An Alternative Basic Wardrobe

The fashion forum I frequent the most is Reddit’s r/malefashionadvice (universally referred to as MFA), which was also my gateway drug into picking up fashion as a hobby. My experience with MFA is farily typical; after joining, I quickly started “investing” in a wardrobe packed with timeless classics: brown boots and dress shoes, raw denim, a Barbour jacket, and so on, until I had a solid basic wardrobe that leaned very heavily #menswear/prep/trad end of the stylistic spectrum. Then I picked up my Common Projects Achilles which introduced me to the magical world of “streetwear” (used in the most generous sense), and almost overnight I completely overhauled my style, and after some continuing development I’ve ended up where I am today.

Now, while I consider the above anecdote to have a happy ending, there were some casualties along the way. Those timeless classics I mentioned? Almost all of them are relegated to the back of my wardrobe, never seeing the light of day. The reason is simply that most of those staple pieces of a “traditional” wardrobe simply do not fit into the styles I’ve found myself in; I have very little use for my light blue OCBD, or my slim-fitting khaki chinos, or my boxy Barbour jacket. Moreover, I don’t believe that my experience is particularly unique; I’ve lost count of the number of similar tales I’ve heard from people who started in the same way.

However, MFA has a bit of a reputation for circlejerking the look I’ve described:

classy

For a recent example, this post is the top-rated post on MFA in the past month (and third in the past year). While MFA is pretty self-aware in this regard, the tendency toward the above style is generally defended on the basis that it’s good advice for graphic-tee-and-cargo-short-clad beginners to easily look good; once they’ve mastered that, the argument goes, they can work on carving out a more personal stylistic niche. While this does work to some extent – after all, it worked for me – I can’t help but feel that it’s rather inefficient.

The more I think about it, if one starts off with a wardrobe of chinos, OCBDs, desert boots and so on, you leave yourself rather limited in terms of options for creative exploration. Sure, you can play around with formality levels, but that’s pretty one-dimensional; on the other hand, there are relatively few “interesting” designers whose pieces that can be easily integrated into such a wardrobe (I am doubtless limited by my own ignorance, but the only real counterexample I can think of is Engineered Garments). If that’s the look you like then great, but to me it feels like an overly limiting starting point for beginners, that will result in said beginner either never exploring other options, or having to do a total overhaul at some point.

So, as is my habit, I have taken it upon myself to be the change I want to see in the world, and offer up a “basic wardrobe starter pack” that I believe is just as effective at turning you into a presentable, reasonably well-dressed human being, while maintaining more flexibility for developing a more personal style. I should clarify at the outset that I take no credit for coming up with the collection of items I’m suggesting – to be perfectly honest, what follows is really just a glorified repackaging of this MFA post, and the “house style” of various fashion forums. However, I do think that repackaging it explicitly as a “beginner’s basic wardrobe” guide is something worth doing.

Overview

The wardrobe I’m going to recommend consists of the basic staple items of the aesthetic usually known as something along the lines of “minimalist/monochrome streetwear”, or occasionally “Dressed By The Internet”. At its core, the look consists of a largely monochrome palette, and favours simplicity and minimalism (think lots of clean white sneakers, black jeans and black jackets). Both of these features make it an excellent  “blank canvas” to add more interesting pieces to, without worrying about clashing colours/patterns or whatever. I often find that monochrome pieces are also more versatile from a formality perspective; it’s much easier to dress up black jeans than indigo, for example.

In each basic item category, I’m going to recommend a few core “starter pack” items, which should cover you for a range of formalities and situations (basically everything short of suit-and-tie). These will make up a very minimal (some plebs people might even call it boring) wardrobe, but that’s intentional: a starter pack should only really contain the essentials, so you can start exploring for yourself as soon as possible. That said, where appropriate I will include a few “honourable mentions” for items that might not be essential, but are versatile and fill a hole in the initial wardrobe.

To emphasise the stylistic versatility this starting point has, I’ll also recommend a few pieces in each category that are good “first steps” in a few different stylistic directions. The directions I’ve chosen are:

  • “Scandinavian minimalism”. The most direct extension of DBTI. Still monochrome, still minimalist. Embodied by brands like Norse Projects, Our Legacy, and Acne Studios.
  • ‘”Clean streetwear”. Moving in a more casual direction, with more sportswear elements. Utilises a slightly wider, though still muted, palette. Think John Elliott and Common Projects.
  • “Saint Laurent Paris”. Needs no introduction at this point, basically rockstar chic. I’ll leave it to you to work out a representative designer.
  • “Goth ninja”. Comes in degrees, but essentially an even bigger emphasis on black, along with very loose, comfy, flowing fits. I’m even more ignorant about this area than the others, so take my advice with a pinch of salt. The prototypical designer for this look is Rick Owens.

