Can you be a minimalist and stylish at the same time?
Actually, the two concepts go hand in hand. This is because you don’t need a lot of clothing to build a great wardrobe—you just need the right pieces to make it all work well together. This is a quick guide to some of the best things you can buy to pull off classic, yet minimalist men’s style.
Let’s get started.
TL;DR: limiting yourself to just a few items will force you to keep only the best. Start thinking in terms of outfits, not individual pieces.
There are many great styles and designs out there, but some kinds of clothing are more versatile than others. They can be worn in many different settings and are invaluable if you want to build a great wardrobe with as few items as possible.
These are my eight clothing choices for minimalist men’s style (with a bonus item at the end):
1.) Grey V-Neck Tee
The grey tee is a must have in any man’s wardrobe. A well fitted tee can be worn as an undershirt or underneath a dress shirt (the grey makes it barely visible when used as a layer). It also works great by itself, paired with a jeans, trousers or shorts. No harm in keeping 2-3 of these in rotation.
Some great fitted tees:
- Next Level Apparel Men’s V-Neck tee
- Banana Republic, Uniqlo, Express (good brands for tees)
2.) Dark blue jeans
Slim fit, straight leg, unwashed.
A good pair of jeans goes with just about anything. Keep it classic with simple designs—no fancy washes, distressing, rips or ridiculous stitching. Wash every two weeks, hang dry.
Many companies produce great denim. If you want to get a great pair without breaking the bank, here are my recommendations:
- Uniqlo Stretch Selvedge Slim-Fit Jeans
- H&M Slim Straight Jeans
- A pair of Levi’s that fits you best (try in store). Quick guide to Levi’s cuts: 511 for skinny guys, 513/514 for average people, and 508/501 for a more relaxed fit (or for guys with big thighs).
Tip: if buying online, always read user reviews before purchasing, as the fit and sizing may be different from other brands you’re used to. Denim sizing is all over the place.
A note on expensive (and “raw” denim): this is a rabbit hole, and I advise you to stay away. It’s a hipster obsession and not worth the time/money. It’s denim—don’t overcomplicate it.
3.) Dark Brown Cap-Toe Oxfords (dress shoes)
Often overlooked, shoes are arguably most important—they can make or break an outfit.
A quality pair of brown lace-ups is indispensable. Pair them with jeans or khakis for a smart casual look, or combine with a custom suit (see below) to turn up the class. If you are serious about quality, aim to spend at least $250 on a good pair. Don’t skimp here.
If you’re buying good shoes, make sure you invest in a cleaning/care kit (often available from the manufacturer). Buy shoe trees to absorb moisture. Clean and shine shoes regularly, and try not to wear the same pair two days in a row (alternate your shoes).
If you’re looking for great value for money, I recommend going straight to Allen Edmonds Park Avenue Cap-Toe Oxford.
Don’t balk at the price—as long as you take good care of them, quality dress shoes will last you a lifetime. More expensive options: take a look at what’s on offer from Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, or Gaziano & Girling.
Tip: when buying any pair of dress shoes, it’s a good idea to buy a matching belt (same color, same leather). If you want to save a couple of bucks, check out Cole Haan or Meermin for formal belts.
4.) Casual leather belt (for jeans and khakis)
No more flimsy belts with buckles that fall off. Get a solid leather belt (1.25” – 2” wide) and wear the hell out of it. The leather will age well, and it will only look better with time.
A good belt will easily last five years or more. Just wipe it with a soft rag and warm water once in a while.
A couple of recommendations:
- One casual belt to wear with almost everything: go for Levi’s or LL Bean (great value), A Simple Leather Belt Co. (mid-range), or Tanner Goods (a bit more expensive, but my personal favorite).
- One formal belt (covered above in #4): ideally, get a belt made by the shoe manufacturer—this way, the leather matches perfectly. In other words, a dark brown Allen Edmonds dress belt to go with your new dress shoes.
5.) White OCBD
Whether you are on a safari or at the office, the white Oxford Cloth Button Down (OCBD) gets the job done. Make sure it fits perfectly and the rest will take care of itself.
