmere).
You are going to get cold, or want to wear a sweater of some sort, without a jacket, or under a jacket.
I’d suggest at least one of those sweaters to be a comfortable zip-up hoodie.
If you are comfortable with the look, you could even wear those sweaters over your button-up shirts for a jacket-less Spring or Autumn option.
(I think the tie & the belt are unnecessary, but the look in general, is quite nice).
1 pair of jeans
As with women’s jeans, you just cannot go wrong with an, even, dark rinse wash that does not have feathering or strange bleached spots.
Look for a normal kooking pair of jeans in a classic straight-legged cut, not too baggy & well fitted, but not skintight (*ahem*)
Besides, one pair of jeans is all I own anyway. I wear them all the time and they don’t get dirty very easily.
1 winter jacket
You can choose to go dressy or not (wool & cashmere are always good options), but if you live somewhere REALLY cold, and take public transportation, go for function over fashion and buy yourself a down-filled parka from Kanuk or North Face.
Mother Nature does not kid around in the winter, and neither should you.
If you do decide to go with a wool & cashmere option, there are plenty of styles — double breasted, single breasted… and the most classic would be a black or dark grey peacoat that is double breasted, as shown here:
I like double breasted coats, only because they keep you warmer (double layer across your chest), and with a scarf, it’s super cosy in the winter.
Remember to watch the length of your coat.
You don’t want it end past your knees (makes you look short), if you prefer a longer coat to keep your thighs warm.
And you don’t want it to stop too close to your waist, because it gets chilly when you lift your arms and a breeze comes through.
This is an ideal length:
It looks nice as well, but as you can see, he will need to wear a scarf in winter, and the single-breasted coat flaps open, which may allow snow, ice & wind to sift in under the coat when you are walking outside.
A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t care either way and you are a larger-built guy, go with a single breasted coat, as the double-breasted coat tends to add bulk and slimmer-built guys can wear either style.
1 sport coat
A sport coat is one of those things that goes over everything, and can cover Spring, cool Summers and Autumn.
It is not a formal blazer, it is not a winter jacket and it isn’t a windbreaker. Think of something in the middle of all that.
You can throw it over anything you’re wearing (white t-shirt, sweater, button-up shirt), and immediately look polished.
Plus if you layer underneath, it can take you through warmer Winters.
1 black/dark grey suit
You cannot go wrong with at least one black or dark grey suit.
You will probably get the most use out of it at many, MANY weddings & occasion if you stay at the same weight & shape.
Besides, there is a reason why women love it when guys get all cleaned up and put into a suit.
Just don’t make weird faces or strange, Mr. Burns-like hand gestures in photographs to scare people.
Personally, a black suit is probably the most professional & conservative of all, but some people (myself included) hate wearing the colour black.
If you are an an industry that requires you to suit up everyday, then I’d own at least 3 suits. One as a backup, and two to rotate.
BF used to wear a suit to work everyday in Europe (strict dress codes there!), and he owned 2 of the exact same black suits and 6 exact white button-up shirts, so that he would never have to worry about matching or losing a piece of another and not being able to find a match.
Me, I’d probably prefer a little variety, but if you are that type of guy who doesn’t like to fuss over colour or variety, then go for it.
Black (for black tie dinners, which you’d pair with a white shirt)
Silvery gunmetal grey to wear for every other colour of shirt (black ties and coloured shirts look very odd to me).
If you are in a wedding party, and you need to wear the colours specific to the wedding, then rent a tie.
Again, if you are in an industry that requires you to suit up all the time, then own 3-5 ties, and add some variety in pattern & colour (dark red is very powerful).
1 reversible black & brown belt
They have them everywhere. One side black, one side brown. Best minimalist belt, ever.
The buckle just swivels, and ta dah! New belt.
Shoes: 3 pairs
1. Sandals for the summer
If you want a basic sandal, these are pretty standard — dark brown, leather, stitched, thong style.
Flip flops don’t last very long, and they tend to look grubby/dirty if worn too often.
Leather and rubber sandals tend to last longer.
Note: In terms of comfort, the most comfortable sandals I’ve ever worn, are Birkenstocks.
For women, they are pretty ugly for the most part, but it’s because they look like men’s sandals.
It DID take me 3 weeks to break them in (they do hurt and ache for the first while), but once your foot gets used to them… wow!