Needless to say, this list is by no means exhaustive.

With all that preamble out of the way, I’ll get on with it.

Tops

My recommended starter-pack items are as follows (hover over the image and click the arrows to navigate):

  • Plain tees in black, white and grey: Try not to get too excited. For real tho, good plain tees are a complete staple. You’re never going to look overdressed wearing one, but with a good fit and inoffensive colours, you’re not going to look sloppy either. My personal recommendation is a tee that fits pretty slim in the upper block, with enough room lower down that it drapes naturally, neither drowning you in fabric nor sticking to your skin. Avoid multipack tees that are intended as undershirts. I personally like scoop-necks, but that’s really down to personal preference.
  • A casual white button-up shirt: Another no-brainer. Worn untucked with a few buttons undone and you’ve got a clean, inoffensive casual look, but it can be dressed up just as easily. You have a few options here: my recommendation is an OCBD if you’re buying in the winter, or for summer I’d recommend either a viscose/rayon/silk number, or linen – both are much better for keeping you cool.
  • A grey crewneck sweatshirt: Something to keep you a bit warmer, while staying as inoffensive as possible. Can be worn super-casually or dressed up a bit with a button-up underneath. Noticing  a pattern here? My preference is for a slim-fitting option, but boxier fits work too.
  • Honourable mentions: Fine-gauge black knit crewneck, as a slightly dressier “warm” option; breton-stripe tee, mildly interesting but still safe; navy or grey oxford, for slightly more variation in your shirting.

The above might seem ridiculously boring slightly dull, but that’s easily fixed once you start exploring more specific stylistic avenues.

  • Scandinavian minimalism: Textured knit, in white, grey, navy or black. Sticking with a muted palette and minimalistic details means you have to get creative to look interesting, and IMO one of the coolest options is playing with texture. Also keeps you warm and gives you a cosier look. Alternatively, try a turtleneck to switch up the silhouette a little; keep it black for the tactical advantage.
  • Clean streetwear: Well-fitting graphic tee. Keep it abstract but cool, avoid “funny” slogans or logos. Adds a clean but interesting focal point to the fit. You also can’t go wrong with a nice pullover hoodie; black, grey and olive are all good options.
  • SLP: A checked flannel shirt of some flavour; top choices are red/black and grey/black. A key ingredient of the SLP drone uniform. Silky patterned shirts are also a good shout; one of the easiest ways of incorporating a “louder” piece to spruce up an otherwise-boring fit. Don’t be afraid to oversize on these, SLP’s all about that shit.
  • Goth ninja: Some kind of drapey black hoodie or similar. Keep it loose, keep it black. Bonus points for asymmetric and/or raw hems. Also, longer and drapier tees.

Bottoms

Literally all you need is these:

blackjeans

A solid pair of black skinny jeans is among the most versatile garments on our fine earth. They’re jeans, so nobody is going to bat an eye at you rocking them casually with sneakers and a tee or hoodie or whatever, but being black they can be dressed up tremendously; I’m perfectly comfortable declaring that they serve the “anything short of a suit” domain I promised. You might think one pair of pants is restrictive, but I can assure you it’s more than enough while you’re finding your style; I own five pairs of skinny jeans and still wear my black pair more than half the time.

I’m wasn’t going to do an Honourable Mention on this, but after some feedback I’ll relent: if you’ve got a job that demands a dress code more formal than these jeans allow, it’s worth adding in a pair of slim dress pants too (see the Scandinavian Minimalism section below)

Having said that, there are obviously further options you’ll want to explore eventually. Here are some suggestions:

  • Scandinavian minimalism: Slim grey wool trousers. The clean tailored lines are a minimalist’s wet dream, and they provide an easy way of dressing up an outfit – but pair them with a sweatshirt and sneakers and they’re easily dressed down too. The same in black and navy are also solid additions.
  • Clean streetwear: Slim black joggers. Maintaining the slim silhouette and… blackness of black jeans, joggers add a new level of comfort to your casual fits and send off a more relaxed vibe. Some light grey jeans are another good choice, for a lighter bottom-half option.
  • SLP: Ripped lightwash skinny jeans. Light blue is the perfect pale counterpart to black, and having them ripped up makes it clear to everyone that you literally cut your jeans on your own edge. If you want something cleaner and louder, white jeans can also work very well.
  • Goth ninja: Black tapered pants. Cargo pants can be a really good option here, as can joggers. Keep the focus on comfort and practicality. Weather permitting, sweatshorts can also work well.

