Over the next few weeks, will be doing a few posts on creating a core wardrobe of clothes – often called a ‘capsule collection’ – to add to those already published on ties, shirts and handkerchiefs.
In my opinion this is more important than ever. Here’s why
It’s hard to have a true, clear-eyed perspective on your own tastes.
I hate fugly trainers, down vests under suits, and tracksuit bottoms as daywear. But how much of that is just a product of my background, age and culture?
It was pleasing, therefore, to have a conversation with a colleague in his early twenties last week, where he railed against the current state of dress.
“People just don’t know what to wear,” he said. “Certain things are fashionable, like designer trainers or oversized puffa jackets, but they feel just like fads. They change much faster than when I was a teenager, and seem to be sillier. There is no normal, no baseline any more.”
Office wear, he pointed out, was bad but at least it was easy. Everyone wears suits without ties if they do a professional job, and otherwise the same thing they wear casually.
Depressing as that is, let’s focus in this piece on casualwear. For this has fewer traditions or rules, and is more susceptible to random trends.
The biggest problem, I think, is that men are often attracted to single, shiny things and focus on them to the exclusion of a core wardrobe.
That wardrobe, almost anywhere in the world, could consist of a few good versions of jeans, chinos, T-shirts, shirts and knitwear.
By ‘good’ we mean good quality (the best you can afford, and made with some understanding of quality v value) and good fit (which will vary, but always tends to be a more moderate, flattering version of any trend).
Good style is also a factor, but is similar to fit, in that it requires some cultural awareness, and then moderation. Wear slim jeans if you want, but not skinny; roll the hems if you want, but not to mid-calf.
Once every man has a core of these plain, classic pieces (which more often than not means blue shirts, white T-shirts, navy knitwear) then he can consider those newer, shinier fashions and decide whether to add them around the edges.
That includes vintage trainers, buffalo-check shirts and tiny watch caps. But it also includes more standard pieces like rollnecks, waxed jackets and shearling. You don’t need all of them. Consider each, adopt or not, and be happy with your decision.
It all works because there is a core wardrobe to revolve around.
In my case that comprises blue oxford/denim shirts, white/grey Sunspel T-shirts, bespoke Levi’s, Incotex/Armoury chinos, and navy crewneck knitwear.
There are core shoes and outwear too, of course, but it’s easier to swap these for more unusual pieces. Harder with core items.
The extra, unusual things around the edges establish more personality. They make you the kind of person who wears a Barbour or not, who favours chelsea boots or Red Wings.
But they can only do that because not changing everything in your wardrobe at once. The core abides.
This approach also avoids twin dangers.
One, of buying into everything in a particular trend, and so looking like an identikit hipster, for example. (Which usually affects guys that care a lot about their clothes).
And two, of just giving up and wearing anything at all, because it all seems too complicated. (Which affects guys that aren’t into their cloths – and most of the male population once they hit 40).
This post is not intended to prescribe what that core wardrobe should be.
For now, it is just an argument for readers to think in this way, particularly about their casual wardrobe.
And then from Monday we will begin adding more posts around the idea of a ‘capsule wardrobe’, including tailoring and more casual pieces.
For details on any of the clothes shown in these images, just click the picture. It should be hyperlinked to the relevant post.
Existing posts on capsule wardrobes are:
I think a core casual wardrobe is relatively easy to build for cold weather. In hot weather though, it’s really hard to move away from a generic look without drawing attention to yourself; I think because there are fewer pieces to work with and shorts, short sleeve and trainers, all things being equal, are less flattering than their cold weather equivalents.
I agree but think the way to approach a summer wardrobe is to find “summer” equivalents to what you like to wear in colder weather. So if I’m an olive chinos and blue oxford shirts guy in the winter I might wear olive shorts and a navy polo in summer. Or a linen shirt in blue.
Some suuggestions on seasonal variations in this series could be quite helpful Simon.
Hi Simon, really looking forward to this! This need for a core casual wardrobe/uniform has been on my mind for some time but often I find myself paralysed through the propensity to overthink things. Then equally importantly there’s practically aspect – young children, daily commute into London, rucksack etc.
I find wearing suits so much easier as less can go ‘wrong’ and there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve turned up to work in a suit having ‘forgotten’ that it was a dress-down Friday….
Looking forward to this series! I find myself relying on denim, chinos, t shirts and shirts too most of the time, with interesting outerwear and shoes. But in the summer it’s linen shirts and polo shirts with linen pants otherwise I die in the Tokyo heat.
I know I’m little late to reply, but could you tell me where you buy your linen pants/shorts because I, for the love of God, cannot find any that don’t cost $200.
Really looking forward to this . There been far too much suit and shoes talk.
In fact I’ve recently been thinking “what kind of suit works well without a tie ?”. Most don’t …. or is it because the shirt collar is wrong ?
Wearing jackets and chinos , to look casual , can still ‘age’ a person. I’ve often found PS casual attire still makes you look your age (or an age).
And as for white trainers (clinches) I despise the white sneaker look ! It’s what ‘white’ guys wear to look good (sorry, can I say that !?)
I think it’s probably more tropical climates we need to draw inspiration from for casual wear as they’re often ‘dressing down’ to put up with the heat and therefore forgo a jacket and tie.
I’ve certainly noted Gieves & Hawkes have moved to much better casual wear in the last 10 years . Stuff one could wear without looking like a young royal dressed like a middle aged man .
P.S. no (serious) offence intended .
Quick tuppence worth: Suits almost always look better with a tie, but if it ever works, it’s with more casual suits. Corduory, cotton twill, loose linen. Not business worsted.
That’s one for our ‘The Rules and how to break them‘ series though.
I’d agree it’s the shirt collar that kills the no-tie-with-suit look.
Most collars just collapse and fall limp, breaking the clean lines of suited look right near the face, which is the focal point.
I agree, always a tie, however, some situations particularly with some clients I think it’s now (unfortunately) sometimes more appropriate to wear without a tie.
In these instances, I find one piece collars like Luca Faloni’s oxfords, are perfect.
I think with a big of generalizing, one could split mens views on casual wear into two camps:
The ones that don’t care and are just happy not to be on suits Friday to Sunday and men who care but have a varied degree of hardship in finding what he likes.
Summer is indeed the hardest time of the year to look good in, which means those who manage to do so stands out a lot more than they might do in fall/winter.
Looking forward to more posts on this topic.
I think that fundamentally what separates the well-dressed from the rest in BOTH formal and casual clothing is the same – fit and quality of material. Two people both wearing jeans will look very different if one has a well fitting pair and the other one just went for the first pair he bought.
Forgive me, but just a note on some of the comments. I am 25 and have a lot of European friends (mainly French and Italian) roughly my age and I find they often dress more formally than some British people who are older than they, for example jackets/blazers on weekend evenings etc. but somehow they never look outdated or ‘young foggy’. I think they main reason is how you carry yourself and I find that too often people here just don’t have that inner sense of what’s beautiful and what’s not. Hence, their only guide is extremely basic such as trainers=cool, suits=corporate.
Thanks Nick. Completely agree on the second point.
And partly on the second too. Local style and confidence in it comes from the references around you – friends, family, shops. Those things just don’t exist in the same way in the UK. It’s most obvious on the shops front. The high-street tailor is TM Lewin or Jaeger, not Boggi.
I often think of you when I pop to Tesco at the end of the road at 7am on a Sunday morning because we’ve run out of milk for my 2 year old, and I’m wearing espadrilles (or worse, flip flops), tracksuit bottoms and a cashmere hoody of the same colour – a truly horrendous look – but hell, it’s only 2 minutes there and back – would you ever do likewise? What if someone spotted you!
On a serious note, can you expand on running shoes (I love my 80’s style Nike ones, and the guys from Man 1924 make New Balance look so good) and also down vests under suits. I wear one over my suit in transitional weather (early autumn, early spring) and like the look.
I’m also in my late 30’s and whilst I agree there’s nothing worse than an older man in jeans which sit between their hips and their knees. I sometimes look at the things Mr Porter is selling and think that someone has lost their mind (them, or me) – they’re currently stocking some pink drawstring trousers for about £850, but then again, maybe I just don’t understand fashion.
For me someone like Alessandro Squarzi somehow manages to find the perfect balance.
Hey Simon. I think with down vests, the issue is partly wearing them under jackets, when they just don’t fit and make the suit jacket bulge outwards. Better over the top, but even then they’re just not very elegant or nice-looking things. You wouldn’t wear an overcoat that was bulky and synthetic like that. If it was better made, a better length, in wool etc, then yes.
I think that would be a good example of high/low dressing, which we wrote on a whole ago. It’s something someone like Squarzi does a lot as well
Regarding the down vest under a jacket, the other thing that bugs me about it is that once you get in doors, you have to undress and then redress to get the down vest off. It makes much more sense to wear as outerwear.
I personally think down jackets/coats can look smart. Never on the same level as at a tailored overcoat, but they definitely work as smart casual if well-fitted with clean lines, and simple design. This may be culturally enforced by living in Canada, where -30 C degree or -40 C degree weather isn’t uncommon. Where most people fail with the down parka look is that they wear overly large boxy fits, in loud colours or camouflage patterns, with patches all over the place. They also tend to go with shorter jackets rather than more flattering longer ones.
