Mens’ Wardrobe Essentials

Photo: The Library of Congress
Photo: The Library of Congress

While some find the acquisition, curation, and maintenance of clothing to be bothersome, few take time to think about it deliberately. Failing to do so leaves many making decisions in haste—often around a sale rack that offers “good deals.” This results in further lost time and overflowing closets.

To take command of one’s wardrobe, it’s imperative to make clear decisions before buying another garment. The benefits in doing so are numerous: purchases are made simpler; money is saved; getting out of the house in the morning is faster; even packing is easier.

The following provides one perspective on how to achieve hassle-free dress. It is by no means definitive, but does work. It’s a minimal wardrobe concentrated on utility, and comprised of basic items.

At the heart of this system are two pairs of jeans. Denim is durable and—if carefully chosen—can be worn in a multitude of settings, ranging from business meetings to weekend outings. The rules: Choose dark denim, as it’s easy to pair and largely neutral. Select plain cuts as they are less likely to seem outdated. (Unless you work in a really dirty setting, I suggest only washing them once every three to four months, in cold water, hanging to dry. Doing so will leave them looking new for years.)

Next, three black T-shirts. These need to be free of prints, patterns, and logos, as such affectations tend to crack, wear, and grow tired. Besides, you aren’t a billboard, so why be treated like one? Then, two charcoal colored hoodies. Hoodies are surprisingly functional, and dark grey is an adaptable color, as it doesn’t fade or stain as easily as other tones.

Underwear and socks are items I don’t want to put an iota of time into. I just need these areas covered, and I’d rather avoid mismatched socks. As such, pick a shop that consistently carries one style (free of stripes, patterns, textures) and then buy only these. Doing so will avoid having to match them after washing, or discard of ones that no longer have a mate.

For outer layers, a plain black waterproof shell can be worn in almost any setting, at any time of year. One pair of light, neutral, and easy to pack shoes is also a nice alternative to a closet bursting with outdated footwear. (I’m quite happy with Vans’ hemp shoes, which are lightweight, and made with a focus on sustainable/recycled materials.)

That’s it.

I should, however, note that the above can easily be dressed up for more formal occasions, with the addition of a single well-tailored grey blazer and one wrinkle free button-down shirt. The essential wardrobe should be free of anything that requires an iron or visit to the dry cleaner—both of which make for tedious and unnecessary work. Key to this approach is the minimization of such nuisances.

With this in mind, locate garments and shops that you can rely on, when you wear these things out. Doing so will reduce the task of procuring clothing to a few moments, every year or two. Ultimately, you should be able to order another item online, or by phone, without even stepping foot in a shop. (I have seen Hell, and it is a shopping mall.)

Of course, this is just a set of suggestions, and you’ll likely change it to fit your needs. Perhaps you prefer plain knit sweaters over hoodies, or, grey t-shirts over black. It doesn’t really matter. The purpose of this exercise is to reposition clothing as a purely functional item, instead of a statement of self-worth.


  1. All my day-to-day clothes fit in one bag. 2 pairs of North Face convertible pants – same style, different colour; a few Icebreaker undershirts, a number of cheap ($5 each at Zellers) plaid shirts, a number pairs of Kodiak wool socks and some ginch. Add a Icebreaker sweater, my daily Stormtech jacket, a few pieces of foul weather and specialty gear (Coast Guard Auxiliary) and few extra t-s and some Value Village fleece pants and call it a day.

    I basically wear the same thing every day. It works organizationally, functionally and economically.

    1. I’m still a long way from that level of simplicity, as I have a lot of clothing left over from before. That said, the less of it I have, the easier it is. Plus, I tend to wear the same thing every day. As a result, the remaining clothing’s primary purpose seems to be one of keeping my closet from looking empty. ;-)

  2. Man, you’re taking pragmatism to the outer reaches! Part of me loves this approach – I find shopping utterly loathsome – but if I’m honest with myself I need more diversity. I’m okay with clothing going beyond pure function and into the realm of superficiality. People often feel more confident and comfortable with themselves when they feel at ease (or dare I say, prideful) with their appearance. We are vain creatures like it or not; few people have the unflappable moxie to carry on regardless of how their physical selves look. Not to say the minimal wardrobe you’re proposing is disappointing. It’s just that most people, I suspect, wouldn’t feel satisfied working with such an economical palette.

    Love the site and its message. I also like zany socks.

    1. Thanks—glad you like it!

      And you’re right. This will be extreme for most people, and I can’t imagine many taking it on fully.

      My hope is that it just gets people thinking about what they wear, and perhaps making fewer impulse decisions.

  3. Nice shoe’s these hemp van’s. I hope your next article will be focused on ladies ;-)
    I’m just thinking, if many people start approaching clothing like this, it will put the big companies that rely on us buying new wardrobes every quarter out of business and there will be no more cheap clothing made in china. I would like to see more people buying clothes from small handmaking designers instead.

    1. I’d love to write that article, unfortunately, I can’t speak to women’s clothing in an educated fashion.

      There will never be enough people taking on this approach to have much of an impact on large-scale clothing production. That being said, if we bought just a little less—and better—clothing,it would likely have a positive impact on smaller design groups, as you’ve noted. (And this would be awfully nice.)

  4. This was inspiring. So much so that it got me to thinking you need to write a post about coffee. Too many people go nuts with their elaborate coffee orders, e.g. triple extra hot skinny vegan caramel vanilla bean no whip double latte…when all you really need is fair trade and black.

  5. Congrats on discovering the joys of less clothing, and thanks for sharing this with the world. Clothing, for me, is functional. I buy as little as possible and try to layer everything. Less – and high quality – is best.

  6. I’ve been thinking about the essential minimalist wardrobe for some time, —I think you just set me off to post my own version of it on my blog. :-)
    I find your point about taking clothes as purely functional items and not using them “as a statement of self-worth” very interesting. I wonder if this can be totally avoided, though. The wardrobe you present, for instance, bears in it a statement of simplicity. Its state —new or worn out, clean or dirty— also carries some message about how you want to look to the world. My take would be to accept that the way you dress has an impact on the way people see you, and you might as well take some control about it. For instance, my own minimalist wardrobe will feature the cuts and colors I feel are most becoming to me, and the style that most resembles the way I see myself and would like others to see me.

  7. I just realised there’s a whole post and comments about this topic, now I feel like a fool. I’m still going to design my own wardrobe, though! :-) Thank you very much for this blog, Eric. It’s almost embarrassing for me to agree with so much you say in it, I happen to be in just about the same questioning about designing stuff from a deeper point of view.

  8. I’m glad you share my enthusiasm for eliminating monotonous drudgery from your life!

    I have recently developed a recipe for a efficient food paste that stores easily for long periods of time. It is highly nutritious, and if I do say so myself, rather tasty.

    It is a complete mixture of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the optimal 30-30-40 mixture to ensure total health.

    Naturally, I use only shade-grown, GMO-free organic ingredients. While I use animal protein in my blend, it is easily adapted to ovo-lacto vegetarian, or complete vegan diets (albeit while sacrificing some flavour!)

    Because of it’s long shelf life, it’s easy to store for the long term in your refrigerator. I typically make a month’s worth at a time, and freeze half of it in re-usable tubes, optimized for easy on-the go eating. Every morning I get dressed (one of my many sharp hoodie+t-shirt+jeans combos, naturally), grab a tube and squeeze down the goodness. A quick glass of water and I’m ready to go! Two more tubes in my bag and I’m set for the rest of the day. No wasting time with co-workers debating lunch options for me!

    Contact me for the recipe if you’re interested. I also have tips on how to cut bathroom visits down to only 1 per day. Ask me how!

    Come on people! Cast off the shackles of modern oppression embodied in your clothing and diet! What greatness could our society achieve if we focussed not on idle pursuits?

  9. If you’re only wearing two pairs of pants, and only washing them every three months, that’s 45 wearings per pair between washings.

    Every pair of denim jeans I’ve ever had develops wrinkles, creases, and other visual indicators that it’s been worn long before that. Is that not your experience?

    Also……how often are you washing the rest of these items? Are the shirts being re-worn without washing, or are you washing them by hand, or … ?

    1. Eventually, yes, denim will show signs of wear. That’s not a bad thing, though. In fact, I think this makes the pants look better—like a well worn leather jacket. The killer for most clothing is the dryer. Every time I look in that lint drawer, I realize how it’s eating my clothes.

      As for the other items, I wash t-shirts after three days. Socks and underwear only go a day before laundering. I use a machine to wash, but hang dry items that would fade/shrink in the dryer.

  10. Plain clothes, food paste, 1 bathroom visit a day … and you call this liberation, sounds more like a gulag! You people crack me up. Yes, commercialism isn’t good and owning a 100 pair of shoes is insane, but this is going to the opposite extreme. Why even live then???

  11. Darren, your food paste sounds like monotonous drudgery. I can’t imagine a more artless, colorless, unimaginative way of going through life. But congrats on saving all that time fretting over menus or grocery store shelves. What to cook tonight? Curry? Chinese? A big salad? Blt and chips? How I dread that decision tonight (and the possibility of my wife not sharing my preference) Tis cruel how life inflicts this time-wasting variety on us.

  12. Or better yet, women could wear something like this:
    How great it would be if all women looked like this. Next I think we should really reconsider this whole “voting rights” thing. Think how much time it would save for novel writing, Bible reading and what not if we didn’t have to vote, why even have the democracy, let’s just have one guy make all the laws, so the rest of us would be free from thinking about it. Who needs democracy, what a waste of time!!!

  13. No Winter/Outdoor clothes except a waterproof?

    Must either live in a warm climate or drive everywhere in a car.

    Wouldn’t do in the West of Scotland…

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