9 Basic Men’s Wardrobe Essentials You Should Already Own

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. I earn a small commission if you purchase a product through these links at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.

Plain White T-shirt
A solid white tee is an essential men’s wardrobe item. What are the other eight?

So you want to rebuild your wardrobe, but you just don’t know where to begin?

This problem is common, and quite understandable.

You can find too much information these days, and you can quickly get overwhelmed.

One article says to buy one thing, and another says to buy another thing. And you just don’t know what to invest in first.

When you’re in the early stages of your style reinvention, you should just ignore all these confusing voices, and focus on getting your foundational items.

You should focus first on building your capsule wardrobe, compiled of these basic men’s wardrobe essentials.

Why Most Guys Lack a Good Foundation of Men’s Wardrobe Essentials

Building a capsule wardrobe is a step that most guys skip, but it’s essential to building a solid wardrobe.

It will make everything else a lot easier.

The idea behind a capsule wardrobe is that all (or almost all) items in your wardrobe can be put together. To make such a wardrobe happen, you need a solid foundation of understated and timeless wardrobe staples that are easy to mix and match. These clothes are not only easily matched to each other, but can also serve as the supporting pieces to your trendier, more eye-catching clothes. They are the bedrock of your clothing collection.

But when most men want to start dressing better, they think they need all their clothes to stand out. They look up all the latest trends or they start wearing all kinds of crazy colors.

And nothing is inherently wrong with that. But when every item in your outfit is trying to grab the eye’s attention, then you only end up looking messy.

You need supporting pieces to keep these eye-catching clothes anchored.

With a foundation of basic wardrobe staples, you’ll always have clothes to wear your trendier pieces with.

So why don’t we all have such a foundation already?

men's wardrobe essentials: Grey sweater and a white T-shirt
You need basic items like these for supporting pieces

These Wardrobe Essentials Are Hardly Promoted

Fashion magazines, blogs and shops rarely promote these wardrobe staples to men. Their main focus is on promoting the latest styles and trends.

When you walk into a clothing store, you won’t often see a mannequin wearing a plain white T-shirt. (The store would much rather have you buy something expensive.)

And the point of having mannequins is to draw your attention. Simple white T-shirts won’t draw much of that.

But at the beginning of your wardrobe reboot, you shouldn’t buy any of the clothes they do promote.

You need to collect your foundation of essential wardrobe items first.

Introducing the Restart Capsule: The Perfect Capsule Wardrobe for Beginners

I can almost hear you thinking, “What is the Restart Capsule?”

The Restart Capsule is a a selection of nine clothes that every man should have in his wardrobe. They’ll make the perfect start for your capsule wardrobe.

What you’ll notice about the clothes below is that they all look quite simple. That’s exactly what make them so gosh-darn versatile. Combining them into a bad outfit is nearly impossible (unless you get the fit wrong, of course).

The clothes listed below should be your first investments.

So without further ado, these are the nine clothes that make up the Restart Capsule:

  • Solid white T-shirt
  • Solid white shirt
  • Dark blue jeans
  • Camel chinos
  • Grey V-neck sweater
  • Navy blazer
  • Brown leather loafers
  • Brown leather belt
  • Grown-up coat

I will give a short explanation why these items are essential for your wardrobe.

Wardrobe Essential #1: Solid White T-Shirt

The solid white tee is one of the most versatile pieces you could own.

You can wear it with anything. It’s like having a blank canvas to do with what you want. You can wear it on its own during summer, or layer it during fall and winter.It’s super-simple and look much sharper than a graphic tee.

You should have a couple of these in your closet. Go for V-necks as well as crew necks for variety’s sake.

Wardrobe Essential #2: Solid White Shirt

solid white shirt

The solid white shirt is the ultimate menswear staple. No list of wardrobe essentials for men would be complete without it.

Like the previous item, you can wear it with anything, but you can also create new looks by playing around with the buttons and sleeves. Wear it buttoned up with a tie and blazer for a dressy look, or wear it unbuttoned over a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and look super-casual .

It just doesn’t get more versatile than a solid white shirt.

You’ll need to know how a shirt should fit though. Too many men who want to step up their style move from wearing tees to wearing shirts, but their shirts are way too billowy.

Wardrobe Essential #3: Dark Blue Jeans

dark blue jeans

Know what? I’ll just let my friend Barron tell you all the reasons you need a pair of dark blues.

It’s the only pair of jeans you will ever need.

Wardrobe Essential #4: Camel Chinos

camel chinos

With only 1 pair of jeans in your closet, you’ll need some alternative legwear. That’s where chinos come in.

See, chinos give you a lot more variety than having a couple of jeans in different shades and washes. They create a much more different look.

If you don’t have a pair already, make sure your first chino pants are camel.

Wardrobe Essential #5: Grey V-Neck Sweater

grey sweater

A grey V-neck sweater is an excellent layering piece.

Wear it over your shirts and T-shirt to stay warm during the winter months. You can also wear a blazer over it when it gets especially cold.

The grey sweater is very easy to pull off, as it’s hard to find anything that clashes with it.

Wardrobe Essential #6: Navy Blazer

navy blazer

The easiest way to smarten up any outfit is to add a blazer. It just makes everything look better. I suggest you get one in navy.

A navy blazer is a classic choice that will never let you down. It will match especially well with the camel chinos mentioned above, and will also look great with your dark blue jeans.

Wardrobe Essential #7: Brown Leather Loafers

brown leather loafers

Brown leather loafers are a great choice of footwear.

They’re a lot dressier than sneakers, but not dressy enough that you can’t wear them with your casual wear. They actually look amazing under jeans.

If penny loafers seem like too big a step, try wearing a pair of venetian loafers first. They tend to have a bit less embellishment, which makes them look a tad more casual.

Wardrobe Essential #8: Brown Leather Belt

brown leather belt

Your brown leather shoes need a brown leather belt to compliment them. Although, they don’t have to be a complete match shade-wise. It’s okay if there’s a bit of difference.

Wardrobe Essential #9: Grown-up Coat

pea coat

Now that you’re improving your style, you will need a grown-up coat to top the look off, as it’s often the first thing people see you in during colder times.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the pea coat, but something like an overcoat or duffle coat will work just as well.

I’ll let you pick the color yourself, but make sure it’s a neutral. That means either grey, navy or brown.

Action Step: Put the Restart Capsule on Your Shopping List

Put every item listed above (that you don’t already own) on your shopping list. They’re essential items for any man’s wardrobe and should be the first investments you make. They will stay with you for a long time, if you take good care of them.

Get every item on the restart capsule, and then experiment to figure out how to put these clothes together into a good outfit.

Until you own the complete Restart Capsule, I don’t want you spending your money on any other clothes.

Remember, you need to start investing in versatility! Don’t get sidetracked by the attention-grabbing pieces on display.

Like I said, having a solid wardrobe foundation is crucial, so do not skip this step!

If you want more information like this, check out Style Made Simple: The Beginner’s Guide to Dressing Better, or enter your e-mail below to get three free sample chapters.

Image sources: hm.com, mrporter.com

  • Thomas says:

    Thanks for the nice article.

    I’m wondering what color I should chose for the socks in a capsuled wardrobe.

    I’m going to add a pair of white sneakers for more casual

    So should I go with grey socks?

  • Israel says:

    What if I don’t buy leather clothes? Because I try not to, sorry. This is making it difficult for me to find good quality shoes.

  • Gaurav Sachdeva says:

    Does White T-Shirt have to be round neck only or can it be V-neck?

    Also, I personally don’t like Polo(Collar) T-Shirts much, do they deserve to be in a usual wardrobe?

  • DiegoJ says:

    I like how simple and direct the article is. It has been very helpful for me so thank you very much. I only have two questions:
    1) Are the dark blue jeans considered neutral colored? I ask because i want to know if i can combine them with other colored t shirts or shirts, or with shirts with square patterns for example.
    2) What type of jacket do you recomend to keep it simple and neutral? I was thinking maybe beige or brown. But if I have a dark green Jacket (Not Neutral), should I only use it with the neutral shirts, and avoid using it with colored shirts?
    Thank you very much, keep it up man, great work

    • Robert says:

      Hey Diego,

      yeah, the dark blue jeans are considered neutral, like navy. Feel free to wear them with other colors and patterns.

      As for your other question, beige could work, or grey or navy. And if you know how to match your green jacket to other colors, then go ahead. If you don’t, keep your shirts neutral.



  • Santiago says:

    I really enjoyed your article, but they question i have is what brands do you suggest. In particularity the solid white t-shirts and white shirt. Are the white shirts undershirts or are they regular ligth shirts. And for the solid white shirt would it be a button up and again what brands (looking for comfortably and cost)

    • Robert says:

      Well, I couldn’t recommend you a brand, because it really depends on the person. The way the clothes look on you are a lot more important than whatever the brand name is.

      No, you don’t want an undershirt. An undershirt is generally lighter in material.

    • Thembinkosi says:

      Its so simple and straight forward. I do have these items but it took me so many years to have just these very few and cheap items, its amazing. I also confirm that they are for keeps I have had them for sometime now.

  • Gasper says:

    As someone living in practically year-round hot humid climates, the sweater, blazer and overcoat are redundant. Are there other alternative essentials I should be looking at for layering?

    And 2. I’m a size 5 (UK) when it comes to shoes. Buying a pair is always a BIG problem for me. Can’t find one loafer in my size :( Stores in my country usually start at 6 for men. Its frustrating. Would you have any suggestions?

    I’m a noob and really looking to look and feel my best. I love your site and the way in which you break down concepts for us.

    • Robert says:

      Hey Gasper,

      thanks for the kinds words!
      So yeah, when you’re living in year-round hot climate, some of these essentials aren’t as essential. But then, layering isn’t 100% necessary to looking good. I hardly layer at all when it’s summer here.

      You might check out my article on how to dress in summer for some advice though.

  • J.R. says:

    As a guy that really wants to restart his style I am very much wondering how you deal with a very limited selection of stores in your area. For instance the “mall” we have is extremely limited, J.C. Penny, Macy’s, Sears, Target, that’s about it for stores that will have anything like we are looking at. How do I go in and find these things, obviously I do not just want to blindly buy from online and I cannot afford to take a trip somewhere just to go to the mall to try on clothes. Any help?

    • Robert says:

      If you can’t take a trip somewhere and don’t want to buy online, you’ll have to find a way to make do with the stores you can visit. Those are the only three options you have, as far as I can tell.

  • Claude Taillefer says:

    For quality formal shoes like a Brown loafer or cap toe in the price range suggested. I would strongly suggest the Mr. B’s line sold worldwide at Aldo, they are handcrafted in Italy. They will 100 to 150 dollars at regular price, They are available in size 6 to 14 and if your lucky enough to wear a small or large size you may score them as low as 40 dollars in their clearance section online.

  • Split Yoke says:

    The best way to have a simple wardrobe is to find a shirt who’s cut is perfect for you and then get the same shirt remade in different fabrics. Your closet will look uniform but diverse

  • Joe says:

    You mentioned to get the blazer in neutral colors: either gray, navy or brown. What about black?

    • Chris Jones (@IPv6Freely) says:

      Generally black is only worn for weddings and funerals. You can eventually expand your wardrobe to include black suits and blazers but if you’re looking at essentials you want to stick to the more common colors. Navy and grey should be your first purchases.

  • Chris says:

    This is a great article for a newcomer like me. Is it OK to start with lower quality pieces first? I’ve got a wife and three kids and money is super tight, but I want to look sharp. Say $100 shoes vs $250+

    • Robert says:

      Yeah, in fact I suggest you don’t spend too big on clothes while you’re still figuring things out.

    • Chris Jones (@IPv6Freely) says:

      I would say yes generally, with the exception of shoes. Shoes are an investment. As long as you stick to something classic (dark brown cap toes are a good place to start), you’d be much better off buying something quality in the first place. You won’t find a good pair of $100 shoes – period (unless you score some second hand thrifting or on eBay). $250 is probably an absolute minimum. Look at Allan Edmonds (as a well-known example) and what they offer as far as styles and price. This is a good mid-tier shoe that will last you decades.