It’s easy to go a little too far while building a core casual wardrobe, and accidentally find yourself buying the same ‘uniform’ over and over. I do that a lot with blue oxfords and chinos in various shades of brown/tan.
A few days ago I spotted a nice pair of suede loafers on the PS Instagram page, and before I went searching for a pair I decided to check my wardrobe to make sure I didn’t already have something similar. On opening the door I looked down and found four near-identical pairs of Clarks desert boots. I never noticed how absurdly samey my wardrobe had become.
I have really enjoyed all your posts, which have led me to drastically improve upon my office and evening clothing. Posts like this, regarding casual dress, get me very excited as this is an area where I am currently trying to improve. To start, I have purchased both of the denim and the blue Oxford pre-made shirts. I have also just purchased the blue stripped Oxford cloth to have my first casual bespoke shirt made (a year ago, I never thought I’d have a casual shirt made, so thanks for the encouragement). As my usual weekend routine centers around brunch and a playground in the park (in Manhattan) with my wife and daughter, these are usually paired with jeans or chinos, knitwear if the weather calls for it and usually no jacket. Casual footwear is a topic I’d love to hear more about, especially for the warmer weather because it is a place I struggle. I tend to wear similar sneakers to common projects or Doek’s in all seasons aside from summer and then driving mocs (I know you dont agree with that for walking around) during the summer – loafers or any hard sole seems too formal for the park (to me) and boat shoes always just look sloppy. That would be an area I’d love to see on this capsule series.
Thanks again for all the help! Love your site.
What about loafers in suede, grained, or textured leathers? Maybe even with a welted rubber sole rather than a leather sole?
DC, maybe a crepe soled unlined or very soft dessert boot? A simple Clark’s in sand suede or if you want to upper the quality some unlined Alden chukkas on leather sole?
Yeah i’d Like to add that Drakes seem to have a very good handle on shoes in their shop. Chunkier soles and suede or grain leather that is not shiny will always make a shoe more casual.
Great piece! I think it would be even more helpful if you broke down the casual wardrobe and articulated the 10 must have items, such as: one white and one blue Oxford shirt, dark blue selvedge, dark brown Chelsea boots, etc.
Thanks. Sure, I can do that, the only issue is that something as narrow as that would be very prescriptive, very dependent on particular lifestyle, climate, even time of year. But we did try to do a similar one with ‘the complete capsule‘ so we could do one for casual clothing too
I’ve been thinking about the casual shoe (read: slip on or loafer) situation too. On the low-end of smart, I’m wearing Allbirds tree runners a lot and find they work great with chinos. On the top end, some of the unlined EG loafers or something similar can be a smarter alternative. But what about the space between these options? Maybe something like a Feit slip on? Other ideas? Feels like this could be a good “top five” post at some point.
Nice idea. I’d put a leather trainer similar in style to Common Projects, and a canvas one similar to Doek, in that middle area.
Also more casual loafers from Alden for example.
Great post. One question: What do you mean by “tiny watch caps”?
Small beanies that sit on the top of your head and don’t even approach your ears
Looking forward to this series, Simon. Because of a recent job change, I have found myself needing to learn more about formal clothing and intential wardrobe building. These capsule types are a great starting point. As some have referenced, wardrobe tips on surviving the summer heat would also be greatly appreciated.
Great post. I occupy an interesting space (as I’m sure others do). I’m in a casual engineering office (t-shirts and shorts included for some), but I’m in a MBA program. Both environments have a distinct expectation of dress. I think partly because I am in the U.S., it acceptable to where dark slim denim with more casual sport coats (brown cotton/wool hounds-tooth flannel) in business and a light blue oxford shirt. I prefer dark brown suede loafers, navy socks, and a simple dress watch. Usually, this combination will transition well for the engineering office as well. For a more casual look (only with my fellow engineers) I prefer a navy or light blue shirts with natural denim, and snuff suede chukkas. Where I like to have fun is in the details of the shirt. For instance, my navy shirt may have double rounded flap pockets and a slubby cotton linen mix. Details like these make a simple casual shirt a little more fun, like you mentioned in finding my own personality. Just my thoughts.
Really nice ones – sounds like a great transitional wardrobe
Simon, I’d like to see a capsule collection for common casual activities. What to wear, for example, working out? Or hiking? At the beach? Gardening? A day at a theme park with family?
It’s activities like these, such as working out, that a classic heather grey tracksuit bottom with a white t-shirt feel appropriate.
I’d like to see more coverage of these topics.
Casualwear is “hard” mostly because the rules are less rigid and choices greater. It’s hard to prescribe a single core capsule since geographic variation is significant, even if we’re only talking about developed urban centers. The aesthetics of apparel are also becoming more pluralistic, which means that “what looks good to you” is becoming an increasingly useful rule of thumb, esp. with casualwear; the internet makes it very easy to service this type of individualism.
Great outline Simon. Denim, chinos, oxford shirts, polos, T’s, shorts, hoodie, chunky knitwear, beanie, boots, classic trainers, deck-shoes (plus a share of sports & outdoor crossovers): all central to a casual capsule wardrobe. Depth can be minimal but a compliment of jackets can give range: The harrington, bomber, biker, barn, field, barbour, husky, M65, pea coat, puffer, waterproof (North Face etc.) can each take the same outfit and transform it into something with a different casual range, purpose or style. Nick, makes an interesting point though: wandering through Richmond a group of Italians (speaking same) stood out, not overdressed but well dressed – just a different aesthetic sense. Surrounded by the sunlit architecture of Rome or Florence and the art of the renaissance I guess some of it has to rub off…
I think the references for Italians make a difference, as with Scandinavians. Also, as with women, I think we rarely appreciate quite how much time they spend thinking about it, from an early age, which becomes natural over time
The Italians,bless them, seem to have an innate sense of style that’s unparalleled. While Italian men often wear their clothing too tight, the taste level of these folks is simply superb. If Americans had just 25% of the style of the Italians the U.S. would be so much better off.
@Anonymous I agree with the kind of pieces you mentioned.They are all great pieces, there is no denial. In fact, thank you for sharing that. But I respectfully disagree with the number.
I would state 3 pieces of outerwear or maybe 3-4 shoes make a good core casual wardrobe.
A summer jacket such as harrington, bomber, or biker, a transitional weather jacket such as barn, field, or M65, and a heavy winter coat such as pea coat, puffer, or parka might be more directional in capturing the essence of capsule or core wardrobe.
Similarly, for shoes, a summer shoe, perhaps loafer or sneaker, a winter shoe, such as boot or any rubber sole derby shoe might fit here better. Then, this is just an opinion, primarily to project simplicity.
Good luck with this Simon – you’ve just undertaken mission impossible.
Formal wear is possible to advise on because it’s a uniform and providing the uninitiated are willing to follow some fairly basic recommendations, they won’t go too fare wrong.
Casual is a whole different ball game. Unless you have an innate sense of style and are reasonably in shape, forget it. This is why the majority of British males look like a sack of the proverbial.
This is because there are few rules – save for the fact that things should be of great quality and should fit and that plimsolls, white or otherwise, look ridiculous on anybody over 15.
Other than than the aforementioned, you have to decide for yourself what works for your age, your shape and your circumstances and frankly you can’t ‘teach’ this. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.
Furthermore, casual clothes are very unforgiving. Get the colour match, texture match or sizing remotely wrong and it notices. Furthermore, there are many more decisions to be made – city, town or rural, climate, country, activity, time of day, all play a part.
Take it from an ageing flaneur who has been treading these boards since he was a mod in the ‘60s , you either innately understand and are interested in these things or are not and a quick look at our streets in the U.K. and those across the Atlantic would indicate that 95% of household bears haven’t got a bloody clue.
Our Mediterranean and Nordic brethren appear to do a slightly better job but I sometimes think their climates simplify their decisions.
Self awareness is especially important for casual wear because there are so many options, and it’s easier to go wrong. 99 percent of men look good in a suit. Even if the fit is mediocre, a man in a suit will rarely look awful, unless he goes for something crazy (like the zootsuit a friend of mine chose to wear on his wedding…)
Conversely, very few men over the age of 35 or so look good in a shorts. There are exceptions, of course, but you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re not in good shape, it’s best to stay clear of certain types of clothing.
Just to expand a bit, the sockless leather shoes and shorts look is flattering on men who are relatively tall and slender and have only a modest amount of leg hair. (If you look at photos in advertisements, it looks like many of the models who sport this look have their legs waxed.)
My father is 65 years old, is in reasonable shape, but has put on a little weight in the belly (as is common for lawyers of that age). He looks good in a suit but the sockless and shorts look doesn’t flatter him at all.
And it’s not just about age and weight. I’m 35 and in good shape, but I’m on the short side and have an athletic build. I’ve got big calves and quite a bit of hair. The sockless shorts look doesn’t look good on me either.
Mr. Abbot, this is one of the most astute and adult comments I’ve ever read concerning casual clothing and wise advice. If men would simply be honest with themselves, as you advise, and wear appropriate clothing based on their fitness level and physical appearance it would be wonderful.
My boss always says that no plan survives contact with the enemy and when dressing casually the enemy can be the huge variety of things we do at weekends. It’s Saturday morning I’m off to watch my lad play football (it’s cold and windy today), the some gardening after lunch and then tonight it’s the cinema and a bite. There are at least 3 outfits in that lot. Monday to Friday is easy by comparison. Looking forward to some great ideas, thanks.
This is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to the future posts. As an academic in the humanities with a focus on arts and culture, and also in the creative field, I very rarely wear a suit – not because I can’t, but because it would not be appropriate and it simply doesn’t suit my personality. However, I love tailoring, and I love classic style. In fact, I read this blog for its content on materials, quality, mixing and matching, and detailed analysis of specific items (I love your multiple posts on trainers, and how one can wear them ‘smartly’, and I agree 100%). Right now, I don’t own any ‘bespoke’ items. However, I can’t wait to have my first pair of grey flannels made for me because they are one of those items that can be worn with an odd jacket, shirt, polo, or even t-shirt (on the right frame). Same goes for a nice coat, shirts, and shoes. Men’s clothing that emerged from classic military, equestrianism, field sport, etc. fits my lifestyle and personality best. And so, my wardrobe will always be 95% smart casual, but that doesn’t mean it won’t – at one point I hope – consist of a lot of bespoke items. Regardless, the principles of classic style, quality and understatment remain the same. Having a strong understanding of the “principles” of men’s style will definitely impact how you view casual wear – it has mine.
P.S. I like that Simon isn’t dogmatic, and in fact is open about his very subtle but ever-changing views on certain things. He also acknowledges that some guys have the body to wear a high quality t-shirt with grey flannels and trainers and look great, but that MOST men are probably better off with a collared alternative.
Nice last point there Mike, yes.
Most being 99.5%
Hi Simon, I’d be keen to get your thoughts on the trend of wearing ties with the back blade significantly longer the front. It seems almost de rigueur amongst shop staff of menswear establishments and the dandier set these days and for the life of me, I can’t see what’s the appeal. Would this style ever be acceptable in a business environment?
It’s just a trend spurred by Italian gentlemen wearing them in that fashion, and seeming perhaps less formal as a result. It’s worth being aware that for some guys, like those Italians, most ties are also just too long, so the alternatives are just different knots, or tucking one in. I don’t mind it if everyone else around you isn’t doing the same thing
I was thinking about this article today and Jason/R Abbott’s comments reflect my conclusion. Most of us have a range of the basic casual items but the what, when, where and how of a composition is what makes or breaks the outfit. This being so Simon a sketch of how a successful outfit is composed would be useful and welcome. Colour, texture, background (why the Barbour works so well as a casual go-to), context (denim+hoodie+Carhartt = workwear casual) and purpose (leisurely Sunday, walk in the park, casual lunch with friends etc.) would also give some meaning as to why/why not the composition works. I wonder also whether some sort of stratification might be useful in the same way that ‘degrees of formality’ does: workwear, sportswear, outdoor, transport (biker jacket), military, adventure, musical (punk, hip-hop)… and then, as Jason points to, the impossible task of how to successfully ‘cross the streams’ of influence to produce something stylish and at ease with itself.
Thanks. I think some of these areas raised are too large, varied and cultural to be analysed in this way. Which is why I suggest reducing the variation by having a core wardrobe of things that outerwear etc can work around. Don’t try to do biker and workwear and hip-hop. Do one, maximum two (see the Casual Paradigms post). It’s the only way, for example, to wear jeans and an Oxford shirt in the morning, put on knitwear around the house, a Barbour to watch the football, and a blazer to go out in the evening
Dear Simon, as usual great idea! I would appreciate if you could give advices how to combine the so called ‘capsule items’ that at the end there is a variety of outfits. Similar to your post ‘What office are you’ (still my favorite).
Sure Christopher, I’m sure it will expand into that over time.
Do bear in mind that every other ‘casual’ style piece we’ve ever done is basically a building post on that core. Some examples being:
I’m on the side of down vests under sports jacket (assuming same view as suit jacket) for those in-between days. It has to be very lightly padded, cut to a v-shape like a waistcoat, close fitting and in a sober shade. There’s no room for bright yellow or shiny rapper gold/silver here! A well-known Japanese fast fashion retailer specialises in exactly this style of vest. Such a profile almost always looks both functional and stylish and avoids having to pack a coat. These are only worn inside the jacket, and certainly come with the disadvantage already flagged by one commentator – being unable to shed the warming layer without having to take the jacket off first.
I look forward to seeing you try and review the bespoke suits you wrote about in “How To Spend It”.
Will this be coming?
No Joel, that feature was for a different audience – it covered everything fro Hackett to Armani to Margiela. Of the brands I included, I’d only spend my own money on A&S and Michael Browne…
I must say I find some of these comments a bit narrow minded, as in any post I guess, many differences of opinion.
Having big calves and hairy legs are not necessarily a reason to never wear shorts, it’s all about the occasion and the surroundings – and of course the shorts.
The main reason guys looks bad in shorts are not that they don’t have the body for it. Sure, being fit and having an athletic body most likely make any garment look better, but I’d argue it’s the lack of proper shorts. 95% of the available shorts out there (not including athletic shorts) are either the standard skinny low rise chinos from the high street, cut off at the knee or those horrible quarter length pants with drawstrings at mid calf.
The logic should be if you look best in slightly higher and wider trousers, then get shorts in a similar fashion. Of course you’re gonna look like a stuffed sausage if you squeeze into slim fit low cut shorts.
I also don’t understand the aversion to white sneakers on men. A white pair of plimsols or CP sneakers will look a lot better than a pair of New Balance or Nike running shoes. And wearing loafers or goodyear welted shoes to a pool or beach will never be stylish, just out of place.
Just my two cents.
Completely agree on the white trainer stance. They are popular because they are basic and clean. I live in Bristol, and as much as I love dressing up, it’s one of the most dressed down cities in the UK in my opinion, therefore it’s what you can get away with in terms of formal wear, getting the right occasion or adapting it to suit.
Disappointing that you won’t touch on some of the wider issues around building a casual wardrobe. I say this as there is already a dearth of anodyne articles available on casual style (everyone from GQ to John Lewis). Your example of jeans and an Oxford shirt is so generic and widespread that every High St. outlet stocks a variation. Readers, perhaps, are looking for a little more. Casual, for some, is confined to a softened version of tailored wear. From Brooks Bros. to M&S it’s easy to achieve. But to build a wardrobe that, even though casual, has some meaning, style and duration is harder. From the article I hope for the latter but suspect the former will be delivered.
We touch on wider issues of casualwear every week. See posts on horsehide jackets, on layering knitwear, or on high/low dressing.
If you haven’t read those pieces, please have a search.
But this is about a capsule collection, and about building a wardrobe from the ground up. It’s about the basics that those other things can be built on.
Very well summarised Simon–you make it sound so easy, whereas it is a surprisingly difficult process to just “keep it simple, stupid”.
Excellent post, thank you.
Quick question, what is that lovely navy jumper in the first picture?
It’s an old waffle-knit one from APC
Hi Simon, great post.
I always find I have been struggling a bit building a casual wardrobe while focussing on key pieces, and I believe that is due the weather and its unpredictability here in the Netherlands.
Mostly, it is fairly wet here. Summer can be as hot as 30 degrees, but mostly not longer than 2-3 weeks. Winter can be cold, but again this is only for like a month. Most of the time it hovers between 8 and 16 degrees.
With this in mind, I struggle with opting for the right fabrics while going for optimal versatility.
In these climates, what would you opt for as basics?
To be honest, it sounds pretty similar to London. I find the core basics – a good oxford shirt perhaps, jeans or chinos as mentioned – don’t vary that much. It’s more the layers and the outerwear around them. For example a light waterproof blouson for warmer weather, but even with a risk of rain. A linen jacket over the top for that slightly warmer weather. Maybe something that is reversible (like our recent Valstarino design) or with a removable liner even, to increase versatility.
And most of those could have knitwear between the shirt and outerwear as well to add an option for adding/removing warmth.
Does that make sense?
Thanks. That definitely makes sense, and BTW, the weather is 100% similar to London yes.
I think I struggle the most with the trousers and Chino aspect then. I have a few ‘thicker ones’ and one light weight cotton one for summer, but they only cover the ends of both spectrums.
What would you advise for the entire year except for jeans?
And would you have a tip for a (mass brand world wide available) oxford in blue?
And a tip for a waterproof blouson?
To be honest, I find most chinos are ok for 10 months of the year. On Oxfords, I don’t have much experience of mass brands, but my favourites are the ones we make, and Drake’s. On blousons, look to Valstar first. Again, we just did a reversible waterproof version. Have a look on the shop site
Thanks Simon, will definitely take a look! Love the work you’re doing, keep it up.
Simon, you State crewneck knitware. What about v-necks?
V-necks fine too, I’m just mentioning examples.
what would be be a casual jacket, which pairs well with white Shirts or (longsleeved) poloshirts in the spring/summer?
I asked myself this question, when I was looking for one for the summer.
Most casual summer-jackets (e.g. bombers, harringtons, field-jackets) seem to be either navy, olive-green or tan/stone. Light grey seems to be unusual among them. Sometimes I find navy has a strong contrast against a white shirt.
What is your opinion about this?
Interesting point. I know what you mean: I guess such jackets often aim to be as versatile as possible in their colour choice. Tan/stone might be nice with white though?
Excellent post! Are you able to clarify what are some ideal shirt choices (fabrics and/or weaves) for a smarter casual outfit like the first image (knitwear, chinos, and simple trainers or loafers)? Oxford, cotton/linen, denim or chambray shirts are more casual, but I wasn’t sure if you suggest going with something smarter like a poplin.
Not with that kind of wardrobe, no. I’d stick with the ones you have there. Maybe a brushed cotton or even a cord in the winter too
There has been a lot or convergence between formal and casual in recent years. When I was first starting out my professional career, I had to have two separate sets of shirts: traditional broadcloth or end-on-end for professional wear (to be worn with a silk tie) and OCBD (or similarly “casual” shirts) for weekend wear. Now, I often find myself wearing an OCBD with wool tie to work. Although I still have several traditional formal (small “f”) dress shirts, those are largely reserved for the courtroom for for client meetings. In fact, if I were to show up to work on an ordinary day wearing in a starched white shirt and a silk tie, I would look out of place.
Same with suits versus sports coats. I used to wear suits every day for work and sports coats for dinner parties or church. Now I largely wear sports coats, and reserve suits for client meetings / court appearances / weddings or other formal occasions. (In fact, my Tux oddly gets more use as several of my suits). On days when I just “feel like” wearing a suit, I’ll almost always “tone it down” with wool / linen / knit tie, and conversely, I’ll sometimes try to “dress up” a sports coat by wearing a more traditional shirt and tie.
There’s even convergence in terms of trousers. My office, like man law firms, allows jeans on “casual Fridays,” although I never wear jeans to work as a matter of principle.
To make a long story short, there’s less of a need for men to have two separate wardrobes, which can result in savings in terms of money and closet space. Conversely, it’s a lot more complicated to know what to wear than it was in the days when the suit was simply a uniform one always wore to work.
Thanks for the informative and interesting article.
In terms of navy crewneck knitwear suitable for a casual wardrobe, do you have any recommendations? Would something like your finest knitwear be too fine gauge to work in a casual wardrobe environment? I presume you would opt for a more substantial merino wool or even a cotton blend for casual crewneck knitwear?
Yes, if we define casual as working with jeans, for instance, then our finest merino knitwear would certainly be too smart.
However, most other knitwear would be good – in merino, shetland, cashmere, lambswool etc. Just not as fine a gauge. And if you want something cooler, in a cotton.
Brands would include Colhay’s, Luca Faloni, Anderson & Sheppard, Trunk, John Smedley and many others.
Trunk has two possible options: Trunk merino
sweater in navy and their Berwick Shetland crew sweater in blue. The navy merino is 30 gauge which might still be too fine (similar to John Smedley?) and the colour of the Shetland is too light (not navy) to be very versatile. Would you recommend either of those two for a core casual wardrobe knit?
On a related matter, you mentioned in another article or post that you would not buy knitwear without trying it on in person first. This makes it difficult when living in countries with limited access to higher quality names with a physical presence (e.g. Australia). Would you recommend risking it and ordering online and hoping for a decent fit with reference to measurements from an existing piece of knitwear or would you just find the best option in a local retail store (e.g. Henry Bucks – who have fine knits generally made in Italy)?
Thanks for the advice.
You’re right, the merino would be quite similar to Smedley.
And I wouldn’t go for the shetland if you’re unsure of the colour. Also, shetland is quite a wintry wool – perhaps not great for a lot of the year in Australia.
How about a cashmere or lambswool from Colhay’s? They’d be great there.
On sizing, yes I’d always want to try it on, but then I can get to a shop to do so. If you can’t, you should check carefully the measurements against something you own, and perhaps try to order two sizes so you can return one. But yes, do buy something locally if you don’t see a big difference between that and the brands we’re talking about.
Thanks. Cashmere might be too warm for the local climate but will have a look at the lambs wool. I haven’t had much experience with lambs wool. Doesn’t it have a rough scratchy handle to it compared to the smoother feel of merino wool?
Also, any plans to do a Sydney sartorial guide? I recall you have done one for Melbourne but not Sydney.
Not necessarily, and it also depends what it’s mixed with. The important thing is more that you want a woollen, not a worsted like you’d have on a suit. Merino in both would be very different.
In the end, just look at cloth books that are designed for jackets. At that point most of the decisions, eg on the exact wool or woollen/worsted, will be taken for you.
Are you referring to cloth books for knits? I was referring to the possible rough handle on the Colhays lambs wool crew knit as per your recommendation.
Sorry Vinay, I got mixed up there between comments – yes, I was referring to cloth books and tailoring with that last comment.
Lambswool in knitwear is a little rougher than merino or cashmere, but nowhere near as rough as shetland
Thanks. Might be back to the drawing board.
Did you get a glance to try out the blackhorse lane chino’s. How would you compare them to incotex etc, they seem more like work wear and a suitable replacement to jeans rather than more tailored chinos
Yes, they are. Much more workwear like, not garment washed, heavier cottons.
Great article. Do you know what brand of powder blue button down shirt is shown in the photo of the model standing against the wall?
Hey Dan. That’s me, and it’s a Permanent Style blue oxford shirt.
You can see them on Shop.PermanentStyle.com
I have started reading a lot of your weekend capsule wardrobe articles and I have to say that I am starting to build a wardrobe,a casual one because of my needs and activities, however sometimes I want to dress up a little,wear some knitwear,oxford shirts. Regarding trousers,other than jeans and chinos could corduroy,flannels and a heavier cotton drill trousers be useful in such a wardrobe? I have checked Anglo Italian and they have some nice corduroy and flannel trousers but they have a single pleat with side adjusters. Could they work casually to elevate an outfit?
Yes they could. The lack of belt loops and the side adjustors might actually elevate them a bit more. Maybe start with cords, as they are more casual than flannels.
Thank you Simon for your time and help for clarifying things. I am a beginner when it comes to clothes but I am reading your website with a hunger to find out new things. However, I have few more questions if you’re kind to answer.
Do you think that a single pleat trouser will be very different in formality to a flat front in a casual wardrobe context?will it matter so much?
Even if chinos or cotton trousers have belt loops can they be worn without a belt? Eg. Chinos with a shirt and a bomber jacket.
Those cords with side adjusters from Anglo Italian can they be worn casually with just a shirt and a casual jacket , something like a bomber jacket or perhaps a flannel overshirt?
No worries Michael, happy to help.
A pleated trouser will make a small difference, but only a small one. I wouldn’t worry about it, given these are already tailored trousers.
Generally I think chinos and cotton trousers look better with the belt loops filled in with a belt. Different to jeans.
Yes, I think those AI cords can be worn that way
I own some of the Anglo Italian cords, drill cotton trousers and washed chinos and thought I would chip in with my own experience.
The cords are very nice. They’re softer than I’d expected and they feel a little more urban than a traditional cord, which I put down to the cut but also the colours they do. They can definitely be dressed up or down.
The drill trousers currently available are 14oz cotton and have a significant heft to them. They are flexible but the weight of the cotton means they keep a crease pretty well and I don’t think they are quite as casual as the cords (in contrast to ordinary chinos, which I would say are flexible but naturally sit at the more casual end). The washed chinos are a slightly different cut and I think the fabric will soften more so the overall effect will be a bit more casual but I’ve not worn them enough to confirm this yet.
All good trousers at a fair price but I’d recommend going to the store in person and wearing things that you want to put with them to ensure you’re happy with the overall effect. After all, everyone has a different sense of style and what I consider formal or casual might be quite different to the next reader, if only because we have a different starting point that we’re comparing to!
Sorry for the double post.
Here is the link with the cords from Anglo Italian.
Thank you MB.
Unfortunately, on line order is my only option.
I appreciate your opinion and thinking of buying a pair of green cords from Anglo Italian.
Nice one, Simon.
A question on Incotex: you always recommend their chinos, but I never could bring myself to buy them and understand why the hype. Most if not all that I have seen have some elastane in them, are very slim, and the cut and finishing are on the workwear rather than dressy side. Am I simply looking at wrong models? I found e.g. Cavour or even high street stuff from PRL and TH to be much better, with 100% good cotton drill or heavy twill and nicer finishing. Thanks!
I haven’t really worn Incotex for a while. But it sounds like you are looking at just the slim models, yes, which tend to also have some elastane in them. The classic model isn’t stocked that much unfortunately.
Still, today I would prefer something a little higher in rise and not necessarily garment-washed. The Cavour ones you’re referring to are a little different, in being much smarter cottons – more similar to what you’d get from a tailor.
My default for weekend is generally t-shirt, chinos and dark brown suede loafers or polo, jeans and dark brown suede loafers.
Do you feel suede shoes are a good alternative to sneakers or does it look overdressed in an environment where everyone is wearing sneakers?
There is so much sneakers going on everywhere that I have lost love for it and trying for a change.
I think it’s fine, but it also depends on the loafers. Look at something like Alden LHS loafers, compared a slim pair of Edward Green for example
I actually do like the construction of Alden LHS loafers and tend to get inclined more towards slim suede loafers.
So in your view slim suede loafers aren’t the perfect alternative to sneakers?
Would dark brown suede chukkas fill this space?
yes, chukkas would be good, though nice to have a loafer in there. And no, smarter slim loafers aren’t such a good substitute – too smart