Wardrobe Staples Every Man Should Own


Only in recent years have a majority of modern men become conscious of how they dress.

Thanks to smoldering, handsome male celebs that guys-next-door quietly idolize and want to emulate, fashion-forward men — or metrosexuals — are more aware of what they’re wearing when they step out and how others perceive their various looks.

They say that clothes make the man. It’s true — to an extent. A well-fitted tee and a pair of khakis can turn duds into dapper specimens. Just don’t confuse that colloquialism with brands. Brands do not make the man. Any well-groomed guy can look great even if he prefers K-Mart to Kenneth Cole, so long as what he’s donning is crisp, clean, and classic.

That’s the key to forever style — keeping it classic. To help build your wardrobe with pieces that will have you looking GQ-ready — past, present, and future — here are my suggestions on staples and accessories that every Y-chromosomed closet must have. (See also: Men: Why Frugal Is Sexy)

White Undershirts

Unless you have a chest that someone actually wants to see bare — although that’s subjective, I suppose — you should keep it covered. I rarely wear shirts with buttons without an undershirt underneath. I like the contrast of the stark white against the patterned shirt, and it prevents the sweat stains from seeping through to the outside shirt for the most part. Personally I’m partial to American Apparel tees (because they fit me better than other brands), but lower-priced Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and off brands will do the same job as a more expensive name. It’s only an undershirt, after all. No need to spend an arm a leg, especially considering that you should be replacing them every one to two years.

Clean Underwear

There’s no reason you should have a drawer full of ratty, stained, and holey underwear. When you look and feel great, you have more confidence — and how can you exude confidence if your undies look like the swamp monster chewed them up and spit them out? I’m not saying you can’t keep that one pair of boxers you’ve had since college, just reserve them for Sundays at home alone on the couch. Otherwise, your underwear should reflect the rest of your wardrobe; when your pants come off, you should still look the part of someone who cares about his appearance, right down to his skivvies. Calvin Kleins are the mark of a man who knows what he’s doing, especially if that man bought them for 50% off at shops like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

Black Socks

If it seems like you buy a new pair of black socks every time you have a formal event and afterward they disappear into thin air, you’re not alone. My husband has the same problem. Where they go, I don’t know. To combat this problem, I recommend buying three-packs, even better in various colors like navy blue and tan to coordinate with other outfits. When you’re done with the black socks after your event, put them away in a separate drawer so they don’t get mixed up with other items and subsequently “lost.” And by no means should you opt for white socks if you can’t find the black pair. In my book, that’s wholly unacceptable. Even if you’re in a rush, you can stop by a Walgreens or CVS and pick up a pair in a pinch.

Non-Pleated Khaki Pants

Pleated pants make your waist look wider, so avoid them at all costs. However, a nice pair of flat-front khakis look great on anyone (and I do mean anyone) who knows how to wear them right — on the waist with low-cut sneakers, mocs, or boat or driving shoes. If you think they look good with your basketball shoes, you’re wrong; you have to be a special type of guy to pull off that look, and most of us are not him. I tend to avoid khakis with cuffed bottoms, too. They look dated, but they sometimes work for guys with short legs.

Age-Appropriate Jeans

When I was in college, and even the first years afterward, I was one of those guys who spent hundreds of dollars for denim with holes in the knees and distressed seams. I grew out of it in favor of jeans that fit and don’t me look like an out-of-touch, over-the-hill idiot from an MTV reality show. You should, too. No one over age 30 should be buying jeans that showcase the patella. Whether you prefer slim fit, regular, or boot cut, make sure they’re a proper fit around your hips and thighs and just barely touch the bottom of your shoes.

Polo Shirts

A nice polo shirt will last you decades if correctly cared for. I prefer Ralph Lauren or Lacoste, simply because of the quality, but if you’re cost conscious when it comes to clothing you can find a polo just about any place you shop. Stock up in classic colors like blue, white, pink, and black. Trust me when I tell you that you can never have too many polos. They’re great for the weekend, casual Fridays, networking events — just about anything that doesn’t require a blazer and tie.

Navy Blue Blazer

Why navy blue? Because it goes with just about anything, making it the smarter, more versatile long-term choice. I recommend a fitted cut for a more tailored look, but that’s just personal preference.

Brown/Black Belts and Shoes

I’m consistently amazed when I spot guys who pair brown belts with black shoes and vice versa. I just don’t get it. For me, that’s simple science. Either way, each of these pieces, individually, should be in your closet. While you can’t easily change the color of your shoes — you should invest in nice, dressy brown and black pairs — you can get away with buying a reversible belt; one side will be black, the other will be brown. Perfectly acceptable.

