Know how everyone always writes about what their essential wardrobe items are? Know how they’re ALWAYS going to cite a little black dress and a crisp white button down shirt (ice)?
Well these are mine in no particular order (with actual reasons given!). If I were forced to only have a minimalist wardrobe and only one of each, this would be it.
But as we all know, I’m a hybrid minimalist who loves fashion, so this is not my real wardrobe 😉 I don’t own any furniture except for a futon, so this is where my space goes!
I don’t hate the little black dress or crisp white button down shirt, but they don’t work for me 100% of the time and I’ll bet not for you either.
1. LEATHER JACKET
Obviously if you are vegan in practice, you will not be buying one, or perhaps you’ll be buying a fake one, but there’s something about the look of a soft, worn-in leather jacket that lends an air of sophisticated cool when thrown over almost any outfit.
There are plenty of leather jacket styles and there’s one for everyone — the bomber, the perfecto, ones with lots of details, and ones without.
It toughens up even the sweetest of dresses and is an easy topper to throw on before running out the door if you want to add some casual edge to your look.
It just looks good.
Casual, rugged, rough. I especially like leather bomber jackets on men. Anything too lean and slick looking makes me think of a sleazeball (sorry!), so something a little less polished tends to look better on men in my opinion.
2. THE TRENCH COAT
CLASSIC, no? I consider the trench coat to be a real classic staple in a wardrobe so long as you buy one in the right SHADE that flatters your skintone and in the right fit.
For the first trench coat, I’d suggest a neutral colour like beige or navy (please, no black unless you absolutely must, it just makes me so sad when I walk around in the rain and see everyone dressed in black coats with black umbrellas).
I know the classic style of a trench coat is something really loose and shapeless, but it is not a style that works on everyone especially women. For women, I suggest going for a more FITTED trench coat that cuts in at the waist and gives you some shape, because let’s face it, we could all stand to look a little more hourglass-y.
I am clearly biased in this regard because I just bought a rather expensive but splendid mix-it-up-4-times Burberry trench coat that I adore.
Nevertheless, I’ve found that in times when I cannot wear a leather jacket or the situation is not quite appropriate for some reason (read: it’s raining or it is not the look I am going for), a classic trench coat does the same thing as a leather jacket, but in a classier, more conservative way.
Plus it’s practical.
I wear mine in the rain and the water beads right off the cotton, and looks great with my Aigle knee-high Miss Juliette rainboots.
If you already have a practical, neutral coat that is not a trench, perhaps one in a fiery red or shocking magenta would be the kind of coat to brighten your mood on a rainy day.
Oh and if you EVER need to run out for butter to the convenience store around the corner but can’t be bothered to change into real clothes, belting a great trench coat over your house clothes can hide a multitude of fashion faux pas.
Just don’t take off the coat.
A great looking trench coat looks really.. really stunning on men but you have to have the right attitude to wear one without feeling like a doofus (yes I know you might feel like it looks stupid but it really doesn’t).
A classic trench in a beige (a tone that compliments your colouring of course), or navy, even black or brown is ideal.
It looks sleek, and is quite a stylish item if you are already looking for a slightly more stylish and polished wardrobe.
If a trench coat is REALLY NOT YOUR THING because you think it looks too refined, then you simply can’t go wrong with a sport coat no matter how casual you are.
Something you can throw on that is casual and serves it purpose without being fussy. In any neutral colour is good (I like navy or grey), and it looks like a blazer with the effortlessness of a windbreaker, without that embedded sportiness.
3. A PAIR OF DARK RINSE JEANS
I keep coming back to this oldie but it’s a goodie.
There’s something about a classic pair of jeans in a darker rinse (even medium is fine, but light tends to look dated for some reason unless it happens to be on trend) that can be easily worn and dressed up OR down (depending on what shoes you wear).
When in doubt, just look for a mid-to-high rise pair of dark rinse jeans in a bootcut and you are 99% unable to go wrong. Any straight-legged cuts might look a little too slim on some figures (namely bottom-heavy figures or super slim figures like mine), and bootcuts are pretty classic.
