One of the most common questions men ask me is how they can develop their own style. My answer is always to start from the basics and then invest in pieces that show your unique personal flare. I find the biggest problem men have when beginning to build their wardrobe is that they are missing the key basics or they’re not sure what makes a good basic. To help out with this common dilemma, I’ve created The Essentials List: Mr. Cavaliere’s Guide to Menswear! It’s designed to ensure every man has what they need in their wardrobe to make sure they’re always looking dapper, no matter the occasion. Today, we start with Part 1: Shirts!
When looking for any of the essentials on this list, keep in mind two key rules: buy . Well-made clothing not only looks better on, but it also lasts longer and ultimately will you money. Also, when buying wardrobe essentials try to stick to colors like navy, grey, brown and black because they are the easiest to mix together and will compliment any of the bolder or trendier pieces you might buy in the future! If bought correctly, these basics will offer years of wearability and will be well worth your time and money. Think of these pieces as investments that will change your overall appearance, and ultimately, your quality of life.
So without further ado, here is The Essentials List: Mr. Cavaliere’s Guide to Menswear!
Part 1: Shirts
The White Tapered Formal Shirt
There’s nothing more versatile that a white dress shirt. Its classic and acts as a blank canvas, just waiting for you to make your personal mark on it. I recommend one with a 98% cotton 2% spandex blend for a little bit of extra stretch. Also, look for a semi spread collar for versatility, and a tapered fit no matter your frame.
The Denim Shirt
Denim shirts, or chambray shirts as they are sometimes called, are my go to piece when I want to look casual and rugged without putting too much thought into my outfit. The denim shirt began as the uniform for those men who worked in the trades and, because of its utilitarian history, it’s one of the most masculine pieces you can have in your wardrobe. I recommend you look for one with at least one breast pocket. This adds visual interest to your look and also adds functionality.
Another perk of this piece is its versatility. It can be dressed casually with a pair of chinos or dark denim as well as formally with a cotton or tweed suit. I personally like a lighter wash for my denim shirts because it looks better with my skin complexion but don't let this stop you from trying out some of the great dark wash western style shirts out there!
The Neutral V-Neck
T-shirts are probably one of the easiest items for guys to wear, but before I get into talking about them, let’s remember that these aren't your traditional boxy crew necks. Most guys probably already have a v-neck or a scoop neck t-shirt but there's one common mistake I see daily: the fit of these pieces. Your t-shirts should never be so loose that you look like you’re wearing a window curtain, or so tight that people can see your rib cage! A healthy medium between these two is the ideal t-shirt fit. Something that is not too tight but tapered enough that your shirt provides you with a slim silhouette.
The other great thing about a v-neck or a scoop neck is that it gives the illusion that your body is much more Adonis-like. The low neck line shows off your collarbone which makes you look more chiseled and covers any imperfections throughout the torso. This is something that your old crew neck just can’t do!
The Vintage Picture Tee
I love vintage picture t-shirts! I have always been a big fan of vintage black and white photos so putting them on t-shirts just makes sense. When buying any sort of graphic tee I recommend a white base because of its versatility in your wardrobe as well as the fact that any image will sit nicely on it. There are so many ways to wear this type of t-shirt and depending on your personality and style the look will vary. I personally love wearing this piece with a cardigan, driving cap, and jeans for a casual day look but would also wear it with a blazer, a colored chino, a pocket square, and black wingtips for a great night look.
The Neutral Henley
Some guys have no idea what a henley is, so here is my definition: a crew neck shirt that can either have long or short sleeves and often has buttons coming down the front. Now that we all understand what this word means lets learn how to wear it!
Although a henley can be worn in a variety of different ways and comes in a ton of different colors and styles, the one everyman needs to have in his wardrobe is a neutral grey one. Also, look for a longed sleeved one that’s slim enough to wear on its own but has enough room to throw a collared shirt under. A henley in a finer fabric is great for pairing with a suit or, for something less formal, a pair of jeans.
The Polo Shirt
Having a great polo shirt is essential for every man! Whether it’s for golf or for leisure, it’s the perfect piece to look preppy and put together without having to wear a dress shirt. We North Americans hold sportswear quite dear to our hearts and the polo really embodies that idea. With this in mind though, it’s important to differentiate between fashion polos and polos you actually wear for playing sports. Fashion polos are usually made out of cotton and have quite the tapered fit to the body with higher arm holes and a shorter length. Polos for sports are usually made of Spandex or elastane, are cut bigger for comfort and are longer in length so they can be tucked in.
I’m also a big fan of tipped polos. A tipped polo has two stripes of color on the collar and arm holes of the garment.
The Contrast Collared Shirt
The contrast collar shirt, or a pinstripe shirt, should be thought of as your "ready to do business shirts". They’re as formal as you can get and they’ve been crafted for your 9-5 office job. If you want to look like the type of guy that deals with big transactions on a daily basis, then this is the shirt for you! If you’re working in a corporate setting, I highly recommend having both of these shirts in multiple colors.
Most of the white collared professionals here in North America don’t invest enough time and effort into the fit of their attire and end up looking over sized and sloppy. A wise man once told me this: "If you want to make a million, you have to look like you’re worth the money.” The easiest way to fix this issue is to buy clothing that is tapered to the body. Look for shirts with: higher arm holes to eliminate excess fabric on the arms, darts in the back that taper to the torso, a smaller collar as this usually means the shirt will have a slimmer body, and make sure your shoulder seams are on your shoulder NOT on your arm.
So the question now is, are you ready to look like a million bucks?
The Check Shirt
Plaid shirts in my opinion get a bad rap, but if chosen properly, they can be one of your best essentials. When people think of a plaid shirt they’re usually thinking of a thick, flannel, lumber jack type shirt. The plaid shirting I’m talking about has a small check, is slim, fine in fabric, interfaced, and transitional. This type of shirts has the same fitting rules as formal dress shirts but is more adaptable in your closet. Plaid and check shirting can be worn with a suit and a tie for a casual office look as well as with a pair of chinos and casual shoes for when you’re out of the office. The key here is to keep these shirts tucked in no matter the occasion since untucking them looks sloppy. Another key point for both formal shirting and casual shirting is collar interfacing. No matter what the look, make sure your collar has a canvas lining which will keep it stiff and overall make you look put together.
Another collar style that I love is button downs. They add a visual interest to your look as well as keep your collar close to your neck. For more information on what you should get rid of, check out my "What Not To Wear" post here.
The Essentials List: Mr. Cavaliere's Guide to Menswear, Part 2 coming soon!