Category: Clothing

Minimalist Men’s Style: The 8 Most Versatile Men’s Clothing Items

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

Minimalist men's style: Grey V-Neck

Minimalist style begins here

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:

2.) Dark blue jeans

Minimalist men's style: Levi's 511 jeans

Levi’s 511s. Classic.

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)

Minimalist men's style: Alden Oxfords

Killer cap-toe oxfords by Alden

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)

Minimalist men's style: Tanner Goods Belt

Leather belt from Tanner Goods

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

Minimalist men's style: Oxford Cloth Button Down

The OCBD in action

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)

Minimalist men's style: Gingham Shirt

Hipsters got at least one thing right

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)

Minimalist men's style: James Bond's charcoal suit

Bond is rarely seen without one

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 

A fitted crewneck sweater looks good with just about anything

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.

Minimalist men's style: Sean Connery

A pocket square completes the look

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.

Classic Men’s Style Simplified: The 5 Step Guide to Dressing Sharp

There are two ways to approach modern male fashion and style: dress to keep up with the latest fads (e.g. flannel shirts or wacky socks), or stick to classic men’s style. I personally think the classic style approach is best, and in this post I aim to show you why. Let’s get started!

Dressing with style changes everything.

Classic men's style: Yves Saint Laurent

“Fashions fade, style is eternal” – Yves Saint Laurent

Well, maybe not everything. Still, becoming a well dressed man will change how society perceives you. Some typical consequences of looking sharp:

  • You will get more attention (and compliments), especially from women
  • You will hear smart ass comments from guys who can’t (or won’t) dress well
  • You will feel more confident and at ease (this effect may be permanent)
  • You will develop an appreciation for others who make an effort to look good

The list goes on. The effects are multiplied in North America, where the bar for men’s style is set very low.

It is actually not surprising that most men have no idea how to dress – it is a classic case of the blind leading the blind. Most guys will copy what their friends are wearing, happy to fit in and not attract any unnecessary attention. Some go one step further, emulating looks on billboards or in men’s lifestyle magazines. Others try to show off with luxury brands. A few give up entirely.

It’s not hard to dress well. It certainly requires far less money than most assume. However, it requires some patience and a willingness to try something new. Just as with any major undertaking, the first step involves a change of mindset.

Step 0: Becoming comfortable with the idea of dressing well 

You have to convince yourself that it’s good to dress well. This is very important. Become comfortable with the idea of permanently changing how you look. Give yourself the permission to reap the rewards.

Additionally, realize that there is a big difference between fashion and style. Fashion is about showing off the latest in designer trends, while men’s style rarely changes over time. The goal is not to have the clothing do the talking for you. Instead, the idea is to find and develop your own image. A way of showing the world who you are, even before you do or say anything.

Finally, you must also understand that this is a life long project. One does not become stylish overnight. It is a learning process, and it will take time to work out the details. But there are rewards at every step of the way.

Step 1: Making the most of your physique

As a general rule: the more fit you are, the better most clothing will look on you.

You have heard it all before. If you are overweight, work on slimming down. If you are underweight or skinny, work on gaining some mass and build muscle. A good ideal to aim for is the classic v-shape: at least a 10 inch “drop” between your chest and waist measurements (for example, a 42 inch chest and 32 inch waist size). This is not easy, but it can be done if you keep up a good exercise routine and make sure you are eating healthy.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a toned body is that it simply can’t be faked. It is not something you can buy. By staying fit and healthy, you give yourself a tremendous advantage.

Classic men's style: Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

While working out is a process of building up, the next stage of the style journey involves elimination.

Step 2: Eliminating the unnecessary

There are many traps on the road to dressing well. This includes clothing you are tempted to buy to keep up with fashion trends. It also includes clothing that should have become unpopular long ago, but for one reason or other has survived in popular culture. Common traps include:

  • White socks. There is almost no reason to own any, unless they are ankle socks you wear while exercising. Keep it simple: match socks to the color of the pants (or a shade darker). I highly recommend replacing old ones with Darn Tough socks – they’re tough as hell and have a lifetime guarantee.
  • Torn or patterned jeans. Completely unnecessary. Keep it simple: stick to dark (preferably unwashed) denim. If you’re in doubt, you can’t go wrong with the Levi’s 501’s  or 514’s (for a slimmer fit).
  • Graphic tees. These are back with a vengeance, and signal instantly that the wearer has no interest whatsoever in dressing well. They are distracting and juvenile.
  • Running shoes, flip flops and boat shoes. There is a time and place for all of these. Respectively: while exercising, hanging out at the beach and while on an actual boat. Outside of the environments they were designed for, all three options look downright tacky.
  • Anything with visible branding or logos. Perhaps the most common trap of all, since it is so hard to find undecorated clothing. Still, the truth is that brands, company names and logos only serve to distract. Avoid being a walking billboard.

There are many more examples, but this is a good starting list. To dress well, you must avoid wearing tacky or distracting clothing. The best way to protect yourself from committing major style crimes is to give all unnecessary clothing away. Failing that, lock it up and use it only for the activities it was made for (e.g. boat shoes for maintaining grip while sailing).

As you do this, you will start to see what is a good piece and what isn’t. And in most cases, throwing out the unnecessary will leave you with little else to wear. Which is why the next step is so important: rebuilding your wardrobe with what works.

Step 3: Training your eye and rebuilding the wardrobe

Congratulations. If you’ve made it through to this stage, it means you’re serious about looking good.

You now have to build your new wardrobe almost from scratch:

  • Get the best looking shoes you possibly can. Unless they are sneakers, aim to spend 200$+ on a pair of decent shoes. Avoid square toes on dress shoes or loafers – look for round toes and a leather (not rubber) sole. Good American dress shoe manufacturers: Alden, Allen Edmonds. Even better: Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, Gaziano & Girling (warning: expensive stuff).
  • Stick to the most versatile men’s items – dark blue denim, button-down shirts shirts, solid trousers, v-neck tees, grey or navy sport coats, and two-button suits (charcoal if it’s your first suit). Variations of these will be more than enough for a good wardrobe.
  • If you are not sure of which colors work best on you, try sticking to earthy and subdued tones: light or dark grays, blues, browns. Try mixing it up with deep purples and burgundy. It’s easier to make outfits work with these than with blacks, whites, yellows or bright greens.
  • Avoid buying anything with visible branding or logos. Look for pieces that will look good in any outfit – don’t expect luxury names alone to do the work of putting together a solid outfit.

Above all, think of the whole outfit when buying individual pieces. A versatile wardrobe built from quality clothing will give you many combinations to work with, so you can mix it up all the time.

These are good starting points, but there is much more to style than simply following heuristics of color and patterns. Get inspiration from legendary style icons. Do some research and find images of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Tom Ford, Bob Dylan, Johnny Depp looking their best. Or watch an episode of Mad Men.

Classic men's style: Steve McQueen pulls off the turtleneck

Steve McQueen pulls off the turtleneck

As you look around and notice who’s doing it right, you will realize that there’s an important step missing.

Step 4: Mastering fit 

Everything must fit well. This is non-negotiable, and a cornerstone of classic men’s style.

  • Finding a good tailor should be your first order of business. Most decent dry cleaning places will also do alterations – check the prices and read reviews. Send in one shirt for alterations to begin with. If it’s a good place, stick to it.
  • Shirts should not puff out at the waist. Pants should not require a belt (or suspenders!) to be held up. Suits should fit like a glove – at the very least, alterations will be necessary for any suit bought off the rack.
  • Pants (including jeans) should not be baggy, or skin tight either. Aim for a “slim straight” fit.

There are many more considerations, especially when it comes to dress shirts, suits and pant lengths. These are details a good tailor can help you with.

At this point, you are ahead of 99% of the competition (unless you live in Milan). You have experimented with what works for you, and you have started to personalize your clothing by making it fit to your body only. It is likely that you now own (and use) a tape measure. There’s really only one stage left.

Step 5: Setting your own style 

The real fun begins when you start breaking the rules.

You no longer need inspiration or help from others, although you certainly won’t refuse it.

You start introducing your own ideas and modifications, and start seeking out individual items that you know would work great in your wardrobe. Chances are, you are already somewhat of a style icon in your local community or social circles.

You say “to hell with guides, I’ll make my own.” And you start wondering how you can give back.

Classic men's style: Yves Saint Laurent

Once you have your own style, you can break the rules

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to classic men’s style. For practical ideas about which pieces to buy, check out my article on the 8 Most Versatile Pieces of Clothing a Man Can Own.