Now more than ever, brands and consumers are conscious of making sustainable choices, and buying cheaply-made fast-fashion garments is not on the menu. Every year, 300,000 tonnes of clothing goes to UK landfill sites and that number is increasing, which means we all have a role to play in reducing the environmental burden of the fashion industry.
One simple step is to buy less, and by virtue, buy better, meaning clothes that are well constructed and from high quality fabrics. Garments with a higher price point naturally demand our greater care for them, and the better we look after them, the longer they last.
But just because an item is considered a ‘basic’, it shouldn’t mean we disregard quality and craftsmanship – in fact, quite the opposite. Those pieces of clothing that get the most airtime should invariably be the highest quality garments in our wardrobes. It’s a false economy to scrimp on them, because a) they’ll very quickly look old and tired; and b) you’ll need to replace them frequently, adding to the sustainability problem.
No one’s saying you need to break the bank, but there is a whole new genre of menswear labels that have evolved recently who make elevated staples their bread and butter. So if you’re wondering which of your wardrobe basics to upgrade, the following is a great garment blueprint.
As democratic a garment as there has ever been, the T-shirt is a wardrobe essential no matter your income or aesthetic. Great tees can’t be pigeon-holed by style genres either – if they fit well and are of discernibly good quality, you can pair a tee with shorts on the casual end, and a bespoke suit at the formal end.
Plain white, black and navy tees are wardrobe workhorses, and help glue together so many different looks. You can look James Dean-esque in a white tee and jeans; or contemporary chic in tailored black trousers and a black tee; or modern smart in a slick navy tee and suit.
For quality, always try to buy heavyweight organic cotton styles, or specialist cotton such as supima. Otherwise, linen and linen blends are great for summer-weight tees.
If your workplace requires you to wear a suit everyday (yes, people do still get dressed up for the office apparently), then the navy merino suit is a must. But even if wearing a suit is an occasional venture, it’s still a really versatile piece of sartorial kit to have at your disposal.
For one, it’s both business-like and chic, depending on how you style it. A pinstripe stripe with a contrast white collar and repp tie can look like you’ve just stepped out from a scene of Wall Street, but pair it with a navy knitted polo and tan loafers and you turn the suit into something altogether more modern and relaxed. Of course, you can wear both the jacket and trousers as separates, too.
The navy suit has mileage, so you want to invest in a high-twist merino yarn (Super 120s is about as high as you want to go before it starts getting too delicate) that travels well and will be resistant to creasing.
The fit is crucial, so opt for made-to-measure if you can – brands like Suitsupply and Blugiallo offer excellent value for money.
OK, so the linen suit is not on many people’s radar when thinking about wardrobe basics, but hear us out. When it comes to dressing smartly or with a bit of sartorial flair during the summer months, a linen two-piece is an absolute godsend, especially if you have weddings to attend.
That unique slubby finish and dry handle of linen, together with its excellent temperature regulating properties, make it a brilliant summer suiting fabric. Opt for an unstructured suit to get the best of linen’s natural drape (which gets better the more you wear it), and go for neutral tones such as beige, oatmeal, or tobacco for maximum styling versatility.
What’s more, you can wear the suit as separates, too, pairing the jacket with some shorts, a knitted polo and espadrilles for a riviera-inspired look; or wearing the trousers with sandals and a simple white linen shirt.
The rollneck sweater has something invariably masculine about it, which is why it has stood the test of time, loved by everyone from Jeff Goldblum and Jean Paul Belmondo to Pep Guardiola and Sean Connery.
There’s nothing more comforting on a cold morning than slipping into a chunky rollneck, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with merino or lambswool, those super-soft cashmere styles get the nod from us. Besides being very breathable and excellent at regulating body temperature, cashmere brings a luxuriously soft texture to a look.
There’s quite a divergence in price of cashmere, which is typically reflective of the quality and provenance, so make sure you source yours from reputable brands with 100% fabric traceability. One misconception is that pilling – the build up of small balls of fibre – denotes poor quality. It’s actually quite the opposite. Better quality cashmere comes from shorter fibres, which pill more than longer fibres.
An icon of athleisure and loungewear, it’s hard to think that anyone in the 1950s or 1960s would have predicted that one of the most worn items of present-day menswear would be the hoodie, but here we are.
From the sporting field to streetwear via kicking back at home, the hoodie has become ubiquitous thanks to its genre-mixing abilities. There isn’t a luxury brand that doesn’t produce a line of hoodies each and every season, so if you like to make a statement with brand cachet, you won’t be short of options.
However, for a more timeless ‘stealth wealth’ aesthetic, opting for a plain hoodie in cashmere or merino wool rather than cotton is an elevated look that you can wear decadently with tailoring or everyday casualwear.