You simply cannot, CANNOT go wrong with a bootcut, dark rinse, mid-to-high-rise jean. It flatters all shapes and bodies, and eliminates any possibility of it looking too teenybopper or too mommy.
Same deal. Dark rinse, any rise you like (although I will note higher rises look worse on men than on women because of the hip to waist ratio), and in a looser, STRAIGHT-LEGGED cut.
I wouldn’t recommend skinny jeans to men AT ALL because I think it looks rather horrid on most guys and a bit emo. (Sorry, SOMEONE had to say it.)
(Plus doesn’t it feel the teensiest restrictive and uncomfortable in front???!)
Men, stick to classic cuts. Levis has plenty of classic cuts and at good price ranges.
Don’t wear droopy jeans that show your underwear (seriously, this is getting old), and don’t wear jeans that are skintight (it’s not good for your reproductive system anyway).
4. A WRAP DRESS / A GREAT BUTTON-UP SHIRT
Obviously the wrap dress is for women and the button-up shirt is for men.
Wrap dresses to me, look great on every body type, even skinny ones. Curvier women look much better to me in a wrap dress than if they’re skinny (like me), but wrap dresses can give curves to a slender body where they aren’t any and make curvy women look even better.
There’s something about a dress that also makes a woman look more instantly polished. Whether you choose a wrap dress or not, you don’t have to worry about how your legs look (your dress basically covers the shape of each leg, and just skims your lower half if you are sensitive), and it hides a multitude of sins.
The kind of classic wrap dress I love, has a slight collar (don’t ask me why, but I look better in wrap dresses with collars), a medium-dip of a V-neckline (nothing too plunging and low, which is now where I moan about how Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses are always too revealing for my taste), and has enough wrap around the bottom that if in a pinch you forgot to pin your wrap dress closed to avoid flashing cars when crossing a street, you are semi-covered nonetheless.
The best would be if a wrap dress had pockets as well.
Sorry, no wrap dresses for men.
Might I suggest a comfortable, classic white button-up shirt? Actually scratch that.
Blue is a better colour. White tends to get dirty easily, and everyone feels comfortable when they see someone wearing blue.
You might think it’s stupid to have one button up classic shirt in your wardrobe, but there will come a time you wish you did because there are some occasions where a t-shirt and the slightly dressier t-shirt version (a polo), will just not cut it.
The great thing about button-up shirts for men is you can wear them with trousers or with jeans. Just don’t go for any crazy colours, patterns or strange unbreathable fabrics like polyester or those “no-iron” shirts (they almost always put formaldehyde which is a poison, to make it less wrinkly, but your skin will absorb that poison).
5. SIMPLE T-SHIRT
As it says.
A simple t-shirt. I like white because everything goes with white and I hate black, but grey would be my second choice. I also prefer v-necks over crew necks because I have larger shoulders, but that’s entirely up to you as well.
Men or women, you can’t go wrong with a simple t-shirt in 100% cotton. Pick the super soft cotton in a t-shirt so it feels great every time you pull it on (makes you want to wear it more), and don’t wear any free t-shirts that have advertising or beer logos in public.
6. A STRIPED SHIRT
Ah. Stripes. I feel a bit of French flair coming on, but this is really a classic pattern that would match with EVERYTHING I have listed above.
I like the ones made by Saint James because they’re classic, of high quality, and also manufactured in Paris, but you don’t need to go that fancy if your budget doesn’t allow it.
I’d also suggest buying a t-shirt that is striped but for some reason, a classic striped shirt to me (if you only own one), should be 3/4 length or long-sleeved for women.
Throw on a striped shirt over trousers, jeans, even with a skirt, some shoes, maybe a jacket if it’s cold and out the door you go.
You can wear it under a trench with jeans and it gives an instant pop and pattern to your outfit. It really does look good. All the time.
You might think you look strange but you don’t. You REALLY DON’T.
