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Reader Valerie asked me to discuss what every MAN needs in his wardrobe. Like women, men are bombarded with tons of overly trendy, unflattering and plain bad options in fashion. Men get stuck in ruts too, and don’t find the time or importance for worrying about what they wear.
My husband is 6’5”, has a 36” inseam, but is slim (34” waist). For years he has stuck to one or two pairs of Levi’s jeans (he liked the baggy style from his high school days because he believed it covered up his slim build and “no-butt” shape), cargo shorts even in Summer, and plenty of tee shirts with band and surfing logos on them. When he dressed up he had a navy blazer bought at a Today’s Man Going Out of Business Sale and one pair of tan dress pants. He’d wear the same tie to weddings that he wore to his high school graduation over a decade earlier.
A few months ago he was promoted to a manager position in his company. This required him to wear collared shirts, ties, jackets and nice shoes on an almost daily basis (the off days he could downgrade to a polo and khakis). He finally realized that he was a 30-something professional dressing as a teenage skater boy. He needed a new wardrobe, but didn’t want to break the bank. What’s the point of a raise if it’s all spent on a new wardrobe?
We did our homework – men’s magazines, looking at websites of classically stylish men’s clothing websites, observing what subtly stylish celebrities wore.
1. Crisp white cotton shirt – They do sell shirts that are not see-through; invest in one. This is crisp cotton, not an oxford. Take this shirt to the cleaners to keep it’s fresh look unless you want to spend forever sprinkling, ironing and starching. To have it the most versatile style, forego any detail on pockets, a button-down collar or any other trimmings. Unless he is a cufflink-type of guy, go with traditional buttoning of the cuffs. Where to wear: with suits for interviews and more dressy of events (weddings, theater, etc.), with khakis for a more casual affair, with jeans and a blazer for parties and social occasions.
2. Comfortable bootcut jeans in a semi-dark color – Confused? So were we when looking for new jeans for my husband. What works with a tucked in shirt or a casual sweatshirt? What looks modern without being overly trendy? The best color is darker than stonewashed. A traditional bootcut ends up being too tight on thicker men, and look awkward on tall slim men. Gap carries a style called “standard fit” that I have seen look great on tall men, short men, stocky men and slight men. It has the stylish cut, but the room in the thighs and rear so that they don’t look too cowboy or too hipster.
3. A black merino v-neck sweater – A lightweight black merino sweater can look refined, elegant and even dressy. With a collared shirt and suiting trousers a man is ready for a party or dinner out. With a white tee and jeans or khakis, one is ready for a trip to mall or a business-casual office. The lightweight merino dresses up nicely and doesn’t get lumpy over collared shirts.
4. Flat front tropical weight wool trousers in gray – Black can be too severe, tan will look dated and cheap if not the right quality, brown and navy aren’t terribly versatile. Gray works all four seasons and compliments most other colors in a wardrobe. With a collared shirt, a blazer, a matching suit jacket, a sweater or even a polo, these pants will get much wear. Pleated pants may seem like a safe bet, but they add bulk to heavier men and look odd on slender figures. Pleats are passé, your best bet is to choose a flat front or no more than one or two pleats.
Your pants should make a bit of a bend where the ankle meets the foot. Many men wear their pants either too long or too short. If pants are too long, it doesn’t cost too much to get them hemmed at the local dry cleaner’s. As for cuffs, they are optional for all but the very short – short men should stay away from cuffs because they cut the leg and make one look even shorter.
5. A black suiting blazer – Paired with matching trousers, a black suiting blazer creates an elegant ensemble for a formal event. With the gray wool trousers it’s perfect for a business meeting. With jeans and a collared shirt, it’s hip at a club or party. Keep it simple – no fancy fabrics, colorful or glitzy buttons, trendy details. The more subtle, the more stylish and the more versatile.
A three-button single-breasted jacket is a classic and flattering style for all shapes. A rule of thumb with buttons I saw once on What Not to Wear – Sometimes, Always, Never. Sometimes you can have the top button buttoned when standing, always button the middle button (your choice), and the bottom button should never be buttoned, no matter what.
6. A gray suit – Now you can cheat and have a blazer in the same fabric as the tropical weight wool trousers, or have a separate suit. Like the black blazer, keep it very simple and subtle. This suit should be able to be worn to a wedding or an interview. If there is a pattern, pinstripes or detail it will be memorable, and it won’t be timeless. Again, the jacket should be single breasted with two or three buttons.
7. Three solid colored polo shirts – Little boys and college kids wear striped polos. Adults wear solid colors. Look around you at the men who wear stripes, and those who wear solids. Who look to be in better shape and better dressed? You’ll see the more elegant and trim looking men are in solids.
As for colors, that is up to you. However I recommend one in gray, navy or black. This is a simple neutral that is flattering and classic and a bit dressier than other colors. As for the others, pick colors you enjoy. My husband has a sage green that looks great with khaki, navy and gray, and a dark plum that is an unexpected neutral that looks great with olive, khaki, gray and black. Wear with khakis or tropical weight wool trousers for business casual jobs, with cargo shorts for a summer cookout, with jeans on the weekend.
8. Flat front chinos in a khaki color (AKA khakis) – Please stop buying pleated khakis. They do not look good on anyone, and they make men look unfashionable. As for the khaki color – this is the most versatile and flattering. Lighter colors (often called stone) are not as popular and do not look appropriate past Labor Day. Darker and more yellow colors (British tan, taupe, sand) are memorable and often look more casual. As with the gray trousers, have them to the length where they make a bend (or “break”) where the ankle hits the foot.
Khakis look great with everything. Pair with a black blazer and white shirt for dinner, with a polo for work or a day on the links, with a collared shirt or sweaters for casual affairs. These pants will be so versatile, I recommend you buying two pairs. They are so neutral, no one will realize they are two of the same pants. You do not want these too stiff, or too tight. J.Crew offers a style called “relaxed fit” that is very flattering on many shapes and sizes of men. The chino fabric is lightweight enough that it doesn’t crease or bunch, but is refined enough for work, dates and social occasions.
9. A pair of sandals – I do not mean Birkenstocks and I do not mean those woven hurrache-style shoes. A simple sandal or thong in brown leather will be worn almost daily come summer. With shorts and tees, with jeans and a polo. There is nothing more attractive than a man in a crisp white shirt, well-fitting khaki chinos and a stylish pair of leather sandals in the summertime. Sandals will replace your Tevas and flops for casual affairs, sneakers with your shorts and jeans in the warmer months.
10. Longer shorts in olive or khaki – Get rid of the pleated shorts that are 4” above your knee, the faded navy and black chino shorts that you have owned since college, the beat up and threadbare stone-colored cutoffs. These shorts are a clean line without being too stiff, longer without looking sloppy. The ones shown have a 9″ inseam. The shorts should land close to or at the knee, but not below.
11. A casual sweater with a crew neckline – Keep it simple. No stripes, argyles, or overt details. A cableknit in navy, a Shetland in charcoal, a ribbed commando-style (featured) in a dark green. It should cover the wrists even when arms are extended, cover the waistband of pants even when stretching, and be a trim fit – not slim, but not overly baggy. Think refined, classic, simple. The color should be one you enjoy and you find flattering, without being too strong. Navy instead of royal, olive or forest instead of bright green, russet instead of red. This will be the most versatile with all your bottoms. These colors go with khaki, with gray, with denim. A crew neckline will look nice with a collared shirt or on it’s own.
