Men don’t often think of wardrobe building as a strategic endeavor. Those of us who hate shopping will simply buy things quickly to get out of a store, and those of us who like shopping will just buy things we’re drawn to without thinking of whether it truly suits our needs.
Classic men’s style has changed very little in the past century or so. If you plan and purchase with versatility and quality in mind, you can make your dollars stretch without worrying that the clothes you buy will ever go out of style.
A capsule wardrobe is an excellent starting point for recent graduates or men looking to rectify questionable clothing purchases. In this guide, you’ll learn about capsule wardrobes and how to build yours:
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What Is A Capsule Wardrobe?
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Why Build A Capsule Wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is a set of various garments in which all the individual pieces can coordinate with any other piece. The above infographic is a helpful tool and we encourage you to download it. Later in this article, we use photos of actual garments to illustrate the capsule “IRL,” if you will.
The term “capsule wardrobe” is used by image consultants and others in the clothing industry to help their clients build wardrobes that are versatile, high-quality, and long-lasting.
If you’re operating within the capsule, you should have no problem making outfits. The reasoning behind this is that when we begin our wardrobe-building process, we are often younger and of more modest means.
We have to make every dollar we spend stretch as far as it possibly can, and the best way to do this is to buy pieces for which versatility is paramount. Because you are buying fewer individual items than you would if you were taking a less strategic approach, you have the added benefit of being able to spend your money on higher-quality clothing.
Better to buy a nice grey suit that will last you ten years as opposed to a mediocre one that will last you two, right?
Again, all the items in the capsule can work together in some way. There are no colors or styles that clash, so it takes all the guesswork out of getting dressed.
Because you’re buying relatively fewer items than you would if you were building a wardrobe in a non-strategic way, you can buy higher-than-average-quality garments. This can mean half-canvassed suits instead of fused ones, shirts with high thread counts, or Goodyear-welted shoes as opposed to cheap glued ones.
In addition to looking better and feeling more comfortable, high-quality clothes last longer than cheaply made garments. This is especially true when you care for them properly.
How Do You Build A Capsule Wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe as we define it is based around tailored clothing. It’s best for men who wear jackets and ties at least three days a week.
As we discussed in our guide to your first suit, you need solid charcoal and solid navy as your starter suits. Unsurprisingly, these are the two suits that should form the backbone of your capsule wardrobe.
Not only will you have two suits that you can wear to nearly any event imaginable, but the individual pieces can be broken up and worn with each other. The navy jacket can be worn as a sport coat with the charcoal trousers just as the charcoal jacket can be worn with the navy trousers.
This is a great option for casual Fridays and adds another element of smart dressing to your repertoire.
Should you decide to buy three-piece options for either of these suits, have some fun by wearing what’s referred to as an “odd vest,” in which the jacket and trousers match but the vest doesn’t. A grey suit with a navy vest looks incredibly smart.
Many men think that a black suit will be their go-to suit. This thinking is as common as it is misguided. Black is appropriate for evening events and mourning, but not for daytime professional wear unless you’re in the hospitality industry.
Always hang your suit up properly after wearing it so it can air out and lose wrinkles. Try not to dry clean your suit more than twice a year if you can avoid it.
All you need is a mix of white and blue dress shirts. That’s it! A total of six will work as a start: three blue, three white.
You can vary the collar and cuff styles to your liking, and if you’re just starting to build a wardrobe, we recommend experimenting with different styles. This is so you can learn what you truly like versus what’s just caught your eye, enabling you to make even smarter purchases in the future.
Similarly, we suggest buying a couple of different cuff and collar styles as you expand your wardrobe. Nevertheless, any white or blue shirt can be worn with any jacket and trouser combination mentioned above. Therefore, ensure that versatility remains the priority.
Shirt collars and cuffs tend to get dirty faster than the rest of the shirt (unless you’re a messy eater, of course). This becomes more manageable, however, if you avoid wearing the same shirt two days in a row.