Guys who wear stripes look pretty good, as long as you don’t choose odd combinations. Stick to a classic navy blue and white combination! Or even black and white.
If stripes in a long-sleeved shirt make you uncomfortable, try a striped sweater. Those are not only practical and comfortable, but universally accepted because it’s a SWEATER for goodness sake!
If stripes are REALLY not your thing, just go for a solid colored, long-sleeved shirt or another pattern that looks good on you.
Don’t buy 3/4 sleeved shirts for men, they look funny because you don’t have delicate elbows like women, and it just looks… odd. LIke your shirt shrunk and you didn’t know it.
If you simply must wear 3/4 sleeves once in a while, scrunch up your long sleeves instead for a more casual look.
7. CASHMERE SWEATER
Men or women, this is a must.
I’ve gone on plenty of rants on how to buy cashmere but ultimately you need to try it on your bare skin.
Some cashmere sweaters are expensive and feel like crap (scratchy, itchy), whereas others only cost $50 but feel like super soft puppy-cuddling heaven on your skin.
I like buying cashmere secondhand because… I’m a cheap sucker for secondhand cashmere, but if you aren’t too fussed by the “Made in China” movement I am a part of, J. Crew has some higher quality cashmere sweaters for men and women as of late.
Try them on over BARE SKIN and feel if it is too scratchy or not (sometimes they use lower quality cashmere and they mix in camel hair which makes it feel itchy).
I have exceptionally sensitive skin because of my eczema condition and most off-the-rack cashmere does not cut it. J. Crew is a hit and miss. So is Banana Republic and Club Monaco.
This is why I prefer secondhand — I can pick through more expensive, lesser-known Scottish labels and find perfect cashmere sweaters on the cheap.
8. A CASUAL BLAZER
Blazers make everything look professional and pulled together even if it isn’t and it’s a hot mess underneath.
It doesn’t quite cover up your pajamas when you run out as well as a great, belted trench coat but it does help spiff up your average t-shirt and jeans.
Choose a colour that you will reach for and that matches other colours (or grounds other colours) in your wardrobe. If it turns out to be black, so be it!
Just avoid brown.
For some reason, brown blazers don’t look good on anyone to me and is best suited for leather or leather-ish items like jackets, purses, and boots.
With blazers, it can get tricky for women if you don’t fit the right length to hit you just above the hip, or the right cut that nips in at the waist to make you look less boxy.
You might want to think about a blazer of a softer material, like a jersey or something close to it so you can roll up the sleeves for a more casual look… or just for sheer comfort.
I hate blazers that are too structured.
I feel stifled, suppressed and like I am about to go to a job interview. (Even my suit for my job interviews (yes, my ONE SUIT), has been worn down to nubbins and tailored 2X, but it’s a softer dark grey tweed rather than a structured grey one.)
As for colours, the sky is the limit. I have a personal distaste for black, although I myself do own a black blazer
I use on occasion for contrast against white tops, so we can chalk that up to my being hypocritical and wiffly-waffly on colours.
I like white blazers, I own a black one, a grey one, and have yet to find a navy one I like. Otherwise, I have been drawn to red blazers on occasion but could never justify buying one because it doesn’t really fit in my wardrobe.
A casual blazer always looks good on a man. I don’t know how you guys feel about structured stuff, but if you’re anything like me, look for a jersey fabric to be more comfortable and get that “like a sweater” feeling.
You can wear it over jeans in lieu of a sweater or a sport coat, and it looks slightly more dressy without being overdone (the key is in the fabric! Don’t choose something stiff and formal.)
9. A SUIT
You might also be wondering why I just didn’t combine a blazer with a suit above and save myself the trouble. I’d heartily agree it would make for a better minimalist wardrobe to have a suit do double duty but in all actuality I put a suit in here because I personally need one for those odd job interviews.
See although I work in a white collar profession, and NEVER, EVER wear a suit to work unless you pay me a lot of money to, but I do on occasion need to brush off my dark grey tweed interview suit when I have to go in to convince a client I am not too young to know my job.
