The Not-So-Basic Basic Wardrobe


There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of lists at this point on how to build a basic wardrobe. Most are meant for people who are just starting out, so they include very basic things such as a blue blazer, a dozen dress shirts, two pairs of dress shoes, and a couple of grey trousers. Helpful if you’re still being introduced to this topic, but not terribly useful if you’ve been interested in clothes for a while. 

There are a few exceptions. Here are three, written by men who have a lot to say on the subject of classic men’s dress. Be forewarned: this is not a short post, and these are not short lists. These are also meant for men who are either interested in clothes or have significant means. I think they’re enjoyable to read, so long as you take them for what they are.

Michael Alden

The first comes from Michael Alden, who has posted a couple of these lists at The London Lounge. The first delineates his version of a minimalistic wardrobe.

  • 5 city suits
  • 2 informal, weekend or country suits (eg.1 tweed and 1 linen)
  • 3 tweed coats
  • 1 navy double-breasted blazer
  • 1 dinner jacket
  • 2 summer weight unlined coats
  • 10 casual trousers
  • 24 boxer shorts
  • 85 neckties
  • 7 white dress shirts
  • 17 colored dress shirts
  • 12 informal button down shirts (including Viyellas)
  • 36 pochettes (12 colored, 12 Irish linen, 12 au choix)
  • 8 sweaters
  • 2 vests (for wear with tweeds)
  • 5 pajamas;
  • 1 bathrobe in wool
  • 1 bathrobe in silk (optional)
  • 1 smoking or “interior wear only” jacket (optional)
  • 1 Barbour jacket
  • 7 pairs of shoes (4 oxfords, 2 elegant brogues; 1 double soled brogues)
  • 4 overcoats (a double breasted blue or gray; a single breasted blue or gray; a tweed; a whipcord or Covert)
  • 1 leather jacket (optional, should be Sheepskin, preferably made bespoke)
  • 5 hats (a trilby in brown and gray; a fedora; a black homburg; a Panama)
  • 4 caps (3 tweed; 1 linen)
  • 3 pairs of gloves
  • An assortment of silk and cashmere scarves
  • 2 umbrellas
  • Boxes of socks. “Fils D’Ecosse,” wool and linen
  • An unlimited numbers of pairs of cufflinks and button covers
  • 2 timepieces (a dress watch with a leather band and a sportswatch)
  • An assortment of braces and belts

And what for a medium-sized wardrobe? Alden recommends the following:

Six heavyweight suits made from pure worsted wools and flannels, in a 14oz to 19oz weight. Three should be double breasted (6 x 2), and three single breasted (3 button). These can be blue or grey ground pinstripes, charcoal grey flannels, or plain navy, and should be worn on fall and winter days.

Five medium weight suits made from a 10oz to 13oz pure worsted wool. These will not have the drape of a heavier cloth, but they’ll be more comfortable to wear indoors when you have the central heating on. They should be satisfactory for temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which for most places, makes for about six months out of the year. As such, it’s advised to have extra trousers made.

Six lightweight suits made from fabrics between 7oz and 9oz. Two in linen, two in mohair, and two in a high-twist wool fresco. Or, alternatively, six unlined Irish linen suits made from a 450 grams (minimum) cloth. These are obviously only to be worn during the summer, and as such can be in lighter colors, such as beige or off-white.

Four overcoats in a 19oz to 28oz wool overcoating. Again, as listed in his basic wardrobe, there should be a dark double-breasted overcoat for formal occasions, a dark blue or grey wool single-breasted, a covert, and a tweed.

No limit on sport jackets and blazers. As Alden puts it, “Principally semi-informal, these garments can be worn anytime and anywhere in the country when you are 16-50 years of age and anywhere you desire for the years thereafter. After 75 years of age, 800 gram tweeds should be replaced with 650 grams for the lighter weight on the shoulders.” Get these made from homespun wools, Donegals, Cheviots, Harris tweeds, and linens.

For odd trousers, there should be at least fifteen pairs per season. Plain colors with no limit to shade, and tweed trousers in rakish patterns. Get these in high-twist woolens, cottons, flannels, cavalry twills, and corduroys.

