When you build a house you start with a strong foundation.
Building a timeless wardrobe is no different.
A man needs a foundation of clothing he can reach for when he needs it – clothing that helps him look his best, is right for the occasion he’ll be attending, and is timeless in style.
The goal of this article is to help you understand clothing interchangeability and how to start building a versatile men’s wardrobe.
By choosing foundation clothing pieces that are wearable with a wide range of other items and classic in style, you’ll create a timeless & interchangeable wardrobe. This will save you both time and money.
Clothing as an Investment
A man does not have enough money to buy cheap things.
What do I mean by this? In our “disposable society” we have become accustomed to clothing being cheap and something we throw away after it wears out. We move through life never wearing anything that we really love or are supremely confident in. And the worst part is we throw money away every few years buying new cheap clothing; the only thing we have to show for it is a tax receipt for donating the clothing to Goodwill.
When I say invest in clothing, I mean buy QUALITY pieces that will last you decades and can be repaired at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Quality shoes, shirts, suits, and luggage have the unique characteristic of actually looking better over time when taken care of. Cry once about the price, and then spend a lifetime reaping the rewards of being a man who pays attention to the details.
When you invest in clothing you want to acquire a collection of pieces that are interchangeable and fit you. From this clothing wardrobe you can create numerous outfits that all look sharp and take no effort to combine.
What makes Clothing Interchangeable?
Simply put, a man has an interchangeable wardrobe when each piece of clothing in his closet matches a large number of complementary items.
A light blue shirt that matches 7 out of your 9 pairs of slacks is interchangeable; that red dress shirt that only works well with 1 of your nine trousers is not. A navy herringbone suit that can be worn with 13 out of your 15 dress shirts is interchangeable; the light grey and pink pin stripe suit that only looks sharp with 2 of the 15 is not.
Your wardrobe should be built on classic interchangeable pieces that go with at least 60% of their counterparts; a higher percentage of compatibility is always better.
WHY? Look at the chart below – it’s a numbers game.
In the above example we do assume 100% compatibility; however the number of items is very conservative. Yet we can extract three hundred unique outfits from 20 clothing items. And I didn’t even include ties, pocket squares, coats, vests, and accessories that could easily have increased this number ten-fold!
Three Advantages of an Interchangeable Wardrobe
Need more reasons to build an interchangeable wardrobe? Here are three other advantages of a classic interchangeable wardrobe.
1. Less Clothing in your Closet
Currently you own 28 dress shirts but only wear 8. Imagine owning 15, and wearing all 15. Do this throughout your wardrobe and you’ll free up more than 50% of the space and find that you have more options as to what to wear. Less clothing, less clutter, more options. Perfect!
2. Less Money Spent on Clothing
The key with spending less on clothing is to make sure everything you purchase is going to be worn. Nothing is more expensive than an item you never use.
To illustrate this let me present a scenario.
Which suit is more expensive – a $300 polyester suit that doesn’t fit and you hate to wear, or a $1000 suit that fits perfectly and boosts your confidence because you are complimented every time you wear it? I can tell you you’re going to wear that ill-fitting suit only when you have to, and the latter you’ll find excuses to wear it because you love the way it makes you feel. That cheap suit you finally throw out and wore only 3 times cost you $100 per wear (300 divided by 3) – the higher quality suit you finally wore out after 10 years of faithful service ended up only costing you $10 per wear (1000 divided by 100).
3. Less Time Spent Dressing
Having an interchangeable wardrobe means that you no longer have to think when you get dressed in the morning. Any combination is going to work because the clothing was purchased with matching in mind. Yes it takes a bit more time to make sure this happens, and you’ll have to stay clear of clothing items that are difficult to match. But the reward is when you have 10 minutes to get ready for work, you’re not spending but a few seconds finding items that go together.
How to Build an Interchangeable Wardrobe
Step 1 – Inventory what’s in your Closet
Every man who starts the journey of building his wardrobe does so with only a few pieces A couple pairs of shoes, several shirts, a few pairs of trousers, half a dozen ties and maybe a suit or two. Most of these items will have been acquired out of need or the inability to pass up on a great sale. It’s safe to say a large percentage of this clothing is not ideal in terms of fit and interchangeability.
The first step in building an interchangeable wardrobe is identifying which pieces you can build around, which pieces you’ll keep but rarely wear, and which pieces should disappear into the Salvation Army bin as soon as possible.
Assuming you’ve stopped growing, you need to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit or cannot be adjusted to fit. Next, consider getting rid of clothing pieces that are not classic in style or fabric make-up. If it looks clearly looks like it’s a fashion piece from the 1970’s or is built from a fabric whose quality is so bad or outlandish it draws attention to itself, toss it as well.
Past this point you’ll want to be careful. Even though I advocate interchangeability, do not get rid of an item simply because it isn’t interchangeable. If you already own it, the only cost associated with it is storage. This piece of clothing could very well serve you as a non-core piece that you wear only once a month.
Step 2 – Buy Core Men’s Wardrobe Pieces
Once you have cleaned out your closet you now have the urgency and motivation to start building your interchangeable wardrobe with core pieces. Factors to be taken into account when buying pieces for a new wardrobe are build quality, fabric, style, fit and price. Although price is normally the most important factor for many of us, I highly recommend you not let it be the driving factor. Assuming that you’re within your budget, spending 30% more to get exactly what you want vs. settling for what’s cheapest is a not a good strategy. Better to get the quality item you want and wear the hell out of it than buy something you’re lukewarm about and consequently ends-up sitting in the back of your closet.
A classic men’s wardrobe will include a variety of clothing items depending on the man’s physical build, professional needs, resources, and personal style preferences. Specific core pieces for most men will be a dark suit, a blazer or dark sport jacket, leather dress shoes, a variety of solid colored dress shirts, grey flannel trousers, classic dark Levi jeans, and depending on the weather it could expand to a range of hot or cold weather items a well. For a complete list of core wardrobe items look to our other articles that specifically address building a man’s wardrobe.
Core Clothing Colors – Neutral colors as well as natural solids will be most practical for most men’s complexions and needs. Classics like the navy suit, brown tweed sports coat, and the gray flannel trouser will allow the wearer to mix and match as he pleases to create a pleasing appearance while remaining conservative with a modest number of items. Although many men often want to spice up their wardrobe with loud shirt colors and patterns, most are better served by ensuring their first ten shirts consist of 70 to 90% classic solids and semi-solid weaves.
Core Clothing Fabric Weight – When buying clothing items for a new wardrobe search for medium-weight pieces. For example, a medium-weight cashmere sweater is more interchangeable and therefore going to get more use than a heavy-weight wool sweater that can’t be layered appropriately.
Core Clothing Style – Classic is not boring or old-fashioned; classic is simply using lines and shapes that have made men appear more masculine and attractive for decades. Classic styles have been tested by millions of men across the globe; they have stuck because they work. To not use this to your advantage is asinine.
Step 3 – Expand the Core and Incorporate Personal Style
Once you have the core of an interchangeable wardrobe built, you can start add items that are more “wants” than “needs”. Here is also where you can add clothing pieces that are hard to match but useful for particular situation or if you really have a need to use clothing to stand out from the crowd. Think patterned trousers, bold colored shirts, or a jacket with unique buttons or style features. Shoes are another place to really build your wardrobe, especially if you go with a style that’s classic yet a bit out of the ordinary. Think multi-colored derby, saddle, or boat shoes.
A Classic Interchangeable Wardrobe – Conclusion
This article is an introduction to the reasons why you should build an interchangeable wardrobe. As to how to build this wardrobe, a man needs to consider factors such as the components of his individual style and invest in his own sartorial education so that he can learn from the experiences and mistakes of the men before him.