The Basic Wardrobe Guide – How to Look Great With Little Effort

Guide to mens fashion

​When you look at the clothes that you actually wear you'll quickly realize that 80% of your outfits are made up of 20% of your clothes . These are your staples; reliable, easy and comfortable.

The aim of this guide is to remove any thought from the shopping process. Together we're going to put together a whole new wardrobe consisting of clothes that will complement each other, ensuring that you wear everything that you buy

I understand that most men aren't into fashion, they want to look good but have no desire to go shopping or to spend time on it. I often feel the same way!

It should be noted that this guide isn't for a fashionista, it's for the man who recognizes that he has little knowledge of fashion and wishes to dress attractively without putting in excess thought.

Lets work our way down.

Upper Body: Shirts and Tee's

Your upper-body is where you make or break the outfit.

  • Rule No1. Don’t wear print
  • Rule No2. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed
  • Rule No3. Don't wear t-shirts more than a few times a week
Uniqlo Oxford Cloth Buttondown

This is a classic look with the shirt untucked. The dark blue jeans compliment the light blue shirt well and the deep orange/brown shoes offer some excitement

Introducing, the Oxford Cloth Button Down (OCBD) . This is going to be your staple so get used to it! If you're over 16 years old then you're too old to be wearing t-shirts everyday.

The OCBD should be a fundamental in your new wardrobe, they can be worn anything from casual to business casual depending on what you wear with them and whether they are tucked or not.

For colors we're going to stick to the basics throughout this guide - we want versatile items which are going to be worn frequently. For your OCBD's look for white, dark blue (not black), salmon and light blue.

Patterned OCBD

Classic patterned OCBD, tucked into dark jeans.

These OCBD's are from Uniqlo which is where we'll be finding a lot of the pieces in this guide. Uniqlo is very reasonably priced and their clothes are classic and provide some of the best off-the-rack fit at this price range.

It’s still important that we have some more casual items in our wardrobe, so I would recommend well fitting plain t-shirts. I prefer the ‘super slim fit t-shirts’ from Zara, they contain some elastane which is going to provide a snug fit regardless of what size you buy. Again, we’re looking for versatile and classic colors - no neon orange here. Blues, blacks, whites and grey's are all good.

Lower Body: Jeans and Chinos

Pants are arguably one of the most important pieces because they dictate how professional the outfit is. I’m a big jeans fan but even I recommend a few other pieces.

If you can only pick one pair of pants then you should buy some dark denim jeans because they can be worn professionally and casually. My personal favorite and every-day pants are the Levi 510’s in Rigid Dragon (the color name). If you have bigger legs then get the 511’s instead, but at 6’2 and 185lbs I’m far more comfortable in the 510’s. Note - I prefer my pants at least 'tailored' and preferably 'slim', it helps to make you appear taller.

Levi 511 in Rigid Dragon

The Levi 511 is a slim fit jean and the "Rigid Dragon" color is a deep indigo/blue that fades heavily. These jeans are unwashed.

Note: These are raw denim - this means that you really shouldn’t wash them because they will fade very heavily and the dye will run onto other clothes in the wash. I haven’t washed this pair for over a year and would suggest you do the same.

The great thing about this color is that it’s so versatile, I regularly wear them with black running trainers, brown dress shoes and tan blundstones.

The second pair of pants I’d highly recommend would be a solid pair of chinos. Dark is almost always best. A deep blue is trusty or if you’d prefer a lighter option then you can get a traditional tan or khaki color.

Navy chinos with a light shirt

Navy chinos are especially versatile, they can be worn super casually with beach wear or to the office as shown in this image

Shoes: Leather and Boots

If you’re trying to look smart and professional then wear dress shoes, no exceptions. Stop worrying about being overdressed, it’s almost impossible unless you’re wearing a tuxedo when everyone else is in sweatpants.

I wear my brown dress shoes to the office, to bars, to family events and even for brunch. They are so versatile and that’s why they are a fundamental part of a basic wardrobe because they can be worn with a suit but also with jeans too.

Brown wingtips

Brown leather wingtips are a staple, they can be worn in formal situations or dress down with a chino and an untucked shirt.

Secondly, I would suggest that you purchase some form of casual shoe. Generally I’d recommend a casual shoe like suede bucks, but if you live in an area where it snows like me then you could look into a boot instead - my personal favorites are Blundstones.

Again, these choices are versatile. They can be worn with almost anything. Noticing the trend now?

