Help a young male create his capsule wardrobe!
July 14, 2014 12:41 PM   Subscribe

What are the basic essentials for a young man's wardrobe? What's the best approach to building a versatile, comfortable, and stream-lined wardrobe from scratch?

I'm a young male looking to build a new wardrobe from scratch with about $1000. It's been years since I've gone out to buy new clothes for myself, so I'm looking for help to streamline the process. I'm drawn towards a wardrobe that's minimal but versatile, cost-effective, stylish, durable, and of high-quality. What are the absolute basics for a men's wardrobe? (Note: I'm currently a student and work in restaurants, so business-wear, although needed, can be kept at a modicum.) Moreover, I spend a lot of time outdoors and live in a hot climate with winters that rarely reach below 30 degrees F. Comfort and durability are my basic desires.

Where should I go to purchase these essentials?

Other factors to consider: I'm 6'2" and lanky. I weigh in around 170 lbs.
posted by fignewton to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Dress pants. I prefer lightweight that can be worn in winter, summer, and in-between. In charcoal grey and beige, at the very least.

Dress shoes: Two pairs of dress shoes. Lace-up or loafers doesn't matter. One pair black, one pair brown.

Oxford shirts: One white (goes with everything), one blue, one in a stripe.

Suit. You should get one nice grey or navy blue suit.

Dress socks. Don't wear athletic socks when you dress up.

Solid-color jeans. You can wear them with a sport jacket for a more "casual-dressy" look.

Sport jacket. Please note that this is not the jacket to your suit!

Trenchcoat. Dressier than a jacket, and you can wear it over a suit.
posted by xingcat at 12:53 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Male Fashion Advice subreddit is great for this, especially this post about building a basic wardrobe.
posted by superlibby at 12:56 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Slim cut dark wash jeans that fit you well (especially since you're lanky).

(If you need nice pants, go with charcoal gray, maybe something with a very slight pattern (and again, slim cut and flat front). Everything else just reads WEARIN MY DAD'S SLACKS or preppy on young guys.)

Casual sneakers (something like this)--don't wear gym shoes anywhere but the gym.

Same goes for socks. Wear real socks, not athletic socks.

As far as shirts, whatever, all they really need to do is fit and not have stupid graphic slogan stuff printed all over them. Express has a good selection of slim-cut shirts for men in about fifteen thousand colors. Banana Republic generally does well for that, too.
posted by phunniemee at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are looking for the quick and dirty version, check out Put This On's "The Essential Man’s Wardrobe".
posted by Harms at 1:09 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you only have a budget of $1000, get a nice pair of brown leather dress or a nice pair of black leather dress shoes. Buy them used if you can.

Don't get two mediocre pairs of shoes.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2014

Seconding Put This On and r/malefashionadvice (though the latter can be a bit of an echo chamber). The most important thing to know is that fit is everything. It's much better to have cheap clothes that fit you than expensive clothes that don't. Men in particular tend to wear clothes that don't fit them, and as a skinny guy myself I know how difficult it can be to find clothes that fit well. Make friends with a local tailor.
posted by catwash at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2014

I would look at all the "essential wardrobe" pieces and then do some thinking. (They always tell you that you need white shirts, frex, and white shirts aren't flattering on many complexions and are best worn under a suit unless white is a really good color for you.)

$1000 will not get you a suit, dress shoes and supplementary miscellany worth the name unless you go used and pay for tailoring. And even then, you'll have one suit and some miscellany. I would suggest eschewing a suit for the present unless you anticipate formal job interviews. In the medium-term, a suit would probably be useful, but save up for it.

Think about your existing clothes. What do you wear a lot? What colors do you like wearing? What are your favorite clothes? What sits in the back of the drawer and only gets worn when everything else is dirty?

Think about what you want to project. If I were doing this, I would think: I have a friend who looks good in black, for instance, and can wear a black dress shirt and black pants without looking like a basement-dwelling hacker-wannabe. But I look idiotic in head to toe black. I look great in blue. I look great in structured clothes and dumpy in knits. I don't like to wear clothes in sport materials. I like to be dressy but not preppy. I do not naturally look mysterious or artistic; I look wholesome and approachable....My point being, generate some ideas about how you look and how you want to look. Don't go against nature - if you're a sporty guy, don't decide that you're going to start wearing a suitcoat every day; if you're naturally pinkish and preppy, don't decide that now is the time to go goth.

$1000 isn't very much money for this project. Do you have good thrift stores nearby?

Consider what you have that you plan to keep wearing. Do you have enough tee shirts? Do you have a couple of good button-fronts? Do you have sweaters? Make sure that what you buy works with these things.

The trickiest thing here is how to get a suit or a sportcoat and dress pants plus dress shoes and still have money left over for anything else.

You should expect to spend $200 - $300 minimum on a sport coat, for example, and then another $200 - $300 on a pair of good dress shoes.

My gut inclination, personally, would be to get a couple of goodish pairs of cotton pants, a good pair of wool dress pants, soft but not too casual button fronts (or actual oxford cloth button downs) in conservative colors and patterns (light blue, blue stripe, small checks, etc - don't get ultra stiff dress shirts as they will be harder to wear with the pants; hunt around Nordstrom or wherever until you come up with a fairly good quality medium-dressy pair of shoes (oxfords or brogues - not too sleek, not too shiny, fairly chunky sole - you want to be able to wear them regularly, not just on very dressy occasions). Get a pullover and a cardigan - you can actually go relatively cheap on these, IMO, as you'll probably want to change them out more often. (Pullovers are easy to thrift.) If you're really starting from scratch, get a "good" pair of sneakers - Purcells or something low-key that you can wear every day.

Your usual daily wardrobe would then consist of cotton pants, button front (do you have a belt? Get a belt.) and either the dress shoes or the sneakers, with a sweater as needed. On moderately dressier occasions, you would wear the wool pants and the nicest of your button-fronts, plus the dress shoes.

At a point in the near future, you can acquire an "odd jacket" (like a suitcoat, but in a more interesting material - it will match both your cotton pants and your wool pants, if you pick right.) You'll also get a pair of boots and another pair of leather shoes. And a nice scarf.

When it's really hot out, you will either roll up your sleeves (since you will have procured lightweight button-front shirts) or wear a nice tee shirt (I like Everlane a lot.)

You can thrift some short-sleeve button front shirts - those are a very informal/"incorrect" kind of shirt, and need to be worn with insouciance.

I'm happy with my wardrobe right now. For me, daily clothes are pretty much:

Cotton pants in green, navy, grey or this oddly useful off-purple
Button front shirts in either summer or winter-weight blue fabrics, either solid colors or small repeating patterns
Loafers (no socks) in the summer, or else Purcells
Dress boots in the winter
Cotton pullovers or cardigans (wool makes me itch - how are you on wool?) in greys, blues or greens in the winter
Scarf in dark blue or medium blue or light blue

My biggest expense is shoes. I have a couple of jackets, but I got them secondhand and don't wear them often. (And in fact, had better get to the tailor before I have to wear them; they all need alterations.)

A young guy who does restaurant work can look "dressy" in a button-front, nice pants, a belt and decent shoes - full-on suit and tie, etc, might almost look over the top, unless your particular line of work calls for it.
posted by Frowner at 1:36 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

$1500 wardrobe from Dappered. Make some cuts in the nice shoes and suit department and it gets close to your budget.

Or here is another approach for about $1K from the The Urban Gentleman.
posted by Kabanos at 1:56 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to try this place. I heard it advertised on a few podcasts that I listen to
posted by Jewel98 at 2:49 PM on July 14, 2014

Getting a "complete" basic wardrobe of good stuff is ultimately going to cost more than you've budgeted. Good clothing just costs more in the short term, for one thing. For another, it's difficult to find a Consensus Basic Guy Outfit List... And such lists are highly susceptible to "creep."

Rather than get too specific about what I consider to be the necessities (although the temptation to break out the bullet points is strong), I'm going to try to approach this answer more broadly/philosophically.

One key to a streamlined process and end result is to avoid flailing. Before you start throwing money around, do a lot of research (,, etc.); think hard about who you are and what you want to project with your dress. As an example: I really love the vibe of the overall Italian look that has been super-popular in recent years, but can only really wear it well in moderation; I just look better -- more me -- in a sort of an amalgam of tweedy/professorial/rustic/preppy stuff. I had to spend some good money to finally accept this. I estimate that hitting my current "sweet spot" has taken over five years, and -- bare minimum -- $9k. Don't be me, man!

Once you have at least partly narrowed down your sensibility, stick to very basic things that can play well together. Avoid crazy patterns or colors. Figure out if you look better in warm or cool variants of a given color (grey causes a lot of trouble, for instance), and practice getting your contrasts from texture, rather than pattern or bold color choices. As a general rule, a basic starter wardrobe is going to be blue, white, brown, and grey.

Absolutely do not get your advice from glossy men's magazines (GQ, Esquire, and so on). They only exist to sell you all of the things, and you are trying to avoid buying all of the things. The suggestions in these sources are often misguided and overly trendy. You don't want to build your basic wardrobe, only to toss it in a year or two.

Some Quasi-Specifics:

-- Brands like Brooks Brothers, LL Bean, and Lands' End are good sources of reasonably well-constructed classics/basics that won't get boxed-in, trendwise. (By contrast, brands like J. Crew and Banana Republic are not. Buy from them with caution...) I would suggest trying them out to determine what you wear well, before getting into more boutique options down the road.

-- You may not need a suit yet (although you should eventually have at least one, for somber/important functions), and buying a decent one now will take a serious bite out of your budgeted amount. But you absolutely need a blazer of some kind, for special date nights and such. The modern woman (or man, if that's your thing) expects no less.

-- For items like shirts and jeans/pants, online catalog sales work fine. For tailored clothing (like the above-mentioned sportcoat) and shoes, you can't really go as cheap. Your average good blazer will run you at least half of your proposed budget, if not double it, at full retail, and the cheapest "real" pair of leather shoes will be around $300. This is where eBay comes in. With some patience, and a good understanding of your measurements, you can get a gently used $2k jacket for roughly 70% off the original price. Thrifting is an option too, but will require even more patience, and depends entirely on the tastes of the surrounding area.
posted by credible hulk at 5:03 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions, guys. Keep them coming if you have any more!
posted by fignewton at 7:27 PM on July 14, 2014

« Older CDs or vinyl?   |   Book recommendation: a good historical overview of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.