The Only 16 Pieces a Man Needs in His Wardrobe


If there's one thing I'm guilty when it comes to not practicing what I preach, it's that I buy way more clothes than I actually need.

I like clothes. I like the way they make me look, and I like the way they make me feel. Still, I don't need anywhere near the amount of clothes I have — which, ironically, makes me the perfect person to tell you which 16 wardrobe items that are absolute necessities (assuming undergarments are already included, of course — because, duh) opposed to life's little luxuries. (See also: Guide to Better Style)

Keep in mind, however, that this is coming from a male perspective, so, ladies, please edit this list mentally and replace some of the decidedly masculine items with their feminine counterparts. Or not. Live and let live, I say. Let's get started.

1. All-Purpose Jeans

Jeans are a staple of the modern wardrobe — but it's important to choose your denim carefully. Your jeans should be comfortable yet affordable. I prefer an urban-slim cut that are appropriate for the office and relaxed enough for the weekend. (See also: How to Clean Jeans Right)

2. Well-Cut Khakis

Most offices don't require the traditional suit-and-tie getup anymore — at least not in New York City media, anyway (maybe I've been in this game too long) — which means that most of us can get away with khakis from Monday to Thursday. Choose a khaki pant that walks the line between body flattering, professional, and comfortable. There are plenty of brands and styles from which to choose, but whatever you do, stay away from pleated khakis; they've never looked good on anyone at anytime.

3. Oxford Button-Down

The great thing about a traditional oxford button-down is that it can be dressed up or dressed down. During the week you can wear it tucked in with or without a tie, and on casual Fridays you can leave it untucked and layer it on top of a T-shirt for a more weekend-warrior kind of look.

4. Crewneck Sweater

A crewneck sweater lets you switch up the Oxford routine so you can keep your look fresh and dapper. Layer it on top of an Oxford for work during the week and a short- or long-sleeve T-shirt outside of the office.

5. Henley Shirt

A Henley shirt is as versatile in fall and winter as it is in the spring and summer. In the colder months you can layer it underneath your Oxford or crewneck sweater. When it gets warmer, you can throw it on top of your favorite tee or wear it all by itself.

6. Hoodie

Who doesn't love a good hoodie? I chose this as a wardrobe staple because sometimes you don't want to wear a bulky jacket that may be too warm, even if it's lightweight. The hoodie can be worn zipped up or completely open, and let's not forget about the actual hood, which lets you hide inside your own clothing when you just want the world to disappear for a few minutes.

7. Lightweight Jacket

Even summer nights can be cool enough that you'll need a lightweight jacket to warm you up. The best bet, in my opinion, is a three-in-one jacket that provides you a full, cozy parka when completely put together and a lightweight jacket when it's just a touch too chilly outside.

8. Heavyweight Coat

The three-in-one parka is a great all-purpose, year-round jacket, but your wardrobe also needs a nicer, heavier coat for when it's devilishly cold outside or for when you have to attend dressy events. My go-to is a traditional navy pea coat, which has never gone out of style and always makes you look very put together. (See also: 10 Cheap Ways to Update Your Winter Wardrobe)

9. Sneakers

Honestly, I suggest having two sets of sneakers on hand — one for casual wear, and the other for exercise — but you can get away with only one pair of sneakers if you buy a pair that suits you in and out of the gym. Just be sure to take care of them a bit more if they're serving this dual purpose.

10. Navy Blue Suit

Everybody should have a suit in their wardrobe for interviews, specials occasions, church, and holidays. I suggest a navy blue suit because it's a color that has stood the test of time in terms of menswear (opposed to the powder blue suit, for example, and even grey at times). This also is an area where I suggest you invest. Suits aren't cheap, but some are less expensive than others. I've generally found that the cheaper the suit is, the more often you'll have to replace it — for whatever reason. Buy a nice, moderately priced suit once, and it'll last you for many years. (See also: How to Build a Work Wardrobe)

11. Brown Dress Shoes

Brown dress shoes — I prefer wingtips, but you can make your own call — are necessary if you're wearing your new suit, but you can also wear them with khakis or jeans to work if you want to dress up an otherwise too-casual outfit.

12. Brown Belt

Because, well, brown shoes. There's no reason an adult man shouldn't have a dress belt to match his dress shoes. Time to get with it, boys.

13. Black Suit

Two suits on this list, and they both serve a specific purpose. Where the navy blue suit is for all occasions, your black suit is specifically reserved for funerals and more somber occasions. You can wear it at other times, of course, but a black suit is a wardrobe staple that you'll be thankful you have when you need it in a pinch.

15. Black Dress Shoes

To match your black suit. Again, you can wear these to dress up jeans or khakis, but I would suggest pairing black shoes sparingly with anything; they just don't look that great if they're not worn with a suit.

14. Black Belt

Because, well, black shoes. We've already been over this, chap.

16. Neck Tie

Yes, you need a tie, even if you're not the kind of person who likes to wear a tie. Personally, I hate ties — I don't like how restrictive they are around my neck — but they're necessary. When choosing your tie, even if you're only in the market for a single tie, be conscious that it should coordinate with both of your suits and have the ability to be worn with your Oxford shirt around the office or out to dinner with or without a jacket. It's a difficult task, but it can be done. Keep the color dark and the style classic, and you'll be ready for anything.

What do you think about this list? Do you think these are the only wardrobe items you need? Are there any others you would add as absolute essentials? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Great list. I'd add a couple pairs of shoes that lay between your suit shoes and sneakers. A pair of boat shoes for casual outings in the summer and a pair of fun, funky, colored shoes in a color you wear often are both good bets which are more refined than sneakers but not as formal as the dress shoes you mention. Keep being stylish!

Guest's picture

Great list! If you can't afford 2 suits at first, I'd go with just the black one. It works for most situations. Also I love the oxford shirts that are more casual with a small to medium grid. They work for many situations, dress and casual. They look great with jeans or a suit!

I agree to get a decent quality suit. My husband bought a gray suit many years ago & it still works for any occasion that comes up. He even wore it to our daughter's wedding & it looked great. That's pretty good since he bought it about 5 years before she was born!

Guest's picture

Great article! I could pare down my husband's wardrobe!
Now, can you do the same thing for women?