Brown blundstones with black jeans

Blundstones are very casual but they are perfect for winter conditions and go incredibly well with dark jeans

Finally, buy some running trainers. Get out there and do some exercise! I love my Nikes and wear them with my jeans too (yes this looks ridiculous, even I don't look perfect 24/7)

Unless you’re wearing pants, wear no-show socks. I actually never wear socks that show unless i’m wearing dress shoes, I don't like the way socks look in sneakers at all - this is just current fashion.

In general, the rule with socks is to go one shade darker than the color of your pants . If you're wearing navy suit pants then wear dark navy socks, not black. When you look at a large range of outfits you'll notice that going just one shade darker in the same color is almost always the safest bet.​

Outer: Summer, Fall and Winter

Outer layers are going to be very weather specific, so we’re going to break it down into three categories; summer, fall and winter. Spring is really just early fall!

Daniel Craig in a cardigan

Daniel Craig is seen here wearing a dark sweater over a white shirt

For summer you’re going to want something light and bright, think a cardigan or an overshirt. In the summer I usually use my upper body to brighten up my outfit, sticking to whites, greys and blues in shirts and then a complementary cardigan. For example, if I’m wearing a light blue shirt I might match it with a navy cardigan, or a white shirt with a grey cardigan.

In fall you can get away with wearing both light and dark colors but with the temperature dropping you’ll want to ensure that you wear something reasonably warm. I’d recommend a long peacoat in black, this is going to be versatile enough to be worn with almost any outfit and at a range of different events. They also look great with oxford cloth button down shirts!

Ryan Gosling in a black peacoat

Ryan Gosling is seen wearing a short, black peacoat with grey jeans and a colorful scarf

In winter, depending on whether you live in Canada like me or in a slightly warmer climate, you’re going to be dressing for warmth. This means layering up. When the snow starts coming down you’ll find me with an oxford cloth button down shirt, then a grey wool sweatshirt (with a zip down to chest level), my black peacoat and brown leather gloves.

Accessories: The Fundamentals

Accessories aren’t as important as the fundamental items we’ve discussed so far, but they are going to set you apart from the crowd and they play a crucial part in your overall style.

If you’re reading this article then there’s a good chance that you haven’t got a large wardrobe built up and you haven’t cared for fashion extensively in the past. In this case, you’re going to want to be selective about which accessories you buy, because they are notoriously expensive and often get very little use for their price compared to fundamentals like pants and shirts.

In a basic wardrobe I would suggest:

  • One classic watch with two strap options
  • One leather belt that matches your shoes (brown if in doubt)
  • One leather wallet in the same color as your belt

These are some of the most versatile accessories that you’ll use on a frequent basis and can be justified in a basic wardrobe because of their relatively low cost and the large impact they play in an outfit.

With the watch I would stay away from anything too 'busy', that means no 'skeleton' or 'bare-mechanism' watches. Keep it classic and clean.

A clean cream watch with a blue and cream NATO strap

The clean face of the watch prevents distracting from the suit and keeps the viewers attraction where it should be - the face and center of the man.

Generally these classic style watches will come with a leather strap (match to your belt, shoes and wallet eg; all brown), and you should look to also purchase a NATO style strap. This is a great way to make your outfit more casual without really changing anything.

For example; lets say you're wearing a white shirt with dark jeans and brown shoes. You might wear the leather strap for the day-time and then swap to the NATO strap and roll up your shirt sleeves to make the same outfit more casual in the evening.​

Leather wallets are easy. Just pick the simplest wallet that has enough slots and sections for daily use.

​Belts are a little trickier and I generally prefer more detail on a belt than most but would suggest a very basic and clean belt for a fundamental wardrobe build. Wear a deep brown belt that matches your shoes and doesn't have an extravagant buckle - look for basic silver colored metal buckles.


The reality is that looking good isn't that difficult, as the age-old saying goes "you don't have to out-swim the shark, you just have to out-swim the guy behind you". That's very much the case with looking good, you don't have to be the best dressed guy in the world, you just have to look better than the majority of the other guys in the room.

Remember to prioritize fit over style and to keep your clothing basic to begin with. This list is a solid start and I would highly encourage anyone who is unsure about their wardrobe to consider buying some of these basic pieces.​

About the author

Jack Prenter

Jack has been fascinated by fashion for decades and spent huge amounts of time researching it and becoming an expert. He's written for many well-known publications and is in the process of opening an online clothing store for men. Jack studied at the University of Nottingham and is now based out of Toronto, Canada.