      If you enjoy them, then you can start looking at other stuff. I’m personally a fan of Cheaney Shoe Co in the UK.

      • Robert says:

        Well, most guys aren’t comfortable spending such a big amount of money on shoes (or other types of clothing) when they’re still in the beginning stages of developing their style sense.

        So I could tell these guys to spend big on shoes, but they’ll be reluctant, and might not do it. Or they get overly worried about getting “the wrong kind”, which paralyzes them into not buying any at all.

        I’d rather they buy a cheaper pair first and get a feel for them, sort of like a gateway pair.

        • Chris says:

          What about a medallion toe bal oxford instead of the loafers? I was able to pick up a pair of oxblood Aldens for pennies on the dollar which look great with my suit, but I wonder if they’re too dressy for casual wear.

          • Robert says:

            Hey Chris,

            oxfords are more suited to wear with suits. But you know, it always depends on the shoe itself. I’ve seen some work in smart casual outfits, but most of the time, I’d avoid it.

            Also, you’re better off owning (at least) one pair of dress shoes and one pair of casual shoes.

  • Jeff Wang says:

    Where would you suggest getting the plain white T’s? Everywhere i look there are in those prepackaged ones you cant really try until you take it home, and i’ve tried several. I’m in that dilemma where Small is waaaaay too small, and medium is too big

  • Gerard says:

    Are slim-fit khaki pants a good alternative to chinos?

    • Chris Jones (@IPv6Freely) says:

      Khaki is a colour. Chinos are a style of pants. So that should answer your question, since the chinos in the article are khaki coloured :)

  • Tobais says:

    I don’t like V-necks. They never look good on me. Would you consider a regular, round neck grey sweater still an essential?

    • Robert says:

      Yes, feel free to make changes to this list to suit your own tastes. The main point is that you build a wardrobe foundation of neutral pieces.

  • Chris says:

    What loafers are those?

  • SOG says:

    I’m curious about the plain white shirt: Dress or Sport?
    Does it matter here?

    • Robert says:

      The shirt I’m wearing is kind of an in-betweener — short enough to wear untucked, but long enough to stay inside my pants if I choose to tuck it.

      I don’t really like wearing a blazer with an untucked shirt, so I’d choose a dress shirt over a sport shirt that I couldn’t tuck.

      • Sam says:

        As a slightly overweight man, I tend to avoid tucking in my shirts like the plague unless I’ve got a blazer or jacket to wear over them–if I tuck in a shirt without something over it, I always feel more self-conscious about my weight. Is there any way other than simply losing weight (which I’ve been trying with only mild success) to keep tucked shirts from bulging out?

        • Robert says:

          Yes! Get them tailored.

        • Chris Jones (@IPv6Freely) says:

          As another overweight guy, let me tell you… People can clearly see that you’re overweight whether you try to hide your belly or not. Would you rather be the overweight guy who dresses nicely anyway, or the overweight guy who looks sloppy?

          • Robert says:

            Agreed! You want to show people you’re comfortable with your body and you’re in control of how people should see you. Own your frame.

  • Sean Contreras says:

    This helped me out immensely. I am a high school student and just recently started caring about how I looked. When I went back to school shopping I chose some nice new clothes that I thought would look nice to wear but nothing like this ever crossed my mind! It’s an amazing article and I can’t wait to go shopping this weekend to start dressing even nicer than I already have this year!

  • Jasmine says:

    Thanks for this blog. I am trying to help my bf to try different things, he’s not into fashion at all but since he knows it is important to me he allows me to pick his outfits sometimes. His closet is full of jeans and plain T-shirts, so I can’t really work it out! I’ve been buying him fancy shirts and jerseys but I think he does need more than that. He said he’d try anything I’d want except pink shirts. I hadn’t the foggiest about what ‘essentials’ I should get for him, so this website has been of massive help. Thanks again!

  • Benson says:

    Great article and lot of thanks for having the pictures! :)

  • >