Building A Sartorial Wardrobe From Scratch

Starting off in the world of menswear can be intimidating.

If you’re just getting into tailored clothes and want to test the waters, there’s a myriad of information out there that can easily lead you down a path you didn’t intend to go down. Fear of this can cause inertia, and we don’t want that. With the million options that tailoring provides in the avenues of cloth, construction and so on, what would really come in handy is a definitive starting point in the form of a capsule wardrobe. Just enough items to give you a different outfit, 7 days a week; featuring a mixture of office-appropriate wear, and weekend fun. Ideally, we want all of this to be somewhat interchangeable, and that’s what I’ve gone for here.

And thus, here’s my take on a capsule wardrobe; call it an Introduction to Menswear.

Note: this is to cover the bases only. It won’t cover winter-specific or summer-specific clothing. That can come later, get the basics sorted first.
This will not include shoes, either.


Essentials:

When building a wardrobe from scratch, you want to focus on versatility. It’s up to you whether you want to include a suit, in this current era that favours business casual dress codes. Separates might be more up your alley, but I’m including one suit in mine. Simply because that’s what I’d like. I think everyone should own one suit.


Suiting:
One suit, mid grey. Two trousers.
Worsted or worsted flannel, depending on your location and climate.

Jacketing:
One navy blazer.
Hopsack cloth. Get contrasting buttons.
Depending on your style, you can use traditional gold buttons, or brown horn.
It’s up to you whether you buy single or double breasted. Both are equally versatile, in my opinion, so it largely falls down to your individual preference.

Trousers:
One pair of cream wool trousers. Flannel or fresco weave, depending on your climate.
Two pairs of classically cut, higher waisted cotton chinos. One in beige, one in grey (or olive).
One pair of selvedge jeans. Indigo or light wash – choose your preference. For maximum versatility, a lighter wash will cooperate better with the navy blazer than an indigo will.

Shirting:
Three cotton business shirts, in poplin or twill weave. One in plain white, one striped and one free choice. Wear these with your smartest outfits.
Two button-down shirts in oxford weave. One in light blue, one in pink, lilac or pale yellow. These will go with your chinos, jeans and possibly your suit / business trousers depending on the fabric choice of your suit.
One polo shirt, short or long sleeve. Choose a colour that complements your pants collection. Fabric can either be cotton pique or merino.
If you don’t like polo shirts, choose a fun shirt or rugby shirt instead.
One tee shirt. Plain or breton stripe (like mine).

Knitwear:
Optional: one or two sweaters. One in burgundy, one ivory cable knit sweater (I’m partial to cricket sweaters).

Ties and Accessories:
Optional: one brown or dark green knitted tie (silk, wool or cotton) , one navy silk repp stripe or regimental stripe tie (leave the shiny ones on the rack, get something more muted).
Optional: One plain white linen pocket square.


13 Items, How Many Combinations?

SamTalksStyle Classic Menswear Capsule Wardrobe

In the above graphic, I mind mapped 26 different combinations, almost one per day of the month. This didn’t include the optionals like knitwear or accessories, either. If you add one necktie, you’ll get over 10 new combinations. Adding knitwear is sure to considerably increase the possibilities, too.


Where To Buy Everything?

Figuring out the designs you want is one thing, but figuring out where to source quality versions of what you want is another thing entirely. I’ll cover where to buy everything from new for this part. Depending on your body type, you might get away with more or less RTW items in your wardrobe.though, I’d venture that it’s best to find a good made to measure operation for at least your suit, blazer and odd trousers.

For shirting, you may be fine with buying RTW and having it altered. Personally I haven’t found a reliable RTW brand available in Australia with collar dimensions that I like for every style. Charles Tyrwhitt are good value for off the rack dress shirts, but their OCBDs have tiny collars. Polo by Ralph Lauren is the same deal. I’ve found that vintage Gant has good collar point length.
If you can’t find exactly what you want, consider going the MTM route; shirting isn’t particularly expensive via most MTMs, and makers like Proper Cloth offer a range of collar sizes and styles at a good price (the link will give you $20 off your first order).

For chinos, I’ve been wearing vintage straight leg ones. Military surplus is often a good hunting ground.

For tees, I adore my tees from Bronson. I’ve written about it before, and the quality of it is fantastic for the price. They’ve worn in really well and are one of my favourite wardrobe staples. Another well priced option is the plain colour tees from the Uniqlo U range. They’re sturdy and have solid details, however the fabric feels coarser than most other options.

For denim, there are more options than you can poke a stick at. My favourites have been vintage Levi’s 505 and Wrangler cowboy cuts. I’ve also had good luck with made to measure through Adelaide Denim. I prefer a 100% cotton denim as elastane drapes poorly.

Polo shirts are another style with too many options. I don’t wear them myself, however there are many brands now offering a more sartorial take on a polo shirt, which in my opinion looks better than the tennis style ones from the likes of Ralph Lauren.


Concluding Thoughts

With this guide, you should be able to build a wardrobe that covers all of the basics. If you fall down the rabbit hole of menswear, you’ll spend the next few years exploring every niche you can find, but many of these basics will see you all the way through if you buy items made with attention to detail; avoid small collars, small lapels, skinny fits and low rises. When you intend to make a purchase, try to make sure the styling and the proportions of the item you’re considering will work with your other items. For example, a mid to high rise chino is going to look more at home with your blazer than a low rise one.

If the proportions of everything harmonise, you’ll be set.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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