Is there a more versatile trouser than the chino? Sure, denim jeans are ubiquitous, but they don’t have the styling dexterity of chino pants.
The modern preppy look exported by the likes of Aimé Leon Dore has brought chinos back into the limelight for streetwear aficionados who had probably never considered them, but for everyone else the chino is an indispensable trouser that offers so many different styling options.
Brands such as Officine Générale are a case in point – they’ve elevated the chino by using superior cotton, offering pleated options, styles with roomier legs, and cropped versions to bring them firmly into a 21st century wardrobe.
Cotton quality makes a big difference, so look for organic where possible. Poplin is typically finer than twill and will make for a more refined pair of chinos, while styles with linen blended into them are excellent for sophisticated summer looks.
The ultimate preppy shirt, the Oxford cloth button-down, aka OCBD, has been a timeless menswear garment ever since it was first used by Oxford University students in the 19th century. Yet it wasn’t until it made its way over the pond to its academic peers in the Ivy League establishments that it really began to proliferate as a stylish garment.
Today it’s one of those ever-dependable pieces that can be styled in myriad ways, both classic and contemporary.
Oxford cloth is a finely woven, lightweight basketweave cotton which has a slightly brushed nap, which gives it a really soft handle. All the great shirtmakers offer a plethora of OCBD styles, but if you pay that little bit extra for organic cloth and a great fit, it will last you decades.
The crew neck sweater has remained an ever-present silhouette in discerning men’s wardrobes thanks to its comfort and versatility. From lightweight fine-gauge styles to chunky knits from far-flung villages of the British Isles, the crew neck is an everyday classic.
But to really make the most of it, you need to avoid cheap machine-made styles and opt instead for artisanal designs that blend traditional weaving techniques with contemporary styling, and of course, fine fabrics. For winter this means merino wool and cashmere, while in summer seek out breathable linen and cotton/linen blends.
You don’t need to remortgage your home to buy the likes of Brunello Cucinelli or Loro Piana either. Affordable luxury specialists such as Artknit Studios and Gran Sasso all produce stunning options that won’t break the bank, or you can spend a little more and go for investment pieces by knitwear specialists such as Colhays and Johnstons of Elgin.
From humble French blue collar origins, the chore jacket (or veste de travail as the French call it) has broken free from its working class roots to become a timeless menswear silhouette that deserves a place in all kinds of wardrobes.
Notable for the boxy fit and two patch pocket details, today’s superior chore jackets come in a variety of tones (rather than just the original blue) and fabrics. While cotton is the typical cloth, you can now find modern renditions of the classic chore coat in a variety of luxurious fabrics, including merino wool, cashmere and linen.
Elevated workwear-inspired brands with an artisanal modus operandi are the place to seek out the very best versions – think the likes of De Bonne Facture, Octobre Editions and Oliver Spencer.
In the name of brutal transparency, I think we can admit that we’ve all got underwear hiding in our drawers that if they were exposed to the public, we’d be less than proud of. Why would you pay through the nose for a Ferrari body, only to put a Fiat Panda engine in it (apologies to the easily triggered Fiat tifosi out there)?
Great style starts at your privates, gentleman. You’d be surprised at what a great pair of comfortable, luxurious briefs can do for your sense of confidence (not least if you get the opportunity to show them off to someone).
So underwear is a scrimp-free zone. Avoid the cheaply-made designer stuff, which adds a silly premium just to have a name on the waistband, and instead make a beeline for the specialists, brands such as CDLP and Hemen Biarritz, who cut no corners when it comes to fabric quality and design.
While the aforementioned OCBD can rightly claim the title of original polo shirt, what evolved from the design, by way of Rene Lacoste and the world of tennis, is what we have come to know as the modern polo shirt.
It’s typically constructed in cotton piqué, which has an open weave that makes it breathable and thus suitable for sports. And while this style of polo is fine for casualwear, the knitted polo offers a smarter upgrade – often cut from a wool blend that can include cotton, linen or silk – allowing it to be worn with tailoring.
Brands such as King & Tuckfield, Aurélien, Luca Faloni and Colhay’s are all masters of the garment.
There are levels to the denim game, and Japanese selvedge is at the very top. The name refers to the ‘self-edge’, which comes from a more labour-intensive weaving process and thus is only reserved for the finest denim fabrics.
Instead of having frayed edges, like your average jeans, selvedge denim is finished by looping the weft threads back at the end of each row on a shuttle loom.
Up until the 1950s, when denim exploded globally, all jeans were made from selvedge denim. Today, the Japanese are the masters of selvedge denim weaving, thus brands such as Momotaro, Big John, Edwin, Kapital, Studio D’Artisan and Samurai are the ones to seek out for exceptional quality raw denim cloths that are extremely durable and will last a lifetime with good care.
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