The current basic wardrobe guide has been a fantastic resource for the community for the last year, but I wanted to take a crack at revising and extending it. My three goals are to (1) outline the basic principles of dressing well and starting a wardrobe, (2) provide some suggestions for what basic items to buy (with a focus on affordability and availability), and (3) list some additional resources for learning more.
But before diving in, two quick things to note. First, this guide focuses on casual through business casual, since the primary audience is the prototypical MFA user (20s, student/young professional, no/part-time job, according to the 2012 community survey). Second, there’s an American bias, both in terms of style and stores/brands. According to the same community survey, about 80% are in the US, so the community is naturally going to lean that direction. If there’s a Canadian, British, Australian, Japanese, or any other international user who wants to post country-specific advice or brand recommendations in the comments, I know other folks appreciate it.
I. Basic Principles
My general recommendations for building a basic, starter wardrobe are:
- Fit, Fit, Fit. Cheap clothes that fit well are always going to look better than expensive clothes that don’t. Finding the right fit may mean trying on lots of different brands until you find something that fits your body right off the rack and/or finding a local tailor that you can trust. The How Clothes Should Fit guide in the sidebar is an excellent resource, but the quickest rules of thumb are that shoulder seams should sit at the top of your natural shoulder instead of drooping down your arms, pants should stay up without a belt, and clothes should follow the lines of your body without being excessively tight or baggy. Those are true whether you’re thin or heavy, tall or short, a bodybuilder or a marathon runner – the basic rules of fit don’t change.
- Versatility is Key. Don’t buy individual outfits – look for versatile clothes that can be mixed and matched. A few pairs of pants and a handful of shirts can be combined and recombined into a massive number of outfits. In fact, building a versatile wardrobe instead of buying distinct outfits is one of the most frugal decisions you can make.
- There’s No Shame in Simplicity. You see a lot of complaints on MFA (and probably in this very thread) about how the community doesn’t encourage people to develop their personal style or unique flair, but you’ve got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Frankly, simply wearing well-fitting basics is going to set you apart from the crowd. They’re a foundation to build your personal style from – a way to look socially acceptable while you’re learning, expanding and refining your taste. See this comment from u/AlGoreVidalSassoon about laying down a foundation, and this excellent comment from u/TheHeartofTuxes about crafting a unique, expressive personal style.
II. Building a Basic Wardrobe
Don’t read this as a list of requirements to be well-dressed – rather, it’s a set of budget-friendly, versatile, classic basics that are hard to go wrong with and easy to wear across different ages and body types. If you’re beyond these basics and need more tailored advice or advanced guidance, check out the guides linked within or post the question to MFA.
In general, the stores/websites I recommend looking at for basics are Uniqlo, Target (especially the Mossimo and Merona brands), J.Crew, Lands’ End (including the Canvas line, which is aimed at a younger audience), JCPenney (in particular, their Levi’s sections and the new JCP line), H&M, LL Bean and Gap.
Unless you live somewhere without seasonal weather variation, it’s worth thinking about the basic wardrobe in terms of spring/summer and fall/winter –
A. Spring/Summer Basics (see the spring/summer guide from the sidebar for a more detailed discussion)
- Shirts – For casual outfits, you can get a lot of versatility from just 3-4 solid-colored t-shirts (Mossimo , Uniqlo ) and a couple short-sleeve polos (J.Crew , Uniqlo ). For casual through business casual, staples include long-sleeve oxford-cloth button-downs (ocbds) in white or blue (JCP, Lands’ End ) and long-sleeve shirts in classic summer patterns like madras
Roll up the sleeves to wear them more casually, keep them rolled down for business casual. For a basic wardrobe, I recommend avoiding black shirts (even tees) and short-sleeve button-up shirts. See the guide to shirts on the sidebar for more info.
- Pants – For the spring and summer, the core items in a casual wardrobe are jeans and chinos. Look for dark blue, non-distressed jeans in a slim/straight fit (Levi’s 511/514/501, depending on body type ), and flat-front slim-fitting chinos in tan/khaki, olive green or navy (Dockers D1 or Alphas , Lands’ End Canvas , Gap ). Depending on where you live and how you feel about them, shorts are useful too. For shorts, look for flat-front, solid-colored chino shorts without cargo pockets that hit somewhere between at your knee to 2” above. Here’s a visual guide.
