To a man still learning the ins and outs of dressing well, buying new clothing or organizing what he’s got may seem like an insurmountable challenge.

He’s probably asking himself questions such as:

  • Where do I begin?
  • What’s most important?
  • How can I even tell the difference?

My first inclination is to point him to the Lean Wardrobe philosophy, but even before he goes that far, I think he’d need a bit more background… a road map, if you will, so he knows where he’s going.

The Lean Wardrobe Pyramid

So, here’s my theory that should prove useful to the gent who’s still getting his bearings. Let’s think of the Lean Wardrobe as a pyramid, split into three levels.

LWpyramid

click to enlarge

The bottom is your base. It comprises the building blocks of your wardrobe. All your essentials. Your basics, in both garment style and color.

This is where your navy suit is, your dark denim, your khaki chinos, your T-shirts, your white dress shirt, your blue Oxford cloth button down.

These are typically solid, muted, and / or neutral in color. They go with everything, and they play nicely with each other.

The middle level contains pieces that are limited in their ability to mix with others.

Think bolder patterns, textures, and colors. Your multi-colored plaid, a yellow gingham button-down, that plum-colored henley, those green twill chinos.

These things go well with your base-level items one-on-one, but not so easily with each other. It’s certainly possible, you’d just have to understand how to match and complement colors and textures well.

The top level contains all your trendy, one-off or standout items. Things you see other people wear and want to try, too.

These are items like a white fedora, purple bowties with sunglass print, suspenders, a bold blazer, an in-your-face pocket square.

Own fewer items the more you move up the pyramid

In keeping with the Lean Wardrobe theory, you want a majority of your closet to contain the base items, things that are interchangeable in style and color, because these pieces will go with everything no matter what other clothing you choose.

You should own the fewest top-level items, those unique (yet inflexible) pieces. They’re great to finish off or accent your base outfit, but shouldn’t comprise your whole wardrobe. Not only would that be impractical, but you limit yourself in terms of interchangeability with the rest of your clothing.

Clothing in your base level ≠ someone else’s

What’s trendy or outstanding to you (i.e. suspenders), may be part of someone else’s base level.

The ideal Lean Wardrobe is different for everyone, and completely dependent upon one’s situation, income, and surroundings.

Just keep that in mind when you’re building your wardrobe. Find out what’s important to you and what fits your lifestyle best, and roll with that.

The complete Lean Wardrobe is MORE than just essentials

Sure, a majority of it is your essentials, your base-level items. These clothes are your wardrobe’s building blocks, the starting point of all your outfits.

But a wardrobe built on essentials alone is kind of… boring.

You need mid-level items and top-level trendy accessories. You need to introduce color in your wardrobe other than navy, gray, khaki, and white.

You need to experiment with trends outside of your comfort zone, because who knows, you may discover something you originally thought too far outside your level of comfort is actually pretty awesome and looks great on you. That means you can incorporate it more regularly in your rotation.

Does that help?

Curious to know if this helps you visualize the Lean Wardrobe idea better. Also would love to know if you prefer these shorter, more succinct posts vs our longer-form writing.

Let’s chat in the comments below!

If you found this article useful, make sure to check out our Lean Wardrobe resources page.

TAKE ME TO THE RESOURCES PAGE

PUBLISHED August 7, 2014


Barron is a Lean Wardrobe Advocate and Founding Editor of Effortless Gent. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr.



  • Hey Barron, cool analogy for visualizing it this way. I find it similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but also how comftorable you are with your own self-image to experiment with different things at the top of the pyramid.

    One of my favorite things to wear now is a white/cream pair of jeans with a tailored light blue or lavender dress shirt. When I was younger in my early 20s I would have never considered this as I was way to self-conscious.

    Some folks probably don’t have a strong image of themselves, therefore they stay in boring routines, jobs, and wardrobes all their lives.

    • Agree; it’s that, plus, just not being used to the clothing itself. It’s hard to wear white jeans suddenly, if you’ve never done it before. That’s the nice thing about stuff at the top of the pyramid. It’s not mandatory, but always available if you’re willing to experiment and try new things.

  • Hey Barron, cool analogy for visualizing it this way. I find it similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but also how comftorable you are with your own self-image to experiment with different things at the top of the pyramid.

    One of my favorite things to wear now is a white/cream pair of jeans with a tailored light blue or lavender dress shirt. When I was younger in my early 20s I would have never considered this as I was way to self-conscious.

    Some folks probably don’t have a strong image of themselves, therefore they stay in boring routines, jobs, and wardrobes all their lives.

