Got a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear? In this article, we’ll break down all your men’s wardrobe essentials from jeans to jackets, socks to shirts, and everything in between.
After picking up everything on this list, you’ll have your basics and essentials covered (even if you start with absolutely nothing).
Wardrobe Essentials: My top picks (if you’re in a rush)
I suggest going through this entire article for my full list of suggestions and reasons why these items are considered wardrobe essentials.
But, sometimes you just wanna buy the thing! I get it.
Here are my top picks from each category (pants, shirts, and so on).
Why are men’s wardrobe essentials important?
OK kids, gather ’round. It’s time for papa Barron to tell you a story from his childhood.
It was 7:05am, and the sun peeked over the hills outside my window. Frost had developed overnight at the edges of the glass, hinting at a crisp, fall day ahead.
I groggily started the process of getting ready for school. I washed my face and styled my hair. All I had left to do was get dressed before grabbing a quick breakfast and heading out the door.
Except I was paralyzed. Leaning against the wall, staring into my closet.
In a half-woken stupor, I must’ve been standing there 5, 6 minutes, just staring, like I was glancing into the abyss.
I had no idea what to wear!
All my options sucked. It was as if I only had 3 outfits to choose from.
But if this were a cinematic film and the initial shot was cropped close, right over my shoulder, with me staring into the closet… the next shot would be a slow zoom out, finally showing the whole closet, FILLED WITH CLOTHES.
The camera would then cut to the two other closets stuffed with clothing. And then back to my face, staring blankly like an idiot.
THIS, my friends, was me in high school and college.
A young guy who enjoyed fashion and style so much that he had lots of clothing, yet nothing to wear.
No simple basics in neutrals or earth tones (menswear neutrals) that all go with each other. Few perfect essentials.
Instead, old T-shirts and pants I wasn’t into anymore, super trendy pieces that matched with a limited number of other things, and cool stand-out clothes that I loved, but didn’t feel confident enough to wear.
A closet filled with cool stuff individually, but nothing versatile, nothing that went well together.
Men’s Wardrobe Essentials = Fewer but better clothes
It wouldn’t be until many years later that I discovered how great it is to own less.
Fewer (but more awesome) items that fit well, are neutral in color, and go with everything else in my closet.
I’m still perfecting my ideal minimalist wardrobe.
At this point, I’m pretty sure it’s a lifelong, ever-evolving process. I do still fall victim to the occasional “What was I thinking?” purchase, though I’ve gotten much better.
If you’ve ever been in young Barron’s position—staring into your closet with tons of options but feeling like you have nothing you want to wear—a lean, minimalist wardrobe may be your saving grace.
What exactly is a minimalist wardrobe?
There are a few terms—minimalist wardrobe, capsule wardrobe, lean wardrobe (what we call it on EG)—that all describe the same thing:
Minimalist Wardrobe: A man’s wardrobe essentials; classic, quality items in neutral colors that are interchangeable and easily worn with each other.Read more here →
My story of getting dressed as a teen may sound familiar. It’s a similar one echoed by many young’ns experimenting with their personal style.
As a result, they end up with a closet filled with clothing, yet wear only a small handful of those things.
Keeping a lean, minimalist wardrobe requires some effort and regular pruning… but day to day, this type of wardrobe makes putting together sharp looking outfits much easier.
Choosing your wardrobe essentials
For this article, I singled out what I actually wear on a regular basis, and what makes up a versatile, interchangeable wardrobe. So I’m presenting that to you today.
One thing to remember: Don’t look at my set of essentials as some hard-and-fast rule. I’m not saying you have to own these things.
This is where you’ll need to exercise a bit of critical thinking. Consider where you live and what you do day to day.
If you live in Miami, Florida, you probably won’t need a heavy winter parka. If you’re a computer engineer, maybe you don’t need five
Consider my essentials more like a boilerplate template; a place to start. Feel free to add and remove items that make or don’t make sense for you.
Men’s Wardrobe Essentials: My suggestions
Denim is a standard in most guys’ closets.
Perfect for everyday, casual activities… from running errands on a Saturday, to meeting friends or your partner for after-work drinks and dinner.
My favorite pants (both denim and chinos) are from Bonobos.
Another one of my go-to denim brands is Levi’s. The problem with Levi’s is that they change model numbers all the time and it’s hard to keep up.
I like slim and tapered (or athletic) cuts because they’re designed to have room in the legs and seat, but the leg opening tapers, or becomes smaller, which looks much more clean (clean lines, clean lines!).
If you want to be truly minimal, you only need one pair: Dark, raw, unwashed indigo.
I also have a medium- and light-washed pair. Because, well, I like variety, and I don’t always want to wear dark denim, especially in warmer weather.
If I’m not in jeans, I’m wearing chinos.
I don’t particularly like the medium khaki color (I call them “middle management khakis“), but I do like the British khaki / caramel color, a few shades darker.
I also wear a medium grey or charcoal pair a lot. Grey goes with everything and these chinos are so versatile.
As far as fit is concerned, they’re similar to my denim: medium rise, athletic, tapered cut, no break. You can see how some of my casual pants fit here.
Dress pants / trousers
For slightly dressier situations, I have more formal options for pants.
In this case, dressier chinos and wool trousers with extended tab closures, cuffs, and sharp pleats. These characteristics aren’t essential for a dressier pair of pants, but all of mine happen to have them, because I like them.
While any man can benefit from a variety of dress shirts, the true workhorses will be those in white and light blue.
Charles Tyrwhitt has a solid, good looking product for a competitive price. Plenty of fabrics, patterns, and fits. The Tie Bar also has a great selection of dress shirts that fit well and are at a great price point.
Another favorite is Kamakura based out of Japan. Slightly pricer than CT and Tie Bar but I’d argue quality and construction are incomparable. These feel like $250 shirts but they start at $79.