A set of dress wear. A smoking jacket. A morning coat suit. Evening dress tails. A black coat with silk facing and trousers, as well as a white Marcella waistcoat.

Finally, two tweed shooting suits with a loud check to both frighten and attract the birds (we will assume he means the feathered, winged animal).

AJ Biddle

The second list was written by George Frazier, who in describing the wardrobe of Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. – a wealthy socialite and major general that Frazier famously deemed the best dressed man in the United States – he essentially sketched out for his readers what a basic wardrobe should look like.

Biddle’s wardrobe is described as “monastic.” It included six business suits – two double- and one single-breasted navy serge; one double- and one-single breasted dark blue pinstriped flannel; and one single-breasted charcoal-grey flannel. The single-breasteds were all three-button with notch lapels, and all jackets had three working buttons on the sleeve and a bit of drape to the back (so that they would seem like they were hanging loosely and comfortably from the shoulders). This was supplemented with formalwear, which men used to wear more often in the 1960s than they do today. Biddle’s formalwear included a charcoal-grey cheviot cutaway, a single breasted white waistcoat, and black trousers with broad white stripes. For semiformal daytime occasions, he had a charcoal-grey single-breasted cheviot sack coat and trousers, in either black or Cambridge grey, with broad white stripes. And besides a ready-to-wear Aquascutum raincoat, he had three outerwear pieces – a double-breasted blue chinchilla, a single-breasted light drab covert coat, and a double-breasted polo coat with white bone buttons.

For sporting clothes, Biddle had three Harris Tweed jackets, three pairs of charcoal-grey flannel slacks, and half-a-dozen button-down shirts made from Spanish silk (strange, I know). For shoes, there were three black pairs for daytime wear, as well as one patent leather and one calfskin for evenings. There was also a pair of black moccasins, a pair of black loafers, and two pairs of white canvas shoes with brown leather toes and rubber soles (which he wore with either white flannels or a double-breasted light-grey sharkskin suit).

What he had the good taste to avoid was as important as what he choose. Frazier writes: “Like all men with innate clothes sense, Biddle eschews such abominations as ankle-length socks, matching tie-and-handkerchief set, huge cuff links, conspicuous tie clasps, and most hideous of all, cellophane hat covers.”

If he were alive today, I imagine we could add Happy Socks to that list.

Will Boehlke

Finally, we come to Will Boehlke, writer and editor of A Suitable Wardrobe. Will had a pretty good article on this subject many years ago at Ask Andy About Clothes, but like many of the good articles over there, for some reason it has been taken down. Luckily, I saved a copy.

For a man who wears a suit every day, Will recommends a minimum of five suits, with a sixth recommended in case of cleaning and repairs. A basic selection could include a dark grey solid, a midnight blue solid (which he notes is a better choice for evening wear than navy), a medium gray semi-solid, a gray pinstripe, and a navy blue chalk stripe. The sixth can be less formal the first five, for either wear on casual Fridays or on weekend outings. A black and white check, with or without a blue or red overcheck, is said to be a good choice.

To expand into a more medium-sized wardrobe, one should start building on a selection of clothing meant to suit any kind of weather or occasion. One made for a temperate climate, for example, might include the following:

  • Ten city suits for spring and summer
  • Two country/ weekend suits for spring and summer
  • Ten city suits for fall and winter
  • Two country/ weekend suits for fall and winter

Of the ten suits made for each season, six or seven should be in conservative stripes, solids, and semi-solids. This will allow for easy mixing with shoes, shirts, and ties in order to give each a different look. One or two other should be particularly elegant, such as a suit made from a blue mohair and wool blend. Will notes that such a blend will have a sophisticated sheen that will suit certain nighttime activities, such as speaking engagements or nights at the opera.

The remainder of each season’s suits can be casual and relaxed. For fall, these can include textured brown cheviots, or a soft black and white flannel with a red windowpane check. In the spring and summer time, they can include a black and white houndstooth check or a silky tan gabardine.

Of course, what actually suits your lifestyle, needs, and budget is highly personal, but it’s nice to read what others think comprises a basic wardrobe. Or in these cases, a not-so-basic basic wardrobe.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *