Special to Squawkfox: This article is by Carl. He’s a guy. Kerry (not a guy) tried to write about men’s fashion, but she sounded too much like a crazy ex-girlfriend. Since Carl has more experience with wearing men’s pants, he snagged a spot on Squawkfox. Enjoy!
When Kerry posted her list of 12 Classic clothing pieces every gal should own, I was intrigued. Only 12? If women’s clothing can be defined by 12 key pieces, where does that leave me as a guy? Would the same kind of scrutiny leave my closet deconstructed to only three essentials, including underwear?
I decided to go through my closet, and was surprised.
Once I looked past the free promotional t-shirts from software companies, I found my wardrobe also contained a number of quality items that have stood the test of time.
Here’s why every guy should stock quality, classic clothing pieces:
It makes life easy. Like most guys, I’m lazy. Having a few versatile items makes getting dressed and looking good (relatively) straight forward. Good shirt. Nice pants. Done.
Good stuff lasts. I hate clothes shopping. When I buy quality, timeless items my clothing lasts, and as a bonus I need to make fewer trips to the mall. Unless you end up wearing your good jeans while making firewood, in which case you probably deserve what you’re about to get — multiple shopping trips and an annoyed spouse.
Chicks dig it. (Kerry says: “maybe”.) Any woman is going to have a hard time seeing your charming personality if she needs to look past the fact you’re dressed like a slob. And on the other end of the spectrum, if you look like you’ll need more closet space than she does, that’s not good either – every house has a finite number of closets. The sweet spot between these extremes is where you want to be.
It’s your job? Well, it helps your job. Dressing snappy at the office or for your job interview can help keep your career moving. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, you’re more likely to get the job or promotion over the next equally-qualified guy if you’re dressed better. And with a few essential clothing pieces, you don’t have to spend half your salary doing it.
So what are the essential guy clothing pieces? Unlike Kerry’s dirty dozen, here are the fifteen classic clothing pieces every guy should own:
1. The classic suit.
Unless you’re a lawyer, a banker, or in some other unfortunate profession where you need to wear a suit every day, one suit should last you a long time. Tie styles may change from year to year, but a classic suit should last you decades if you stick to a simple black or dark gray. A classic suit can be worn as a formal look for weddings, funerals, and job interviews — just hopefully not all in the same day. Or to mix up a casual look, wear the suit jacket with a pair of jeans.
Since a suit is probably one of the most expensive articles of clothing you’ll ever own, it’s worth looking around for a deal on a high quality item. Many independent stores will sell suits from smaller labels that are just as good as the big brands, only for a lot less. Or if you’re adventurous, do what a former colleague of mine did. On his trip around the world, he spent a month in Hong Kong. A local tailor made him a custom suit for less than one-tenth what it would have cost him at home. Not for everyone, but it’s a great looking suit.
2. Collared dress shirts.
Get one in white for a formal look with the suit, and get a bunch in fun colors and patterns. I used to play this safe with variations of ‘the blue shirt’, but you really only live once.
A nice pink dress shirt can look great (and very manly), both with a suit or a pair of jeans — that’s two outfits for the price of one. Just make sure your shirt is ironed! Yes, real men wear pink.
3. Black leather shoes.
Whether you’re on the job or on a first date, the shoes you wear can significantly affect how other people view you. Even the sciency geeks (like me) agree that shoes can be a source of first impressions. And for many situations, a good pair of black leather shoes are a must. While boring banker brogues will do in a pinch, there are plenty of more interesting black leathers you can wear.
My simple black Fluevogs look great with both the suit and with jeans. Kerry even claims she’s seen other women ‘check them out’. I think she’s just being nice. If you buy a quality pair of leather shoes that can be resoled, they’ll easily outlast any other article of clothing you own.
4. A nice watch.
Like your shoes, your watch can define what others think of you. Nothing is going to clash worse than wearing a black plastic digital sports watch with a nice outfit (other than wearing running shoes with your suit, but that’s just wrong). A simple stainless steel analog watch will go with pretty much anything, and will hopefully tell you the correct time too.
While some Swiss-made watches can cost as much as a car, this Seiko Men’s Stainless Steel Kinetic Watch is just $120 — a deal considering mine was around $400, and is still ticking happily over a decade later.
5. Merino Sweaters.
The reason I own a bunch of merino sweaters is because they’re warm and comfortable, and sitting near an air conditioning vent all day sucks. But what I soon found out is that these sweaters are incredibly versatile. Dress them up by wearing a crisp collared shirt underneath, or stay casual with a simple t-shirt. And as the temperature changes throughout the day, you can easily lose a layer and still look good.
Ok, the real reason I own a lot of these sweaters is because they happened to be on sale in Banana Republic the one day I dared to venture in. At $18 a sweater, I bought five of them, one in each colour. Saving money and not having to go shopping for sweaters again for a very long time is a win-win in my books.
6. Good jeans.
Jeans are the casual staple of any wardrobe. They can be dressed up with a nice buttoned shirt, or worn casually with a t-shirt.
A nice dark wash will go with pretty much anything, so the most important thing really is fit. For the longest time, I would buy jeans that were a bit too short; they’d fit nice in the fitting room when I wasn’t wearing shoes, but when I went to wear them at home, it looked like I was preparing for a flood. Kerry helped me onto dry land with this one, and now my jeans fit like they should.
7. Khakis, Chinos.
Without going into the details of fabric and styling (which I really don’t understand all that well), I’m going to call these khakis or chino things comfortable pants in a beige fabric that aren’t jeans.
A nice pair of light khakis can be really comfortable, especially in the summer. With a blue dress shirt, khakis can be formal enough for a job interview (at least, at a software company), or with a light linen shirt, you can be sipping margaritas on the patio. Apparently these types of pants are still available with a pleated front. While my dad buys them like that, you shouldn’t.
8. A belt.
You need something to keep your pants up. Get a black one and a brown one, or a reversible leather belt for under $20. Wear the color that matches your shoes. It doesn’t get easier than that. A simple silver-colored buckle is best here too – unless you live in certain geographic regions, you’ll probably want to avoid big buckles with cattle on them (you know who you are).
Since belts are freakishly expensive for what they are (a straight piece of leather with holes), you really shouldn’t pay full price for one. I picked up a casual canvas belt at Gap on sale for $5 last year, and all my leather belts have come from Winner’s — a big chain of stores selling discount clothing.
9. Casual shoes.
This really could be almost anything, depending on how casual you are. A fun pair of Fluevogs works for me, but a good casual shoe can be anything stylish from canvas to leather. The only way you can go too casual is by wearing running shoes or hiking boots — unless you’re anticipating a quick escape in the mountains, that look is kind of dorky.
My colorful leather ‘Vogs cost around $200 after tax but have lasted several years of near-daily wear. Since the uppers seem indestructible, I’ll be getting them resoled when the rubber wears out in a few more years. I figure when I’m done with them, I’ll have spent a lot less than I would have, even if I’d only bought a pair of cheap Converse each year.
10. Polo shirts.
Not to be confused with its senile cousin the golf shirt, a polo shirt combines the comfort of a t-shirt with the dressiness of a collar and a few buttons. If you’re wearing a polo shirt, you can be comfortable lounging at the beach, and still be dressed appropriate enough to chat with your boss when you run into him while buying beer after both of you ducked out early on a Friday afternoon.
Don’t pay the premium for ones with embroidered emblems of polo players, alligators, or magic flying unicorns. I have a few simple cotton polos, but my favourite is the Icebreaker SuperFine 200 Stripe Kent Polo Shirt for under $55 — I own two.
T-shirts are the most casual essential on my list. A plain solid color is the simplest, but a print with your favorite band that nobody’s ever heard of can be a part of your personal expression.
My only thought on t-shirts: Only wear ones you’ve actually paid for. Wearing a freebee shirt — whether it’s from a beer garden or a programming conference you just attended — just looks lame.
12. A Warm Pea Coat.
Winter is coming. When it gets cold out, you can wear a puffy ski jacket that makes you look like you were attacked and eaten by a sleeping bag, or you can wear a wool pea coat that is both warm and still stylish.
While a good wool coat is usually pretty expensive, they often go on sale in the spring. This BGSD Men’s Wool Blend Pea Coat in Black or Charcoal is just $119.99, and the reviews are wicked.
Not just for Europeans, scarves can keep anyone warm on a blustery day.
Wrap it around your neck before you put your coat on, and it’ll keep you warm up to your ears while no gust of wind will make it down your back. Scarves can be made of pretty much any material, but I like a non-itchy merino wool scarf. I got mine on sale for $5, again in early spring.
14. A Murse.
Are you man-enough for a Murse? Get your masculine on with a man-purse, a fancy name for a small messenger bag. There are plenty of nice leather ones, but I’ve got a black synthetic one from The North Face. What goes in my manly Murse? My iPad, a camera, a Swiss Army Knife, and a lightweight tape measure. No guy should ever be without a tape measure… especially at Ikea.
I picked mine up for 40€ in Berlin last fall. With my iPad and camera securely stowed, I was able to relax while traveling around Europe, knowing no valuables were left behind in hotel rooms. Back in North American the Timbuk2 Freestyle Messenger Bag sells for around $70 and will last you many commuting or world-wide trips.
15. Leather wallet.
While plastic wallets, and even homemade wallets out of duct tape are cool if you’re in high school, every guy should have a slimfold leather wallet. Black or brown, either color will go well with pretty much any outfit — although, hopefully you’re not needing to pull it out so often that it becomes a *noticeable* part of your outfit.
Keep it sleek by avoiding ones with change purses, and only keep a limited number of cards in it. And purge any receipts you’ve collected daily – you don’t want to end up like George Costanza.
Thanks for reading my first post. Hopefully my European fashion sense won’t scare too many of the ‘squawk’ dudes away.