Where to put your money, and how much you can expect to spend on it.
Priority 1: The All-Purpose Suit
How Many: At least one; men in high-formality businesses will need more.
How Much: Anywhere from $300 to $1000+ depending on quality.
A single high-quality suit is a wardrobe necessity, no matter what anyone else tells you.
The suit is what you wear when you need to impress. Maybe you only need to impress a couple of times a year — but those couple of times matter a lot. If you don't own a really good suit, something made from 100% wool and adjusted to fit you specifically, go ahead and shell out a decent chunk of your wardrobe budget for it.
Worth keeping in mind:
- If you only have one suit you want it to work everywhere. Buy either plain charcoal gray or plain navy blue in a single-breasted, two-buttoned jacket.
- Remember that you're buying three pieces of clothing at once: a matched suit for business dress occasions, a dark sport coat for business casual purposes, and a pair of dark trousers for just about any purpose.
- Price jumps relative to how customized the fit is. A bespoke suit is anywhere from two to ten times as expensive as made-to-measure, and made-to-measure is usually at least twice as expensive as ready-to-wear/off-the-rack.
- Even if you're buying ready-to-wear, have it adjusted by a tailor to your measurements. The extra $25-75 you'll spend is worth the difference in how it looks. It's part of your budget and it belongs there.
Men who wear suits every day will, of course, need to budget significantly more for suits than most men. Aim to buy two good dark suits right off the bat (one navy and one charcoal works great), then slowly add more. By the third, fourth, and fifth suits, you can start experimenting with options like pinstripe or light-colored summer suits, but start with the dark staples.
Priority 2: The Selection of Dress Shirts
How Many: At least 2-3; work your way up toward 10+ over time
How Much: Between $25 – $150 per shirt depending on quality
Dress shirts are your staple option for looking good with or without a jacket on. You'll eventually have other types of shirts too, but these are the basics that you can wear anyway and be acceptable, if not necessarily on the cutting edge of fashion.
Start with two high-quality shirts: plain white and plain blue, both with point or spread (not button-down) collars. Those are your dress and dress-casual staples.
From there build the wardrobe with lightly-patterned, white-based shirts until you've got a week's worth, and then start adding bolder colors and more interesting patterns.
Aim to buy dress shirts more frequently than you wear them out. Your collection doesn't have to expand rapidly, but it should always be growing rather than shrinking. And when one of your core shirts (especially the good white one) wears out or starts to discolor, replace it.
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Priority 3: Dress Slacks
How Many: Start with at least three. Build from there.
How Much: At least $50+ for a good pair, unless you're very lucky on sales.
At the point where you have a suit, a selection of shirts, and a selection of pants, you've got a wardrobe. That's why they're first.
With dress slacks it's best to start with one from each color family:
- A light pair like khakis
- A medium pair like gray flannel trousers or brown slacks
- A pair in dark gray, navy, or black
That way you can always contrast your shirt, whatever color it happens to be. Tones like gray and khaki are easier to match than stark absolutes like black and white, making them preferable.
This is another area where you'll want to add options faster than you lose them, so keep an eye out for good sales on trousers. It never hurts to add a pair, especially in a color or texture you don't already own.
Priority 4: Sports Jackets
How Many: Aim to eventually own at least 3-5
How Much: $100-500+ each depending on quality.
Once you have your top three priorities — a suit, dress shirts, and slacks — you're ready to move out of “absolute necessities” and into “good style options.” Sports jackets are your first stop.
You're buying these so that you can always roll out of bed and have something to throw on top of a dress shirt and slacks and call it an outfit. They're a low-maintenance upgrade for your whole look.
One of the great things about sports jackets is that they come in so many styles you can start to customize your look very fast, but it's always worth owning a few of the classics:
- A navy blazer (this should be everyone's first jacket)
- Gray or brown tweed
- Colored corduroy
- Light khaki or gray
Apart from the universal usefulness of a navy blazer there's no real order or priority to your sports jackets. Get the ones you like best — they're there to customize your style and make you a little better-dressed than the guys in just slacks and collared shirts.
A good sports jacket lasts upwards of a decade, so once you have one or two to start your wardrobe you can add these at a fairly slow pace.
Priority 5: Dress and Casual Leather Shoes
How Many: Two basic staples, plus at least one or two pairs for personal style
How Much: $100 – 300+ depending on quality
Every man's closet should have at least two good pairs of leather shoes in it:
- Plain black oxford balmorals for business dress
- Brown oxfords, bluchers, or brogues for dress-casual
Beyond that a few more pairs help make you someone with interesting and stylish footwear rather than someone wearing the bare necessities for good dress.
A leather slip-on of some kind (driving shoe, loafer, moccasin, etc.) makes a good third pair, as do casual and decorative leather shoes like wingtips, saddle shoes, woven leather shoes, etc.
Once you really start expanding your footwear it'll be worth having a pair of canvas or leather athletic shoes and some good leather sandals as well, but they're not as high a priority as the hard-sided dress shoes.
Priority 6: Neckties and Pocket Squares
How Many: 1-3 if your work doesn't require them; 7+ if your work does
How Much: Anywhere from $15 – $100+ depending on quality
Every man needs a few neckties, and if you only own one or two they should be on the conservative side: solid colors with a bit of texture or low-contrast patterning and not much more.
Once you own a few ties that are safe for all occasions you can start getting into more colorful or elaborately-patterned ones.
The difference between a $10 tie and a $100 tie is easier to spot than most people think, so try to be buying ties that are at least made from 100% silk. (Silk ties with a fine wool lining are actually of a much higher quality, and cost, but 100% silk works for most men's purposes. Just stay away from synthetics.)
Your goal is to own enough that people are never bored of seeing the same old ties on you. If you wear ties infrequently, you shouldn't need new ones all that often. If you wear them every day, plan on adding a new one every month or two to keep your daily wardrobe fresh.
Pocket squares are slightly different: you want enough to wear one every time you put a jacket on. If you're wearing jackets every day, that means a pretty good collection. Variety helps a lot here, and you can find them pretty cheap, so indulge in a new pocket square frequently.
Priority 7: Overcoat and Briefcase
How Many: 1-2 of each is more than enough for most men's purposes
How Much: $100 – $500+ for an overcoat; $50 – $200+ for a briefcase
These are paired together because they're in the same basic niche: outer accessories that will make you look much better when you're dressed for business, but that you can live without in a pinch. Buy them as soon as you can, but not at the expense of more fundamental items.
A plain gray overcoat and a plain black briefcase are the most versatile pieces. If your wardrobe tends more toward business-casual than strict business dress and you find that you're usually wearing brown shoes rather than black, go for a brown briefcase. Leathers should always match.
Priority 8: Jeans
How Many: 1-3 pairs, more if you wear them regularly
How Much: $50 – $250+ depending on quality
A good pair of dark indigo jeans is a pretty useful fashion item. It goes well with sports jackets and casual shirts, and you can wear it without a jacket when you really need to dress down.
What you don't need to invest in (unless you're wearing them for physical labor) are the conventional light blue worker's jeans. Those should be reserved for their practical function, and shouldn't be showing up in your style wardrobe.
Quality matters a lot more than quantity in jeans, so go ahead and spend on some fancier denim from a good company. You'll get a better look and a longer-lasting product than if you just buy Gap jeans on sale.
Priority 9: Sweaters
How Many: 1-3 is usually fine; more if you like wearing sweaters.
How Much: $50 – $100+ depending on quality.
Sweaters aren't a necessity for most men (apart from fishermen, mountaineers, etc.), but they are a nice alternative to jackets, especially in cooler weather. Thin sweaters can also be worn underneath jackets.
Cashmere is often the best material to go for, since it combines lightweight with warmth and a soft texture, but it can be a bit pricey. Thin cotton sweaters also work fine as layering pieces, and are much more affordable.
Own at least one sweater that you bought for real warmth — a good Aran or Guernsey sweater makes a lot of difference in the winter.
Priority 10: Undergarments
How Many: At least a week's worth
How Much: $5 or less for the cheap stuff; $10 – $50 for fancier underlayers
You don't need coaching here. Find a style of underwear you like and buy enough to last you a week or two without doing laundry. Throw it out when it gets holes.
Undershirts are useful and worth spending a little more on. They're there to save your shirts and jackets from your sweat, and even at $10 or $20 a pop as opposed to the 3-for-$5 value packs that's still a long-term savings if they do the job well.
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