Jackets

  • Black moto jacket: The most versatile leather jacket style, it’s the perfect mix of clean and edgy. Make sure it fits slim, unless you want to look like a Grease extra. Once again, it can be easily dressed up or down depending on top and footwear choice.
  • Navy sportcoat: Serving the upper end of the formality spectrum, while maintaining the ability to be dressed down. I’m recommending navy over black so it can be worn with black jeans without looking like a half-assed suit, while still looking great with a largely monochromatic palette. Absolutely avoid the classic #menswear worsted-wool-with-brass-buttons navy blazer; instead look for a textured fabric (fuzzy wool/cashmere is a delicious choice) and inoffensive details – stops it looking too formal and maximises the versatility.
  • Honourable Mentions: If it’s seriously cold you might want to add a parka; black or charcoal are my top recommendations. On the other hand, if it’s too warm for leather, a black denim jacket is a solid substitute.

And branching out:

  • Scandinavian minimalism: Charcoal or grey overcoat. The length allows you to play with silhouette, another creative avenue to explore in the absence of colour. Obviously easy to dress up, but works very well dressed down too.
  • Clean streetwear: Black or olive MA-1 bomber. Essentially the posterboy item for this look. Comfy, warm and casual without looking sloppy, it’s the embodiment of the core tenets of the style. Go for one that’s relatively slim-fitting but still padded for warmth. For colder weather, a parka with the same specifications.
  • SLP: Denim jacket in black or mid/light blue. The perfect casual choice for slightly warmer weather. Channels the more western/cowboy side of SLP in a way that’s still pretty subtle. Works great with a plain tee or flannel. You could also swap the moto jacket for a double rider if you need even more edge in your life.
  • Goth ninja: Swap the moto for a more aggressively-styled fencing jacket or similar, and wear the shit out of it until it’s perfectly molded to you. The “clean streetwear” options also work here for a more conservative approach, but feel free to get a bit more creative with looser cuts and weird details.

Shoes

Once again, you can get by with a remarkably small collection:

  • CP alternatives Minimal white sneakers: Clean, minimal white sneakers are endlessly versatile. They work very naturally in casual outfits, but can be worn all the way through the formality spectrum. Paired with the largely dark palette, the stark white provides an intense contrast.
  • Black derbies: Serving the dressier end in a more traditional manner, but again very versatile across the formality spectrum. They provide the perfect complement to white sneakers.

It might seem excessively minimal, but once again, short of suit-and-tie events or intense physical exercise, these two options have got you covered. And there’s a whole wealth of options when you want to branch out:

  • Scandinavian minimalism: Minimal grey sneakers, if you want. The two foregoing options make up the footwear core of this look, so adding more isn’t really necessary, but something like the above expands your options a little more. Just make sure you keep everything clean and crisp.
  • Clean streetwear: Sporty-but-still-fashionable sneakers, in a monochrome colourway. Nike Flyknits and Adidas Ultra Boosts are both good options, but there are countless more. Alternatively, Shia La combat boots in black or tan are a great option for a slightly more serious look, and one that’s perfect for wet weather.
  • SLP: Black leaher or tan suede chelsea boots. The quintessential footwear option of the style. Aim for a slim, sleek shape. Jodhpurs, side-zips and harness boots are all fair game too. Your sexual security is proportional to the height of the heel you choose, FYI. Also, start getting those white sneakers more fucked up.
  • Goth ninja: Chunky high-top sneakers or boots. Bulbuous toebox is a bonus. Maintain the theme of loose, comfortable clothing.

Conclusion

As I said at the outset, I don’t really deserve any credit for this “guide”; I’m merely distilling down the advice and recommendations of more knowledgable people before me. This post merely serves to highlight that valuable advice as a starting point for beginners.

Having said that, I do also concede that it’s not for everyone; it’s certainly not the case that every interesting designer out there works well with a largely monochrome palette, and there’s nothing to say that the look I’m pushing here looks any better than a more “traditional” basic wardrobe. If you truly and sincerely love prep or #menswear, or if Engineered Garments is your favourite brand, then this guide probably isn’t for you. I merely wish to highlight that if the previous sentence doesn’t describe you, then the traditional starting point isn’t the only way to go.

TL;DR: Buy the things in the pictures, then add some interesting things you like.

You can also follow me on Instagram: @usuallywhatimdressedin