Though styles shift now and then as the times change, the characteristics of a well-dressed man generally remain classic. Of course, not every man has the essential pieces in his closet.
From a well-cut suit to the perfect polo, your wardrobe might be in dire need of a few pieces that can make it truly timeless. By investing in those essential items, you can ensure that you’re well-dressed and outfitted for just about any occasion.
Not sure where to start? Even if you’re not big on shopping, these 10 pieces represent the perfect building blocks for a polished, masculine wardrobe. Invest in well-made starter items and you can easily add new colors, patterns, and styles into the mix as trends and seasons dictate.
1. Tailored Suit in Black or Gray
All guys need at least one suit that is perfectly tailored to their bodies. Modern suits are slimmer cuts than those that were popular in the ’80s or ’90s, so a sloppy suit could imply that you’re woefully behind the times.
Why stick with black and gray? They’re the two best colors to get the most mileage out of your suit. From work to weddings, and from funerals to a formal date, a classic, tailored black or gray suit can be worn in a number of ways. You can also get more mileage by breaking out the suit components and wearing them separately, like the pants with a colored button-up for business casual.
2. White Button-Down Shirt
Sometimes called an oxford, sometimes called a button-up (the term button-down is reserved for when buttons fasten down the collar). Whatever you call it, you should have one in white for everything from professional wear to church. Look for a crisp, blue-toned white shirt (not yellow-toned) for the most mileage, since it can work with almost all other colors, including gray and navy.
A white button-up should be tailored as well, otherwise it could look unkempt and over-sized. Look for one that fits snugly at the neck, but not tightly, and allows you to move your arms, shoulders, and elbows without restriction. Once you’ve nailed the white button-down, you can start gathering some in other colors, like blue.
3. Dark Denim Jeans
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While skinny jeans might be trendy right now, you can look stylish through the years to come in a pair of straight-cut, dark denim. Dress them up with a sports coat, or wear them on a Saturday with a polo or your favorite graphic tee. If you’re timid about clothing, they’re the ultimate no-brainer.
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If the idea of cashmere has you thinking about your great-aunt Viola, think again – today’s cashmere is amazingly affordable, accessible, and, yes, even masculine.
Here’s the thing about a cashmere sweater: Not only is it super-soft, classic, and warm for the colder months, it’s the ideal piece, whether headed home for the holidays, meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, or even for casual Fridays around the office. Something that versatile definitely deserves a spot in your closet. Look for solid, classic colors, such as navy, dark red, cream, black, and brown, and avoid patterns if you want your style to last.
Always check the care instructions for your cashmere sweater before laundering it – depending on the fabric blend, it might be a dry clean-only piece. If you purchase cashmere blended with another fabric, you may be able to launder it as usual and hang it to dry. Whatever you do, though, don’t make the mistake of tossing it in the dryer – otherwise, it might fit your five-year-old nephew a lot better than it fits you.
5. Blue Blazer
Even if you already own a suit, a blue blazer can further extend your wardrobe, so it’s worth a look. A classic navy blazer can be paired with lighter pants for business casual wear, but can also be tossed over a graphic t-shirt and worn with jeans for a concert date.
Since it’s a jacket, your blazer might need to be tailored to suit your body type correctly, so don’t forget to budget accordingly (around $25 for tailoring). When choosing a jacket, make sure it fits in the arms and shoulders and falls at least to your wrist bone, but no longer than the base of your thumb.
6. Khakis or Chinos
Every man should have a pair of light-colored pants, which are ideal for more casual affairs. Whether it’s a summer barbecue, a casual outdoor wedding, or a lunch meeting with a few friendly colleagues, khakis allow you to look polished without being as “dressed up” as you might feel in suit paints – but still less casual than a pair of jeans.
Khakis make for a great bridge piece and go with just about anything, but make sure you purchase them without pleats in the front. While pleated pants cycle in and out of style, a flat front pant can serve you much better and keep you looking slim and trim.
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Button-up shirts can be too formal, but your favorite t-shirt might also be way too casual. The solution? Definitely a polo. It’s actually very much a combination of the two styles, and perfect for golfing or for casual events that call for an extra dose of class.
Select polos with subtle patterns to really stretch your wardrobe, since your button-ups are likely solid or striped. A subtle check or bold stripe allows you to show off your personal style without getting too far outside the box.
Polo shirts look great with shorts in the summer, but show equally well with dark jeans and a casual sweater in the winter. Layer them under a long-sleeve casual button-up or a cardigan, or add a cargo jacket for a sporty look. Your polos may prove to be among the more versatile items you own.
We all loved our calculator watches in the ’80s, but if you’re still rocking a timepiece with a multiplication table, it might be time to upgrade. Regardless of your job, every man should own at least one grown-up watch: One that has a clean face, leather or metal band, and looks great with more formal clothing.
Whether you go for gold, silver, or leather, a well-made watch shows off your personal style, so choose wisely. Of course you can keep your fun plastic watches, but reserve them for casual events and weekends, rather than work.
9. A Pair Of Oxfords
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A pair of professional oxfords can never steer you wrong, particularly for formal wear. Choose something in black or brown leather – they can look just as great with suits as they can with khakis and a sport coat.
Loafers are definitely a wise addition to your closet, but they’re also considered less formal than oxfords. If you work in an office with a business professional dress code, it’s best to opt for oxfords. If you have a little more leeway, then polished, neutral loafers are usually fine.
10. The perfect white T-shirt
A well-made white t-shirt can be a great companion piece for many of your outfits. Wear it with a leather jacket, dark jeans, and boots for a cool moto vibe, or pair it with cargo shorts and boat shoes for a weekend at the lake.
Whether you purchase your white t-shirts in a pack of three or you spend more money for a name brand, remember that they only work when they’re perfectly laundered and stay white. If you tend to be hard on your clothes, you might be better off purchasing a lower-cost package of white t-shirts so you can toss the ones that get stained or yellowed over time. A designer white shirt might offer a better fit, but you’re going to pay a premium for it – and the brand name.
Choose the neckline of the t-shirt based on your face shape. If your face is round and you want to elongate it, a v-neck t-shirt works best. If you have a longer face, feel free to go with a crew neck style.