12. Black leather slip-on dress loafers – The best buy I have ever made for my husband. Being a slip-on style, they can transition from dress to casual with ease; a laced-up oxford can often seem too prim. These shoes look great with an oxford shirt and khakis for Thanksgiving dinner at the grandparent’s house. With his suit for work, or for a wedding. With the merino v-neck and trousers for a party at a friend’s house. These shoes go with every pant in my husband’s wardrobe except jeans, and fit every occasion where pants other than jeans are appropriate. On top of that, they are comfortable!
13. A pair of Euro sneakers or rugged leather oxford shoes – These are what you wear when you can’t wear the black loafers. Euro sneakers are leather, subtle in color and sleek in design. They are a dressier version of traditional tennies. If Euro sneakers are not your thing, consider a pair of sturdy oxfords – my husband has a pair of brown lace-ups from Merrell that have contrast stitching, sturdy laces and a chunky sole. My good friend has stayed tried and true to his black Dr. Martens for the past two decades. Like Euro sneakers, these shoes can fill in where the black loafer cannot – with jeans and to dress down khakis.
14. A wool winter coat – The parka is great for cold days, and the fleece is an easy layer for weekends. However for work, for evening, and for special occasions you need something not made of Gortex. A wool coat in black, charcoal or dark navy will get years of wear. Consider a traditional peacoat style – it works well with jeans and tee shirts or with suits. A single breasted style will make a thicker man look leaner and a shorter man look taller. As with the rest of these wardrobe basics, keep it simple. Buttons should be the same tone as the coat, collars and shoulders should not have adornments. A simple lining is good for moderate climates, consider a Thinsulate lining for those residing in the more northern of states.
15. Black leather dress belt – you need something to keep up those khakis and tropical weight wool trousers. A dress best is not like your casual belts – the leather is stiff and glossy. The buckle is polished and minimal. The whole style is slim, sleek and refined. The rugged brown leather belts with the hammered steel buckle is fine for the weekends, but should never be paired with suits or nice trousers. Your belt should always match the color of your shoes – as that I have only recommended black dress shoes, you will only need a black dress belt.
Additional Items You May Need:
- A bathing suit in a simple pattern or solid that hits near the knees, without going below the knee
- A French blue dress button-down shirt
- Ties – stripes for work, solids for formal affairs, patterns for festive occasions. You should own at least two.
- Casual button down shirts – for work with khakis, for play with jeans. Look for wrinkle-resistant styles so they can be easily washed and dried. Subtle stripes, solids in colors you enjoy and fit your personality, muted plaids. These shirts should be tucked in, one button unbuttoned without an undershirt, two buttons unbuttoned with a tee shirt underneath.
What to Remove from Your Wardrobe:
- Any jeans with bleached out areas, sandblasted, or stonewashed
- Any classic fit, overly baggy or tapered jeans
- Short sleeved dress shirts – these look goofy on everyone. If you’re hot, roll your sleeves
- Plaid flannel shirts as work shirts – just because you tuck it in does not mean it is work or socially appropriate. Flannels are for casual affairs: camping, cold nights and weekends in the yard (my husband asked me to include Pearl Jam concerts)
- Tee shirts with witty logos/cartoon characters/lewd jokes – these are corny, crass and tacky. Silly shirts are for college kids, not adult professionals.
- White socks unless you are performing an athletic activity.
- Sports jerseys unless you are attending a sporting event, participating in a sporting event, or going to a sport-themed party. Rappers can carry off a sports jersey for a red carpet event; until you have the bankroll of a rapper, you cannot dress like one. You will look childish or goofy.
- Sweatpants with elastic at the ankle. Any sweatpants or athletic bottoms should be reserved to the gym and your home when you don’t have guests. However, traditional elastic sweatpants are horribly unflattering and tacky.
- That brown leather bomber jacket you have had since college. It was hip in the 90’s, it is NOT hip today.
- Athletic sneakers with shorts. Invest in some leather or athletic-inspired sandals. Sneakers with shorts look ridiculous and immature. Traditional sneakers are only for athletic events.
- Denim shorts. NO buts about it, there is NEVER a good time to wear denim shorts.
- Cliff Huxtable sweaters. Get rid of the jewel tones, the funky patterns and textures. Solids are safe and flattering. The crazy patterned sweaters look dated.
- Mock turtlenecks. Whoever invented these should be shot. The only version of turtleneck you should be wearing would be on the ski slopes or part of a chunky sweater. There is never an appropriate place for knit mock turtlenecks
Interesting article, with some decent basic advice. However, there’s one major rule violation present in the article.
The article stated the following as an option in lieu of a real suit, ” Now you can cheat and have a blazer in the same fabric as the tropical weight wool trousers . . . ” No, you can not. Never attempt to match a stand-alone blazer or sport jacket with like-colored pants. You will look like your trying to put together a suit, you will look silly, as if you don’t know what you’re doing… and nothing would be more true right?
In reality the color and fabric of separates are not the same. Even if you’re real clever, you’ll never be able to perfectly match the trouser and jacket separates. A suit is a suit, you can’t “cheat”. A suit is an absolute matching (color, pattern, fabric) jacket and trousers, because they’re each cut from the exact same panel of cloth, right next to each other at the same time. That’s also why you only wear the suit pieces together, never separately, and why you always dry clean the suit as a whole, so that it wears out evenly.
interesting to read this in 2014! Although I highly agree with 90% of this article, I think some modern overrides of these rules include short-sleeved dress shirts- not at work, though, and God forbid with a tie! Also, sneakers with shorts seems perfectly normal and attractive whilst in a casual setting. Boat shoes have become a staple while black dress shoes are becoming less prominent in the business world as brown and suede shoes are back on the rise. But this is a great list to live by, we just have to remember not to compromise our own personal flare for the convention of neutrality.
Chris Wallwork says
Don’t wear boot cut jeans unless you are wearing boots. I wear a slimmer jean, the Levis 514. If you do not like the slimmer look you can always wear the classic 501.
I also agree with Chill’n that a 2 button navy blazer is far more versatile than the black suggested. Get it with dark rather than shiny buttons.Please buy a pair of oxfords (maybe wingtips) rather than the ‘Euro sneakers’. A piece of footwear which can go from the office to the gym and looks good is not a thing that exists.
Unless you live in a very warm climate you will need a pair of boots. Brown is the most versatile, and dressier is probably better.
lyle and scott sale says
This page is so amazing. I’m starting like this. I would like to thank you for sharing this very informative article. Keep up the good work dude.
In that case it was her loss to begin with, and you my friend are very LUCKY that she left you. Now please go find someone who will like you for who you are, regardless of what you wear, even though looking great might help a little:)
I’d opt for a 2-button navy blue blazer, rather than a 3-button – much more classic, and you never have to worry about which button to do-up; always the top button. Also, if you can swing it, have 1 white standard dress shirt and one white button-down shirt. This will give you a dress-up (wear with a tie) and dress down (button down without a tie) option. BTW, never wear your button down with a tie, or else you’ll look like you’re going to your junior-high prom.
This article takes me back to my true love, who, years ago told me ALL this same stuff. I tried my best, but I was just a struggling artist barely making ends meet. She was more concerned about how people would judge her for daring to date someone who “looked like that” with jeans and a t-shirt. The irony is that, now that I can afford to buy these items 10 times over, I no longer have a reason to buy them. My love left me. She was the only person I wanted to impress, not those other people in the room.
It’s funny, but since writing this, my husband also wears his black slip on loafers with jeans. The thing is, his jeans have changed. They are now darker, crisper, more trim and I think that is why the combination now works. 🙂
Allie, I’m showing this to my husband on his lunch hour to see what he thinks, though he own pretty much all of these other than khakis. And for his slip on black loafers he actually does wear them with jeans. He takes one of his French Connection button downs (they fit his slender figure well, very Brit looking), rolls the sleeves up, tucks it in with a black belt and the black shoes and it’s a great look for date night. He used to always wear his shirts untucked until we saw some really nicely dressed guys in Cambridge with this look and loved it.
I would add that every man needs to learn to tie a tie, and also needs some good medium weight black tees. They’re classic for a reason and can be casual but sexy.
You say to lose the Short sleeved dress shirts and to roll the sleeve up. To me that looks a lot more tacky in my opinion than short sleeve shirts also to me there is not that much difference between a polo and short sleeve shirt just more buttons. My 2 cents
Getting ready to replace the college-era stuff in my wardrobe and plan on using your wonderful article as a guide.
Any chance there will be updates or a refresh of this list forthcoming?
Do know these pictures are not current so I cannot guarantee that these items are still available from these vendors. 3, 4, and 7 are from J. Crew, and #11 is from L.L. Bean.
Could you be so kind as to tell me where #’s 3, 4, 7, and 11 are from?
Oh yes, the black socks with shorts. HATE IT! 🙂
Cashmere is a great fabric, but requires far more care. If a man is reading this, cashmere may be too delicate of a fabric for him to handle, and possibly out of his price range. If he can properly care for cashmere and afford a nice weight, it is a great replacement for merino.
I do love Chucks, but I see far too many men find them to be hip and pair them with untucked polos and khakis and look like little children. My husband has black ones and they look great, but it’s a style that only works on a man who already has a set style and knows Chucks will work with it. Also Chucks don’t look so swell on those who are short and hefty. Again the little boy look… 🙁
I have to comment on something I do see from time to time is the black ankle sock with sneakers with chino chorts or worse yet jean shorts. Talk about tacky!
Maybe I am wrong and correct me if I am please.
Pretty good primer.
If I were to make a couple of suggestions: substitute the merino wool with cashmere. Slightly more expensive but well worth it.
Also, every guy needs a pair of Chuck Taylor converse all stars low tops in black, white, or subdued color of his choice.
No sneakers with shorts? u r talkin out ur arse, a pair of pumas look great with shorts U MORONIC BABBLING IDIOT!!
there’s a picture above. I find that stores like J. Crew and Banana Republic usually have a good grasp on shoes that real men can wear (no wacko overly trendy styles) and then you can go to a cheaper place (Off Broadway Shoes/DSW or even Zappos for convenience and selection) and find a pair you like best.
It’s best to say no to the brown moc unless you really rock the preppy look. If your sweaters are on you and not around your neck, I’d say no to the mocs. 🙂
“11. Sneakers with shorts look ridiculous and immature. Traditional sneakers are only for athletic events.”
Augh!! I LOVE my all-white Nike sneakers for weekend wear. I wear shorty or ped socks so I don’t have that nerdy “socks up to the knee” look. Should I go with a boaty-inspired all-brown moc with no socks, or is that look SOOO 1985? Can you post of pic of the leather sandal type you’re referring to?
I had to crack up on that last comment ending w/ barf ROFL…
However… there are fashion does and do nots… face it tho… men need a
list …most are so lame… my hubbie
was dressed so badly for golf once
that his buddy asked him who the hek
I had to say I hoped he said …
it wasn’t my wife lol
I try to help the poor guy but they
come with that fashion lacking gene
ya kno… sigh…what’s a woman
ta do… gotta be seen with em
etc… so ty for the flippin list
: ) lol .
Why don’t we all start eating the same food and driving the same cars too!
hey, regarding #14, that is a very nice pea coat. where can it be found?
Great list, Dilly. I am printing this for my husband. My only beef is that “current” jeans seem to have that dragged-behind-a-truck look. Maybe that is the current style, but my 42 year old geeky Brit husband isn’t about to sport it. Thanks.
What a great list! Thanks for simplifying the core wardrobe for men. DH and I used the list at the after Christmas sales to fill in some much needed gaps in his wardrobe.