If you’re like me and sport a smart, sharp, casual style, your go-to combo is more denim, sport shirts, and sport coats instead of full
Again, feel free to adjust this number and do a bit of critical thinking.
- If you wear
suitsevery day, you’ll probably need several of each, plus other easy-to-pair options
- If you rarely don a suit, 2-3 total should do
In this case, I prefer a light lavender, light pink, and a light blue and white stripe
Allllrighty, now we’re getting into the shirts I wear most. First up, these OCBDs.
Naturally, light blue and white go with everything, so these two see a lot of use. I also own one in a light pink and a light grey. I don’t wear them quite as often, but they do come out once in awhile, so I hang onto them.
Chambrays in all shades are a mainstay in my lean, minimalist wardrobe.
I have a few versions with different styles, some short-sleeved and others long-sleeved. One has a band collar, another is a popover with a
In the winter, I love these plaid flannel shirts (plaid being the pattern, flannel being the fabric).
I like to pair them with any of the casual pants I pointed out above: dark denim, caramel chinos, or charcoal chinos.
These shirts in particular provide more warmth compared to all the other casual
Midlayers are your best friends during fall and winter.
In fall, they can serve as your outerwear piece if it isn’t cold enough for a coat. And during the winter, they’re the perfect layering piece over a
On the left is an example of a casual spring / summer midlayer – a lightweight cotton wide stripe sweatshirt. Feels a bit nautical, perfect for warm weather.
On the right is a thicker grey and brown marled wool sweater I typically wear with denim and chinos.
For a formal outfit, I’d probably go with something a bit more refined, like a fine-knit merino V-neck or cardigan.
I have plenty of belts, but I find myself rotating among the same 2-3 ones during the week.
For my casual outfits, a grey canvas belt, and depending on my shoes, a tan cognac or medium-dark brown belt.
Huge fan of Anson Belts because of the micro-adjustability and the large selection of leather and canvas options. I suggest the 1.5″ width if you’re looking to customize your own.
Hats—fedoras, in particular—may not be for everyone, but I wear them all the time.
Wool felt in the colder months, packable straw versions for the warmer months, or whenever I’m lucky enough to hop down to Miami or somewhere else with humidity and palm trees.
I have a few ball caps (or dad hats) I wear as well. My favorite is a navy Polo Sport cap that I’ve had for 25 years. (!!!)
I love wearing military field jackets, especially during those transitional months in spring and fall.
These are two that see the most use in my closet. The green jacket on the left is a Canada army-issued MK II (I’m wearing it here). The right is a heavier-weight field jacket. Here’s a similar field jacket from Alpha Industries.
Other casual jacket options
If you’re not into that military vibe, a Baracuta G9 Harrington jacket would be a great casual option.
The Racer jacket from Members Only is another classic with similar styling.
Finally, a denim jacket is another good light outerwear option. If you get the right shade (a light to medium washed color), you can wear it with medium or dark-blue denim (without going full Canadian Tuxedo), as well as your charcoal or British Khaki / dark tan chinos, like so.
My buddy Peter has a great tip when it comes to sport coats: Look at them as jackets instead of half a suit.
You throw jackets on without a second thought. You can do the same with sport coats, too.
Sure, they can be dressed up with a
These three colorways will serve you well if you’re still trying to figure out which sport coats you should buy first:
- one in a medium grey with a bit of texture
- a brown or tan-colored jacket (mine has a glen check pattern), and
- a navy jacket (this one being a double-breasted, brighter navy)
I bought an incredible Canada Goose Citadel parka when I first moved to NYC, and it saw plenty of use my first winter here. But honestly, it hasn’t been that cold since.
In contrast, I use my J.Crew dock peacoat almost every day during winter. It’s perfect for layering and protects me from most New York winter days.
If you’re further north than I am, you may need something more substantial (like the Canada Goose parka), but for me, this works just fine.
A puffer coat is perfect for casual fits, and when you want warmth without the weight of a peacoat.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t have to dress formally too often (I’m more of a chinos/jeans + sport coat guy), but I have a few lace-ups that fit the bill should I have to throw on a suit.
These black oxfords with subtle wingtip detail and plain oxblood bluchers are my “dressiest” pairs.
The Allen Edmonds Strand on the right would serve as my least formal pair, based on color and broguing (but these days, still totally fine with a suit). I wear these with dark denim as well as wool trousers.
If you’re looking for a solid brand that can cover all bases at a decent price point, I would go with Beckett Simonon.
Finally, my casual line-up. This obviously spans the spectrum, from “running errands” casual to “drinks and a nice dinner” smart, sharp, dressy casual.
Some see more use during certain seasons.
Socks and Ties
I own a few ties for my formal getups. I throw on solid colored knits a lot. The Tie Bar is a great go-to for affordable yet well-made ties.
If you want something higher end and elegant, I can’t recommend Drake’s enough.
What’s the perfect tie width, you ask? Well, that’s gonna depend on how big you are. I’d say anywhere from 2.5-3″ is the perfect width for most guys.
I like Uniqlo’s selection of casual socks (socks I would wear with chinos and jeans for smart sharp casual looks).
For a nicer dress and casual option (also American made) check out Boardroom Socks.
What are YOUR wardrobe essentials?
Finding a definitive list of wardrobe essentials is tough, mostly because every guy has different needs. My essentials may not work for a guy who lives in
But finding YOUR definitive list is much easier. You just have to observe yourself, see what you do during the week, consider the weather where you live, and how much you’re willing to spend.
Will your essentials change? Over time, sure, probably. I own and wear things regularly today that I didn’t have 5 years ago. I can think of items I wore 5 years ago that I wouldn’t dare wear today.