How To Acquire A Fool-Proof Wardrobe
The thinking man’s guide to amassing a sartorial arsenal.
Building a wardrobe is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. (Wait… where are you going? Hear us out.) Just think of clothes as your assets and your future ability to look at old photos and not think, “what the heck was I wearing?” as your potential return. It all comes down to one thing: in style, as in the stock market, the smart money is on the long game.
It’s January, the month of fresh starts and new beginnings and, therefore, a good time to offer up MR PORTER’s “investment philosophy”. This easy-to-follow, three-point plan is designed to provide you with a versatile wardrobe that’ll last for years to come.
Investor 101: build a diverse portfolio. Your first step when planning a wardrobe should be to invest in pieces that are both simple and versatile, and for that, we turn to MR PORTER’s Essentials. Think of The Essentials as menswear’s “hall of fame”, comprised of pieces that have already stood the test of time and whose future sartorial credentials are assured. Among them are such classic items as Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Levi’s 501s and Converse Chuck Taylors. For a long-lasting wardrobe, this is the only place to start.
Start with the suit
Your first proper suit should be your workhorse: the one that’s as suitable for a wedding as it is for a job interview. It should be versatile, so steer clear of patterned or double-breasted suits – these can come later. Invest, instead, in a single-breasted, two-button suit in a lightweight woollen material suitable for everything but the warmest weather. For colour, choose a suit in navy blue or charcoal grey – or ideally one of each. Black is marginally less versatile, what with those funeral associations. Keep this as your third option.
Along with your suit(s), you’ll need a pair of black Oxford shoes, a pair of brown Oxford brogues and two belts (one brown, one black) to match the leather of whatever shoes you’re wearing. Start your shirt collection off with a few simple, formal poplin-cotton shirts, sticking with white, pale blue and pale pink for now, and add two ties: one in grenadine silk for formal occasions and one in woven silk for slightly more dressed-down occasions. These are the foundations upon which to build your formal wardrobe.
Your trusty companion: the navy blazer
Say “hello” to the most versatile garment in your entire wardrobe. You can dress it up with a shirt and tie just as easily as you can dress it down with denim, and the colour goes with everything – softening the vibrancy of pattern and print, providing a backdrop for bold colour and adding contrast to muted shades. It’s practical, too, with a number of pockets in which to keep your phone, wallet and whatever other accoutrements of modern life you tend to conceal about your person (just try not to ruin the line).
Think of this blazer as the backbone of your smart-casual wardrobe, around which you can construct any number of harmonious outfits. Here’s a versatile “starter kit”. Add two Oxford button-down cotton shirts, one in white and one in blue, and one chambray shirt; a V-neck sweater in navy and a crew-neck sweater in grey, both from John Smedley; two pairs of Incotex chinos, in stone and in navy, and a pair of dark blue selvedge denim jeans; and, lastly, a pair of Grenson wingtips and a pair of white Common Projects sneakers. Mix and match without fear.
The casual conundrum. “What would James Dean do?”
The ebb and flow of seasonal fashion is felt most strongly in casualwear. Be careful not to get caught in the current: avoid overtly trend-driven pieces that won’t last you more than a couple of seasons. If in doubt, just ask yourself WWJDD: “What Would James Dean Do?”. Think mid-century collegiate cool with just a hint of prep and you won’t go far wrong. A Burberry Brit bomber jacket is a good place to start.
Your standard informal wardrobe should also include that cornerstone of mid-century collegiate style: the marl-grey sweatshirt. To your navy selvedge denim add a pair of black jeans with a slightly slimmer (but not skinny) silhouette, and to your “dress sneakers” add a pair of vintage basketball high-tops. Now is as good a point as any to pick up a few simple basics: Polo Ralph Lauren polo shirts, quality T-shirts from James Perse or J.Crew, and proper underwear from Sunspel.
