capsule wardrobe for men - a complete starter guide
My @shopvirtueandvice Instagram feed is flooded with mostly women showing off their capsule wardrobes. I love seeing how different women, mix, match, and pair items to create fresh looks. And I love the 30 wears challenge. For me, the capsule wardrobe and 30 wears challenge go hand in hand. The capsule wardrobe is a tool to get more wears out of the same clothing. But, as I scroll through Instagram I am left wondering - where are all the men? I did a little google of capsule wardrobe for men and realized men have been pretty left out of this movement - sooooo, here is the complete starter guide for a mens capsule wardrobe.
An end to the male "work uniform"
What is most shocking to me about many men's wardrobes is the monotony and multiple purchases of the same thing. And, how most guys all like dressing the same. Do you remember that Instagram account @thejcrewginghamshirt from a few years back? It basically documented and poked fun at how every man seems to own that same shirt made popular by J Crew.
But, do you know what I noticed about many of my friend's closets? Especially those that work in finance. They have the same J Crew gingham shirt, but in like 5 different variations. One in from Brooks Brothers, one from Tod Baker, another was custom made by some friend of a friends tailor who comes over once a year from China, etc. But, they all basically look the same.
I remember years ago I dated this one finance guy and he had over 80 button-down shirts! It was just a closet full of button down shirt after button-down shirt. Needless to say, it didn't work out. I found him, like his closet, quite bland. He was definitely an extream. I would say in most of the male closets I have raided in NYC there is at least 25 button down shirts, and even that is a lot. Especially, guys, when it literally looks like you are wearing the same thing every day.
So gentlemen, this particular capsule wardrobe for men of only 30 quality pieces is created to take you from work to play without having to look like your wearing the same outfit every day. And, to get some of the monotony out of your wardrobe.
what is a capsule wardrobe?
Also known as a minimalist wardrobe, a capsule wardrobe is a simplified wardrobe of about 30-40 pieces. But, they aren't just any 30-40 pieces of clothing. They are highly curated and strategic pieces that can be mixed and matched to work together in infinite ways.
The great thing about a capsule wardrobe is that most people already own a few of the basics. So it's easy to toss (and by toss I mean donate or swap) what is not needed and buy what is missing.
why should you create a mens capsule wardrobe?
- Have a closet full of clothes but feel like you are wearing the same thing every day
- Spend a lot of time in the morning trying to put outfits together?
- Keep bugging your fashion friends to take you shopping for some cool new clothes
- Wear the same few clothes all the time, and the rest sits in your closet only to be worn in the most desperate times when laundry hasn't gotten done? (FYI, those types of clothes need to go)
- Want to look stylish with minimal effort
Guys, remember, this is a new way of shopping. You are shopping for quality, not quantity. Don't just run out and buy everything on this capsule list to check off all the boxes. Take your time. Make sure to think about the quality and fit, which are the two most important credentials when shopping for clothes you will want to wear forever.
Again. Remember. You are going to be wearing these 30-40 pieces ALL THE TIME, so make sure you like them, and they fit well.
bonus of a capsule wardrobe
By only buying what you really need, and what you are actually going to wear you will be saving money in the long run.
capsule wardrobe MEN
For our guide to a capsule wardrobe, we start with 30 pieces that will get every guy though spring and summer. Then, instead of building an entire new wardrobe for the fall and winter, thanks to layering, only 10 additional pieces are needed to get him through the fall and winter.
As an added bonus I am giving you my recommendations at three tiers of price points. Thanks to my almost decade long experience in fashion making clothing, my professional suggestions will ensure quality no matter your budget. If you don't like my recommendations, simply use them as a guide, and the next time you are out walking around take mental note of the clothes you like other men wearing for outfit inspiration.
spring summer men's capsule wardrobe checklist essentials
1 + 2, suit jacket + pants
Let's start with the perfect spring/summer suit (don't worry we add another suit for fall/winter) so this can be a seasonal one.
If you have to wear a suit to work every day then you will probably need more than one (don't feel bad about this, it's ok to have more than 30 pieces in your capsule wardrobe if they are needed - and you might find you need fewer t-shirts or other items than other people). Remember a mens capsule wardrobe is extremely personal, make alterations to fit your lifestyle, this is just a guide (not fashion law) to help get you going.
