The Perfect Men’s Casual Capsule Wardrobe: 11 Essentials For The Effortless Gent

by Barron Cuadro  |  in Casual Style

Looking to create the perfect men’s casual capsule wardrobe? I’ve distilled it down to 11 essentials every Effortless Gent needs in his closet. They’re the basic ingredients of your wardrobe.

Think of it like baking a chocolate cake. Every chocolate cake has its basic ingredients: flour, water, oil, eggs, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, and so on.

Just like a cake would be incomplete without these ingredients, so too would your smart sharp wardrobe be incomplete without these clothing items. 

grid of clothes on blue background

Simply put, this capsule wardrobe is the backbone of your entire closet.

Each of these 11 essentials is versatile, can be worn in most situations, and everything easily matches with each other and plenty of other garments you may already own, or will buy in the future.

The usefulness of these clothes won’t change year after year like some trends do.

I’ve bought each of these essentials and some have lasted for years (assuming I managed to stay the same size) and when they are ready for replacement, I just buy a new version of the same thing.

While the 11 items in this capsule wardrobe won’t be the only items in your closet, they’ll be the mainstays, the most worn items in there. You’ll be able to build a solid well-rounded wardrobe around these casual staples.

And sure, you can explore other styles and trends, and even variations of these items… but if you want to achieve a smart, sharp, casual style, you’ll always gravitate towards these specific pieces.

An Effortless Gent’s Casual Capsule Wardrobe: 11 Clothing Items You Need

So if you’re still in the process of building out your lean wardrobe, make sure to grab one of each of these pieces.

The dark, unwashed denim

If you’ve been reading EG for a while, you know dark wash denim would be at the top of this list.

I’ve been wearing and recommending dark blue—raw, rigid, many names for it—jeans ever since I started this website back in 2009. It’s still my most worn pair of denim out of everything in my closet.

Flint and Tinder The Summer Jean

"The Summer Jean combines a classic, easygoing shape with the lightest weight denim they've ever sourced, resulting in the perfect jean for all of your warm-weather outings."

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The one thing that’s changed, as far as my recommendation specifically, is the fit. While a slim fit is still ideal, your jeans don’t need to be so slim and tight that they’re hugging your legs and revealing your silhouette.

Go for a “tailored fit”, where the denim follows your general leg shape while still giving your thighs and calves room to breathe… with a taper towards the ankle and ends right at the top of your shoe (a.k.a. no break).

The British Khaki chinos

Chinos are the second pair of pants I’d consider an Effortless Gent staple. Specifically, I like the British khaki shade, slightly darker and with a warmer hue than the standard khaki color.

Alex Mill Standard Pleated Chino

Didn’t think you could pull off pleats? Think again. These aren’t anything like the pleated pants of days gone by. These are subtly stylish, just different enough and perfectly well-suited to wear with, say, a casual Alex Mill tee. On that note…

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But to be honest, you’ll do just fine with standard khaki-colored chinos as well. More importantly, how do they fit?

Go with the same suggestion as the denim above. A tailored fit, slightly tapered and no break.

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The Medium grey t-shirt

A classic crewneck T-shirt, specifically in a medium grey color, is universally complementary. It looks good on pretty much any guy.

Sometimes white tees can feel too informal or revealing, and black tees can appear too dark or wash you out. Medium grey works for all skin tones, and goes with any other color you may have on.

I have mostly medium grey, charcoal, and black T-shirts, but if I could only pick one color for my lean wardrobe, it would be a medium grey tee.

The Chambray Button-Up Shirt

Most days, you’ll find me in a chambray button-up shirt. It’s the most worn shirt in my closet. It’s super versatile and can be used year-round.

J.Crew Chambray Shirts

Softer and lighter than denim (thanks to a different weaving process), chambray looks great no matter how you wear it.

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I bought my first one probably eight or nine years ago, and I’ve accumulated several more since, all with different shades of blue, collar styles, and sleeve lengths.

If you only have one collared shirt for your casual capsule wardrobe, make it a chambray and you won’t be disappointed.

The navy hopsack or twill sport coat

This is a garment you may not wear often, but an occasion will come when you need it, and you’ll be happy to have one in your closet. Go for a classic, single-breasted, two-button jacket with subdued horn buttons, a deep navy color, and a substantial lapel.

All traditional suiting fit rules apply: shoulder seam should hit right at the end of your shoulder bone, jacket length should cover your butt, etc. Shoulder padding is optional, though I tend to prefer a more relaxed, soft shoulder style.

Hopsack or twill fabric will lend the most versatility, and can be worn with dress chinos, mismatched wool trousers, even your dark denim. All-season wool or a wool / linen / cotton blend would also work. Wool would be a smidge more formal than the twill or blended cloth.