    • Agree; it’s that, plus, just not being used to the clothing itself. It’s hard to wear white jeans suddenly, if you’ve never done it before. That’s the nice thing about stuff at the top of the pyramid. It’s not mandatory, but always available if you’re willing to experiment and try new things.

  • Josh Longanecker

    I’m digging the idea. What would be nice would be to include how many pair of each someone should shoot for – with the caveat that an individual may prefer more or less (always with the caveats..)

    3 pairs of dark denim jeans, 5 white OCBD’s, 1 Navy suit, etc. in order to fulfill the “base” of the pyramid, for example.

    • Yeah, I feel like I’ve covered that in a different article. And I have something awesome coming out soon, that will certainly cover those bases.

      Short answer though, I think it depends on your situation. A guy who wears suits to work 5 times a week will need more suits and dress shirts than a guy who works as a web developer.

      And the web developer will need more denim and OCBDs than the guy who’s wearing suits every day, etc.

      • steez

        Could you provide a link to that article you mentioned?

        • This article has a good list to start with, might have to scroll down a bit (or better yet, read the whole thing)

          effortlessgent.com/sartorial-evaluation-how-to-be-stylish-in-your-40s-and-beyond/

          • steez

            Thank you very much sir.

  • Josh Longanecker

    I’m digging the idea. What would be nice would be to include how many pair of each someone should shoot for – with the caveat that an individual may prefer more or less (always with the caveats..)

    3 pairs of dark denim jeans, 5 white OCBD’s, 1 Navy suit, etc. in order to fulfill the “base” of the pyramid, for example.

    • Yeah, I feel like I’ve covered that in a different article. And I have something awesome coming out soon, that will certainly cover those bases.

      Short answer though, I think it depends on your situation. A guy who wears suits to work 5 times a week will need more suits and dress shirts than a guy who works as a web developer.

      And the web developer will need more denim and OCBDs than the guy who’s wearing suits every day, etc.

      • steez

        Could you provide a link to that article you mentioned?

        • This article has a good list to start with, might have to scroll down a bit (or better yet, read the whole thing)

          effortlessgent.com/sartorial-evaluation-how-to-be-stylish-in-your-40s-and-beyond/

          • steez

            Thank you very much sir.

  • Matt Dalton

    I really like the idea. It can also help people remember that even if they get more advanced, to not let the ratios between the levels get out-of-whack. The diagram reinforces your concepts well, although it would help middle-aged eyes if the lines marking off the levels on the pyramid could be a bit thicker or with a small color adjustment that provides a little more contrast.

    As to long vs. short posts, I think it depends on the subject. I think the length of this post is spot on for communicating the concepts of the pyramid.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Matt.

      And even in the big, full-sized image it’s hard to see? https://s3.amazonaws.com/eg-siteassets/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/lwpyramid.png (zoom in to see full size)

      • Matt Dalton

        Viewing it full-size on a laptop is fine. It’s just the smaller-size image where I have trouble seeing the lines clearly. I hope this is not coming across as critical, as it is a good illustration and I only mentioned this because I want people to get the most from it.

        • Thanks, Matt. Yeah, I was hoping people would know to click on it to enlarge, that’s why I also linked right below. Can’t do much considering my layout limits the width of images

          • Rob Trauthwein

            B – I have to agree with Matt’s suggestion of more clearly deliniating between the layers by using visual differences. Perhaps make the base of the pyramid a navy color, the middle tier a medium shade of blue, and the top a light one. This not only makes each level stand out form the others from a strictly tactical stand point, but it would be another mental image for the density of your wardrobe that should be represented in each layer.

  • Matt Dalton

    I really like the idea. It can also help people remember that even if they get more advanced, to not let the ratios between the levels get out-of-whack. The diagram reinforces your concepts well, although it would help middle-aged eyes if the lines marking off the levels on the pyramid could be a bit thicker or with a small color adjustment that provides a little more contrast.

    As to long vs. short posts, I think it depends on the subject. I think the length of this post is spot on for communicating the concepts of the pyramid.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Matt.

      And even in the big, full-sized image it’s hard to see? https://s3.amazonaws.com/eg-siteassets/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/lwpyramid.png (zoom in to see full size)

      • Matt Dalton

        Viewing it full-size on a laptop is fine. It’s just the smaller-size image where I have trouble seeing the lines clearly. I hope this is not coming across as critical, as it is a good illustration and I only mentioned this because I want people to get the most from it.

        • Thanks, Matt. Yeah, I was hoping people would know to click on it to enlarge, that’s why I also linked right below. Can’t do much considering my layout limits the width of images

          • Rob Trauthwein

            B – I have to agree with Matt’s suggestion of more clearly deliniating between the layers by using visual differences. Perhaps make the base of the pyramid a navy color, the middle tier a medium shade of blue, and the top a light one. This not only makes each level stand out form the others from a strictly tactical stand point, but it would be another mental image for the density of your wardrobe that should be represented in each layer.

  • Jan

    Great article! Reminds me that I have a wardrobe full of base material so, yes, kind of boring.

    • but great to build upon!

  • Jan

    Great article! Reminds me that I have a wardrobe full of base material so, yes, kind of boring.

    • but great to build upon!

  • Patrick

    So, in theory I should have more cold weather coats than pocket squares or ties?

    • In theory, yes, but it also depends on how much you wear suits / blazers vs cold weather coats.

      And who needs more than one or two really great winter coats?

      On the other hand, accessories are easy to store, and it’s nice to have a selection. If you wear suits every day, I wouldn’t skimp on pocket squares and ties. I’d have at least 7-10 each to choose from throughout the week.

  • Patrick

    So, in theory I should have more cold weather coats than pocket squares or ties?

    • In theory, yes, but it also depends on how much you wear suits / blazers vs cold weather coats.

      And who needs more than one or two really great winter coats?

      On the other hand, accessories are easy to store, and it’s nice to have a selection. If you wear suits every day, I wouldn’t skimp on pocket squares and ties. I’d have at least 7-10 each to choose from throughout the week.

  • Stu

    I recently found a great coupon for 6% off Kohls through Ebates which you can use an unlimited amount of times. From my research, I learned that Kohls hired ebates to stimulate sales during the recession by offering this coupon. The way this works is that Kohl’s pays ebates a commission every time you use them to buy something. In return, Ebates pays you part of that commission (which is how you get the 6% off). This way everyone wins out including Kohls.

    Check it out for yourself. Here’s the link for ebates’ information page: [URL=”http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=SMzek%2F4gTZ0vXsL4z5gkXA%3D%3D&eeid=26471″]www.ebates.com/info[/URL]

    I like the Dockers pants personally, but to each their own. They have a lot of things to choose from.

  • Stu

    I recently found a great coupon for 6% off Kohls through Ebates which you can use an unlimited amount of times. From my research, I learned that Kohls hired ebates to stimulate sales during the recession by offering this coupon. The way this works is that Kohl’s pays ebates a commission every time you use them to buy something. In return, Ebates pays you part of that commission (which is how you get the 6% off). This way everyone wins out including Kohls.

    Check it out for yourself. Here’s the link for ebates’ information page: [URL=”http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=SMzek%2F4gTZ0vXsL4z5gkXA%3D%3D&eeid=26471″]www.ebates.com/info[/URL]

    I like the Dockers pants personally, but to each their own. They have a lot of things to choose from.

  • I like the concept, a smart way of looking at it! (though I’m getting a 404 not found on the image)

    • sorry about that, the site was still in transition. should be back up now

  • An_Authoratarian

    This is a good way to analyse what you already have to help identify any missing pieces. I do like to mix one off items with base and mid level mainstays but to also mix it up. I have quite a few outfits where I have a one off jacket that fits perfectly with one off trousers and again with shoes. In this combination you have to be careful that each item is not too bold where one over powers the other but this can be very effective with proper though. If this is too brash you don’t have to do a lot to stand out from the generally dull, conservative crowd, its all in the smaller detail and execution. The most important starting point is simple……… shoes, shoes and shoes. Did I mention shoes? 😉

    • I think that’s where the flexibility of this model comes in, especially if you follow the ratios (mostly base level stuff, more mid-level items, and then your “flair” at the top). Agree w/ the importance of paying attention to the boldness of each piece. And yes, shoes!

      Thanks for the comment

  • Suyash Patwardhan

    i want to buy chinos that would go with dark as well as light coloured shirts which colour do you suggest

  • Alex M

    All awesome points, but I would’ve described the differences between high level pyramid items and base items a little bit differently. Pocket squares, ties, and bow ties, have a lot more flexibility than you might think; and saying they are trendy or one-off implies (to me, at least) that they may not always be fashionable or only go with a very specific type of look. I’d argue that khakis have less flexibility than those pocket squares, actually. I’ve heard many people argue that things like that are meant to be out there and potentially even not match on purpose. Here are 72 crazy pocket squares I was looking at earlier, and I’d find it crazy to think that each one was only in a special and limited niche: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/337136722087057841/