Just like every classic rock ballad needs a guitar solo, every wardrobe needs a few marquee pieces. But tread carefully: these will be among the more expensive items that you’ll buy, so it’s vital to make sure that you’re investing in things that will actually hold their value. That asymmetric colourblock windcheater is lovely, really, it is – but are you sure that you’ll feel the same about it in a couple of years’ time…?
Upping your tailoring game
It’s possible to get by on just one navy and one charcoal-grey suit. But the next four pieces on your checklist are designed to pack a bit more of a punch. A double-breasted suit is a bold yet timeless investment. A checked sports jacket provides an elegant alternative to your navy blazer, and can be matched with a pair of flannel trousers or cotton-twill chinos to winning effect. Investing in your own black tie means leaving the world of ill-fitting rental tuxes behind for good (surely, that’s reason enough). Oh, and just one more thing: pick up a Burberry trench coat. This might be the British brand’s most iconic piece – one that reflects its heritage while remaining utterly contemporary.
Bolster your formal wardrobe with a few patterned shirts. Bengal stripes and gingham check are two patterns that are in no danger of going out of style. To your burgeoning shoe collection, add a pair of John Lobb monk-straps and a pair of Chelsea boots. These provide a rakish alternative to lace-ups. Gucci horsebit loafers are another sound investment in classic style, having first been introduced by the Florentine design house in 1953. Finish off your eveningwear ensemble with a self-tied bow tie, a dress shirt and a pair of cufflinks.
The two jackets you need (and what to wear them with)
A leather jacket bearing the scuffs and creases of a few years’ wear is one of the most satisfying garments that a man can own, so invest in a new one and write your own story onto it. A waxed-cotton field jacket is a savvy purchase, too; Belstaff produces a classic version that’s bound to stand the test of time.
Give your knitwear selection a little more depth with a few cashmere sweaters, a cable-knit sweater and a shawl-collar cardigan. Knitwear is a great way of introducing a little colour into an outfit, so try a splash of red, teal-blue, or whatever you prefer. Add a denim shirt or two, then put the finishing touches to your shoe collection with a pair of winter boots and a pair of patent-leather and suede sneakers from Lanvin. Take a step back and bask in the glory of your creation…
…OK, not quite yet. There’s one more thing to do before our wardrobe project stands complete, and that’s to add a few finishing touches.
Luggage to last
If you look up “leather” in the fashion dictionary, you’ll inevitably discover that it “just gets better with age”. While it might be a bit of a cliché, it is true that a little wear-and-tear does do wonders for the appearance of certain items. This Mulberry holdall and Globe-Trotter suitcase are both excellent examples.
Yes, your iPhone does a perfectly acceptable job of telling the time, but that’s not why we choose to wear watches. Choose one that reflects your character – a man of taste and sophistication, in other words. Bling is the enemy; thunder against. The appropriate number of watches to own, if you’re wondering, is two: one for formal occasions and one for every day. A gold casing and leather strap is the classic choice for the former; a more muted model is preferable for the latter.
The sign of a true gentleman
A handmade umbrella is a high-risk investment. While you might be able to justify the extravagant pricetag of a pair of benchmade George Cleverley shoes by calculating their “price per wear”, the same sadly cannot be said of an umbrella, which Murphy’s Law dictates is highly likely to get lost before you’ve got proper use out of it. Which puts us in a quandary, because no gentleman’s wardrobe is truly complete without one. Choose a beautiful one by Francesco Maglia – two examples of which are shown below – and perhaps you might remember not to leave it in a taxi.
Every item that has been mentioned in this guide can be found here. It should be considered a complete, self-contained and endlessly versatile wardrobe that will last you for years. But it should not necessarily be considered your wardrobe – not yet, at any rate. The final step is to put your own stamp on it, and at this point we hand the controls to you. Pick a few things at your discretion – a silk scarf, a pair of retro sneakers or even an asymmetric, colourblock windcheater. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it’s your choice. That, in the end, is the true purpose of this guide: to provide you with the things you need, so that you’re free to choose the things you want.
Photographed at Hotel Café Royal, London hotelcaferoyal.com