The Minimalist Grown Man’s Wardrobe
A few years ago, as I was browsing Maximum PC’s blog, reading an article listing the 100 websites you must read (or something of that nature), I stumbled upon this article from a blog called “Put This On”. The blog sought to educate men on how to dress like grown-ups. This was one of those magical moments where a real need in my life perfectly coincided with a helpful bit of advice from my source of all knowledge, the internet. At the time I looked like what can only be described as a goth who’d lost his way. Black dri-fit polos and tactical pants were about as professional as it got for me. I needed to look more professional. I was tired of the Wal Mart greeters leering at me as though I was stealing something. As a 30-something father, husband, IT Manager, part-time military member, my look didn’t fit my life. Reading about menswear and how a grown man should dress sparked a long, weird journey to find my personal style. Unfortunately, what also ensued was an unhealthy obsession with clothes and a bloated wardrobe full of things that simply don’t work for me. (A word of warning: Menswear bloggers like the above referenced ones tend to go off into the weeds a lot. My aim here is to approach the subject with an eye toward minimalism)
After a great deal of experimentation, I did find that there were a few items that I tended to gravitate toward. Around that same time, I began to really key in on a lifestyle that is almost the polar opposite of the excesses of my large collection of menswear – minimalism. There is something attractive about living a life free of excess – a life boiled down to the bear essentials. It is a life that I strive for, although unsuccessfully. I have way too many hobbies that require way too many “things” (drumming, cycling, etc.). However, if there is one area of my life that I should be able to boil down, the mundane, utilitarian act of clothing oneself should definitely be the one. I immediately began tossing everything that didn’t fit or work for me from my wardrobe. Several years later though, I still struggle to reconcile the desires to dress respectably and yet, to live free of excess. In this article I shall attempt to show you, the reader (all three of you), how to dress like a grown man without having a glut of excess clothing. I will provide some general guidelines and considerations, and a list of clothing items with an explanation of why I chose each of them.
Considerations and Guidelines
A man’s wardrobe should frame the person, and not the clothes. A minimal man’s wardrobe should contain good quality, versatile items. Every item should be able to match well with every other item. The key, however, is to accomplish this with as few items as possible.
The man’s wardrobe should fit his lifestyle and his job. I work in a place where people wear jeans and t-shirts (or polos) a great deal. Dressing “nice” usually entails a golf shirt and some slacks. I should be able to fit into that culture without going too far over-the-top. I’m also very involved in my church, and a member of the Gideons. Somehow my attire should be flexible enough the bridge my job and my social activities. These considerations will vary from person to person.
A man’s wardrobe should be timeless, and not subject to whims of fashion. If it works now, it should work 20 years from now.
Lastly, a man’s wardrobe shouldn’t break him (monetarily). You can find most of these things at thrift stores in good condition, as they are all staples of classic men’s attire. Also, polyester is the devil.
At a minimum, a man should own a light blue shirt and a white shirt. If you need a little more variety, a striped shirt can be added. The best type shirt to own is the Oxford Cloth Button-Down (OCBD). The OCBD is made from a more coarse fabric than a regular dress shirt, and has buttons on the tips of the collars to button them down. I chose the OCBD because it is absolutely the most versatile shirt a man can own. Wear the OCBD with khakis or jeans, and you’re ready for work. Put a tie and blazer, and you’re ready for church. Roll up your sleeves and put on some shorts, and you’re ready for the weekend. Additionally, the fabric of the OCBD is a little more rugged looking than a regular dress shirt, so if you work in a place where everyone dresses very casually, you won’t stick out too much. My OCBDs are from Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren. I like Brooks Brothers OCBDs the best – they are expensive, so thrifting to find one is key. Ralphie would be good too if they would replace their stupid horse thing with a pocket.
In addition to the two OCBDs, every man should own a gray T-shirt and a dark blue T-shirt of decent quality with no logos. When you are trying to be super casual or low-key, you can throw on a t-shirt with khaki chinos or jeans, and still look respectable. Any brand will do as long as they look decent.
Every man should own one pair of straight cut dark blue jeans and a pair of flat front khaki chinos. Both are comfortable and versatile, and can be paired with various other items for a variety of occasions. Currently I don’t have any chinos that I like, but rather a pair Levi’s khaki pants that are cut like jeans. My jeans are also Levi’s.
Additionally, a man needs at least one pair of khaki shorts – no cargo shorts (note, I own one pair of cargo shorts, and they look stupid). The climate of your home may dictate the need for more shorts.
One Navy blazer is all you should need. In today’s world where “dressing nice” is a term used very loosely, a navy blazer should serve all your purposes. In fact, if you wear one to church, people will ask you all sorts of ridiculous questions like, “you preachin’ today?” If you wear one to work, be prepared to be asked if you are going to a funeral. My blazer is a Stafford one from JC Penny. It works.
*One caveat to this is if you work somewhere that requires a suit, then own a navy one or a gray one (or both).
This is a tough one because footwear is where I struggle the most. Not all shoes work for everything. If I had to only pick three, I’d say every man should own a pair of chukka boots, a pair of nice looking sneakers with minimal branding, and a pair of leather dress shoes (real leather please). Currently I have some Nunn-Bush tan chukkas, a pair of Crocs leather sneakers (Crocs are horrible, but these shoes are an odd-ball find that I absolutely love), and a pair of Johnston and Murphy saddle bucks that I thrifted several years ago (they were like new for 12 dollars!). I have other shoes, but if I only had these, I’d have all bases covered.
In addition to the main clothing articles, every man should own a belt to match his shoes, a modest but decent looking watch, a tie, some shades, and a white pocket square.
A tie should be of good quality and should dimple near the knot. I have bought and gotten rid of many ties, but my enduring favorite is a blue Chap’s tie with little faint yellow dots – the material is thick, and it matches everything I own.
My watch is a $30.00 Timex I bought from Target. It is a dead simple analog watch with a nylon cloth band that has functioned flawlessly for over 3 years. It looks smart, and adds a nice little pushing agent to my otherwise very plain wardrobe.
My shades are Costa Del Mar. They are expensive, but you can almost look at the sun with them. (Please don’t look at the sun!)
Make sure your clothes fit well. Unless you are super thin, avoid slim fit. Non-iron finishes, much like polyester, are the devil. Get an expensive iron (I like Rowenta irons), and get after it. If the shirt has a rounded bottom, it is meant to be tucked in. Your socks should match your pants.
Leather shoes need to be polished occasionally. Mink oil is awesome as well.
You may notice some fraying on my OCBD – this is going to happen, especially if you wear the same 2 or 3 shirts all the time. When your shirts fray, iron them, and wear them like a boss. Do it with purpose, and you’ll come across looking wise and frugal.
Don’t be like me. Don’t wear khakis when you work on your bicycle. Wear an apron when you cook. Clean your chukkas off immediately when you accidentally drop an egg on them cooking. I don’t follow any of this advice, thus my clothes are all messed up.
If you strive for simplicity while still managing to look respectable, I hope the tips I have provided here prove to be helpful for you. Remember: keep it simple and versatile.
Some examples of outfits that can be made from these items: