10 items that are the building blocks of good style
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Chisanga Mubanga and Anthony Bila
While fashion is all about generating hot trends, style is about keeping your cool. Chill out with classics like Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Levi’s 501s, and Converse Chuck Taylors – and leave the novelty tie, snakeskin cowboy boots and Christmas pattern sweaters to those other guys.
You should think of your wardrobe like you do your financial portfolio (you do have a financial portfolio, don’t you?) because investing in your clothing is something like investing in the stock exchange: you have assets and you have liabilities and you need to cut out the losers and profit from the winners.
You do this by buying quality classics that'll last stylistically as well as physically, saving you money and saving you face, at the same time. A long-term, high-return investment is spending more money on clothes now in order to save you money in the long run. Buy less, but buy better.
What you want to do is shop for versatility and build a wardrobe where the pieces work together so that, say, 10 items can make, say, 100 outfits (my maths is screwy but hopefully you get the point). You do this by shopping for clothes that you can rely on, clothes you can live in, and clothes that make you feel good. Simply put, classics.
Invest in these 10 items and build a bulletproof wardrobe.
Not the same tracksuit pants you wear while pottering around the house, but perfectly tapered pants that just happen to be made from a mélange or jersey fabric. Think comfortable and fitted upper, tailored legs and a snug menswear feel to the cuffs. Ultimately the jogger is a forgiving silhouette that has the fit of a pair of skinny jeans at the ankle, with breathing room around the crotch and thighs. With no belts, buttons or zips, the jogger is further proof of the general loosening-up of menswear – just remember to balance your outfit by wearing something more fitted and tailored on top.
No longer a garment to merely sweat into after exercise, some modern versions are considered elegant enough for the type of occasions for which your grandfather would’ve pulled on his tweed jacket. We’re guessing that there are probably a bunch of sweatshirts in your wardrobe, which makes sense considering how there are so many variations in sleeves, necklines, fabrics and textures. Hell, some even come complete with a hood – like this slouchy example that layers so well and is easy to dress up, which in this case is done via slick Chelsea boots. The other one you want is a crew neck that’s properly proportioned – something that will flatter a good physique and disguise a bad one, in a practical grey marl. Whether or not you choose to celebrate your hard-hitting style like Rocky on top of those famous stairs is totally up to you.
Initially created exclusively for pilots, the bomber jacket aka flight jacket aka bombardier jacket was part of the flyboy uniform that included classic aviator sunglasses and a MiG-28. The simple shape and lightweight construction has made the Bomber the go-to jacket for high-flyers and played a large role in the 90s silhouette. Today it’s available in smart, casual, long-line lengths, cropped cuts, leather, jersey, varsity and slouchy styles, meaning that there’s a bomber jacket for everyone. Including pilots.
Originally created as an undergarment, the white T-shirt is now outerwear and an expression of understated style. The perfect neutral to base the rest of your outfit around, there’s nothing quite as classic as the white T-shirt. Remember, not all white shirts are created equal, and so quality should be your aim. Fortunately the wardrobe staple is available in a wide variety of fabrics, weights and textures so that you can find a few that resonate with your particular aesthetic.
Coming into fashion after 1945 when men who returned from the war began wearing their olive military slacks in civilian life, the warm-weather alternative to jeans can be hip or square, presidential or pleb, and it’s up to the wearer how he wants to interpet the smooth all cotton twill. Ubiquitous in the office, the fact that chinos are available in an array of colours means that you’re able to separate yourself from your colleagues. The best hue, however, is also where they get their other name – khakis – which look amazing when paired with box white sneakers and either a denim shirt or white T-shirt for a clean, relaxed look that’s all about casual sophistication.
The denim shirt is the best way to bring rebellious youth into the workplace – or smarten up a more casual look. Next to white, blue is the most versatile colour in a man’s wardrobe and suits all complexions and hair colours. This very harmonising piece can coordinate the rest of an ensemble and is available in almost as many variations as denim jeans are. If for some ludicrous reason you need to limit yourself to just one denim shirt, make it the chambray. If all you’re going to be doing is sipping flat whites while scrolling through #caferacersofinstagram then the softest and lightest denim fabric has you covered.
The perfect pair of pants should be like the type of man you want to be – sexy, rugged, utilitarian and better with age. Spanning all generations and cultures, society's increasing informality means that denim is worn in all realms of life. Dress it up with a blazer or a crewneck sweater, or complete James Dean’s uniform of teenage rebellion with a white T-shirt. Distressed, stone wash, black, white, baggy, skin-tight… denim is now available in every style and cut, but if there’s one pair every man should own it's an unwashed, straight fit in a classic indigo blue. Start with these, and make them yours.
Whether you opt for a pair of Stan Smiths, Nike Air Force 1s, Chuck Taylors or Vans Authentic – you need to own at least one pair of white sneakers. No longer simply a summer shoe option, this is an upgrade for every guy. Pair yours with slim chinos, a white tee, cuffed denim or even a suit. This is a sneaker that’s as happy to smash beers poolside as it is making up part of the preppy uniform. There are two camps: guys who don’t clean their white shoes and think of them like jeans, where they get better when worn, and guys who won’t settle for anything less than a pristine pair. If you’re the latter and can’t afford to keep a room filled with box fresh white sneakers like Jay Z (probably) does, watch this video or read our tips on keeping your white sneakers white.
The tried-and-tested parka is the ideal outer layer; an insulated jacket that protects the torso, arms and head from harsh winter air by keeping body heat close to the skin. Invented by the Caribou Inuit for hunting in the frigid Arctic, it stands up just as well to gusts of wind being channeled between skyscrapers. From lo-tech oiled and waxed cotton versions to technical materials that are super light, super warm and super breathable, the parka is adaptable and ageless. Wear it over a suit like the Mods in Quadrophenia did or wear yours with a sneer like Liam Gallagher does – either way the parka will keep you warm while looking cool.
A style emblem of the grunge movement, the lumberjack shirt is cut from real guy fabric that’s honest and cozy and the perfect transitional piece for when the weather turns fresh. The natural insulating abilities of the rugged and handsome flannel shirt is great for layering and adding texture to an outfit. Available in cotton, wool or a blend of both, this burly, patterned and earthy coloured shirt mirrors the natural world and looks as good tied around the waist as it does thrown over a white T-shirt.