The medium grey all-season wool suit

If you only own one suit, make it a classic single-breasted version in a medium grey all-season wool. That way, it’s super versatile and can be worn throughout the year.

And if you think a grey wool suit is boring, it doesn’t have to be. The other components—dress shirt, tie, shoes—can add a ton of interest to your overall look if done tastefully.

Similar to the navy sport coat, you may not use your grey suit often, but when an occasion arises where you need a suit, you’ll be ready.

The Quilted Zip Vest

This piece is one of those midlayers that you’ll find yourself using much more than you ever thought you would. I find that a nice quilted vest with the right details can be worn with smart sharp / business casual / office-appropriate outfits just as easily as casual ones.

J.Crew Factory Walker Vest
$99 (but usually on sale)

Great budget quilted vest that's perfect for layering in colder temperatures.

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I’d suggest a quilted vest in navy, black, or army green. I use my army green one the most, as it goes nicely with the blues of a dark denim and the tans / browns of my leather shoes.

But of course, black will go with plenty of color combos as well.

The crewneck sweater

If you choose the right type of crewneck sweater, it’ll get tons of use year-round. I prefer a medium-weight merino wool / cashmere blend, something with a bit more heft that goes well with jeans. This will serve as your mid-layer during the colder months, and your outermost layer in the warmer months.

Uniqlo Crew Neck Sweater
Starting at $39.90

Available in cashmere or a 19.5 ultra-fine merino wool. Smooth and soft to the touch.

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As far as colors, the most versatile would be in the grey family. I like a mid-grey ground color, and there may be a bit of a pattern in the knit or texture in the yarn, which is fine.

Your sweater shouldn’t fit too tightly; remember that you’ll be wearing a shirt underneath. Keep it trim, not oversized, with enough room to move around.

The field jacket

My most worn outerwear piece in my closet by far is my field jacket. It’s the right amount of rugged and goes great with every pair of pants, shirt, midlayer, and shoe I mention on this list.

Barbour Sapper Field Jacket

A dashing corduroy collar and a quilted lining detail a classic military-style jacket rendered in durable, weatherproof Sylkoll-waxed cotton for all-season style.

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04/06/2023 09:31 pm GMT

Field jackets are typically made from a rugged cotton canvas fabric and designed with a stand-up collar, two chest pockets, and two hip pockets, along with details like a drawstring waist and cinched cuffs.

An army green color would be the logical choice—field jackets have military roots—but charcoal, navy, or black also work.

The dark brown long wing brogue 

There are many, many different types of leather dress shoes. But for this highly-edited list, I suggest just one pair: The dark brown long wing brogue.

This will pair well with your grey wool suit, but works just as well with your dark denim and chinos. It plays double duty with formal and casual outfits, and shines in both instances.

Florsheim Kenmoor II Longwing Brogues

The Florsheim Kenmoor II is meticulously crafted using exceptional quality leathers and features a fully cushioned footbed and flexible Goodyear Welt, providing out-of-the-box comfort, flexibility, and the ability to be resoled as needed.

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The dark brown leather color is formal enough for most occasions, from weddings to work meetings.

The long wing style brogue is unique, as the “wing” extends along both sides of the shoe. You don’t see it as often as standard wing tips.

The Classic White Leather Sneaker

A standard tennis or court-style shoe will always make sense in a Lean Wardrobe. It’s a classic shape and silhouette with a plain toe and minimal design elements. It’ll never go out of style. So that’s always my main suggestion.

The beauty of the classic white leather sneaker is its ubiquity (it’s everywhere, and many different brands make their own version) as well as its timelessness. You won’t look at this shoe in 50 years and say “Ew, that looks SO dated.”

Koio Capri

In buttery full-grain calf leather, the Capri Triple White from Koio is the ultimate wardrobe cornerstone.

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Stylistically, these will go with everything I suggest in this list of menswear essentials. But make sure you don’t skimp on these. Buy a luxurious pair (like these Koios I feature) because if you take care of them, they’ll last a long time and look better with wear.

Consider This Casual Capsule A Great Start To Your Lean Wardrobe

That’s it! That’s my list of 11 menswear essentials for an effortless gent’s capsule wardrobe. Every man’s closet will benefit from having these 11 items (you are going for a smart sharp style, right?).

And if you own these items, you’ll see just how much use each individual piece will get.

Even with those rarely used clothing pieces (like your grey wool suit), you’ll be happy you have it when the inevitable time comes that you need it.

I hope this guide helped!

If you want a copy to take with you, enter your name and email below and I’ll send you a downloadable PDF version, stat.