Thanx for this…I actually just replaced Adam’s Black Leather Bomber jacket he has worn with a decade for a pea-coat…much better. Where are the black shoes form, I love them and he needs them??
I will never get him out of short sleeved shirts in the summer, even though he is very thin and it looks very geeky. Sigh.
Thanks Dilly! I’m sending this post to my husband.
As usual I agree with you about most everything with the exception of the sandals! I can’t stand the look of men with hairy toes in sandals! My husband wears Topsiders in the summer with no socks and that suits me just fine 🙂
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Dilly Dilly says
And Jan, I hear you. There are some trends that I just CAN’T accept, probably because I know they look wrong on me so they just irk me. I won’t let my husband wear certain looks because they irk me. What’s great about fashion is that it’s art you can wear. And like art, not everyone loves everything that seems to be en vogue. Makes it more personal! 🙂
Dilly Dilly says
A tassle or penny loafer style is very conservative and preppy, and not as easy to dress up or down. If your man has a conservative or preppy look on a daily basis, this type of shoe would be appropriate for business or nicer casual looks. I work with a well dressed man who has a very specific look – lots of unexpected pastels, slim suits, bow ties in fun prints, argyle vests… he sports some fabulous penny loafers with pennies in them and it works for him. However, these looks if you do not have that type of style can look aged or too casual with basic clothing.
Thanks, Dilly. I asked cause I don’t really keep up with men trends like I do with women’s. I pretty much just go to the same stores and pick out the same stuff over and over again, which is like a recipe for buying terribly out of style stuff, haha.
The only distressing I like in jeans is when it is all over them. I have a hatred for whiskering that is the same I have for pleats and for diagonal pockets. I hate anything that adds to the hip area, for men or women, probably because I have very wide hips. It is the kind of hatred most people reserve to leggings or evening shorts.
What a great time to make this post, right when I am doing my Xmas shopping! I had black dress loafers on my list anyhow, nice to have that confirmed. Here is my question: Must the loafers be plain like the ones pictured, or would a tassel or penny loafer style work just as well?
Dilly Dilly says
Great questions. I cannot say that my lists are all-encompassing for all men or all women.
Regarding the jeans, if the jean tapers, it will look dated. There are straight leg styles that can be flattering, and some that are relaxed in the thigh or seat that can give a more flattering line. As for the straight dark or straight faded, they aren’t what’s current right now. It’s not a bad look to have the dark, but it’s not what’s in style right now.
For the looks, I didn’t include athletic gear. I do not feel that women should wear athletic gear as social garb, nor do I think men should. Too often men cop out and wear lacrosse shorts, a football jersey, a sweatshisrt with their baseball team on it instead of “real” clothes. This is not fashion. It is appropriate for a sporting event, but not a cookout or trip to the store.
As for short sleeved dress shirts, they look good on a small amount of men, but most men, they are either too thin and look a bit nerdy, or they are very stiff and hit all the bad points on a man’s shape (the belly) or balloon out on a small frame. My husband has a few, he may wear them untucked with shorts in the summer, but he looks far better in other garb, and I believe the same of his friends. The shirt you showed looks almost exactly like one my husband wears on a regular basis. 🙂
As that I don’t know your husband, he may look positively smashing in all this! Please take my posts as a guide, not as gospel! 🙂
Great job Dilly. Even better than I expected. Some really good directions to go in. You are really good at this. V.
Dilly Dilly says
The picture is a pair from Kenneth Cole. I have bought my husband a pair from anotehr brand at Nordstrom. Zappos.com has a great selection of shoes for men too!
Southern Belle says
Thanks for this article! I love your blog, and have followed a lot of your suggestions.
I do have a question. Where can I find a pair of those Euro sneakers? My husband is in graduate school, so he is sort of straddling the line between a college kid’s wardrobe, and one that is more professional. I am trying to push him in that professional direction. I think these shoes are something we could agree on. Further, they look like they could last a long time and my husband wears his stuff forever!