I can go hours wearing them and not have my feet feel tired, which is awesome when I travel.
You MAY not like them, so I suggest trying them out in person. Many fans of the barefoot movement say we don’t really need shoes (or shoes like Birkenstocks that really conform to your foot) and that Vibram Five Fingers (see below) are the most awesome shoes to wear… but I think they’re the Holy Grail of sandals in terms of comfort.
2. European-style sneakers or Loafers for casual wear
They just look good.. no, BETTER with jeans & shorts than any other kind of sneaker.
See, I am not a fan of clunky looking white tennis shoes for anybody (no matter how comfortable), because they make your feet look potted.
These are a good compromise. Sleek, streamlined & in darker colours, they work with everything.
If you don’t like them, try loafers. They’re classic and very cool when worn without socks.
3. 2 pairs of Dark (black or brown) dress shoes for work & any kind of event
BF only has one pair. He wears it to work, daily, to events and even in winter sometimes.
Men are just so darn lucky that they are able to wear both types of shoes to work and to any kind of event, because they pretty much know 99% ahead of time that they will be in a suit or something suit-ish.
I think depending on what colour suit you buy, black and brown will be enough to cover the gamut so that you can switch from one pair to another, to give your shoes a break.
Even these would be acceptable to wear under pants for any kind of occasion, work thing or daily wear.
4. Winter Boots
If applicable.You can always do like BF and just wear these boots for everything, everyday:
He cites back problems being the reason why he cannot wear really nice dress shoes, and I am inclined to believe him.
Still, if you don’t have a back problem, I’d really suggest getting a pair of nice dress shoes, in addition to winter boots.
Practicality wins here.
I always forgo fashion for function, and I switch into nicer shoes when I am at work.
9 pairs of socks
Socks are tricky animals.
Not only do they mate & elope in the washer and/or dryer when you aren’t looking, you need more than 7 pairs!
But sometimes you change socks during the day, so a backup 2 pairs are required.
BF owns 9 pairs of socks in one colour, so he never has to worry about a missing sock, or a sock with holes in it — he just matches it with the other pairs.
Most guys I know, including BF, sleep with a t-shirt and boxers.
So unless you are in a wood cabin somewhere in sub-zero temperatures, I think you’ll be all right with just a t-shirt & underwear.
2 pairs of shorts [Optional]
I’d suggest casual shorts for working out or gym stuff… and then a pair of Bermuda shorts in a khaki colour, if you are game.
If not, just a pair of casual shorts will do. I don’t consider them work worthy.
Winter accessories: Gloves, Scarf, Hat/Earmuffs
Some people find earmuffs ugly.
I think they’re fine.
Personally, I hate wearing hats because nothing ever stays on my head and the ones that do, give me a headache.
Get a good pair of sunglasses
Dark, simple, not too large, and no strange colours in the frames or on the coating.
Something classic. No need to spend hundreds here, it’s just a pair of sunglasses.
But please don’t show up in sunglasses for skiing in strange colours and frames.
They look REALLY out of place with a good suit or dressed in business casual.
A good, classic watch
Something like this, but cheaper than a Rolex
BF wears this Casio silver watch that always has the perfect time based on some satellite technology.
It looks nice and he’s had it for 20 years.
Long story short, don’t wear a rubber sports watch all the time, because it is out of place with a suit or any other kind of semi-formal wear.
A good work bag
You will be surprised how much attention people pay to a good work bag.
Something in a dark leather is always a classic, but if you have back problems or you are a vegan, there are fabric and vegan leather options out there too, such as ones from Mat & Nat shown below:
Voigt Pebble Laptop Carrier – $255 CAD
You will find that many men with style and flair, tend to have a uniform of sorts
It’s the same for women (at least for myself, it is). I tend to stick to wearing the same cuts of clothing that look the best on me.
Mix and match & give layering a shot
No need to wear ALL neutrals in your wardrobe, but a good base of neutrals means you can have more colourful or printed choices in your button-up shirts, t-shirts or polo shirts.
You don’t have to wear one piece at a time.
A t-shirt can go under a sweater, and a button-up dress shirt can, too.
It keeps you warm and you can remove layers during the day, as it warms up.
When all else fails, throw a sport coat over whatever you have on.
Wear good shoes
With such a limited selection (4 pairs, tops!), quality shoes that are comfortable, are key.
Keep it simple
Overdoing it looks messy.