- Jacket – Depending on where you live, a lightweight rain jacket (Uniqlo , Penfield ) or pullover anorak (LL Bean ) might be worth investing in. Even a classic tan trench coat if your style leans dressier (Uniqlo )
- Sportcoat/blazer – For business casual, a navy blazer, lightweight gray wool sportcoat, or tan cotton jacket are indispensible.
- Shoes – The shoe guide has much more on this, but for casual spring/summer outfits, it’s hard to go wrong with classic white or grey canvas sneakers (Jack Purcells , Vans) or some version of moccasins (LL Bean blucher mocs ,Sperry Top-siders ). These can be worn with jeans, chinos or shorts, so they’re very versatile. Chukka boots with rubber or crepe soles are another common spring/summer recommendation (Clarks ). All of them can be worn sockless or with no-show loafer socks. When you get closer to the business casual end of the spectrum, a pair of brown captoes or wingtips are workhorses (Allen Edmonds , Stafford).
- Accessories – Other things you may want to invest in are sunglasses (Wayfarers, Clubmasters, aviators, or knockoffs from mall kiosks), a watch (Timex Weekender , Seiko 5 ), ties (2.5” knit, solid silk, and subtle stripes ) and caps (simple baseball caps ) are all worth looking at and investing in.
- Shirts/Sweaters – Look for some heavier-weight fall/winter shirts , and/or add some layers over the shirts from the spring/summer section. Cotton or wool crewneck sweaters in earth tones like navy and green (Lands’ End , LL Bean ), thinner v-neck merino wool sweaters (Target , J.Crew , Uniqlo ), and cardigans (Uniqlo , Target ) are all basics worth considering.
- Pants – You can obviously keep wearing the jeans and chinos from the spring/summer section, but if you want to expand into some seasonal pants, consider darker chinos (charcoal, brown, merlot), wool pants (Uniqlo , J.Crew ), or cords (Gap , Target ). See the pants guide on the sidebar for more.
- Shoes/Boots – The boot guide on the sidebar is very thorough, but for basics, I recommend a pair of brown leather work boots (Chippewa , Red Wing ) and some rain/snow boots (LL Bean , Sorel ) (depending on your local weather, of course).
- Outerwear – What you need obviously depends on region, but a peacoat in charcoal or navy is hard to do wrong (Schott , J.Crew . For colder weather, a hooded parka is virtually a necessity (LL Bean , Lands’ End ). You can buy cheap versions of these coats at places like Target, but if warmth is your goal, outerwear is something worth investing in.
Some of us are more visual than others – with some minor additions and extensions, most of the guys in this album are wearing a version of this basic wardrobe.
As I mentioned, if you have other suggestions for useful resources – either older MFA threads/discussions/comments, or resources/graphics from other sites – post them as a reply to this. Collectively, I think we can build a really thorough library of similar resources.
III. Other Resources
If you want to explore other topics or go beyond the basics, here are some useful resources –
- MFA Business Casual Guide
- MFA Situational Dress Chart
- Frugal Male Fashion subreddit
- Put This On – The Essential Wardrobe
- GQ: How to Build a Business Wardrobe
- The Art of Manliness: How to Build a Manly Wardrobe , (part 2)
- Esquire: Essential Clothes slideshow
- Put This On: Basics for around $50
- FA graphic: Men’s Essentials
- FA graphic: Basics for Young Males
- Art of Manliness: Dressing Sharp & Casual
- MFA: How to look like shit (in a good way)
- MFA sidebar blog guide
- MFA post on color theory
- MFA comment on color matching
- MFA post on assessing, purging and culling your wardrobe
- MFA comment on organizing your closet
- MFA post on the types of dress shirts to avoid
Original poster : www.reddit.com/user/jdbee
As always, suggestions for corrections/revisions/updates are welcome. Also, please PM me directly if you find any broken links – I can only update them if I know they aren’t working.