The due date of our baby boy is nearing. We’re scrambling to make preparations for his arrival and I’ve started to take stock of each room in the house. The other day I landed in my closet.
Men can fall anywhere on the fashion connoisseur spectrum. You could be a hardcore fashionista following the latest trends and browsing Lane Crawford or Harvey Nichols weekly for the newest piece to add to our collection.
You could also be more like a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. You’ve got your staple pieces (read: one outfit) that you wear every single day. It’s comfortable, familiar and doesn’t require much thought. As Zuck once said “…I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life” referring to his signature t-shirt and jeans look.
How do you prioritise fashion?
I, like most people, fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I don’t tend toward either end of the extremes, but I do pay attention to what I wear because I like to look good and feel confident. Whether it’s at work or on the weekend. However, I don’t pay attention to trends or collect designer pieces. Yet when I looked at my closet I still had way too much clothing. A lot of my purchases were worn only once or never even worn at all. Maybe Mr. Jobs and Zuckerberg had the right idea. Simplifying one part of your life (clothing) gives you some spare capacity to allocate to other tasks (being a father). And it’ll save you money in the long run. So I went about simplifying and trimming down my closet, Marie Kondo style.
Once it was all done, I had something closer to what some would describe as minimalist. Choosing what to wear in the morning took up much less time. It freed me up to think about other things. So I decided to put together this guide for the essential pieces in a mans wardrobe.
I’ll hopefully use this in the future as a guide to keep a focused wardrobe if I stray (which I probably will). I tried to stick to timeless pieces so that in the future my son can refer to this guide for building out his own wardrobe. Timeless pieces have the benefit of lasting through trends so you’ll spend less time shopping and updating your wardrobe.
Finally, I’d like to think a quality simple wardrobe gives a man confidence. Everybody feels confident when they look good and it’s always a positive when your child gets to learn from a confident parent.
1. 2-5 Suits
I wear a suit pretty frequently for work. Always in the winter and when I have meetings in the summer. Navy and charcoal grey are staple suit colours. They’re non-negotiable must-haves in every man’s wardrobe, no matter how often you wear a suit. They can easily go from a business meeting to dinner and also be worn for special occasions. They’re very versatile and go with almost any combination of tie and dress shirt. And the jackets can double as a blazer/sport coat when needed.
I prefer to get my suits custom made as my build is hard to buy for off the rack. When I do, I always get two trousers made at the same time. This is because I wear my pants twice as often as my jacket. You don’t want the fabric changing colour faster on your pants than your jacket because of wear and tear. With this simple two suit combo, most men are set. If you wear suits more frequently you can build up to 5-7 suits depending on your needs and style. Add a mid-grey, greyish-blue, and something with a subtle pattern like pinstripe. Dark and conservative are your safest colour choices. Shout out to Dream Bespoke in Hong Kong who have a great reputation for quality tailoring and decent pricing. Suits start at ~HK$8000 for a jacket and 2 pairs of pants.
2. 10 button-up shirts
Finance is a conservative industry. People don’t take many risks with their wardrobe. It’s funny how many shades of light blue dress shirts you’ll see in banking office. For shirts, simplicity is the key. Ideally, 5 white, spread collar, barrel cuff shirts in a wrinkle free material. Repeat the same design for 5 light blue shirts.
If you don’t want to be as boring as me, you can add some colors or patterns. Try checks, thin stripes and maybe a pink or light purple for some variety. But overall, stick to majority white and blue dress shirts. Nothing looks more clean and classy than a light shirt and dark trousers. Shout out to Graly Shirtmaker in Hong Kong. They do a decent shirt for under HK$500. I’ve never been disappointed.
3. 5-10 silk ties
Most professionals nowadays, even in conservative offices like finance or law, don’t wear a tie daily to work. Maybe in the late 80s and early 90s they were, when Gordon Gecko was everybody’s hero. But that’s no longer the case. Barring a meeting with an important client, most people leave the ties at home. I think around 5-8 good silk ties are enough for most people. Stick with the tried and true classic men’s tie brands like Hermes and Ferragamo. They tie a great knot. Brooks Brothers or Thomas Pink would also work. Stay away from fashion brands like Versace or Gucci for ties.
3. At least two pairs of leather dress shoes
High quality leather shoes need a one day break (at least) between wears so they can retain their shape. Your shoes soak up sweat throughout the day so you should take care of them with some shoe trees. For these reasons, every man needs two pairs of quality leather dress shoes. Your go-to pair will be black captoe oxfords. The most classic, versatile, and formal mens shoes. Strictly to be worn with your suits. The second pair can be more casual. A pair of derbies, brogues, or loafers either in black or dark brown. This second pair is versatile and can be worn with suits, jeans, or chinos.
Keep accessories to a minimum. A nice leather belt should last you for years. Remember to ALWAYS match the colour of your belt to your shoes. Seeing guys around HK wearing black belts and tan shoes drives me crazy. A nice belt is really the only accessory you need. Forget about pocket squares, cuff links, suspenders etc.
I keep my summer wardrobe very simple. 4-5 pairs of khaki shorts. No cargo shorts please, you’re not in a frat nor are you going on an African safari. Make sure the shorts end about 1-2 inches above your knee. For your upper body, get lots of T-shirts. Like 15 of them. Plain with no logos and in a variety of colours. HK is nasty hot in the summer and you’ll be sweating through multiple T-shirt’s per day. You’ll wash them often and they’ll wear out. Mix and match with your shorts and you’ll have enough outfits for the entire summer. Make sure everything fits well, not too baggy or too tight.
The winter wardrobe is all about layering. With the work and summer wardrobe built up, you already have wool suit pants, dress shirts, and T-shirt’s that can be used for layering. Simply add the staple items below and you’ll have many outfits to mix and match
- 2 pairs of dark jeans. Seven for All Mankind and Paige are my brand recommendations
- 2 pairs of chinos or khakis. One beige and one grey/navy. These are for a more relaxed look versus your wool suit pants. Can be paired with anything else in your wardrobe
- A full zip or quarter zip sweater. Great for layering and putting on over a T-shirt or dress shirt. Stick with neutral colours like camel, light grey, green that can pair well with your arsenal of pants
- 2 v-neck sweaters. Merino wool is fine but cashmere is next level luxury and actually really worth the price. Again stick to neutral colours that pair well with dark pants.
I like to go with an all-season pair of casual shoes, especially since we don’t have snow and slush to worry about in Hong Kong. Converse Chucks, Adidas Stan Smiths, and Nike Air Max 90s are all perfect. Wear them in both the summer and winter.
A mistake I’ve made when building up this section of my wardrobe is assuming I’d workout way more than I actually do. And I would have no time for laundry. So I’d get way too many shorts, t-shirts, and socks.
I workout 3 times a week at most and I do laundry twice a week. You should be doing laundry that frequently because your clothes will stink otherwise. That means you only needed 2-3 pairs of shorts, 2-3 T-shirt’s (all in sweat-wicking material from Nike or Under Armour), and 3-4 pairs of socks. Do laundry regularly and you’ll be fine.
We’re talking about socks and underwear. Let’s get some style thoughts out of the way first. I think all men should wear boxer briefs. They’re the most versatile type of underwear. Boxers are too loose and don’t offer any support. Briefs are too restrictive.
Thick cotton white socks have never looked good on anyone. They need to be removed from the face of this earth. There’s also been a trend of fancy pattern socks. Don’t get those. Remember we’re going for timeless, not trendy.
Get 10 pairs of boxer briefs from Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, or a similar brand. Also get 10 pairs of socks, half in black and half in navy. Maybe a few pairs of grey. Set a reminder for 1-1.5 years from now to replace all of your boxers and socks with a fresh set.
Building a Minimalist Dad Wardrobe
This wardrobe is specific to my life and it works for me. Take a look at your own lifestyle to determine which parts to trim and which parts to expand. Some people live in colder or warmer climates. Others might need less formal wear because they work in a different industry.
The beauty of the above wardrobe is you can mix and match and create so many different outfits. But make sure everything fits your body well. Fit is very important. More than brands or trends. Or colours or seasons. An outfit that fits well will make you look good. Period. And clothes often fit and look the best on athletic builds. Work on your fitness, prioritize cardio, and adopt a sustainable diet to make sure your clothes look good on you.