Button-Down Oxford Shirts

White and light blue are the most popular, versatile colors, but you can choose the palate that best suits you. As someone who’s melanin-challenged — that is, very pale — I can rarely get away with stark white; still, nothing looks cleaner than bright white, so I wear it from time to time. Whatever you choose, a pressed oxford (yes, pressed; you should know how to use an iron or pay a dry cleaner) looks fresh and inviting.

College-Striped Ties

There’s an infinite numbers of tie designs — paisley, polka dot, cartoon characters (please avoid the latter at all costs) — but in my observation, college-striped ties seem to withstand the test of time. They’re your best bet for keeping your look current without having to run to the department store every time trends change. RIP, skinny ties — for now.

Stainless Steel Timepiece

A masculine, stainless-steel watch completes any ensemble, whether it’s for work or the weekend. My favorite is ESQ, but there are plenty of quality watches in all price ranges on the market. Fossil, for instance, manufacturers great watches at affordable prices — just right for guys who might live a little tougher and rougher than I do. No matter what brand you choose, you will always look put together and well-to-do with a nice watch — even when you’re bummin’ it.

Did I miss a wardrobe staple? What essentials do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

A nice pair of black slacks. Pleated if you are thin and flat front if not..

Mikey Rox's picture

I think this is a matter of personal preference. I don't like black slacks and I don't think they're wardrobe staples, but some guys may. I appreciate the comment.

Guest's picture

Well, I now have my Christmas and birthday gift requests figured out. Classic is always the best - time-tested will never guide you wrong. Thanks for braking it down into simple, clear ideas of what wardrobe-challeneged guys like me can do. I'd probably add that owning a good pair of $80 polished black shoes is also essential. They'll last a long time and go with everything and look very sharp.

Andrea Karim's picture

My husband has a rather large collection of knit silk undershirts - not just in white, but also in gray and black.

What's interesting to me is that they don't tend to make men's underthings in "nude" tone. I mention this because I remember purchasing a bra once, and having the saleswoman ask why I was buying a white bra. I showed her the white shirt I had just bought, and she pointed out that white underthings show through white clothing very starkly. She pointed me in the direction of "nude" toned bras, and I've never looked back. A white undershirt can REALLY be seen under a nice white dress shirt, but there doesn't even seem to be a more skin-tone oriented shirt for men, does there?

Of course, beige undergarments aren't ideal for people with darker skin tones, either, but anything seems better to me than bright white under white.

Andrea Karim's picture

Can I just say how jealous I am that I can't wear a tie? And no, I really can't - I look like I'm in drag if I do. But I love ties, and if I were a man, I would have several dozen of them.

Guest's picture

I didn't see ruffly tuxedo shirt on the list

Mikey Rox's picture

Haha. This made me laugh when I read it on my phone. Touche. But you should talk to the Wise Bread editors about their photo choices. :)

Guest's picture

Unfortunately a stainless steel timepiece isn't an option for those of us with hairy arms. I have to stick to bands that don't pull hairs on my wrist. Fortunately there are some timepieces that have interchangeable bands that allow for different colors (brown vs. black).

Guest's picture

Melatonin is sleep hormone. Melanin is a substance that gives skin and hair its color. Learn the difference.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks for the heads-up, guest. I've made the change.

Guest's picture

Couple of points: undershirts are a matter of taste, I guess, with more casual clothes like button-downs, etc. But you should be aware that they are a bit of a class marker. Best to avoid them with dressier shirts, IMHO.

As for the socks, you should have a few pairs of black socks, but the navy, tan, etc. socks are a lot more important, so that entry is a bit confusing. Your socks should match your trousers. And the only time you should be wearing black trousers is with a dinner jacket. Dark charcoal is acceptable though, and black socks go with that well enough, though charcoal socks would be better.

A couple of items are conspicuously absent from this list. In particular, every man should have _at least_ one reasonably good suit, IMHO. Navy is the best color if you can have only one suit. Charcoal would be a good choice for a second suit. Not Black, and not microfiber. Wool. Preferably fully canvassed, though that will make it a bit pricey.

Guest's picture

Oh gosh. Everything I hate about bland, conservative male American clothes. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is less sexy than chinos and a polo shirt - except a buttoned shirt with an undershirt. Sorry dude... I'm British and normally very polite - but I like men's clothes to have personality!

Guest's picture

I agree completely, khakis, white socks, white undershirts and button down blue shirts - boring vanilla and not classic, just lazy and uninspired.

Guest's picture
Edward Stripe Shirts

I couldn't agree more that a white shirt is a crisp versatile classic for business formal as well as casual style. If you don't feel confident in stark white then consider fine checks or stripes in white and black as this combination can still include the crispness of white that makes it so popular.

Guest's picture

If you prefer T-shirts to polo shirts, only wear a solid color. I don't need to know what beer you drink or your favorite band.