What Cufflinks To Buy
If you decided to get a double-cuff shirt, you’ll need cufflinks. It’s advisable to keep the metal in your outfit the same colour. Therefore, if you have nickel belt buckles, get nickel/silver cufflinks in a simple shape that goes with everything. Furthermore, mother-of-pearl is also a beautiful, highly versatile option.
Shoes & Belts
Though we truly believe a man can never own too many shoes, he only needs two to get him through the week: black and brown dress shoes with belts to match. We suggest nickel hardware on the belts as opposed to brass.
For a capsule wardrobe, we suggest a black oxford brogue or cap-toe and a medium-to-dark brown blucher. These options will go with any clothing combination in the capsule, and if you buy high-quality shoes that you don’t wear two days in a row, they will be comfortable and last you years.
The value of using shoe trees cannot be understated; it is the single most effective thing you can do to increase your shoes’ lifespans. They can be made of cedar or alder, but avoid plastic ones.
Finally, opt for leather belts to match both the black and brown shoes. Make sure that they’re not much wider than an inch and that they’re free of contrast-color stitching. This should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t, they should be made of leather.
You should buy solid ties in the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) to start. If you purchase two different shades per color, you’ll be well-positioned to last through the work week and keep the ties in good condition.
As you can see above, the same red, blue, and yellow ties work equally well with a white or blue shirt.
While we encourage you to acquire solids, because it’s generally accepted that men will wear patterned ties. Therefore, feel free to experiment with various color combinations in different patterns.
Red/blue repp stripe, yellow with blue paisley, navy with red dots, or red/yellow plaid are all fair game. Against a solid shirt with a solid suit, you literally cannot have clashing patterns with the aforementioned motifs.
Also, any of these primary colors will go swimmingly with any permutation of grey or navy suit and white or blue shirt. The only exception to this would be a light blue tie with a light blue shirt. As there isn’t enough contrast from shirt to tie, it won’t be the best possible combination available to you.
Always untie your tie by retracing the steps you took to tie it, but in reverse. This will help it maintain its shape and last longer, whereas pulling the narrow end out stresses the silk and decreases lifespan.
Note On Socks & Pocket Squares
White pocket squares go with any and every tie imaginable. To start a collection, just pick up a pack of white cotton or linen pocket squares. They’re inexpensive, super versatile, and will add a handsome finishing touch to your jackets.
For socks, the rule of thumb (or rule of toe, more accurately in this case) is that they match your trousers. Get a few pairs of navy socks and a few pairs of grey socks and you’ll be all set around your ankles. To that end, get a few pairs of navy socks and a few pairs of charcoal grey socks.
Feel free to play around with texture: think herringbone socks and ribbed socks in addition to plain socks.
In the picture below, you’ll notice that the shades of sock are a bit different than that of the trouser. This is totally acceptable. So long as you’re in the same ball park color-wise, you’re fine.
Beyond The Capsule
As we move on to more advanced dressing, we obviously need to move out of the capsule. Thankfully, the capsule provides an excellent foundation on which to build the rest of your wardrobe. Patterned shirts mate wonderfully with solid ties and jackets, striped suits pair well with solid ties and shirts, and so on.
Socks and pocket squares are a great way to start branching out of the basics, too. They’re available at relatively low cost and require zero alterations. If you’ve got a few extra bucks laying around, white pocket squares with colored trim that coordinate with your ties are perfect. Socks in different shades of your tie color are smart if you can get away with it at the office.
It’s worth repeating that we should approach wardrobe building as training for a marathon, not a running a sprint. Fans of HBO’s The Wire may remember Senator Clay Davis’ advice to Stringer Bell regarding getting into business with the government: “Crawl, walk, and then run.”
When done correctly, the process may feel slow, and you might be anxious to purchase items that are outside of the capsule. This is normal, but to ensure long-term success, you should resist that urge.
For more information on suits, we invite you to check out our suits home page.
Now that you have read our primer on dress codes, consider reading some of our related content: