iGents have spilled a lot of webink discussing what the minimum wardrobe necessary to be “well-dressed” might entail.
That discussion does have some value, but falls prey to something of a Catch-22. These lists are compiled by people who are well-dressed. My view is that in order to be well-dressed, you have to be able to compile your own list of what you need to be stylish. So that once you are well-dressed, you have no need for someone else’s list.
But not everyone aspires to be “well dressed”. However nearly every man in the Western world will at some point face a “dressy” occasion which requires him to wear something between a jacket and a suit and tie. Too often I hear of men who are suddenly faced with such an occasion (say, they are invited to be someone’s date at a wedding) and are forced to decide between wearing a pinstripe suit or a white cotton jacket, and only have a fuchsia tie and a multi-striped dress shirt to wear it.
Perhaps a more useful list would describe the bare necessities required for these men who does not wear a jacket, much less a tie, daily, and has no intrinsic interest in clothing, but would prefer not to look like an idiot in situations that have some kind of dress code. Here would be my suggestion for such a list of ingredients (and note that it’s a subset of Manton’s list of things required for a well-dressed gentleman):
- a navy blazer such as the one above
- either a navy or a charcoal suit
- two barrel cuff (i.e. not french cuff) white dress shirts, one with a button-down collar
- either dress chinos or some mid-grey trousers
- black cap-toe oxfords, such as the Allen Edmonds Park avenue
- a black belt (not the karate kind)
- some kind of reppe striped tie
- a solid navy tie (grenadine is a good choice) if your suit is charcoal, a black and white glen-plaid tie if your suit is navy
- solid navy socks
Instructions for use:
Never wear the suit without a tie. When wearing the blazer and odd jacket without a tie, wear the button-down collar shirt. When wearing the suit (and this will be with a tie, since you never wear the suit without the tie), wear the non-button-down collar shirt. When wearing the blazer with a tie, either shirt is fine. When wearing the blazer with a tie, wear the reppe stripe tie. With the suit, either tie is fine although the non-stripe one will usually be better. Wear the jacket and pants from the suit together or not at all - do not wear the jacket from the suit with some other trousers or the trousers with the blazer.*
That’s it. Own those things, and you will be ready for any situation from business casual cocktails to weddings and funerals. Just make sure it’s clean and well-fitting, take a shower and trim your fingernails, and you will look great.
As I said earlier, these items are all things that you’ll need on your path to being truly well-dressed. So don’t think of it as an alternative path. It’s just a respectable stopping point if you have no desire to go further. If later you want to add to your wardrobe of tailored clothing, you don’t have to start over. You can just add to it with some brown shoes (and a brown belt), some light blue dress shirts, and whichever odd trouser you didn’t include in your first purchases. Before you know it you’ll be bespeaking three piece tweed suits.
*A possible exception if you’re on a tight budget is if your suit is more of a mid-grey than charcoal, then you can wear the pants with your navy blazer - but a charcoal suit is a better thing to have for your only suit than a mid-grey suit for your only suit