Therefore, I personally only one ONE suit and I’ve worn it since my job interviews in college up until present day, which is a good 7 years of cost-per-wear usage.
When I say suit, I mean a 3-piece one for women that includes the skirt and pants.
It’s just so much easier to get it all at once rather than to try and match a grey skirt with a suit later on, only to have some eagle-eyed person say: ….. did that skirt come with that jacket? (True story.)
Even black fabrics look different (texture, slight shade variation, type of fabric), and you will almost never find a brand new, perfect match to an existing suit no matter how hard you try (unless you got your suit made at a tailor of course, and you can just ask them to use the same fabric again).
You can go with a classic pencil skirt cut for the third piece in the suit, or I have rather liked the slightly flared, pleated look for the suit lately, which adds a bit more volume to the hips for those who are not as curvy on the bottom.
As for the pants, straight-legged but slightly wide, or bootcut cuts are much better for a classic suit for women. Nothing too straight-legged where it looks like a stovepipe cut, or anything that tapers at the ankle, PLEASE!
Jacket cuts should be slightly tapered in at the waist, length to hit just above your hips (no hiding your bum in this suit, it looks horrid and outdated), and stick to single-breasted jackets.
Pants and a jacket.
You know what to do. Men have the widest choice in suits over any other clothing category compared to women. You have so much choice, you can’t go wrong.
For the blazer, stick to a single-breasted one. Double-breasted blazers often come in and out of style but single-breasted ones will last the gamut longer.
Men don’t really have the skirt option and a vest would really be overdoing it.
I would definitely recommend getting both pieces at once (otherwise it wouldn’t be a suit!), and you could certainly use the blazer jacket and pants separately to do double-duty.
NOTE: YOU MAY NOT EVEN NEED A SUIT
It goes without saying that if you don’t need a suit in the slightest — your profession NEVER requires you to wear a suit, not even to interviews then DO NOT BUY ONE.
I am merely putting it in here on my list because I need it and find it to be an essential, even if it’s rarely used.
Save your money for a great trench coat instead. Or classic riding boots.
WHAT COLOUR OF SUIT TO BUY
The most classic of colours you might think, would be black, but in fact, black in business circles (especially for men), is reminiscent of funerals. Only those not in the know (unfortunately, this seems to be people from Asia), wear black suits to work.
Everyone else who is stylish and classic, wears grey or navy in varying shades. Black is too severe.
But if you already own a black suit and you wear it to interviews, don’t fret.
No one cares about such stupid style rules in North America. Only Europeans are picky about that stuff, so just keep that in the back of your mind when/if you go for a job interview in Europe.
Okay this could also be part of the suit above, but when I say trousers, I don’t mean jeans or regular pants.
Trousers = Nicer pants in a nicer flowy fabric like jersey.
Not to knock on an old chestnut again but if you have a pair of nice trousers and you wear a simple white t-shirt, the look is elevated instantly (especially after you throw on a pair of heels or a good pair of dress shoes).
Trousers also don’t have to be classic bootcut trousers that flare out slightly in tweed or dark grey.
(I am really partial to tweed.)
You could also consider trousers to be those cigarette pants that hit at around ankle length (my favourite), a la Audrey Hepburn as trousers, if that is more your style.
Just as long as they’re casual but slightly dressier than jeans or “pants”, you’re set.
Khakis are not acceptable in this category. I’m talking about nice trousers.
You know, the fabric that makes your legs feel like they’re wrapped in blankets?
This may not be your thing, but having a nice pair of pants on hand means you can just wear a t-shirt over your trousers, throw on your leather jacket, and head off on a date at night without anyone saying boo.
In fact, they might even be secretly surprised and pleased you didn’t show up in standard jeans. I know I would.
THAT DOES IT!
I tried to make a 10-piece essential wardrobe list that applied to both men AND women that would work for a minimalist.
The only place where I had to make concessions was in the wrap dress area because I consider it essential for women but obviously, not for men 😉