When embarking on your sartorial journey, the ability to build a minimalist wardrobe for men will pay off for years to come. Having a minimalist wardrobe with interchangeable items will allow every aspiring dapper gent to create a multitude of looks with a few foundational pieces across your casual and formal wardrobes. In this comprehensive guide, we cover how to build a minimalist wardrobe for men across both your casual and formal capsules.
The time has finally arrived. You’re ready to go on that hot date you’ve been eagerly anticipating all, week, and so you’ve decided to spruce things up by dressing dapper. Chinos. Check. Dress Shirt Check. Fancy shoes. Check. Except, there’s one glaring omission. The biggest one of them all? What outer layer do you complement the rest of your ensemble with? Sure, suits do the trick at work, but where’s that all occasion sports jacket or blazer that would come in handy right about now? Damn, you think to yourself, as you wish, in that moment, that you had a go to blazer that would work perfectly in countless occasions such as this one – a date night, a cocktail party or an evening out with friends.
Fast forward to next week. That all elusive business meeting that you were finally able to secure is around the corner, and you’re expecting career changing outcomes. You have the perfect suit, the perfect shirt, and are even ready to strut it with the perfect tie. Except there’s one glaring hole. You don’t have matching cufflinks for your combination. ‘Are you kidding me’, you mutter to yourself, barely able to fathom that the smallest of details could derail your ensemble. You quickly proceed to iron a non-french cuff shirt, one that doesn’t make half the impact, nor half the aesthetic contribution that your perfectly ironed, French cuff shirt was going to make. You walk into your business meeting with slightly less confidence than usual, not knowing what to expect.
Two months later, you have a beach party with friends. The weather is gorgeous, and you want to have a great time, with the all important caveat of looking good. You rummage through your chest of drawers, looking for shorts that would do the trick, but all you find are out old, beat up gym shorts – barely appropriate for the beach. With no dapper shorts in sight, you reluctantly slip on your slim fit dark denims and head out for a gorgeous day, secretly cursing yourself for feeling highly uncomfortable and hot for what should otherwise be a relaxing, fun day filled with swells, beer and laughter.
Finding for the thread that brings out consistent levels of frustration with all three of these scenarios is pretty straightforward. A lack of interchangeable items. An essential wardrobe, constructed minimalistically, with items that complement each other, irrespective of the occasion you are dressing up for, taking into account seasonal considerations, and that happen to be immune to the ever changing world of fashion, will, in short, make your aesthetic life infinitely easier. All while allowing you to dress to the nines.
So what exactly constitutes an essential, minimalist wardrobe for men? Before we break down what we believe are key items, we would first like to address the conceptual underpinnings of a men’s minimal wardrobe:
The Foundations Of A Minimalist Wardrobe For Men
Given that a minimal and essential wardrobe is based on a range of interchangeable items, a natural corollary would be the need for versatile items. With a minimal wardrobe, there is no room for fat. A minimal wardrobe, by definition, is lean, and hence each item should be able to service at least a functional or aesthetic purpose. For example, a blazer that looks as good with dark denim as it does with chinos will serve you far better than a sports jacket that only dresses up. Unless your new purchase can be worn with other items to create a few new ensembles, it’s time to move on!
A highly versatile, minimal wardrobe would therefore require items of neutral colors and patterns in order for them to be interchangeable. Sticking to a foundation of neutral colors – navy’s, browns, grey’s, beige’s and black’s will serve you far better than an ambitious wardrobe built on pinks, lilacs and light greens!
Consideration of your lifestyle needs is of paramount importance when designing your minimal wardrobe. A wardrobe that is suit heavy will not work as well if you primarily dress business casual, and even less so if your go to pieces are typically casual. Instead, try and opt for pieces that transition from the work week to the weekend and that can be worn during the day and in the evenings.
Given that you are seeking to build a minimal wardrobe with interchangeable items, high quality is of the utmost importance. The reasons for this are two fold. From a practical standpoint, items that you will be wearing regularly with multiple outfits need to be well constructed and durable. And secondly, given that many of the items are foundational pieces with less spark than a fancier wardrobe, any shortcomings in craftsmanship will be quickly noticed!
With the conceptual underpinnings of our men’s minimalist wardrobe established, lets delve into specific items of clothing!:
Underwear & Socks
While clothing closest to your skin is often ignored, these essential items are necessary to both feeling good and keeping the rest of your outfit well integrated. Opting for higher quality cottons in basic, neutral colors such as greys, blacks and navy’s will do the trick.
If you are looking to make an impression with your sock game, a few pairs of colorful socks will add instant life to your ensembles. Moreover, colorful socks can be worn a with a range of attire, whether its featured with dark denim, chinos or even a suit!
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot’s range of colorful socks.
A staple in every gentleman’s closet, denim is your true wardrobe workhorse, versatile enough to be worn for casual activities to dinner with friends or date night, to even business casual dress code on a Friday.
Denim translates perfectly into just about any situation, as long as you are mindful of the details. Jeans can translate any outfit to casual, though when paired with the right accessories, such as a knit tie or silk necktie, can create the perfect smart casual look.
As with every other item of clothing in this guide, fit is absolutely critical. Slim fit jeans are typically ideal, as they a clean and crisp look for any size Slim fit jeans also typically have a bit of stretch, allowing them to hold their shape throughout the day. Slim fit jeans should slightly hug the thighs, knees and calves (without bulging), and loosen up around the ankles.
Looking for a couple pairs of jeans that will work with virtually any situation? Opt for Dark Denim. Dark Denim can be worn with a blazer and a collared shirt, or if you are looking to dress down and still look put together, with a t-shirt / Henley and a blazer. Alternatively, you could pair your dark denim with a dress shirt or a dress shirt and sweater.
Few items provide versatility like dark denim! Courtesy of dappered threads.
Chinos are a great alternative to jeans, while significantly upping your style game. Ideal colors include caramel (darker khaki’s), navy, blue or grey.
While color is important, fit is key to pulling off chinos. Fitted chinos will help elongate and streamline your aesthetic and would pair perfectly with a light button down shirt for effortless styling. Looking to style your chinos on a sunny day? Opt for chambray or linen shirts!
Navy chinos provide an incredible range of styling options! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
T-Shirts & Henleys
Non collared casual shirts include T-Shirts & Henley's. These items are made of stretchier fabric, and hence you cannot get them tailored. Paying attention to fit is therefore incredibly important.
One important consideration with t-shirts is to avoid large graphic tees at all costs! These t-shirts are ultra casual and typically reserved for a younger demographic. Instead, opt for plain colors such as navy, grey, black, white or maroon.
If you are looking for something more masculine, opt for a v-neck t-shirt with dark denim or chinos! These can be especially flattering if you are in good shape. If you would like a more streamlined look, pair your t-shirt and jeans/ chinos with an unstructured blazer (please see below).
Henley’s are a type of shirt with a buttoned placket in the front. While less common, these will definitely help you stand out from the crowd. While Henley’s come in both short and long sleeve versions, the long sleeve Henley is more versatile as it can be rolled up.
Henley’s are a great addition to any gentleman’s wardrobe. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
The perfect go between t-shirts / henley's and more formal attire, polos have become a staple in every discerning gentleman’s wardrobe. The ultimate workhorse in your clothing wardrobe, neutral polos will help dress down a blazer or dress up a pair of jeans. Ensure that you nail the fit! Outsized polo shirts are a definite no no – unless you want to are looking for a starring role on Revenge Of The Nerds Part Two.
Polos will instantly elevate your casual style! Courtesy of www.dmarge.com
Looking for something casual with a bit more debonair? Popularized by sailors, the Breton top is
Your go to when your looking for something as easy to slip on as a t-shirt, but can make a statement with when paired with a blazer.
A Breton Shirt with a jacket makes for effortless style. Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
Oxfords, the epitome of the casual, going out shirt are a staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Want to simplify your life, while still maintaining the ability to look put together? Opt for neutral, block colored shirts such as light blue, white, grey and light pink (just to add some personality to your attire!). Just as with every other item on this list, fit is of paramount importance.
So what exactly constitutes an oxford shirt? An oxford weave is a basket weave where multiple weft threads are crossed over an equal number of warp threads. This typically two by two weave creates a slightly rougher structure but is more durable than most fabrics. This texture makes oxford a thicker and warmer fabric, making it ideally suited to cooler days. This texture is what characterizes oxford shirts as casual dress shirts. In general, a tailored oxford shirt is a wardrobe staple for the discerning gentleman, given its durability and versatility.
Oxford shirts can be used for an evening out with friends, date nights, or even a more casual day at the office, such as business casual Fridays (or every day, if your office permits casual attire!). Side Note: For Business Casual Attire, we would suggest more formal dress shirts, as discussed below.
Oxford Dress Shirts are an essential style option! Courtesy of www.ashleyweston.com
The ultimate casual shirt, chambrays are a great way to inject color and texture into your attire. Depending on how denim heavy you prefer to go with your casual attire, you can opt for a shirt that essentially resembles denim, down to one that is indistinguishable from a blue oxford. If you’re looking to go down the middle road, avoid one that will have you looking like the starring role in a classic western!
Chambray Shirts add textural variation to your attire! Courtesy of www.stylesofman.com
Wool Roll Neck
Given that a minimal wardrobe reserves little room for highly fashionable pieces (given that everything needs to be interchangeable and hence lower risk), your wool roll neck sweater is one of your few opportunities to really strut your fashion game. Even though Wool Roll Neck Sweaters are incredibly flattering, they are still relatively uncommon, resulting in wearing one under a jacket being an impressive move.
We would suggest a black wool roll neck sweater as your go to.
How’s that for standing out? Courtesy of www.dresslikeatumblr.com
The perfect mid layer staple, two sweaters, one that is of a lighter weight for cooler weather, that is not overbearing, and one for being thick in the middle of winter (not ugly Christmas Sweaters!) should suffice.
Between these two sweaters, you’ll have enough basic layering options and gradations that should take you from a slightly chilly fall day all the way to posing for your obligatory Rockefeller Tree Christmas Season picture.
We would recommend choosing a neutral grey sweater and two colored ones that would work well with almost any ensemble – blue and burgundy. If you absolutely had to choose just two, stick with grey & blue (though leaving burgundy out is incredibly difficult!).
The v-neck sweater, a wardrobe essential for every gentleman. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Between your go to sneakers, that are an ideal complement for dark denim, suede loafers and a pair of chukkas, you should have something for every occasion and season! Suede loafers can be worn during the day or in the evening on a night out with friends or for that special date, while chukkas are best reserved for the evenings.
Looking to add an extra pair that is ideally suited to boat and beach parties come summer time? Cue the boat shoe, which will definitely have you looking relaxed chic as you sip on your champagne (or beer – just avoid Natty Light!).
Sneakers – the ultimate casual shoe for men. Courtesy of www.aquila.com
Few can start with building the essentials of a formal wardrobe without a navy suit. Other than its lack of use for black tie formal events, one can strut their navy suit to daily work, a cocktail or wedding reception, or a night out on the town.
A Navy Suit will pair with essentially all of our dress shirt and tie colors that would comprise a new wardrobe, making for effortless styling.
Few items are as timeless as the classic navy suit!
Charcoal Grey Suit
The charcoal grey suit is the perfect foundational suit for your wardrobe, given its neutral tones and subsequent versatility. Your charcoal grey suit can be worn to a multitude of occasions, including formal events, daily work or on date night.
From a business standpoint, the charcoal grey suit exhibits trust and authority, two critical elements to coming across in a professional manner in any corporate setting, whether its for daily work, a business meeting or a presentation.
The charcoal grey suit, an essential suit for any gentleman! Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
Contrary to your casual minimal wardrobe, your dress shirts should be constructed of a higher quality cotton weave, such as poplin / broadcloth, or to a less extent, a pinpoint oxford weave.
For your dress shirt staples, we suggest going with two neutrals, such as white or light grey, and a paler pastel colored shirt, such as a light blue. While this is technically not a neutral color, a light blue colored shirt will pair with virtually any suit and tie combination – particularly your navy suits that we’ve mentioned in this guide!
Broadcloth / Poplin is a widely used dress shirt fabric. Broadcloth comprises of a lightweight, smoother, flat looking fabric with no discernible pattern in the weave. Broadcloth is a tightly woven fabric, resulting in a smooth, lustrous appearance, ideal for dress shirts at the office.
For your broadcloth staples, we would suggest opting for a higher thread count, in the 100-140 range, preferably comprised of 2 plys. Thread count, contrary to popular belief, refers to yarn size. Hence, a 140 thread count shirt means there are 140 hanks (1 hank = 840 yards) of yarn per pound of fabric. Hence, a higher thread count implies finer yarns, as it requires more yards of that yarn to constitute the fabric.
Ply refers to the number of yarns that have been twisted together to make a single thread. Two ply count, for example refers to two yarns being twisted together to make a single thread, that is then woven into the fabric. Hence, two ply fabrics are generally of a greater quality than single ply fabrics.
Broadcloth dress shirts are wardrobe staple for any discerning gentleman! Courtesy of www.etonshirts.com
Alternatively, one could opt for a pinpoint oxford weave, which is a dressier version of the oxford weave, but less formal than broadcloth / poplin .The pinpoint oxford differs from an oxford in that it comprises of a single weft (left to right) crossing two warp (vertical) threads, as opposed to a two by two structure commonly found with oxford shirts.
Navy or Grey Trousers
A pair of navy or grey trousers will pair perfectly with a dress shirt at the office, or with a dress shirt and a blazer for a business meeting, an evening out or a cocktail party!
As with any other formal item on this list, we suggest getting your trousers tailored and hemmed so as to go for a streamlined aesthetic.
Grey Wool Trousers can form the foundation of much of your formal attire! Courtesy of www.ashleyweston.com
The Sports Jacket, as opposed to a blazer, is your least structured, most casual outer piece. While Sports Jackets can be broadly divided into two categories – fashionable and conservative, we would highly recommend a more muted, conservative sports jacket as a wardrobe staple.
A Sports Jacket fit is generally more relaxed than suit or a navy blazer (more structured around the shoulders, with greater padding). Your final cut should therefore allow for range of motion and movement.
An aspiring dapper gent’s wardrobe should contain a conservative sports jacket in at least one of three colors: grey, blue or brown. The important element of these jackets is to have some color and pattern, without it being overtly bold or restrictive. Hence, more muted patterns such as a subtle plaid could work incredibly well.
A Sports Jacket makes our minimal wardrobe list because it is a highly versatile piece! A Sports Jacket can be used to dress up any pair of pants that are not the same fabric and color as the jacket! Whether you are looking to dress up a pair of dark denim jeans or your chinos for a dinner date, or your off colored dress pants for a networking party or cocktail reception, a sports jacket will invariably do the trick!
Looking for ways to style your sports jacket? How about a knitted tie or pocket square for the ultimate casual dapper look. Whether it is being paired with dark denim, chinos or off colored pants, a knitted tie or pocket square will immediately elevate your look.
As with other items in this guide, owning a few essential accessories will afford you a multitude of spruced up dress options! With that said, here are foundational accessories for a dapper gentleman’s wardrobe.
The ultimate way of adorning one’s torso, a carefully chosen tie allows you to make an immediate impression, irrespective of the occasion you are dressing up for. So which ties would work across a range of settings, seasons and attire?
Solid Navy Tie
A solid navy tie will ensure that you look dashing in that navy suit, whether you are dressing for a wedding, cocktail party or an interview! Alternatively, a navy tie can be used to dress up some of your other wardrobe staples, such as dark denim or a pair of your chinos.
A Solid Navy Tie is an essential in every dapper gent’s wardrobe! Featuring The Dark Knot's Winsted Blue Silk Tie.
Regimental Striped Tie
The Regimental Striped Tie, alternatively known as the collegiate tie, is a quintessential gentleman’s staple, that will serve you well irrespective of occasion – whether you are dressing up for daily work, an interview, an evening out with friends or date night, this ivy league, preppy inspired tie will have you looking the part!
Moreover, the pattern spacing of these stripes (regimental striped ties typically consist of wider diagonal stripes) allows it to be worn with a range of underlying shirt patterns, including finer striped shirts and micro checkered patterns.
A Regimental Striped Tie is highly versatile and can be worn to a range of occasions! Featuring The Dark Knot's Canterbury Regimental Navy / Red Silk Tie.
Burgundy Polka Dot Tie
Few ties make an impression like a burgundy tie, which is a darker hue of red. However, a plain burgundy tie, while demonstrating authority and assertiveness, doesn’t make quite the statement the way its close cousin, the burgundy polka dot tie does.
The highly versatile nature of this accessory allows it to be worn to a range of occasions, whether you are looking to make an impression with that all important presentation, a cocktail party, a wedding reception, or your next date night.
A Burgundy Polka Dot Tie makes an emphatic statement. Featuring The Dark Knot’s Newport Dots Burgundy Silk Tie.
Furthermore, the polka dot pattern spacing allows it to be worn with a range of underlying shirt and suit patterns. Given that polka dot patterns are not typically found on shirts, and that polka dot patterns are generally wider spaced, they can perfectly complement a smaller scaled shirt pattern such as a micro-checkered shirt. Alternatively, they would look just as dapper against one of your solid blue or white shirts discussed earlier!
Striped Knit Tie
Knit Ties, characterized by a textured weave and straight edges, are the epitome of casual dapper. Looking to dress up without going overboard – cue the knitted tie. Having one striped knit tie in your wardrobe will allow you to create a multitude of ensembles – whether you are looking to dress up your dark denim jeans, chinos or even dress down a business casual look with a sports jacket.
Knit Ties are the perfect accessory for casual chic. While we don’t suggest picking a particular color, we do highly recommend owning one striped knit tie!
Knit Ties provide the perfect element of textural variation. This Knit Tie, The Dark Knot’s Rockland Stripes, injects your attire with a splash of color, as well!
White Linen Pocket Square
Pocket Squares are the quickest way to inject your attire with extra character. The white linen pocket square offers the perfect opportunity to dress up your sports jacket or suits.
Whether you are opting for a simple puff or reverse puff fold, or utilizing a more sophisticated fold that beautifully shows off those crisp pocket square edges and corners, your white linen pocket square can be your go to item for bringing any outfit extra panache.
Extra points if you can choose a white linen pocket square with hand rolled contrasting edges.
A White Linen Pocket Square makes for effortless styling! Featuring The Dark Knot’s Tuxedo White / Burgundy Linen Pocket Square. The burgundy hand rolled contrasting edges inject your ensembles with additional flair.
If you are dressing for a more formal occasion, such as a presentation, important business meeting or wedding reception, few items will have you standing out like a well curated pair of cufflinks. Blue stoned cufflinks will work with your navy suit and any of your wardrobe staple shirts, be it white, blue, grey or pink.
Blue stoned cufflinks make the perfect impression in important settings! Featuring The Dark Knot’s Somers Blue Cufflinks
Oxford Cap Toe
Your formal wardrobe’s workhorse, the black oxford cap toe is on the more formal end of the shoe spectrum, and will dazzle with your traditional black, charcoal grey or navy suits!
Whether you are dressing for daily work, an important presentation, a cocktail party or your next wedding reception, your black oxford cap toes will have you looking the part! Alternatively, these shoes can be worn with a pair of chinos and a blazer / sports jacket.
Black Oxford Cap Toes are the perfect complement to a Charcoal Grey Suit. Courtesy of www.ashleyweston.com
Brown Wingtip Brogues
The brown wingtips / brogues are less formal shoes that can be worn with a range of suits, including lighter grey, blue, navy and brown suits. They are therefore ideally suited to your wardrobe, as they are highly versatile. They can be used to dress up less formal attire, such as chinos and a sports jacket, or dress down more formal ensembles (with the exception of black suits!).
Brogues are the perfect wardrobe complement, as they can be worn with virtually any colored suit. Whether you are dressing for daily work or a business meeting, these shoes will make you look the part in almost any setting.
Brogues typically come in a variety of brown shades. A darker shade will be the most versatile, as it will complement both lighter and darker shades of blue and brown suits.
Brogues can be worn with a range of suit colors. Courtesy of www.mullenandmullen.co.uk
Accent Pieces For Your Minimal Wardrobe
While this guide has been dedicated to highlighting articles of clothing that can form the foundation of your minimal wardrobe, having a few accent pieces can really help elevate your style. Again, these shouldn’t be in larger numbers, as the point is to keep your wardrobe lean. A few pieces though, and you can really stand out, even with a foundational wardrobe!
Fashionable Sports Jacket
The fashionable sports jacket is where you have freedom to fully express yourself. Because this type of sports jacket is worn less, please feel free to go with a higher quality wool. When visiting your local bespoke tailor, opt for peak lapels or colored button holes. A fashionable sports jacket is ideal for cocktail parties, a wedding reception, an evening out with friends or date night!
A fashionable sports jacket with detailed finishing can be the envy of every gentleman!
Like the burgundy polka dot tie, the paisley tie can be worn with a range of underlying shirt patterns. While Paisley Ties can be considered louder and trendy accessory, as opposed to a foundational wardrobe piece, these accessories can really help you make a statement. Given the pattern spacing of paisley designs, these can largely be worn with a range of underlying shirt patterns, such as finer striped or micro checkered shirts!
A Paisley Tie is the perfect trendy piece to cap off your wardrobe. Paisley ties, given their pattern spacing, can pair perfectly with a range of underlying shirt patterns. Featuring The Dark Knot's Exeter Paisley Blue / Brown Silk Tie.
Silver Tie Bar
While the rest of the items in this guide will provide the building blocks for your minimal wardrobe, details can really help set you apart. Few items speak of attention to detail like a tie bar, and stainless steel silver tie bar will certainly do the trick. Pair this with any of your ties, and rest assured, you will garner a few double takes!
A Silver Tie Bar adds perfect finishing details to your attire. Featuring The Dark Knot’s Suffolk Silver Stainless Steel Tie Bar.
Ok, so that was a lot to digest. The key with a minimalist wardrobe is to have your foundational pieces, along with a few items that are chosen by design. In summary, we would break down your minimalist wardrobe between casual and formal (even though the two can often be interchangeable, such as wearing a sports jacket and knit tie with dark denim!).
- 2 pairs dark denim
- 2 pairs of chinos. One navy pair is essential – the other could be blue, grey, or if your feeling bolder, burgundy!
- 5 pairs of v-neck t-shirts in navy, grey, white (and possibly olive green to spice things up)
- 1 Henley Shirt
- 2 Polos in white, blue, grey, navy or green
- 1 Breton Shirt (though this could be considered optional)
- 2 Oxford Shirts (dress shirts that are more casual wear in nature), preferably in blue and white.
- 1 Chambray Shirt for a slightly rugged look!
- 2 v-neck sweaters, preferably in navy and burgundy
- 1 roll neck sweater in black or white.
- 1 pair of white sneakers (perfect for styling dark denim or chinos!)
- 1 pair of loafers
- 1 pair of chukka boots (optional)
- 1 Navy Suit
- 1 Charcoal Grey Suit
- 5 Broadcloth Dress Shirts in Blue, White, Grey & preferably light pink to add some color to your wardrobe. We suggest opting for 2 Ply 100-140 thread count quality.
- 1 Pair Navy or Grey Wool Trousers
- 1 Sports Jacket
- 1 Solid Navy Tie
- 1 Regimental Striped Tie
- 1 Burgundy Polka Dot Tie
- 1 Striped Knit Tie (Optional)
- 1 Plain White Linen Pocket Square
- 1 Pair of Blue Stoned Cufflinks
- 1 Pair of Black Oxford Cap Toe Shoes
- 1 Pair of Darker Brown Wingtip Brogues
Trendy / Accent Pieces
- 1 Fashionable (louder) Sports Jacket
- 1 Paisley Tie
- 1 Silver Tie Bar