It looks good in any season. It looks good worn with jeans, or with a suit. If in doubt, throw one on and you’ll probably be dressed just right for the occasion.
Just make sure there are no visible logos on it (yes, that includes horses and crocodiles).
The OCBD buying guide:
- Low-end/budget: Goodthreads Men’s Slim Fit Oxford
- Mid-range: Lands End Tailored Fit Solid Supima Hyde Park or Spier & Mackay (for Canadians)
- High-end: Brooks Brothers and Gitman Vintage
Alterations highly recommended. Tip for alterations: talk to a local dry-cleaner to see if they can handle a shirt job, and test them out with an older baggy shirt to see if they do a good job. If it works out, you’ll save lots of cash in the long run (vs. going with a professional tailor).
While you’re at it, you might as well pick up a light blue OCBD too. Almost as versatile, and just as good looking.
6.) Gingham shirt (blue or purple)
Instant smart casual look. Making appearances in popular culture since the 60s, the gingham shirt is always a good choice. Works in the office, during lunch with the parents and for keeping it stylish on a first date.
You can find these at any reputable clothing store. You can’t go wrong with something fitted from Brooks Brothers.
7.) Charcoal suit (two-button)
A tailored two-button charcoal suit is truly versatile. Sharp enough for a fancy dinner party, serious enough for a job interview, formal enough for a wedding and somber enough for a funeral.
Don’t skimp here. Make sure you look for good materials (super 100s wool or above), length (sleeves should reveal half an inch of shirt cuffs), and fit.
Fit is so important that it’s worth it to get a suit custom made. Failing that, go with good off the rack suit and bring it to your local tailor for alterations.
There’s a dizzying array of customizations that are possible when buying a suit. If it’s your first suit and you just want something modern and functional, I would go with the following:
- Color: Charcoal grey (grey adds years, while a Navy suit makes you look younger)
- Material: Super 120s wool, twill, not blended with polyester (i.e. 100% wool)
- Jacket style: single-breasted, two-button, notch lapels, with moderate quartering, two straight pockets, sleeves with 4 standard (non-functioning) buttons, and twin vents
- Trouser style: slim fit, no pleats, no cuffs, slanted side pockets, single rear pocket. Single belt loops.
- No elbow patches
- No contrast color on lapels, back collar, or buttonholes
- Monogram: up to you
As far as off-the-rack brands, there is simply too much to cover here (this really deserves its own post…)
With that said, here are some recommendations at various price ranges:
- Budget (~$250 on sale): J Crew Slim Thompson
- Mid-range (<$500): Suit Supply Blue Line
- Upper-end (~$750-1000): Suit Supply MTM (Made to Measure), or Kent Wang
- High-end ($1500 and up): full canvas offerings from Oxxford, Tom Ford, Brunelli Cucinelli, Ermenegildo Zegna (not Z Zegna), or Brioni. You can’t go wrong with any of these, really.
Unless you know your exact size, don’t blindly buy a suit online. Go into a store and get measured.
8.) Wool crew neck sweater
When the temperature drops, throw on a nice merino sweater. They’re great for wearing over a button down. This is a chance to introduce some variety into your wardrobe—experiment with color and material.
Start by trying out darker shades of grey, burgundy, and navy.
Most good shirt brands will also carry decent sweaters. A couple easy recommendations:
- Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Crewneck
- J. Crew Cotton Cashmere crewneck
BONUS: Plain white pocket square
Fold a pocket square into four, tuck into your front suit pocket and voila! Class. Works with suits, blazers and sport coats alike. A timeless accessory.
Here’s a $10 option that will get the job done in style: Fine White Silk Pocket Square. If you want to get a little fancier, check out the fine selections from Howard Yount.
Tip: if you don’t want to shell out the $10 or so for a pocket square, go to your local fabric store. They should be able to cut you a square piece of cloth for a couple bucks.
When put together, these items alone are enough to build a solid wardrobe. Get quality pieces that last, make sure they fit you, and begin your own journey of dressing well with less.
PS. What about watches? If you’re going to get only one accessory for your wardrobe, a stylish watch is the way to go. Read on to discover three classic men’s watches that won’t break the bank.