Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the male closet

A way to keep clothing from cluttering up your life and taking over your bedroom is to have only a basic wardrobe. Stocking your closet with essential pieces limits frustration and saves you time and energy. An upcoming post will focus on the elements of the basic wardrobe for a woman, so watch for it in a few days. This post targets the items for a man’s closet.

The basic wardrobe is a little less trickier for men than it is for women. Still, what is basic for a 30-something man who works in a corporate environment is very different from what is basic for a 60-something retiree. Climates, social demands, and fashion preferences also weigh into the differences. I’ve tried my best to construct a list for the widest audience, but keep in mind that your specific needs might be different. Consider this post as a “big picture” look at building a basic wardrobe.

The basic wardrobe for a man should contain:

  • A navy blue suit in a four-season wool fabric.
  • A charcoal grey suit in a four-season wool fabric.
  • Three white long-sleeve dress shirts and at least one light blue long-sleeve dress shirt. If you work in a corporate environment, you’ll need more than this to make it through the week (less than 15 total, however). If you work in a casual environment or from home, these four long-sleeve dress shirts will very likely suffice.
  • One short-sleeve knit polo shirt.
  • A cotton-blend front-zip jacket to wear with jeans or khakis.
  • A small collection of silk ties (the number varies with how many days in a year you wear them). Your collection should contain at least a solid color tie and a striped tie that work with both of your basic suits.
  • Seven white undershirts and 14 pair of underwear.
  • Two/four pair of jeans as discussed in my fewer clothes post.
  • Three to five additional shirts that are appropriate to your social schedule. If you’re a t-shirt and jeans guy, let these shirts reflect this.
  • A heavy sweater in a solid color. Black and solid grey v-neck sweaters always seem to be in style.
  • Two pair of dress khakis and a pair of khaki shorts.
  • A set of athletic pants and a t-shirt you wouldn’t mind if paint were spilled on it.
  • Pajamas.
  • A swimsuit.

Any additional clothing is beyond the limits of a basic wardrobe. If you build up around the basic wardrobe, make sure that what you buy can be worn with many of the pieces in the basic set. It can be good, too, to set a number of how many items above the basic wardrobe you will own. The fewer additional items, the less cluttered your wardrobe will be.

19 Comments for “Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the male closet”

  1. posted by Jack on

    Only 1 short sleeve polo shirt?
    Only 1 pair of khaki shorts?
    Only 1 set of athletic pants?
    Only 1 sweater?
    14 pair of underwear is excessive!

  2. posted by Erin on

    Jack — Like I said, your social and work needs might dictate a larger wardrobe. This is the basics that men should build from …

  3. posted by jsullivan on

    Nice list; I’m in basic agreements with what you’ve laid out here, although I’d add a heavy sweatshirt.

    One thing you seem to have overlooked is footwear! Given what you’ve outlined here, I’d recommend 1 pair of sneakers and 1 pair of cordovan dress shows (goes well with both suits and khakis), along with 6 pairs of dress socks (even split between black and blue) and 14 pairs of white socks.

  4. posted by Michael on

    Who needs jeans?

  5. posted by zorro on

    I’ve been looking for something like this for some time now, although I would like to see someone break all this down into categories for winter, summer, spring, fall, casual, business casual, exercise, general climate, and lastly but not leastly, what on earth to put together that looks nice via a coded system.

  6. posted by Erin on

    zorro — I have often thought that Garanimals for adults would be a fine idea. A suit coat, shirt, and tie could all have matching blue whales on their labels so you would know that they were made to work together. This could really help color blind people, too (the majority of who are male).

  7. posted by zorro on

    Yes! that would be perfect, especially for us monkeys who can’t figure out what to put on in the morning, or worse yet, leave the house in cut-off jean shorts and Birkenstocks with white socks.

  8. posted by Andamom on

    What about socks, ties, belts, jackets, boots and shoes?

  9. posted by TallDave on

    For socks, I have dark/light dress socks (black/beige), and white socks for tennies. For a suit, I only have one. Used for all wedding/funeral/etc occasions. Jeans are overrated and uncomfortable, dont have any. Instead I have my cargo/khaki/cordurouy pants. Pajamas are overated too. Shirts and sweaters with buttons or a zipper are great to adjust to changing temperatures (inside/outside).

  10. posted by Craig on

    Ties? I don’t wear them, except for interviews, funerals, and office parties.

    Blue jeans? I wear them all the time for work. They are highly rated and extremely comfortable. Cargo pants are too…well, my wife doesn’t like them.

    Khakis? Rarely. For dressier events.

    Pullover sweaters? I wear them all the time. Our office is highly air conditioned.

  11. posted by Josh on

    Pajamas? Sleep naked.

  12. posted by matt on

    Why not 30 pairs of underwear? And 60 socks? Then you can go for a month without doing laundry.

  13. posted by adora on

    I got this book called “The Lucky Shopping Manual: building and improving your wardrobe piece by piece”. In addition to basic wardrobe, the book helps women build a quality wardrobe that would last for seasons, and works for many occasions.
    I’d also like to suggest one should stick with the same hue of colour. Some people would go with blacks and greys, some with earth tones, some with pastel. Find out what works best with your skin and hair colour and try to stick with the same hue. Makes it a lot easier to match in style with minimium pieces.
    What about shoes? It’s stereotypically a woman’s clutter spot, but many men I know actually own a lot more shoes than women (I only have 5 pairs).

  14. posted by Colin on

    I have to wear a suit 4 – 5 days a week, and given the differential in wear for pants vs jacket, I’ve often gone down the road of buying suit separates so I can have 2 – 3 pairs of pants to go with one jacket. It’s supplemented by one really good suit for weddings, funerals, and interviews.

    You’ll shorten the lifespan of decent men’s shoes if you only have one pair at a time (tried it). Same goes for sneakers if you live in a warm climate (like DC, to pick a non-random example).

    Merino wool and (if you’re feeling flush with cash) cashmere sweaters wear like nobody’s business provided you take care of them, especially in the offseason, and they are low-bulk for storage.

  15. posted by Jonathan on

    Like the idea. Still: what about a couple sweatshirts? I think we all have different clothing requirements. And what happens is that over time our requirements change but our wardrobe doesn’t keep up. We may have been required to wear ties but now we aren’t. But we keep the ties, anyway.

  16. posted by Aegir on

    I have a lot fewer clothes than this.

  17. posted by AndyW on

    As a consultant, I travel for months at a time. I have an all black wardrobe. basically everything you have stated except all in black. I do bring white undershirts and a gray sports jacket.

    I usually only need to wear the suit once per week. In the winter I add a black wool overcoat.

  18. posted by Jeff on

    I would add a Navy Blazer, everyone needs a navy blazer. Must have more than one polo shirt (Maybe not the 32 I have). 14 pairs of underwear is excessive.

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