I am recommending only one suite because I would say the majority of men these days have a pretty work casual environment and suits are only needed for special meetings or occasions.
Tips for finding the perfect spring/summer suit
There are two ways of buying suits, custom or off the rack with alterations.
Full disclosure, I am not a man or identify as one, and I don't really wear women's suiting garments. But, I do do a lot of shopping for my boyfriend, and his friends. We have made him custom suits in China and NYC and also bought right off the rack. And you know what? If you know what to look for, an off the rack suit can look just as good, or sometimes better than a custom one.
Custom suits are pretty expensive here in NYC, so we opted for the less expensive Indochino. I do not recommend this. The suits are horrible. Cheap fabric, awkward cuts, just don't. Last weekend a groomsman in a wedding we went to that was wearing an Indochino suit had it rip before he even made it down the aisle. You are way better off buying off the rack. If you are going to buy a custom suit in the states, then I recommend going for the real deal, and that is going to cost you.
But, I do recommend custom suits in China and Asia. My boyfriend got a suit in China about 3 years ago and wears it at least twice a week and it still looks amazing. The process takes about 3 days. Get measured, pick out your fabrics, come back for a fitting, wait for the alterations, and then pick it up. Sometimes a few extra alterations are needed too.
His suit looked so good on him I ended up helping his brother get 2 made while we were in Hong Kong at the same time. Me for work, and him for vacation. Seriously if you are in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam, consider getting a custom suit. They will run you less than $300, and usually, come with a few dress shirts.
Sign up for the virtue + vice email list, and look out for my suit guide that will be published soon!
off the rack
Or, if you don't have the luxury of a custom suit there is always off the rack. And, tbh, off the rack suits can look, killer, especially if you get them tailored just right. Seriously, we got my boyfriend one from Century 21, I think it was about $200 and he gets more compliments on it then his custom ones. Since I think the majority of people reading this are going to be buying ready to wear suits here are a few tips while shopping.
suit shopping tips
Can we talk about how the under $200 Vince Camuto suits look just as good as the $1000 Armani's?
start at a department store
Department stores are great because they have lots of different brands, that all have different cuts, for different body types. If you haven't already found your go-to suit brand, keep trying, every company is a little different.
look at color
Remember, now that you are creating a mens capsule wardrobe you will hopefully be getting a lot of wear out of each garment you buy. The downside to that is you will be wearing it a lot. While a light powder blue suit might sound like fun (hello Dumb and Dumber) it's important to remember this isn't a one time purchase.
For that reason, it might be a better idea to stick to a more classic color like a grey or light navy, and instead use a dress shirt to add a fun pop of color.
make sure it fits
Watch out for the shoulders - A standard mistake is shoulder pads that are too wide. The shoulder pad should end where the natural shoulder ends. If the shoulder pad extends further than the shoulder the suite ends up looking cheap and not quite right, even if it actually did cost a lot of money
make sure you like it
This might sound obvious. But with a suit, there are so many different variations. Do you want two or three buttons, a center back vent, or two split vents (the slits in the back of the suit jackets so it doesn't rip when sitting), what about the lapel, notche or peak? These are all personal questions and totally up to your personal style. There is no right or wrong here. Here is a great article from GQ about all the different suit variations to consider when buying a suit. They do a much better job at explaining than I ever could. https://www.gq.com/gallery/how-to-buy-a-suit-slideshow
make sure it will last
All suites have a lining in the body of the jacket. But the suits that are made to last also have a lining in the arms. Brands often skip the arm lining because most people don't notice it. But, it's important. Linings are made out of silk or on cheaper suits bemberg (a synthetic fabric). What do both of these fabrics have in common? They are super slippery. The lining is important because it will help you slide the suit on and off easily and decrease wear and tear, helping it to last as long as possible.
A tip to make a cheap suit look more expensive - replace the buttons. Most ready to wear suits are made with cheap plastic buttons. Hop online, or visit a button store (midtown in NYC is surprisingly full of them) and get yourself some nice Corozzo ones (made from nuts, and as a bonus are more sustainable than plastic). It's the little details that can make something generic look expensive.
A mens blazer is like the equivalent of an LBD for women (little black dress), meaning extremely versatile. When styled correctly a blazer can be worn with anything, polos, dress shirts, jeans, or chinos - a good blazer can elevate any outfit. And, is an absolute must for any men's capsule wardrobe.
Again, you probably want to go with a more neutral color, like a grey or black, and choose to accessorize with pops of color instead.
4-11, 8 different dress shirts
For guys looking to minimize their wardrobes, even more, you could probably make do with 5. One for every day of the work week. But, I added a few in case you want to add in some fun colorful ones, or don't want to be stressed about doing laundry every week.
A white dress shirt with a french cuff for more fancy occasions
(FYI: you will need cuff links for this type of cuff). You most likely won't wear this shirt often. But, it's good to have for special events.
Unless you are a super fancy guy barrel cuffs (the kind with two buttons should be just fine for the rest of your dress shirts)
white oxford shirt
This will be your workhorse and a most likely a staple in your closet. If you are the type of guy that prefers to keep it basic, you might even want to skip one of the below options and invest in a second white shirt.
I suggest buying oxford here because generally Oxford is a bit heavier and will wear longer.
blue and white stripe
Simply put, men's classic that never goes out of style.
Ok, fine one j crew gingham
They are just so easy to wear and go with almost anything
light blue oxford
Another men's wardrobe staple.
2 shirts with geometric patterns or color variations
Stripe, a small dot, solid, or gingham shirts in other colors. Try to go for muted colors like pastels. These colors won't stand out. Think, if you have a bright orange shirt, people are going to notice it and notice you wearing it every day. So try to keep your options more on the light side here.
Something fun to stand out
Try a Vineyard Vines embroidered dress shirt, or this would be the place to opt for that bright orange shirt.
tips to make your dress shirts last
Wear an undershirt. Let an undershirt do the heavy lifting and bear the brunt of sweat and deodorant stains. By using an undershirt your dress shirts will last longer.
Here is everything you could possibly want to know about undershirts, including their history, the different types of styles, and how to pick the undershirt perfect for you.
12 + 13, polos
Go with one white and one color. Try to buy a heavier fabric that is a picot knit. Picot knits tend to hold up to wear a little better than other types of knit fabric.
14 + 15, button-down short sleeve shirts
The button-down short sleeve shirt is making a come back and is so much cooler than the Hawaiian print shirts of our parent's generations. It's perfect for times you want to look a little nicer than just a plain t-shirt but doesn't need to get full fancy. These you can have a little fun with. Here are a few of my favorite options.
16, Henley shirt
A long sleeve classic. Perfect for layering or wearing on its own. Opt for a neutral color like a brown, black, dark blue, or off white.
17, v-neck t-shirt
Pick a neutral color like white, black, or a pastel pink
18, round neck t-shirt
Again you want a neutral color here.
19, a casual t-shirt
Think college t-shirt, favorite sports team, or something else with a little more personality. If logos aren't your thing you could go for a more funky pop of color than your other two base shirts.
20, multi-use shorts
Have you heard of multi-use shorts? There is a growing trend in menswear of multi-use garments. These bad boys you can wear in the pool, going for a run, and they still look nice enough so you can get away with stopping at a friend's bbq after. They are a hybrid of a little bit of everything. Try birddogs.
21, dress shorts
While shorts like birddogs are great for on the go. It is important to have at least one nice pair of chino shorts. All birds have a bit of a shinier look. So they might look a little out of place at a more fancy occasion. For that reason invest in some chinos.
Need help finding the perfect fitting shorts? Use this guide.
I am a jean snob. So, here I would recommend investing in something a little more expensive and going for raw denim. Raw denim doesn't get washed (yay, for you lazy guys out there, and yay for the environment), that is because they need to break into your body. If purchased correctly raw denim jeans could last you a lifetime. Raw jeans aren't for everyone because when you first buy them they need to be skin tight - like can hardly walk tight. But after a week or two, they will stretch out. And after a few months, they will be a few two to three sizes bigger than when you first started out.
I get that raw denim isn't for everyone. Another cool denim option, if comfort is your top priority is a little bit of stretch. Today, there is a trend in the men's denim world for jeans to have stretch which adds comfort.
23, khaki pants
Classic. Easy. Will go with any one of the dress shirts or t-shirts you own.
24, dark chino pants
Another classic easy style that should go with just about everything already in your capsule wardrobe.
A light spring jacket. Bonus points for it are is also water repellent or waterproof. Here are a few options I like that are versatile.
26, cotton sweater
A great layering piece that can transform an entire outfit. Wear it on its own or over a dress shirt for a more dressed up look.
27, work shoes
invest in comfort
If a shoe looks great but is uncomfortable to wear what's the point? It will probably end up sitting in the back of your closet. So make sure they are comfy.
Loafers. I think Cole Haan shoes look great, and from what I have heard from men they are super comfortable. (I know the women's shoes are). That's because for a while the brand was owned by Nike, who shared their sneaker technology to make some of the most comfortable dress shoes around. Today the brand is no longer owned by Nike, but the shoes are still as comfortable as ever.
Nothing pulls a look together like a fresh pair of sneakers. While white sneakers look amazing - remember they are hard to keep clean. Sneakers are another place where you can play around a little and show some personality. Are you a chuck tailors kind of guy, or Nikes, or the trendy all birds?
29, boat shoes
Another men's classic. A little more formal than sneakers, but they won't have you looking like you are about to head to the office.
Depending on the colors that you have in your closet make sure to invest in a quality black or brown leather belt. Did you know that some belts are reversible? Black on one side and brown on the other! Nice, two for one! A nice belt can tie an entire outfit together. Belt's are another one of those small details that complete a look and take it from egh, to wow.
fall winter +10 wardrobe essentials
Ok, so for fall and winter you can take all, err most of the items from the spring/summer capsule wardrobe and carry them over thanks to the layering. Then for fall/winter, all you need is a microcapsule wardrobe of 10 additional pieces.
1+2, suit jacket and pants
See my tips above for buying the perfect suit.
But, to add onto that - for winter you will definitely want something made of wool, or if you have a little extra money to spend cashmere. Look for fabrics that are tweed or flannel. They tend to run a little heavier and provide more warmth in colder months. But, try to keep the fabric solid. I wouldn't go for any patterns here. Solid black or a dark grey would work well here and be versatile.
3, winter blazer
Here I would add a little bit of color or design. Maybe try a herringbone fabric or an oversize check. Like the summer blazer, this will be a key piece to dressing up any outfit.
4, corduroy pants
Corduroy pants are making a comeback. And, they are perfect for the cooler months. They will also add a little variation between wearing jeans and chinos.
Wool, cashmere, or alpaca. There are so many other types of wool too. I recommend trying to buy a wool sweater that was ethically sourced because sometimes the way the wool is collected is really violent.
The first sweater should be something basic in a solid color. This again will be great for layering, just like the summer cotton sweater. But, will be able to provide a little more warmth.
6, sweater, zip up, sweatshirt, or fall jacket
Basically a layering piece. choose this based on your style needs. If you are a causal guy maybe a sip up or sweatshirt will do. Someone who is more on the fashion scene, perhaps a leather of faux leather jacket.
If you choose a second sweater can be another solid neutral sweater you might want to add a little color. Or, if you are looking for variation, but don't want to commit to colors try a cable design. The texture will add depth and dimension to your look, but will not distract.
7, dress boots
Waterproof Chelsea boots are all you really need to get you through fall and winter.
8, winter boots
For when it's really snowing out, but you still need to leave the house, make sure you have a pair of real true winter boots. Duck boots by LL Bean are guaranteed for life.
A good peacoat never goes out of style and always looks fresh and on trend.
10, winter jacket
And lastly a winter jacket. And an absolute must for staying warm and dry. Make sure you buy something that is insulated and waterproof.
Will you need more clothes?
Yes. most likely. Only have 40 pieces of clothing is kind of extremist. Guts, this is just mean to get you started with the basics and to get you thinking about ways to vary your wardrobe so you aren't buying 25 of the same thing.
Why I chose not to highlight sustainable brands...
Dipping your toe into the world of sustainable and ethical fashion is hard enough. The first step is cutting back on purchases and learning how to use what you already have. I wanted to highlight tried and true mens brands that have been around for a while, and are known for quality. Maybe in the future, I will do a men's sustainable brand roundup for guys who are interested in leveling up their sustainable journey.